Mini-Review: Alien Legion #6

Mind Blown

Although I’ve featured other Alien Legion (AL) issues before, this is the very first AL comic that I ever owned and read.  The others I just happened to have found around town, but this one was so great, that as soon as my eyes spotted anything with the AL logo on it, I immediately went to it and picked it up–and if I had the money, purchased it.  With an Aug. 1988 cover date, I probably would have bought it May/June of 1988 at (the now defunct) Waldenbooks in downtown Chattanooga and it would have been something that I read over the summer of 1988 before school started.  I probably would have been beginning my sophomore year in high-school at that time as well.

Large and in Charge

While the other two AL stories that I’ve review have featured Sarigar, the commander of Nomad Squad, this issue is pretty much a character study on one of Nomad’s toughest characters–Jugger Grimrod.  Jugger is given his own command and while I won’t spoil it–it proves to be pretty memorable.  We get to see Grimrod command soldiers on what appears to be a routine mission, but is anything but and we get to see his reactions–sometimes hilarious–in the face of extreme danger.

Characterization

Jugger Grimrod is very much a character cut from the Logan/Wolverine mythos.  Very much a loner and a hard-talking, fast-living, remorseless killing machine willing to do anything to get the job done.  I’ve always likened Grimrod as a Wolverine in space.  While you don’t learn his back story until later in the comics’ run (my next mini-review will actually focus on a pivotal part of his back story), you don’t really need it.  One thing that the writers actually do for this story is that they give him an advantage and a flaw.  While he is one of the best soldiers out there, he is an enlisted man who hates officers.  In this story, he is promoted to an officer–in essence, he becomes the very thing he hates.  And now he must deal with it.  How he deals with it and the ultimate resolution, I’ll leave you to read, but this small detail causes conflict–both external as he has people whom he’s now responsible for and internal–he has to overcome/deal with being the very thing that he despises (or not overcome/deal with it).

Overall Score: A+

The writing (Carl Potts–Creator/Chuck Dixon–Writer) and the art team (Larry Stroman and Mark Farmer) created a story that really set my imagination on fire as a child.  It was inventive, clever, and fun.  The hero was larger than life and while I couldn’t agree with the character’s ultimate decision at the end of the story, I did understand it.  If you happen across this at a “Flea Market” or “Yard Sale” or “Book Sale” of some kind, and if it is inexpensive, you might consider picking it up for an afternoon of fun reading.

Have a great day!

Sidney



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A Bibliophile’s Dream: Data Manager 2, Goodreads, and Library Thing

 

So, I’ve always been a bit of a bookish person.  Okay, who am I kidding, I’m an unabashed bibliophile–I love books in all their glorious forms.  Ebooks, print books, trade paperbacks, mass market paperbacks, hardcovers, books with dust covers, books without dust covers, magazines, graphic novels, comic books, spiral bound books, zines, etc.  If it has existed in printed form, I’ll probably love it if I get to see it. In fact, the first two places that I’m liable to visit in any new situation are the bookstores and the libraries of that town, place, or school.  Technology has made reading easier and disseminating print quicker and faster.  One day I might do a blog entry about that, but today I really want to turn my attention to the cataloging of books/media and some of the fun ways that I’ve done it over the years.

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Data Manager 2, Image Source: Terapeak

Data Manager 2

This is the first database program that I ever discovered.  I’d been using a pen-and-paper system before I discovered this program, but once I found that I could create record using the title, author’s name, publisher, genre, etc., I was in “hog heaven.”  I quickly converted my records into computer format and spent hours looking at the “Reports” function which combined the best of graphing functions of a spreadsheet program with a database program.  I loved comparing authors that I had, series, or most importantly genres to see where they ranked with others that I owned.  Great fun for a bibliophile!

Goodreads

After Data Manager 2, I flitted from database to database on the various computers that I owned, but none seemed as satisfying as DM2.  As much as rail against the whole Web 2.0 paradigm, it did bring in one good thing: Goodreads.  In many ways, it is a combination between a book database and a social networking site centered around books.  I have about half of my collection listed on GR along that with being a “GR Author” meaning that any of my works that are published in book form (not online) should show up (I say should because, with the variation on my name, some of the books that I’m listed in aren’t actually showing up–those periods and commas make a difference).  I really GR, but find that sometimes it is too “Facebook” for me and I actively resist all the social/community features that it pushes.  It has a yearly reading challenge that I like to participate in and you can really go in-depth on the types of books that you read at the end of the year with a year-end round up (pretty snazzy).  They also have an app that will scan your books’ barcodes and add them to your collection, but too be honest, I think the web interface is much more intuitive.

Library Thing

The second major site that I found is Library Thing.  It is also a Web 2.0 paradigm site, but it focuses (in my opinion) more on the books aspect rather than the social aspect.  Make no mistake, it has social/community features galore, but for some reason, whenever I’m there, I feel the focus is on books first, community second unless you really want to make it a community focused site.  I don’t have nearly as many of my books listed there, about a 1/10th of my collection, but I’m adding books there on a weekly basis.  I love that you can order the books by “shelves” (which you can also do on GR) and that you can print out a listing of books (or just the covers) by the shelves that you set up.  They also recommend books to read based on your shelves (again, GR does this as well).   One thing that I liked that came too late for me to use is TinyCat, a mini-library interface that you can checkout books with (sort of a mini-circulation module).  This would have been perfect for my classroom library when I was a 6th grade teacher, but it was implemented until the year that I left–I tried several systems (including GR shelves), but none fit my needs like TC would have.  Too bad, as even with the half solutions, I had a fair amount of buy-in with my students as “librarians.”  Imagine what I could have done with a fully fleshed out check-in/check-out database that the students could have used with their Chromebooks–I would have probably had what I was looking for developing as a 6th grade language arts teacher–a class of readers who would also share my love for books and reading.

Well, that’s all for today–have a good day!

Sidney



Mini-Review: Alien Legion, Vol 1, Issue 14

So, as I try to come to grips with the Ship of Shadows graphic novel that I am writing, I am trying to relearn many of the lessons about graphic storytelling by rereading my comic book collection that I amassed as a teen.  Unfortunately, I weeded the collection down back in the late 90s/early 2000s and lost quite a few issues that would have been good to have.  I kept what I considered were the essentials, however.  So, I decided what better way to wrap my head around writing a graphic novel than by revisiting the comics that I so loved (yes, I know there are books like Scott McCloud’s seminal work on graphic novels–and I even own a couple–but what better way than to actually read the works that I’m trying to write and breakdown what those successful creators have done to really learn the form).

I’ve always liked the concept of Alien Legion ever since I first discovered it in a comic book spinner at Waldenbooks.  The idea of a galactic Foreign Legion spoke to my inner child just coming off the high that was Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  The characters are extremely captivating.  I guess the parallel that I could make would be to have intergalactic Fast and Furious.  Wait, I take that back–that’s not interesting at all, forget I said anything like that–that’s actually a very bad comparison (I say, as I hurriedly scribble down the idea to get it written before someone else does).

In all seriousness, it really is sort of like a “Dirty Dozen” in space.  You have a group of alien soldiers, mostly humanoid, who go on missions.  Being that this is an “Epic” imprint from Marvel (a “darker” imprint than normal Marvel comics published at the time), this allowed them to go into more adult territory.  This particular issue is really unique as it deals with domestic violence and   the effects that it has.  Yes, this is told in such a way that it can be digested in a YA comic, but for 1986 and for a medium that was often marketed to children, this one deals with some pretty revolutionary issues for the time.

While the artwork is a little rough, it is still easy to read and follow the action.  The actual dialogue and story is also well done–I like how it establishes each on of the main characters through action and dialogue.  Captain Sarigar, a snake-like alien, is obviously the protagonist of the story, but I like how he involves two of the more hard-bitten Legionnaires in what is obviously a personal mission based on their reputations for being hard cases.  The story is very well done (for all of the “heavy” themes) and illustrates the dangers of domestic violence, both physically and emotionally to the victim.  For a comic book, it handles the subject matter surprisingly well and still manages to tell a strong story about a brother who, despite his obligations as a Captain in the Legion and a fierce warrior, only wants to protect his sister from an abusive boyfriend.

Overall Grade: B+

Sidney




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Bedtime Books: Legend of the Five Rings (RPG)

When I was a child, I had a curfew of 10pm, which meant that I had to be in bed by that time.  Luckily, I didn’t have to actually be asleep by that time.  I couldn’t watch TV (not part of the curfew), but I could read.  And so, like any enterprising boy who didn’t really want to lie down and go to sleep, I read . . . and read . . . and read.  I usually read for about 45 minutes to an hour, though sometimes I stretched it a little.  I can only remember getting into trouble one time for staying up too late as my family was huge on reading.

I relate this story because I discovered that I don’t really read at night any more–haven’t for a while.  I had a reading light when I was a child, but the overhead ceiling lights aren’t really conducive to reading in preparation for bed.  Luckily, over the past year I found a nice lamp that doubles as a good reading light so, periodically, I’ve been experimenting with reading at night like I used to as a child.  I haven’t been able to find the right book . . . until now.  Most of the books that I read are novels and I tend to devour them, especially now that I have so little reading time.  I tend to read too long and  stay up too late reading.

However, after much trial and error, I’ve finally found (hopefully) a genre of books that seem to work as bedtime reading–not too boring that it will put me to sleep immediately and not too dramatic that I stay up too late reading: Role-playing Games (RPGs).  The one I’m reading now is called  Legend of the Five Rings and it is a Fantasy RPG that merges a fantasy land with martial arts and magic.  Right now I’m reading the “history” of the world, which is a fantasy mash-up of the long history of countries like China and Japan.  It is interesting enough as I’m a History minor and love the history behind the world, but not riveting enough to keep me from putting it down when I finally feel tired.  I’m able to get ideas for future stories while reading, but I’m also able to rest as well.  It will be quite a while before I finish it–it is after all a 338 page book with double columns, but hopefully it will help me both sleep and be productive with story ideas at the same time.

Sidney
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Leave It To Chance

Leave It To Chance is a young adult graphic novel that I really, really like.  I wanted to take a moment to highlight this great (& short) graphic novel series.  I just finished rereading the first volume this week (I’m trying to read all my graphic novels as a way to remind myself of the graphic novel format since I’ve been away for so long).

Leave It To Chance was published in the early 2000s (2002) and it was written in the height of the GrrlPower movement (James Robinson’s Forward is dated 3.25.97 and this is in the height of the movement, but as the hardcover collection wasn’t published until 2002 which, by then, was the tail-end of the movement).  The protagonist is Chance, a young girl who is the daughter of Falconer, a mage of eminence and importance in the city of Devil’s Echo.  She is “protected” from the magical intrigue and derring-do by her father, but she is of age to take up training to become the next in the line of Falconers who are sworn to protect the city.  Her father refuses to train her simply because of her gender (noting that this “burden” of training is passed from male heir to male heir).  Chance decides that this is horribly unfair and seeks to rectify this (& gets into adventures on her own).

James Robinson and Paul Smith collaborated on the story and art.  This is actually my first (and I think, my only) examples of their work, but I really enjoyed the story when I first read it at the Public Library–so much so, that I bought a copy for my personal collection.  I like Chance’s character–they made her very much like a Nancy Drew detective and set the world in a Neo-Noir setting (grim, dark alleyways merged with aircars).  Chance also has a “Jubilee”-vibe to her and dresses similarly (who in turn, has bit of the Frank Miller’s female Robin from the Dark Knight look) as well.  You can almost see a direct progression from Miller’s female Robin to Jubilee from the X-Men, to Chance.  I own all three books in the series (will be doing reviews of the other two as well), but as a pure story, I think this first volume, “Shaman’s Rain” holds up the best storywise.

I think too, that the setting of Devil’s Echo was very well used.  It definitely precedes the entire Urban Fantasy craze that authors like Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, and Kim Harrison (to name a few) helped popularize in the mid-to-late 2000s & early 2010s.  I personally love the fact that Chance has her own (mini-)dragon–as it recalls to mind Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger books of the 1980s.  This one is a great series for both Young Adult Readers (& younger children), but has enough complexity, character development, and setting that will at least keep older readers from being completely bored with it, even if it doesn’t completely captivate them.

OVERALL GRADE: B

Henry James, The Art of Fiction, and Me


So this is why studying the old “masters” are important: sometimes their writing can reach across centuries and happened speak to readers  at just the right time.  That is what happened last night when I read “The Art of Fiction” excerpt by Henry James last night.  

James said that the novelist should be concerned with both character and incident.  This is where I err. I’m all about incident and I’m not as concerned with character as I should be.  I like knowing what happened rather than who it happened to.  For instance, when I was a child,my parents used to take me to the local amusement park.  They would often take breaks and people-watch whereas I was there for the rides and people-watching was so boring.

I realize that I’m not really focusing enough on my characters and their characterization. I need to either get better at illustrating my characters in the outlining/rough draft phase (character sketches) or I may need to do a “character pass” in the revision phase to ensure my characters are real characters and not simply “ciphers” for the incident that I want to relate.  Henry James has given me something to consider to help me become a better writer.  Thanks to Dr. Renfroe for assigning him for me to read for class!

Batman/Superman: SuperGirl

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Superman Batman Supergirl Cover, Image Source: DC Fanbase

Last week I finished rereading a graphic novel in the DC Universe.  It was in the Batman/Superman universe and it told (or more accurately) retold the SuperGirl origin story and the first meeting of Kara Zor-El.

I really liked this Graphic Novel a lot–although I think it one me over in large part due to Michael Turner’s artwork (an artist from Crossville, TN who died way too soon & who will be missed).

STORY
I like the way that the story was told and I also liked the dual-inner monologue that allowed the reader to see the story from both Batman’s and Superman’s point of view.  I also liked the actual narrative of the plot and the way that the story unfolded.  Kara’s “capture” and subsequent turn to the dark side seemed a little forced, but considering the time constraints of the story and the compressed nature of the narrative, I was able to look past this minor flaw.  I did think that they made too much of the dislike of Krypto (the Super-Dog) of Kara as it seemed to be going somewhere, but doesn’t actually pay-off.  I think it could have been rectified had their just been a panel or two showing a reconciliation or acceptance of Kara by Krypto at the end.  It wasn’t major, but no resolution of it did bother me a small bit.

ART
Michael Turner was an extremely talented artist.  I have another graphic novel by him that I will also be rereading and responding to later, but I enjoy reading stories that have his artwork.  His style is very bold and expressive and he reminds me of my favorite comic/graphic artists–Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee.  His style was very mature and I’m glad that his work became popular and got a wider exposure before his untimely death.  His style has that element of vivaciousness without devolving into “cartoony” that some artists seem to slip into when they draw.  His two page spreads were among the best in the business as they seemed among the most readable–either visually or when paired with words.

GRADE
A+.  If it isn’t apparent, I really like this story and this graphic novel.  The art and the story come together and produce a very strong narrative that I could (and have) read over and over again.