Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Bus by Paul Kirchner

'The Bus' by Paul Kirchner

Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Review: Earth Magic

Book Review: 'Earth Magic' by Alexei and Cory Panshin

1 / 5 Stars

'Earth Magic' (275 pp.) was published by Ace Books in October, 1978. The cover artwork is by Boris Vallejo.

The novel takes place in a standard-issue medieval fantasy kingdom, where the teenaged Haldane is the only son of the King of the Tribe of the Gets, and the Ruler of the Land of Nestor: Black Morca. Black Morca is not the brightest of individuals – indeed, every Get is quite stupid– but his strength and brute cunning have allowed him to enlarge the boundaries of his kingdom.

As ‘Earth’ opens, Black Morca has made an alliance with Lothar of Chastain, who arrives at Morca’s castle with his daughter, Princess Marthe, who is engaged to Haldane. The alliance is one of convenience for Black Morca, as it will enable him to focus his efforts on the conquest of adjoining lands. Neither Haldane nor Marthe are particularly enthused over their nuptials, but Haldane sees it as one small way to become closer to his indifferent, preoccupied father.

However, even as the wedding celebration takes place, discord flares. Alliances are undone, and Haldane must flee for his life from the castle of Black Morca, accompanied by the court wizard, Oliver. Overnight, Haldane goes from being the heir to the kingdom, to a hunted outcast sneaking furtively through the woodlands. 

Haldane’s sole hope for survival is to escape the boundaries of Nestor and travel to his grandfather’s kingdom of Angrim. But Haldane discovers that he must deal with another, supernatural party as he struggles to avoid capture: the Earth Goddess Libera has marked him for purposes of her own……

Like his previous novel, ‘Rite of Passage’, ‘Earth Magic’ is another novel by author Panshin (here assisted by his wife, Cory) that focuses on an adolescent’s journey to adulthood. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but ‘Earth’ is one of the worst fantasy novels I’ve ever read.

The prose style of ‘Earth Magic’ is stridently wooden and stilted, veering within the same page between a faux-‘Old Legende’ phrasing devoid of contractions and colloquialisms; to figurative phrases reminiscent of the more cumbersome types of New Wave sf writing. 

For example, when Ivor is knocked out, he simply isn’t knocked out; no, rather: Ivor went wandering in night realms.

Still other segments of the narrative clumsily mix clichéd, empty phrasing and awkward syntax:

He had let himself forget that narrow practice was his failing and practiced narrowly. He had lost himself in study, lost himself in thought and question, paused for a moment in dream while he wondered where his youth had flown and wither he was bound. To what end had he been born ? And while he was occupied so in reverie, he had lost his balance.

Oliver had tricked Oliver and received a blow from Oliver that had set Oliver down. Where was order ? His world was broken. His mind ran on its own heels in subtle circles.

The novel’s writing reaches a nadir in the last chapter, where a climactic confrontation between Haldane and his enemies is made tedious and numbing by the determined use of portentous, self-consciously ‘heroic’ prose. 

My opinion: ‘Earth Magic’ is a novel to avoid.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Dreadstar: The Beginning

Dreadstar: The Beginning by Jim Starlin

Jim Starlin’s ‘Dreadstar’ comic books and graphic novels appeared on a regular basis throughout the 1980s, and since that time, have been reprinted in a bewildering number of volumes in different color formats from different publishers…… trying to sort out the contents of each of these compilations is no small task.

This Dynamite hardbound edition (2010; 230 pp) compiles all the Dreadstar material from ‘Metamorphosis Odyssey’, ‘The Price’ graphic novel, the ‘Dreadstar’ graphic novel, and the ‘Dreadstar’ chapter that appeared as a singleton adventure in Epic Illustrated. All of these works first appeared in the interval from 1980 – 1982.

This volume from Dynamite uses a high-quality, glossy paper stock. However, it is several inches smaller than the magazines and graphic novels the stories originally appeared in, so the typeface is comparatively cramped……and sometimes difficult to read.

The whole 'Dreadstar' series started as a serial in Epic Illustrated magazine: ‘Metamorphosis Odyssey’, which appeared in the very first issue (the Spring, 1980 issue), and appeared in succeeding issues as 14 chapters, concluding with the December, 1981 issue. All of the artwork in the chapters was painted, some of it in black and white, and some in color. 

‘Metamorphosis’ dealt with adventures in a galaxy far, far, away, a long, long time ago (the entire ‘Dreadstar’ canon borrows, not surprisingly, from ‘Star Wars’). The dread Empire of the Zygoteans is enslaving all civilizations in the galaxy; only the planet of the Osirosians is able to resist, but their resources are becoming depleted as a result of the 500-year conflict. 

In a last, desperate effort to defeat the Zygoteans, the Osirosians dispatch their most gifted warrior and priest, a long-nosed man named Aknaton, to scour the galaxy for a team of heroes capable of joining together to wield the ultimate weapon. 

Among this team of heroes is the orphan Vanth, from the planet Byfrexia. Vanth is the equivalent of a Jedi Knight, equipped with a magic sword, superhuman strength, impressive spaceship piloting skills, and unmatched skills in hand-to-hand and ranged weapon combat.

I won’t disclose any spoilers, save to say that Vanth – soon rechristened Vanth Dreadstar – plays a key role in the struggle against the Zygotean onslaught.

In 1981 a quasi-sequel, titled ‘The Price’, was published by Marvel / Epic as a black-and-white graphic novel. ‘The Price’ was primarily concerned with the adventures of Syzygy Darklock, the man who would become Vanth Dreadstar’s mentor and ally. 

‘The Price’ moves away from sf, and more into the type of magic-based adventures that characterized the world of Marvel Comic's 'Dr. Strange'.


The series’ next installment was ‘Dreadstar’, a Marvel Graphic Novel published in 1982. Featuring color artwork, this volume centers on the adventures of Vanth Dreadstar as he confronts – however unwillingly – the need to deploy his martial skills in the ongoing conflict between the Monarchy and the Instrumentality, the two major political blocs fighting for control of the galaxy.

The 'Dreadstar: The Beginning' compilation concludes with an Epilogue, a ‘Dreadstar’ chapter that appeared in black-and-white in the December, 1982 issue (No. 15) of Epic Illustrated. This chapter relates Dreadstar’s efforts to seize a spaceship from an Instrumentality mining colony and contains a lot of flashback sequences. 

Starlin was presumably using this chapter as a teaser for the Dreadstar comic book series, which was inaugurated in November, 1982 by Epic Comics and eventually ran for 64 issues.

So, what do you get with this compilation of all the early adventures of the ‘Dreadstar’ franchise ? As I mentioned, it borrows to some degree from classic space opera and ‘Star Wars’, but it also incorporates the ‘cosmic’ perspective that Starlin routinely employed in his work during the 70s and 80s for Marvel titles like ‘Warlock’ and ‘Captain Marvel’, as well as the high-profile crossover series ‘Infinity Gauntlet’, and ‘Cosmic Odyssey’ for DC.

Dreadstar is not an action comic or a superhero comic; instead, it chooses to focus on a more wordy, cerebral approach, leading to panels that are overloaded with speech balloons and text boxes. This may turn off readers who are more accustomed to the minimalist, 'show, don't tell' formatting of contemporary comics.

While there are occasional bloody battles between Dreadstar and Empire troops, much of the series’ contents are devoted to lengthy dialogues between various characters on a variety of ‘deep’ topics. There is always a note of ambiguity about the seemingly ‘right’ decisions that are made in the struggles against the forces of evil, and every victory comes with its cost. At times Starlin’s prose becomes too overwrought, and unconsciously comes a bit too close to self-parody, a phenomenon that characterized his efforts for ‘Warlock’, ‘Thanos’, and ‘Captain Marvel’. 

By and large, however, if you appreciate a space opera with more depth than the genre is usually accredited, then this Dreadstar compilation is worth investigating. It’s also a welcome change from contemporary comics, in that Starlin takes pains to frame his plots using flashbacks and external narration, devices rarely present in modern comics, which often suffer from awkward lapses in visual and storytelling continuity.

As well, Starlin’s use of painted artwork, involving a canny use of different shadings of grays and whites for the black-and-white episodes, stands apart from contemporary comics and their flat, computer-assisted approach to illustration.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

New York: Year Zero issue 1

New York: Year Zero
by Ricardo Barreiro (script) and Juan Zanotto (art)
Eclipse Comics
Issue 1, August 1988

New York: Year Zero was originally published in 1984 as Nueva York: Año Cero by the Argentinian duo of Ricardo Barreiro and Juan Zanotto. 

Eclipse Comics, one of the myriad US indie comics publishers that were active in the 80s Comics Boom, reprinted translated versions of a number of Argentinian titles, including New York: Year Zero, which was released as a four-issue series in 1988. The Eclipse Comics version of the series was given color covers by Mark Johnson, which are really awful. The series deserved better.

Since defunct, in their time Eclipse published some good comics, picking the best of foreign-produced material. 

Zanotto's artwork has the gritty, 'European' stylings and draftsmanship of the classic Metal Hurlant / Heavy Metal magazine pieces from Enki Bilal, Serge Clerc, Chantal Montellier, fellow Argentinian Juan Gimenez, and, to some extent, Moebius.

Year Zero's story is set in 2015, when our hero, Brian Chester, a soldier in the bloody Venusian wars, manages to escape the conflict and return to Earth and to home: New York City. 

Needless to say, this version of New York City is the treasured one from near-future, apocalyptic sf: an overcrowded, ultra-violent hellhole. Brian Chester soon will discover that as bad as things were on Venus, they were nothing compared to the depravity and danger of the Big Apple.......!

Mixing equal parts Soylent Green and Escape from New York, some Judge Dredd ''Mega-City One' flavorings, and nice touches of sarcastic humor, NY:YZ is a great adventure comic. I'll be releasing the other three issues over the next few months here at the PorPor Books Blog.