Friday, August 27, 2010

It's about time! (and space)

Valerian and Laureline vol 1. The City of Shifting Waters

Long time readers may recall that I was so appalled at the quality of the translation of the most recent English language edition of Valerian that I started working on my own translation of one of the earlier volumes. The good news is that Cinebook have now started translating the whole series from the beginning.

I had high hopes for this translation as I've read several other European books that they have published in English editions, and I wasn't disappointed. Unlike the terrible ibooks translation the new one is clear and entertaining. In fact the plot isn't hugely interesting or original, involving Valerian and Laureline tracking down a mad scientist who has escaped back in time to 1986.

Not that this is a 1986 you'd recognise. The polar ice caps have melted and New York is underwater. And this is where the story really stands out. The art depicting flooded New York is fantastic. It's interesting to see this alternate 1986, though when it was first published in 1976 this was a possible scary future instead of a warped past.

Although I'm happy to see it, and I love the art, this is clearly an early work and neither the writing nor the art have really hit their stride yet. I found it odd that there are no women in the story other than Laureline, and even odder that nobody in the story appears to notice. Even in this early adventure Laureline is clearly more competent than the titular hero, and in fact is held back for the first part of the story for no very good reason other than to enable Valerian to get into trouble for her to rescue him from when she does turn up. And then later in the story she is again put out of action so that Valerian can bumble about ineffectually.

The writer, Mezieres seems to have some issues with women, though he seems to have got over it by Ambassador of the Shadows (vol 6) where Valerian is kidnapped and Laureline is allowed to take centre stage to rescue him.

One thing I like about this new edition is that the series is not called Valerian Spaciotemporal Agent as it was known when this was first published, but the current (and more accurate) Valerian and Laureline.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

small press, small mind

My tolerance for small press comics is fairly low. There are a lot of good ones out there now, and the top end blurs the distinction between small press and, er, big press. But there is still also a lot of crud.

But we all have to start somewhere, and the best way to learn how to do comics is to do comics. But there is a "small press" mentality that irritates the hell out of me.

Disclaimer: Please note that there are a ton of excellent small press comics that do not fit into this tirade, from the humble mini-comic photocopied at work when the boss wasn't looking, to the glossy colour 64 page spectaculars. If you think this rant is aimed at you, then deep down you must believe that you deserve it.

What I am talking about is the attitude of those that somehow think they are above mundane details like correct spelling, coherent storytelling, basic research, or any kind of perspective on what they are doing. I am unable to comprehend why someone would go to all the time and effort to create a comic purely for the love of doing it, and then not bother to finish it properly. Have they lost interest in it half way through? Do they consider it in some way cool to make it less than it could be?

And then there's the "re-inventing the wheel" approach. The language of comics has been developed through a century of use, but that's not good enough. These people know better. The result is almost always something that is far harder to follow than a regular comic, but doesn't have anything more to say. The alternative styling achieves no useful purpose and in fact distracts from the storytelling.

But the main thing I dislike about these small mind/press guys is the way that they are incapable of dealing with any feedback that is not exclusively telling them how wonderful they are. Say "I liked that story but this panel would work even better if the hand was a little bigger" and they react as though you had called them a donkey bothering bed-wetter. And the funny thing is that the better looking someone's work is, the better they are at handling creative criticism. Nobody is perfect. I've seen Brian Bolland original artwork and was incredibly reassured to find that there was whiteout all over it. Even he makes mistakes.

So these days if someone asks me for an opinion of their work I have to say to them "do you want a real opinion or would you just like me to say it looks nice?" And yet nine times out of ten when they claim they want a real opinion and I pick out a couple of weak spots that could do with some polish, they still get all offended and behave like I suggested they had innappropriate relations with zoo animals. The tenth one will look thoughtful and then often say "Yes, there was something bugging me about that that I couldn't quite work out" and be happy that they have found a way to make their work better.

How to tell whether someone likes your work:

If they give you some blanket negative comment like "It's a stinky pile of poo." then they don't like it and probably haven't even read it.

If they point out some small error, or suggest some way in which an aspect of the story could be improved then they have read it, thought about it, and found some way of helping you to make it look better. This person likes your comic and wants it to be the best it could possibly be. If you feel personally insulted by their comment then you are an idiot. This rant is for you.

Moral of the story: don't ask for an opinion unless you really want to recieve one.

Reasons to be Kimiyo

When Kimiyo Hoshi was first introduced way back in Crisis on Infinite Earths, she was a doctor, a scientist, and a single mother with two children, and she lived in Japan. After a long stint with the JLA she eventually retired from the hero biz to spend more time with her children. In Infinite Crisis she joined the fight, protecting her homeland (still Japan) from attack.

In Green Arrow in a story supposedly taking place after IC but published some six months before, Kimiyo is a management executive in America. Her powers are taken away and she is left dying. Now in Birds of Prey we find her alive and well, apparently with powers, and working as a scientist in Japan.

So what exactly happened here? Here are my theories:

1) Superboy Prime's reality punching activities created an alternate universe in which Kimiyo's entire backstory and geographical location were different. This alternate universe collapsed before anybody noticed it other then Green Arrow, who didn't care enough to check whether Kimiyo was still alive at the end of the story.

2) It was a clone.

3) Dream? Hoax? Imaginary story? I'm running out of ways to explain away Judd Winick's lazy writing and his editor's negligence.

In fact my best guess is that the blanks will be filled in during 52. Either that or everyone is going to pretend the Green Arrow story never happened.

Get-out clause

There's this cool bit in the Xena episode of The Simpsons where Lucy Lawless explains to her fans that any time something occurs in Xena that is incongrous, anachronistic, or plain makes no sense, the explanation is "A wizard did it".

DC developed a similar philosophy some time ago, and every time they have an Event they use that as an excuse to cover any continuity screwups up to the current time. After Infinite Crisis their excuse was Superboy Prime reality punches, but even they seem to realise how weak this was so within a year they came up with Mister Mind munching on the multiverse to explain away anything that didn't make sense. Unfortunately the main thing that didn't make sense was how someone, regardless of how powerful they were, could alter reality by hitting it, or how a giant space bug could eat an intangible concept.

Marvel got onto the bandwagon somewhat later, and it has to be said that while their excuse is an epic cop-out, it's a lot less metaphysical. Anything that went wrong/didn't work so we want to undo it/was plain stupid and made no sense: A Skrull Did It.

Friday, August 20, 2010

So it's a thing now?

Today I came across the Mammoth Book of Special-Ops Romance.

I hadn't realised that there was enough special-ops romance for it to qualify as a distinct sub-genre, let alone fill a Mammoth book.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

One last thing

I'll shut up about ereaders and ebooks and anything else that involves taking a regular word and then sticking an 'e' in front of it, but I just wanted to share one last thing that makes me happy about my Sony PRS-600:

One thing they got completely right is that when I switch it on it takes maybe three seconds to go from switched off to looking at the last page I read.

That's faster to boot up than my MP3 player. It's faster than my TV or my mobile phone. It's so much faster than my PC that I could switch them on at the same time and read a few pages while I wait for the computer to get its act together.

I'm not sure I could find my place any quicker with an old fashioned, dead-tree book.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


A week after I give up waiting for Amazon to get together a British edition of the Kindle and go buy another ereader, they announce a release date for it.

I expected to feel a little annoyed, but I'm not really. I found an ereader that I'm so happy with I want to hug it and pet it and call it George, and while the Kindle has some advantages, notably the massive library of ebooks that Amazon aren't interested in selling in any competing formats, it also has a few drawbacks that I'm delighted I don't have to deal with.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

ebay strangeness

I just counted fifteen copies of The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas listed on ebay in the non-fiction category.

I realise that homoeopaths are deluded at the best of times, but I find it hard to believe that many of them would claim their magic remedies to enable telepathy or time-travel.

eBook report: second impressions

When you read a review it's usually true to say that the reviewer has not spent enough time with the thing they are reviewing to get bored with it or break it. The truth is that a professional reviewer simply doesn't have the time to spend much more than half an hour with the thing because they are paid by the word, and time spent reading books, playing games, or poking gizmos is time they are not earning money.

Consequently they can give you some basic look & feel information about the product, but they can't say much about what it's like living with it for a month. So I thought it take that extra step and chronicle my ongoing experiences with the Sony PRS-600 Reader.

It's been a week now and I'm surprised how much the reader has become an integral part of my life. I'm almost tempted to clasp it close and murmur "my precious". I think the size is key here. It is small enough for me to easily carry around with me, but with a large enough screen to make reading it as easy as reading any paperback. I'm glad mine came with the nice leather cover as this prevents it from getting bumps and scratches from everyday use, and holding it with the cover open feels much more like an ordinary book-reading experience than if I was just looking at the screen.

I'm also glad I invested in a 2GB SD card, as I managed to fill up the main system memory quite quickly. And while this may be largely down to the half-dozen manga I included, any graphics heavy files, like computer manuals or text books, would similarly take up much larger amounts of space than pure text. The specifications say it will hold "upto 350 books"; I doubt I managed fifty before I moved on to the SD card. Having said that, I think 2GB is probably enough. Unless you are a voracious reader who is planning to be away from home for a month or more, loading up the machine with more than 200 books is only going to leave you lost for choice about what to read next.

I think I've now managed to work out how to use all the functions available. The librarian in me is a little dismayed to find that listing books by author name will only catalogue them by first name rather than surname, but I like that you can sort books by "collections" based on tags. This takes a little effort to use efficiently because a lot of books come with dozens of tags, but I just worked out how to edit them down to something that suits me using Calibre. So if I don't have anything particular in mind I can now easily search through individual catalogues of "short stories", "humour", "science fiction", "cheese", or any other category I feel like setting up.

I did install the Sony software that came with the Reader, but Calibre is so much more useful that once I became aware how limited the Sony program is I haven't bothered with it.

As for the extra features of the PRS-600, I like the touch screen. I haven't tried a reader that has a lot of buttons, or a few buttons that have to do multiple jobs, but I have an old MP3 player that has one rocker switch that, depending on how you press it, adjusts the volume, moves forward or back through the current track, moves forwards or back between tracks, and pages through the menus. It's a pain in the ass, and way too easy to find yourself in completely the wrong track when you just wanted to make it a bit louder. Even if you have enough buttons for all the functions, I doubt it compares with simply touching the relevant part of the screen. It feels very intuitive and comfortable.

I haven't yet felt the need to use the dictionary, except to try it out. But I can see where it would be nice to do an immediate look up when I come across a word I don't understand. And this feature also enables you to search for particular words anywhere in the book. For me it's a nice extra, but I'd definitely class it as a luxury, rather than an essential.

I still find the biggest drawback is the lack of books available in ebook format. While it's possible to find plenty of free ebooks on the net, from copyright-free older books at sites like Project Gutenberg (who so far have surprisingly little H.P. Lovecraft) to more legally dubious collections, if you want to buy from strictly legal booksellers like Barnes & Noble or Waterstones, you'll find the selection limited and expensive. I read an ebook of a writer previously unknown to me and was unable to find any other works by her available in electronic form. I ended up getting her Times Bestseller in paperback from Amazon for the princely sum of one penny.

In conclusion, one week on I give the Sony PRS-600 Reader 9 out of 10 for making reading fun, but I give the booksellers 4 out of 10 for wasting the opportunity to sell me stuff by not providing books I want to read at a reasonable price.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Eye on the Price

One big drawback of ereading is book prices. On the one hand you can't browse second hand bookstores for ebooks, and on the other it seems that publishers are under the distinct impression that it costs more to format a one megabyte file and make it available for download than it does to buy a lot of paper and ink, combine the two with a lot of big machines into a pleasing shape, and then ship the result to the shop.

I can't imagine any other reason why the new bestseller I want to read costs more as an ebook than it does as a hardback.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

eBook report: first impressions

While I was waiting for the Sony Reader to arrive on my doorstep I've been preparing a bunch of books to load onto it using Calibre on my PC, which is a great little program that appears to be able to convert almost anything into a format my Reader can understand.

I therefore picked samples from many different sources and formats to test how the Reader handled them. The one thing I'd been a bit concerned about was the page refresh speed, particularly with graphics, after seeing this little video.

The reader duly arrived. Instructions are minimal. One page of the small leaflet shows you where all the buttons are, and the other page basically just tells you to plug it into your computer and follow the prompts. To be fair, it's a fairly simple device. It only does the one thing, so the instructions don't need to be lengthy. But it would have been nice if it had informed me about basic functions like automatic bookmarking of everything you read, rather than leaving you to find this out by trial and error.

The unit itself is the size of a Tokyopop manga, but a lot thinner. Also noticeably heavier. I did set up the official software, but soon found it limited and annoying. I think I'll probably just stick to Calibre.

I loaded it up with my test selection of books, and started reading.

First impression is how dark the screen is. I'm just not used to a screen that isn't backlit. It's fine in normal daylight, but I can see why they sell little light attachments for them. Next thing I noticed was that I had a little trouble focussing on the lettering. I think that's maybe because I was trying to read it at the distance I would for a normal book, and it's not quite the same. We shall see.

Then I got on to testing how comics looked on it. Manga looks surprisingly good, although text readability drops off fast as it gets smaller. Some fan translations use an unnecessarily small font that leaves lots of empty space in the text boxes and balloons, and is difficult to make out even on a full size monitor. After a little trial and error I found that changing the orientation does wonders for readability. It leaves something to be desired aesthetically to only be able to see half a page at a time, but I'm prepared to sacrifice that much if it means I don't have to squint with my nose pressed against the screen. It still doesn't save the tiny-text fan scans, but I'm not sure what would.

The major relief is that page-loading times are fine. I noticed it was a little slower for a 200 page file, but I'd expected that, and had intended to split up anything over 100 pages anyway. As far as manga is concerned, it ticks all the boxes.

Ordinary book files read pretty much like reading a regular book. Variation in quality seems more down to the original file coding than anything else. Hard to say without an extended test. I need to actually read a whole book on it to judge.

The touch screen works so well I almost forgot to mention it. After a couple of minutes it felt so natural to turn pages by a little flick of the finger that I stopped noticing I was doing it.

Clever stuff you can do with the Reader includes highlighting passages or even scribbling on pages, but I can't work out how to do the dictionary look up, though. You'd think a machine that is perfect for reading PDF manuals would come loaded with one of its own, but no. I think I saw a review on Youtube that went through all the features. I'll have to see if that explains it.

To conclude first impressions, it seems to do pretty much what I expected of it, which is a good thing, since that, after all, was why I bought it. Biggest drawback at this point is the annoying lack of documentation. But, to be honest, if the worst you can say about a new device is that the manual is a bit lacking, then I think it's a good result.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Like a book

At the point where everyone is buying an iPad I have instead opted for a Sony Reader. Why? I suppose the most obvious reasons are 1) it cost me less than a third as much as an iPad, and 2) an iPad wouldn't fit in my bag.

It's all about defining what you want. I wanted something that enables me to read books, that reads like a book, doesn't strain my eyes (like a book), and that fits the paperback sized space in my bag(1). Sure, the iPad is new and shiny and does lots of clever things and connects to the net and all that stuff, but it doesn't have an e-ink screen and it's too big for my bag. So the fact that it does all kinds of extra fun stuff is a bit pointless if it doesn't fulfil the primary criteria I was looking for(2).

I had been waiting for the Kindle to show up in the UK. But it's been a year since the Kindle 2 was released, and Amazon UK are still suggesting I import it myself, so I don't think they are really trying. Plus I'd need to get the Kindle DX to get the right wireless connection and that one is again too big for my bag.

So that was how I ended up looking at the Sony PRS-600. I did my research and read user reviews, and it seems to be the best e-reader currently available. The older 505 is a little cheaper, and it's generally considered to have a slightly clearer screen, but the 600 has twice as much memory and useful extras like the built in dictionary. It's also touch screen based, instead of all the buttons on the 505; not sure what difference that makes.

Having decided on my choice of reader, it then seemed a good idea to see if I could actually find the books I wanted to read in a suitable format. It turns out that yes, I could. I found all sorts of obscure science fiction novels that I own or once owned and would love to read again. I found books I wanted to read that I've been unable to find in dead tree format because they've been out of print for twenty years. And I found five of the seven books currently on my Waiting to be Read shelf.

Okay, I confess some of these were not strictly legally authorised editions. But when it comes to books that I already own in another format, or a book that I've been hunting for ages and would happily pay money for if only someone would make it possible for me to buy it, I don't feel like I've cheated anyone.

What really surprised me was the manga. It hadn't occurred to me that I could read manga on it. I mean manga collections are the right size(3), but I guess it hadn't realised it could do pictures too. In fact there seems to be a whole niche fan base for ebook manga. It's a shame the official publishers haven't noticed or they might be able to open up a whole new market.

So having found my e-reader and ascertained that there is plenty of material available for me to read that interests me, I have now ordered a Sony Reader PRS-600. I'll let you know how it works out when it arrives.

1) Truth to tell, the last two actual books I've read don't fit that last criteria, as one was an oversize paperback and the other was a hardback.
2) Sure, I could get a bigger bag, but I like the one I've got. Had I found something that was perfect in every other way, I might have considered this, but I didn't.
3) Manga, specifically, rather than comics generally because the standard collected format for manga is the right size, so it's intended to be read that way. Western comics are intended to be seen larger and so are much harder to read at this size. They are also usually in full colour.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tooting one's own tooter

Returning to this blog after a long gap, I had a stroll through some of my old posts and I'm surprised to find that some of them aren't half bad. Which got me thinking about collecting together the good bits and publishing them. Probably just as PDFs, as there would be all kinds of copyright issues if I wanted to do anything more professional.

And then that turned into two books, because there's enough to do one that's purely Wonder Woman focussed and one that's everything else. So I'm now working my way through collating it all and polishing it up a bit. Though probably not much, as I'm far too lazy to make that much effort when I'm not getting paid for it.

I guess this means I'm going to have to finally get around to reading the last thirty issues of pre-Crisis Wonder Woman in order to finish it off. Le sigh.

ETA: Here's a question for anyone who has read much of my ramblings; for the non-Wonder Woman collection I wasn't thinking of including any actual comics reviews, but as I look through, I find that some of them (particularly the Teen Titans and Legion Showcase bits) stand up quite well. Should I include them or not?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Feminist language

Language defines our world in so many unconscious ways. The words we use to describe things say a lot about how we view the world. More, the associations we have for a word are important, even if we don't see any connection. So when people say that when they use "gay" as an insult it has nothing to do with their attitudes toward homosexuals, they are wrong.

How can I say that? Consider the trouble caused by the usage of the word "niggardly", which has no racial connotations at all, and yet people who have used it have been given reprimands, been sued, or even lost their jobs for using a word that sounds similar to an unacceptable word. In fact it's now pretty much disappeared from the language altogether.

In the early days of feminism there was an effort to add some gender balance to language by changing words that had "man" in them to something a bit more gender-neutral. Some did take; for example "chairman" is now often "chair-person", or the slightly sillier (to my mind) "chair". Many did not. What I've noticed lately is something of a feminist revenge, where rather than attempting to "fix" the established language and persuade other people (particularly men) to use it, women have just started making up new male-specific words that often describe aspects of the female experience (eg. mansplain, man flu) which somehow hadn't been covered before.

And what's even more amusing, to me at least, is the rise of male-specific words to describe things that are traditionally more female associated, and why it's not in any way effeminate or un-manly for a guy to be associated with them (eg. man purse). Possibly used sarcastically, but your mileage may vary.

Not to be confused with words where someone has taken an offensive female-specific word and applied it to a man (eg man-slut). Equality of offensiveness is still just offensive.

A stroll through Urban dictionary has pages of this stuff, including many hilarious examples I've never heard of before, but am now noting down and looking for opportunities to insert them into conversation.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Boring, Boring Violence

It's not exclusively a comics thing, but I am starting to get fed up of what many comics writers seem to think is a realism thing to get specific about all the injuries the characters are suffering.

The first time I noticed it was The Dark Knight Returns, where we get this litany of damage Bats is suffering from as the story progresses, but I've seen it a lot recently. Where the "reality" falls down is where despite being concussed, shot, beaten up, a broken arm, had their powers stolen, shot again, dropped out of a helicopter, and had their leg bitten off by a werewolf, the hero still somehow manages to hold it together for as long as it takes to win the day.

It doesn't take long before the tension created by injuries becomes lost once you realise that it's not actually stopping them from doing anything they need to do, and they will completely recover from it anyway. Lately I've been reading The Dresden Files, and it's reaching the point where I feel like a sucker for feeling any kind of concern for the latest injury Harry is dealt, because, honestly, if the broken leg he got last chapter isn't slowing him down, I don't see how being beaten up again is going to make much of a difference.

I'm not saying that I want to see the lasting effects that such injuries cause someone to recur through the rest of the series, I'm just saying that if they are not going to have real effects then don't have them in the first place.

Is it worse to have a character seriously hurt but somehow act like they haven't been nearly as badly hurt as we've been told, or to not have them hurt that bad in the first place?

Edited to add:
I think I've solved it. It was when it occurred to me that The Dresden Files are written in the first person. It's Harry telling the story. Things never were quite as bad as he tells you; he's bigging up how hurt he is for sympathy and to show how cool he is. Harry Dresden has manflu.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Bugged about Big Finish

I did a review a little while ago of one of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio productions. I've listened to a few of these, and even a couple more since the one I reviewed.

The trick is to avoid listening to the extras they put on at the end after the drama, in which various people involved with the production congratulate each other about how brilliant it was. I'm sure they've worked hard on it, and they are on a bit of a buzz after working through some fairly intensive recording sessions, but telling me it's fantastic when I've just listened to it and I know it is not fantastic just makes me more aware of its shortcomings.

So two pieces of advice to Big Finish productions:

1) Cut out all the extra bits that are just self-congratulatory lovey-stuff. Either give us something that is going to enhance our appreciation of the production or don't bother.

2) Get a script editor who understands that highly convoluted plotting does not equal clever storytelling.

So is Final Crisis over yet or what?

Event overkill in the DC universe

Now I don't for one second think there's some big conspiracy at DC to undermine Final Crisis and make a fool of Grant Morrison; it's just a side effect of company greed out of control.

Final Crisis was presented to us as the big climax to the trilogy, following the awesome Crisis on Infinite Earths and the disposable Ultimate Crisis. The rot set in a year before it even started. Morrison had requested that the New Gods not be used in other comics in the lead up to FC, so that he could build up his reinterpretation of them. So Dan Didio rushed out and commissioned the dreadful Death of the New Gods mini-series, which was not only a bad, bad comic, but directly contravened events in Final Crisis, and gave Morrison a handicap before he'd even started.

So Final Crisis rolls around, and just as what's supposed to be the big event kicks off, DC elects to run several other big stories, each with their own spin-offs. There's Maelstrom, which ties into a bunch of Superman-related titles, there's Kingdom's Come A Bit Early in JSA and friends, there's the build up to next year's big event in all the Green Lantern books, and there's even Morrison's own Batman's dead no he isn't over in the Bat-family.

At first I assumed that at least some of these fitted together in some convoluted way with Final Crisis, but that doesn't seem to be the case, and consequently I can't keep track of what is a spin-off from which event. Especially the ones that are convoluted side-stories to Final Crisis.

The result is that I end up reading less comics, rather than more. And I have no idea whether Final Crisis is even finished yet.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Who even gives a

Doctor Who: The Dark Husband
Big Finish audio adventures

I'm sure that the vast majority of people watching Doctor Who now have little interest in the previous incarnation of the show and are blissfully unaware that it is carrying on in the form of audio dramas produced by Big Finish featuring original cast from Doctors 5 to 8.

Don't be fooled by the professional look and the official BBC license; this is definitely a fan production. I've listened to a few and, although having their own continuity, are not generally obsessed by it (1) They are for the most part okay, with rare bouts of originality (2), but for the most part don't exactly push the envelope.

Which brings me to one I've been listening to today. It's called The Dark Husband, and features the 7th Doctor (3), Ace (4) and some other guy they seem to have picked up along the way. I should probably wait until I've finished it before commenting, but I'm not sure that's ever going to happen.

The first episode is so arch you could mistake it for the Colosseum. So many lampshades are hung about every Who cliché they are enacting that they must be the best lit studio on the planet. And yet the plot, such as it is, involves two factions of the same race who are in an eons long conflict for no very good reason, and have no distinguishing features other than one side is very hairy and have unsophisticated tastes while the other side is hairless and highly sophisticated. And then the Doctor and co. show up and each side assumes on the basis of no information at all that they are spies for the other and attempts to kill them without even a gesture toward interrogation before we reach the actual plot and we can get out of generic land before I fall asleep.

Honestly, it's so painfully Who by the numbers. After all the self-awareness in the opening scenes' dialogue you'd think the writer might be attempting to subvert the form, but I haven't spotted any sign of it so far. The conflict that the Doctor is here to resolve barely qualifies as two-dimensional. And the Doctor himself is so smug you want to kick his arse. He's deliberately and meanly dropped Ace into yet another adventure after promising her a vacation. And the conflict has been going on for centuries, with millions dead on each side, which leaves you wondering why the Doctor didn't turn up a bit sooner if he really wanted to help.

And then the Doctor appears to know more or less about what's going on depending on the needs of the plot. On the one hand, it transpires that he has deliberately arrived at this time and place (5), and appears to know more than what is going on than just about anybody, including the inhabitants, who are doing the old "We no longer remember the reason for our war or the details of the rituals you have just invoked", and at other times is claiming that he's just working from some information that he picked up off a war memorial after they arrived (6), and has no idea where it's leading.

Halfway into episode two I'm wishing that the writer would make up their mind whether the Doctor knows more about what's happening than anyone else or that he's making it up as he goes along, and stop trying to do both. I don't really care about the aliens as they are so stupid that they've been killing each other for centuries without knowing why, and without any noticeable success, and have no culture other than is required for the plot anyway. Really, the only thing of interest is the business about how a marriage could stop such a conflict, and who the bride is. And that's only interesting because it's been made into such a mystery by having nobody present have any idea about what's going on.

Other than this hideously contrived mystery, it's so generic and yet at the same time so heavy on the meta-commentary that I may never get to the end of it. How it can be so smug about cliches it's perpetuating without doing anything original with them is so annoying that I may be forced to destroy the discs in a very creative way. But if I can keep the irritation down I might just keep going to the end in case they actually do throw an original twist into the story.

And if they don't, at least I get to go "see? I knew it."

1. except for the sequence involving the 8th Doctor starting with episode 50, but that seems to have been handily resolved now. I have no clue how.
2. like the one story that's on two CDs that can be listened to in any order.
3. sylvester Mc Coy
4. who has been stuck as a teenager for the last twenty years.
5. so much so that he deceived his companions into wanting to go there.
6. somehow, the inhabitants have entirely failed to notice this, despite it being on a mural on the side of the only landmark on the planet.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

It Rhymes with Goth

There's been a little chat lately in some corners of the blogospherahedron about the work of cartoonist Elena Steier, whose pictures contain elements some find racist and/or sexist [1].

But that's not what I want to talk about today. I think her work is simply not very funny [2]. I would have lost interest in her website real quick if it were not for one series of cartoons she does called The Goth Scouts. She's even given them their own website, despite them being neither funny, nor actually containing any gothic elements.

It's a typical, if considerably tamer than most, Wednesday Addams knockoff in the Evil Little Girl genre. Only without any of the usual visual attributes you might expect. There are four characters, but to all intents and purposes they are interchangeable and don't appear to have any individual character traits.

Even the name irritates me. Okay, I can see some mileage in doing a goth take on girl scouts, but if it were me, I wouldn't call it it something as unimaginative as Goth Scouts. I'd call them Crypt Scouts or Ghoul Scouts or something [3], and dress them in loligoth girl scout uniforms with extra bats and skulls, and a variety of horror-trope achievement badges. If you need to call them Goth Scouts in order for the reader to be aware that they are A) goth, and B) scouts, then you're doing something wrong.

Anyway, to get to the point, shortly after reading one of their typically unfunny cartoons I came across an episode of the syndicated Rhymes with Orange which did essentially the same joke, and I was intrigued by the comparison, so for your edification I thought I'd share.

The essence of the joke is a suggestion that the neighbours have been murdered. The Goth Scouts cartoon doesn't really process the notion much further than "Look, bones! Wouldn't it be funny if it was the neighbour?" [4]

This falls pretty flat, and undermines itself with unresolved aspects so you are left wondering why a murderer would have left the bones lying around in the garden, if the dog is a giant or it's just the perspective, and what the tiny girls and their giant dog are doing in the neighbour's garden in the first place. Perhaps I'm over-thinking this and the intention was just to suggest that the girls have morbidly over-active imaginations. Except that in other episodes they regularly interact with monsters and vampires, so that doesn't work.

The art on this strip is usually the best part of it, with some nice cartoon rendering, so this is unusually weak, with lots of irrelevant detail and the characters stiffly waving their arms at each other rather than supporting the joke in any way.

The Rhymes with Orange cartoon handles the joke a lot better, with a nice little play on words and a veiled hint of menace suggesting that the character himself has murdered the neighbour. A much better development of the notion. But what's going on with the art? It's so irrelevant to the joke that you could replace the text with a whole different gag and nobody would know.

It's worse than a generic talking heads image because there's enough going on in the picture to make you think it should be relevant in some way, but it's not.

1. I find both.
2. People will excuse an awful lot if the jokes are genuinely funny.
3. Preferably something more imaginitive, but you get my drift.
4. Not especially, no.