3 Stars of the Magi

194-lets-see-02pg09The other day I received a special package in the mail. My friend Erik asked me to look at the first four issues of his digital comic book and give him some sensor readings on his work. Better than that Erik, prepare for hot review action in the shape of a brutally honest analysis from a guy who thinks Mister Spock is the right way to go.

So, peering into the contents of this watercolor mixed media creation what do we have? A story about a group of mainly academic science types who gain superpowers when they drink the wrong beaker of liquid. From there on out they become a heroic band of do-gooders who work to protect their town from the evil works of various foes.

191-cheers-01pg08Over time, the group expands to include a variety of strange characters who also have superpowers. Some of them maintain the amphibian theme, some don’t. This coincides with an increase in various villainous power centers. Good thing the Amphibimen arrived to counter all the villainy that has arrived!

The creator of this fabulous journey of froggomatic fun has an enthusiasm for the comic books of yore and it shows in every panel of action and unfolding plot. The Ultimate Amphibian, a galactic scale super being moved to act by the exploits of the Amphibimen, is pure old school foreshadowing of the best sort.

192-the-princess-01pg11Comic book culture has reached a point where all the parameters are well known, and most of the stories have been told. Now comes the re-telling, and this is where the energy of most superhero comic work seems to collect its focus towards. Seeing the details in this comic book evolve, as steeped as I am in the culture, it’s a joy to see familiar ideas unfold in new ways from another old school perspective.

The thing that strikes me most is how detailed every character is, and how complex the interactions become as a result. It’s a strong stance, but it also ends up being a weakness overall—the artist hasn’t quite got the skill to pull off such multifarious material yet. He needs to boil it down a little and let the story unfold more. There’s enough material in the four issues I read for for eight issues. It takes a master to get that to work.

195-they-watched-us-03Pg22You see this most in the battle montages and split narratives of the characters. There’s so much going on that encapsulating it becomes overwhelming. There’s a ton of stuff in here, but making it accessible requires more practice.

Despite a huge ensemble group of heroes and heroines I’m not quite sure who the main protagonist is (and I believe one is needed in a dense narrative like this, to act as an anchor), although I’m pretty sure who the main villain is. When the villains are more recognizable than the heroes you need to work on the heroes.

193-hand-clasp-01pg24The artist has what can only be seen as a unique style. This hampers identification with the characters and requires more work from the audience. The characters all have weird eyes and creepy fingers. The background is jarring in its blocky abstraction. The foreground is where the action is. The square dialogue balloons and their placement make the dialogue hard to follow.

Not that I would have the artist change any of that! Weird is good. Different is good. The writing is solid and the comedy subtext is fantastic. THE PRINCESS, good lord what a character! The wordplay is right on. I actually care about the most intelligent rat on earth.

196-who-am-i-03Pg24What I would like to see is more skill and craft in the form, and that can only come with time. Then the personal bridges can emerge as a natural quality in the work and make it more welcoming without losing that special sauce that makes this comic so damn unusually cool.

I’m going to keep my eye on this guy. He has a lot of stuff to say. Frog help us all if he actually manages to complete the recombobulator module actuator and achieve full storyline satisfaction flow.

3 out of 5 Stars of the Magi

Album Cover for Bone Walker.I was hanging out in the secret garden taking it easy when I got a surprise goodie in the hopper. A chance to get a sneak peak at the latest Crime and the Forces of Evil project. Hey, I think these elf supervillains are pretty keen, so why not give their latest aural pastry a whirl?

The goodie manifests in the form of Bone Walker: The Free Court of Seattle Official Soundtrack, a number of tracks available in digital or solid form as you please. It’s a collection of music to accompany a pair of urban fantasy books by author Angela Korra’ti—specifically Faerie Blood and the more recent Bone Walker.

The liner notes mention struggles with complexity drift and unexpected delays. While it’s true that struggle is good for one’s art, I think it can also distract one’s focus. You need the adversity or you stop short of your best, but the other side of that is real risk–meaning you might actually miss a crucial ingredient or choice along the way.

The splendid positives: A first rate package of materials–the tracks sound great and the artwork is gorgeous. The music is a wonderful assortment of mainly Irish tunes by professional musicians having a good time. These people know what they’re doing and it shows.

For example, the songs “John Barbur” and “Lukey” really shine. I could imagine the main characters from the books hanging out and enjoying themselves in between their problems. It sells their complexity to me.

I gotta say Leannan Sidhe can sing so sweetly she could charm a nest of devils. Dara Korra’ti’s vocals are as soft and as quick as a hare in all the right places. Sunnie Larsen’s fiddle cavorts with buoyant notes on “Lukey,” and resonates with unshakable dynamism on “Bring the Storm.” Easy to lose yourself in the moment with skill like this, it’s that marvelous.

The not so exciting: The spoken word excerpts from the novels don’t work. The complex prose needs a different kind of reading and they’re too long–a minute at most would have been best, not 2-3 minutes. The mellow, enjoyable background music doesn’t fit the action scenes being read.

For example, the Burke-Gilman Troll piece doesn’t match what I would imagine the reading was depicting. Way too laid back for a serious combat narrative.

Same with the other readings. In “Bring the Storm” the dulcimer is exquisite, but it’s the wrong kind of sound for a supernatural fight with an angry dragon. The prose calls out for a lusher, more sophisticated sound with energy. There’s grace and wonder, but not enough fire and spice to be truly glorious.

Listening to the last bonus track, “The Burke-Gilman Troll (Klopfenpop mix),” I glimpsed a direction many of the songs ought to have taken–less mild and laid back and more, well, Lord of the Dance-y. Here the music fits better with the scene selection, it has an edge. I can’t help but think it’s an opportunity that was almost realized.

A soundtrack ought to evoke the quality of the medium and type of story it accompanies. The overriding message of this collection is a laid back adventure that doesn’t match the whole picture. It’s more of a promo piece than a soundtrack, and that’s too bad. I know Crime and the Forces of Evil are capable of more.

3 out of 5 Stars of the Magi