Category Archives: Comics

Hugo Award Finalists, 2013 – First Impressions

2312As always, the finalists for the Hugo Awards and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer are an interesting lot with a few surprises and a number of disappointments. The 1343 valid nominating ballots represent a record number, more than 20% above last year’s previous record. The winners will be announced Sunday, September 1, 2013, during the Hugo Awards Ceremony at LoneStarCon 3 in San Antonio, Texas.

As usual, I am looking forward to my yearly journey through the contemporary science fiction world, even if the Hugo Award itself is becoming more of a popularity contest among fan personalities than ever before. Here are my initial thoughts about the nominees.

Best Novel (1113 ballots)

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
Blackout by Mira Grant (Orbit)
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi (Tor)
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (DAW)

2312 appeared on almost every best-of list and should be the odds-on favorite to win. Saladin Ahmed’s first novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, also received widespread accolades. John Scalzi’s Redshirts received some praise, but my guess, not having read it yet, is that readers liked its lighthearted premise of what it’s like to be a Star Trek crewmember more than its actual literary merits. Scalzi is also a popular fan personality, which helps his visibility. Lois McMaster Bujold is another fan favorite, having been nominated many, many times. My opinion is that her books are solid mid-list action-adventure tales, but mostly just comfort food for fans who relate well to her protagonist who overcomes major physical disabilities to become a badass soldier and politician. Blackout, by Seanan McGuire writing as Mira Grant, was on zero best-of lists and no other award short lists (at least, that I saw). But McGuire is a hugely popular blogger and podcaster whose celebrity within the fan community gives her a disproportionate advantage. The more of McGuire’s work I read, the less impressed I am. This is all the more disappointing because well-reviewed books such as Intrusion by Ken MacLeod, Jack Glass by Adam Roberts, The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin, The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan, and Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal, among others, were ignored.

Asimovs_Oct-Nov_2012Best Novella (587 ballots)

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant (Orbit)
“The Stars Do Not Lie” by Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012)

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall; On a Red Station, Drifting; and “The Stars Do Not Lie” were all well reviewed and all are on the Nebula ballot. Neither The Emperor’s Soul nor San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats appeared on any best-of or award lists that I saw. Here again, Sanderson’s and Grant’s fan popularity rather than the merits of their stories likely put them on the final ballot. The title of Grant’s story indicates it may be little more than fan fiction related to Joss Whedon’s hugely popular SF franchise, Firefly.

Best Novelette (616 ballots)

“The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
“Fade To White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
“In Sea-Salt Tears” by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
“Rat-Catcher” by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)

The love-fest for Seanan McGuire continues, incredulously including a self-published story. I’m not familiar with the other novelettes, so I am hoping that they will be decent. Certainly, Valente and Cadigan have produced top-notch work in the past.

Best Short Story (662 ballots)

“Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)
“Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“Mono no Aware” by Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)

All these stories undoubtedly deserve to be on the ballot. The sad news is that there are only three nominees because no other works received the minimum 5% of the votes required by the World Science Fiction Society constitution. I suspect this is due to a large number of good short stories that spread votes wide and thin.

Best Related Work (584 ballots)

The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature Edited by Edward James & Farah Mendlesohn (Cambridge UP)
Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comic Books by the Women Who Love Them Edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Sigrid Ellis (Mad Norwegian Press)
Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who Edited by Deborah Stanish & L.M. Myles (Mad Norwegian Press)
I Have an Idea for a Book… The Bibliography of Martin H. Greenberg Compiled by Martin H. Greenberg, edited by John Helfers (The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box)
Writing Excuses Season Seven by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Jordan Sanderson

This is a hard category to say much about. The variety of potential works is vast, so almost anything can appear. Farah Mendlesohn has produced a number of well received scholarly works in the past few years, so I expect The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literatures deserves its place on the final ballot. Previous volumes of Writing Excuses were pretty informative, so I’m not surprised to see it nominated again. I have no idea what Chicks Dig Comics or Chicks Unravel Time are, but from the titles they must be part of a female-centric critical series. Martin H. Greenberg’s book sounds like little more than a list, so I’m not sure what value it has, other than to honor one of the great anthologists of all time. I’m a little surprised there are no art books on the final ballot.

sagaBest Graphic Story (427 ballots)

Grandville Bête Noire written and illustrated by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse Comics, Jonathan Cape)
Locke & Key Volume 5: Clockworks written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
Saga, Volume One written by Brian K. Vaughn, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (Hypernode Media)
Saucer Country, Volume 1: Run written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Ryan Kelly, Jimmy Broxton and Goran Sudžuka (Vertigo)

I’m actually pleasantly surprised by how good the selections are for this category, with the exception of Schlock Mercenary, a lightweight gag comic. It is a travesty that it is on the list and Batman: The Court of Owls is not. The voters have no trouble putting superhero stories in the Dramatic Presentation category, but for some reason resist them in their natural home, the Graphic Story category.

looperBest Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) (787 ballots)

The Avengers Screenplay & Directed by Joss Whedon (Marvel Studios, Disney, Paramount)
The Cabin in the Woods Screenplay by Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon; Directed by Drew Goddard (Mutant Enemy, Lionsgate)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, Directed by Peter Jackson (WingNut Films, New Line Cinema, MGM, Warner Bros)
The Hunger Games Screenplay by Gary Ross & Suzanne Collins, Directed by Gary Ross (Lionsgate, Color Force)
Looper Screenplay and Directed by Rian Johnson (FilmDistrict, EndGame Entertainment)

There are no surprises here, other than not seeing Game of Thrones, Season 2.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) (597 ballots)

Doctor Who:“The Angels Take Manhattan” Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who:“Asylum of the Daleks” Written by Steven Moffat; Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who:“The Snowmen” Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Wales)
Fringe:“Letters of Transit” Written by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Akiva Goldsman, J.H.Wyman, Jeff Pinkner. Directed by Joe Chappelle (Fox)
Game of Thrones:“Blackwater” Written by George R.R. Martin, Directed by Neil Marshall. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)

As I predicted, there are the usual three episodes of Doctor Who and two other sacrificial lambs. My only question is why a single episode of Game of Thrones is nominated. As established last year, Game of Thrones should be considered as one ten-part presentation. Nominating a single episode is like nominating a single chapter from a book. In any case, it doesn’t matter, since it’s a foregone conclusion that Doctor Who will win.

Best Editor – Short Form (526 ballots)

John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Sheila Williams

The usual suspects are nominated once again. My hope is that the retiring Stanley Schmidt will finally receive his due.

Best Editor – Long Form (408 ballots)

Lou Anders
Sheila Gilbert
Liz Gorinsky
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Toni Weisskopf

This is a category that very few people are really interested in. I certainly am not.

Julie-DillonBest Professional Artist (519 ballots)

Vincent Chong
Julie Dillon
Dan Dos Santos
Chris McGrath
John Picacio

A mixture of some old favorites along with some new faces. There are so many good professional artists that it is hard to pick a slate of nominees without offending some really deserving candidates. And picking a clear winner is nearly impossible.

Best Semiprozine (404 ballots)

Apex Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Jason Sizemore and Michael Damian Thomas
Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews
Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Jason Heller, Sean Wallace and Kate Baker
Lightspeed edited by John Joseph Adams and Stefan Rudnicki
Strange Horizons edited by Niall Harrison, Jed Hartman, Brit Mandelo, An Owomoyela, Julia Rios, Abigail Nussbaum, Sonya Taaffe, Dave Nagdeman and Rebecca Cross

It baffles me why this category should exist at all. Either you’re a professional magazine or you’re not. This wishy-washy half-measure should be abolished. For example, Clarkesworld published three Hugo nominees this year compared to one for Asimov’s and zero for Analog and F&SF. If that’s not a professional magazine, I don’t know what is.

Best Fanzine (370 ballots)

Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
The Drink Tank edited by Chris Garcia and James Bacon
Elitist Book Reviews edited by Steven Diamond
Journey Planet edited by James Bacon, Chris Garcia, Emma J. King, Helen J. Montgomery and Pete Young
SF Signal edited by John DeNardo, JP Frantz, and Patrick Hester

The Hugo voters inexplicably changed the eligibility rules this year to exclude virtually all online fanzines. Why supposedly forward-looking science fiction fans chose to regress to only printed periodicals is a mystery.

Best Fancast (346 ballots)

The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester, John DeNardo, and JP Frantz
SF Squeecast, Elizabeth Bear, Paul Cornell, Seanan McGuire, Lynne M. Thomas, Catherynne M. Valente (Presenters) and David McHone-Chase (Technical Producer)
StarShipSofa, Tony C. Smith

Although the Hugo voters have excluded online fanzines, they have embraced podcasts. However, the same titles appear year after year, and frankly, I have not been impressed with any of them. Episodes of news and opinion shows are almost always too long and often lack organization. StarShipSofa’s selection of audio stories is underwhelming. I’m still looking for a SF podcast with value-added information that’s worth my time. I suspect others feel the same way, since this category had the second-lowest number of nominating ballots.

Best Fan Writer (485 ballots)

James Bacon
Christopher J Garcia
Mark Oshiro
Tansy Rayner Roberts
Steven H Silver

Mostly the same names we see every year in the mutual-admiration society known as fandom.

Best Fan Artist (293 ballots)

Galen Dara
Brad W. Foster
Spring Schoenhuth
Maurine Starkey
Steve Stiles

Here’s another list of mostly familiar names. At least professional artist Randall Munroe did not make the final ballot this year.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (476 ballots)

Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2011 or 2012, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).

Zen Cho *
Max Gladstone
Mur Lafferty *
Stina Leicht *
Chuck Wendig *

* Finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.

Mur Lafferty and Stina Leicht were both nominated last year, so I expect one of them will win this year. I am completely unfamiliar with the other three nominees.

For Your Consideration: Hugo Award Related Work

Episodes of Prophets of Science Fiction produced and hosted by Ridley Scott and broadcast on the Science Channel are well worth considering. This documentary series looked at the lives and predictions of notable science fiction creators. In 2012, there were good episodes about Robert Heinlein, Jules Verne, and Isaac Asimov.Prophets_of_Science_Fiction_poster

Another suggestion is The Annotated Sandman, Vol. 1 by Leslie S. Klinger (Vertigo), a scholarly look at Neil Gaiman’s classic comic book series.sandman_annotated

For Your Consideration: Hugo Award Graphic Story

The deadline for nominating works for the Hugo Awards is March 10, 2013. Members (as of January 31, 2013) of Chicon 7, LoneStarCon 3, or Loncon 3 are eligible to nominate.

One of the troubles with the Graphic Story category is that much of what’s published is in a highly serialized form, with storylines sometimes extending over more than a year. Publishers typically gather six to ten issues into trade editions, and these are what get nominated. But in reality, these volumes often don’t represent entire, self-contained stories.

In my opinion, the graphic story category remains the strongest overall category on the Hugo ballot. Choosing five nominees is an almost impossible task because there are so many good choices to pick from. Yet, the Hugo voters consistently nominate the same fanish works year after year. Come on, folks, there is more than Girl Genius and Schlock Mercenary. Much more.

The comics world is producing more top-notch work than in any other Hugo category, yet only seven works made the 5% cutoff last year (nine, if you count two works with 4.94% each). The number of graphic stories that are published is staggering, so I challenge the Hugo voters to think carefully about your choices and to not just fill in your ballots with last year’s nominees because you can’t think of anything else. Don’t be afraid to nominate superhero stories; these are some of the most exciting and relevant science fiction tales being published.

For your consideration:

  • The Abominable Charles Christopher, Karl Kerschl (http://karlkerschl.com)AdventureTime_v1
  • Adventure Time, Vol. 1, Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, Branden Lamb (BOOM! Studios)
  • American Vampire, Vol. 4, Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque (Vertigo)
  • Aquaman, Vol. 1, Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado (DC)
  • Batman: Earth One, Geoff Johns, Gary Frank (DC)batman-court-of-owls
  • Batman: The Court of Owls, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo (DC)
  • The Battle of Blood and Ink: A Fable of the Flying City, Jared Axelrod, Steve Walker (Tor)
  • Battlepug, Mike Norton (http://www.battlepug.com)
  • Batwoman, Vol. 1, J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman (DC)
  • Chew, Vol. 6: Space Cakes, John Layman, Rob Guillory (Image)
  • Cinderella: Fables are Forever, Chris Roberson, Shawn McManus (Vertigo)
  • Daredevil, Vol. 1, Mark Waid, Chris Samnee (Marvel)dial-h
  • Dial H, Vol. 1: Into You, China Miéville, Mateus Santolouco (DC)
  • Earth 2, Vol. 1, James Robinson, Nicola Scott (DC)
  • Fables, Vol. 17: Inherit the Wind, Bill Willingham, et al (Vertigo)
  • Frankenstein Alive, Alive!, Steve Niles, Bernie Wrightson (IDW)
  • Grandville Bete Noir, Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse)
  • Hawkeye, Vol. 1, Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pulido (Marvel)irredeemable
  • Irredeemable, Vol. 10, Mark Waid, Diego Barreto (BOOM! Studios)
  • iZombie, Vol. 4: Repossessed, Chris Roberson, Mike Allred (DC)
  • Justice League, Vol. 1, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee (DC)
  • Lobster Johnson Vol. 2: The Burning Hand, Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Scott Allie, Tonci Zonjic (Dark Horse)
  • Locke & Key: Clockworks, Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)manhattan-projects
  • The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 1, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Pitavro (Image)
  • Mind MGMT, Matt Kindt (Dark Horse)20thCenturyBoys22
  • Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, Vol. 22, Naoki Urasawa (VIZ Media)
  • The New Deadwardians, Dan Abnett, I.N.J. Culbard (Vertigo)
  • Peter Panzerfaust, Vol. 1: The Great Escape, Kurtis Wiebe, Tyler Jenkins (Image)
  • Prophet, Vol. 1: Remission, SImon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milogiannis, Brandon Graham (Image)
  • Punk Rock Jesus, Sean Murphy (Vertigo)saga
  • Saga, Vol. 1, Brian K. Vaughn, Fiona Staples (Image)
  • Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid in the Hudson, Mark Siegel (First Second)
  • Saucer Country, Vol. 1: Run, Paul Cornell, Ryan Kelly (Vertigo)
  • The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, Vol. 1, Tradd Moore, Justin Jordan (Image)
  • Superman: Earth One, Vol. 2, J. Michael Straczynski, Shane Davis (DC)
  • The Underwater Welder, Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf)the-unwritten-6
  • The Unwritten, Volume 6: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words, Mike Carey, Peter Gross (Vertigo)
  • The Walking Dead, Vol. 16: A Larger World, Robert Kirkman, Charlie Allard (Image)
  • Wonder Woman, Vol. 1, Brian Azzarello, Tony Akins (DC)wrinkle-in-time-graphic-novel
  • A Wrinkle in Time, adapted by Hope Larson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Hugo Awards 2012: Best Graphic Story

In 1988, Nolacon II created a one-time special category, “Other Forms,” as a way to honor the graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. In subsequent years fans discussed whether there should be a permanent graphic novel category, but nothing happened until 2008. That year the organizers of Anticipation agreed to include a one-time, special Best Graphic Story category in 2009 in expectation that the 2009 Business Meeting would institute Best Graphic Story as an official category. This did indeed happen, and thus, Best Graphic Story became a new category in 2010. The award was ratified by the 2012 Business Meeting, making it permanent.

Best Graphic Story Nominations (344 ballots cast [compared to 287 ballots cast in 2011])
(The titles in bold are the ones I nominated.)

60 Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication written and illustrated by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (17.4%)
36 Fables Vol 15: Rose Red by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham (10.47%)
33 Digger by Ursula Vernon (9.59%)
28 The Unwritten (Volume 4): Leviathan created by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. Written by Mike Carey, illustrated by Peter Gross (8.14%)
26 Locke & Key Volume 4, Keys to the Kingdom written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (7.55%)
———————————-
21 Finder: Voice by Carla Speed McNeil (6.10%)
20 Doorways by George R.R. Martin, illustrated by Stefano Martino (5.57%)
17 Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin and Daniel Abraham, illustrated by Rafa Lopez; (4.94%)
17 Habibi by Craig Thompson (4.94%)
14 Gunnerkrigg Court Volume 3: Reason by Thomas Siddell (4.07%)
12 Freakangels Volume 5 by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield (3.49%)
11 Anya`s Ghost by Vera Brosgol (3.20%)
10 Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 by Joss Whedon (2.91%)
10 Knight and Squire by Bill Willingham, illustrated by Joao Ruas (2.91%)
10 Fables Volume 16: Super Team by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Jimmy Broxton (2.91%)

Best Graphic Story Final Ballot Results (1091 ballots [compared to 1263 ballots cast in 2011])

My Ranking

Title

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

4

Digger (WINNER)

391

394

416

443

499

3

Fables Vol 15: Rose Red

193

194

222

295

361

6

Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication

181

182

189

208

1

Locke & Key Volume 4, Keys to the Kingdom

133

133

165

2

The Unwritten (Volume 4): Leviathan

109

109

5

No Award

84

No Award Tests:
• 685 ballots ranked Digger higher than No Award; 109 ballots ranked No Award higher than Digger – PASS
• ((1091-84)/1922 )*100 = 52% – PASS

The remaining places were then calculated to be:
2nd Place – Fables Vol 15: Rose Red
3rd Place – Locke & Key Volume 4, Keys to the Kingdom
4th Place – Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication
5th Place – The Unwritten (Volume 4): Leviathan
 
Analysis

Phil Foglio withdrew Girl Genius, the winner for the past three years, from consideration. Some griped that this simply meant that the second best graphic novel would be selected. My opinion is that Hugo voters are not particularly sophisticated about graphic novels and are sending essentially the same titles up for consideration again and again. Schlock Mercenary and Fables have been nominated every year, and this is the second year in a row for The Unwritten. Digger, a web-based comic with the same fanish sensibilities as Girl Genius, filled the void left by Girl Genius.

One of the troubles with this category is that much of what’s published is in a highly serialized form, with storylines often extending over several years. Publishers typically gather six to ten issues into trade editions, and these are what get nominated. But in reality, these volumes don’t often represent entire, self-contained stories. How can one justify recognizing an incomplete story?

The comics world is producing more top-notch work than in any other Hugo category, yet only seven titles made the 5% cutoff (interestingly, during the Business Meeting discussion about whether to ratify Graphic Story as a permanent category, the Hugo administrator stated that nine titles had made the cutoff—I guess they consider 4.94 to be close enough to 5 to count). It was great to see Carla Speed McNeil’s Eisner and L.A. Times Book Prize winner Finder getting attention (however, the storyline Voice was completed in 2008, so it’s unclear whether the printed volume in 2011 would have been eligible), but where were Atomic Robo, Battlepug, Chew, Daredevil, 20th Century Boys, American Vampire, Joe the Barbarian, The Walking Dead, and Irredeemable? Why weren’t Habibi and Anya’s Ghost ranked higher?

There were noticeably more nominating ballots cast this year than last year, but there was a sharp drop in the number of final ballots cast. Only a little more than half the total voters voted in this category. So, it seems this is not a hugely popular category.

Mini-Reviews

Digger by Ursula Vernon (Sofawolf Press)

I have to admit that I only got through about 100 pages of this 700+ page opus. What I did read was pretty good, but somewhat similar to things like Cerebus the Aardvark and Howard the Duck, pitting an anthropomorphic animal (in this case, a wombat) against human antagonists. Even though I am a big comic book fan, I had not heard of Digger before it was nominated. Looking back at Eisner Award records, I saw she was nominated in 2006 in the category Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition, but I am not a connoisseur of web-based comics, so it didn’t register in my memory. Digger certainly had the overwhelming support of the Hugo voters. It has the cute animal/fantasy vibe that Hugo voters seem to gravitate to. In her acceptance speech Ursula Vernon hinted that there was a huge twist ending, so I will make it a point to finish this massive story.

Fables Vol 15: Rose Red by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham (Vertigo)

Fables is one of the few cross-over favorites of the SF and comic book worlds. The first half of this trade edition was very good, chronicling the struggles of Snow White’s sister, Rose Red. The second half of the book was much less effective. It was not clear whether the intent of the voters was to honor just the Rose Red portion, or the entire volume. Nevertheless, the best of Fables is in its early years, and it seems momentum is keeping it on the ballot when perhaps other works are more deserving.

Locke & Key Volume 4, Keys to the Kingdom by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)

Locke & Key is a marvelous horror story, about a single mother and her children coping with life in a haunted house. The story is chilling without being too graphic. It’s hard to justify voting for a single, open-ended volume, but for me, Locke & Key is too good not to vote for, and I’m not even a big horror fan.

Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication written and illustrated by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (The Tayler Corporation)

I just don’t get Schlock Mercenary, a space opera gag strip that’s a clear parody of Star Trek. Its fans are certainly motivated: it garnered significantly more nominations than anything else. It has the cutesy artwork that Hugo voters like, but I think it’s just occasionally amusing and without much substance. What am I missing?

The Unwritten (Volume 4): Leviathan created by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. Written by Mike Carey, illustrated by Peter Gross (Vertigo)

I don’t understand why The Unwritten doesn’t get more Hugo love. It’s all about great literature, with lots of magic and adventure. Perhaps casual readers think it’s too much of a Harry Potter pastiche, but it is far from that. This particular volume did suffer from being a middle chapter in a longer work, with no clear resolution.  I thought the previous volume, Dead Man’s Knock, was a better representation of the series and was more self-contained.

Flashpoint: The World of Flashpoint Featuring Batman

Flashpoint: The World of Flashpoint Featuring Batman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This volume contains four mini-series tie-ins to the Flashpoint event wherein Wonder Woman and Aquaman wage genocidal warfare across Europe in a skewed alternate universe.

The first sequence, Batman: Knight of Vengeance, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, is one of the best Batman stories I’ve read, deserving 5 stars. In this alternate universe, Joe Chill killed young Bruce Wayne, leaving his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, grieving parents. Thomas turned his anger into becoming the Batman. By day, Thomas Wayne runs casinos with the help of his business partner Oswald Cobblepot (in the normal universe, AKA Penguin). By night he rids Gotham City of vile menaces like Hush, Scarecrow, Ivy, and Killer Croc with extreme prejudice. When Judge Harvey Dent’s children are kidnapped by the Joker, Batman must face his greatest nemesis in a way we’ve never seen. This Joker has an origin that is utterly terrifying and completely consistent with this alternate reality. The artwork by Risso beautifully captures the dark insanity of Thomas Wayne’s world.

The second sequence, Deadman and the Flying Graysons, by J. T. Krul and a battery of artists, depicts a circus traveling through war-ravaged Europe, trying to evade the insane conflict all around them. Trapeze artists Boston Brand (AKA Deadman) and the Flying Graysons, featuring young daredevil Dick Grayson (known as Robin in the normal universe), become involved with the Resistance in a deadly way. A mystical artifact must be protected from Wonder Woman’s Amazonian army, which ultimately leads to transformations by Brand and Grayson. Unfortunately, the story ends before we see the full ramifications of these transformations. I give this 3 stars.

The third sequence, Deathstroke and the Curse of the Ravager, by Jimmy Palmiotti and a slew of artists, tells the story of the pirate Deathstroke who takes advantage of the chaos of war to plunder the high seas for his own gain. When rival pirate Warlord kidnaps his daughter, Deathstroke must face insurmountable odds to try to rescue her. Along the way they cross paths with Aquaman and his ally Ocean Master with disastrous results. This is a fast-paced adventure that really doesn’t have much to do with the main Flashpoint storyline, but is interesting for its depictions of familiar DC characters in unusual circumstances. This deserves about 3-1/2 stars.

The fourth sequence, Secret Seven, by Peter Milligan and a variety of artists, delves into the magical world of Shade the Changing Man and his one-time allies Black Orchid, Amethyst, Abra Kadabra, Raven, Zatanna, and Mindwarp as Shade tries to bring them together to help Cyborg end the metahuman war while trying to evade Sagan Maximus’s attempts to neutralize him and Enchantress’s attempts to kill him. In the end, though, the story is mostly a confusing mess that has no real conclusion. This is the weakest sequence in this compilation, earning no more than 2 stars.

The problem with most of these sequences is that they were only three-issue mini-series. I get the impression that they were originally intended to be much longer, perhaps six issues each, because in almost every case the story ends abruptly and often with the protagonists experiencing turning points that cry out for resolution. Overall, this anthology is well worth checking out for the Batman story, but the remainder is very inconsistent in quality.

WonderCon 2012, Part 2

Arno Axolotl gets skewered in support of HBO's Game of Thrones.

TV

There were a number of panels relating to TV programs. Prime-time series Person of Interest, Alcatraz, Once Upon a Time, and Community all had well attended presentations. Since WonderCon came before the Fall schedule was announced, there were few new shows in evidence. I didn’t see it, but I think there were some teasers from the new Arrow program that is replacing Smallville.

There were several panels devoted to TV animation. I was unable to get into the Adventure Time panel, the only presentation I missed due to the room being full. I did see the DC Nation panel that previewed clips from Green Lantern: The Animated Series and the second season of Young Justice, as well as some of the short-shorts that they are playing on Saturday mornings. Unfortunately, there was no real mention of the new Batman series or any other possible offerings that may be in development.

Alcatraz panel with stars Jorge Garcia, Sarah Jones, Parminder Nagra, Jonny Coyne, and Robert Forster, plus some of the writers and producers.

x
Movies

One of the more fun panels during the convention was a retrospective of the movies from 1982. With such science fiction and fantasy classics as Star Trek II, Blade Runner, E.T., Tron, Poltergeist, Conan, and The Thing, not to mention cult classics like Megaforce, the panelists had a good time reminiscing and joking about their favorites.

Damon Lindelof and Ridley Scott discuss Prometheus

There were a number of previews for this summer’s blockbusters. Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof were there in person to introduce the latest trailer for Prometheus. I still don’t really know what the movie will be like, but I expect an intelligent, thrilling adventure.

One of the highlights was the trailer for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Produced by Tim Burton and directed by Timur Bekmambetov, this looks to be a wild and exciting movie. Who knew Lincoln was such a bad-ass vampire killer!

Other previews included Battleship, which doesn’t look quite as lame as the first trailer made it look, but think it’s basically Transformers in sheep’s clothing—lots of explosions, but nonsensical. The preview for Snow White and the Huntsman looked interesting—certainly Snow White herself should be a strong female lead.

The weirdest preview was for a film called Sound of My Voice. They showed the first ten minutes of the film that introduced us to a cult based on a charismatic female time traveler (or perhaps a charismatic con artist). After the clip, two supposed members of the cult came on stage in a piece of performance art that I don’t think was well received. Finally, writer/director Zal Batmanglij and writer/lead actor Brit Marling came out to expound on the film a little. It is an ultra low-budget independent film that has been shown on the festival circuit to reasonable success. The film will be widely released in late April. I’m not sure I was wholly convinced to seek it out.

Rounding out the movie previews was a screening of the next DC animated film, Superman vs. The Elite, which comes out in June. I will have a full review later; the snapshot is that this is quite good. DC Animation consistently comes up with good to excellent features, something their live-action counterparts do not. They also teased Batman: The Dark Knight Returns with some short clips. It looked awesome. (Rumors are that the story will be split into two parts, which if true is a good sign that it will not be compromised from the graphic novel by Frank Miller.)

WonderCon 2012, Part 1

Overview

WonderCon 2012 was held at the Anaheim Convention Center, across from Disneyland, on March 16-18. Billed as a one-time venue change from its usual home in San Francisco, the convention was a huge success, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Comic-Con organizers or another group puts on more Anaheim conventions in the future. I estimated that there were probably around 8000 to 10000 attendees at WonderCon, much fewer than Comic-Con, yet large enough to warrant plenty of good programming and a large exhibition hall. There were really never any lines and only a few presentations were “sold out.” The main ballroom was probably about the size of Comic-Con’s Ballroom 20, and there was another very large room for other popular presentations. There were a good number of smaller rooms for everything else. The exhibition space was always bustling, but never overly crowded. The convention center was also hosting a girls’ volleyball tournament, so there is plenty of room to grow if this or another similar convention comes to Anaheim in the future. About the only minor glitch to the weekend was that it rained most of the time, but since I was inside the whole time, it didn’t really affect anything. Parking was also a bit of a nuisance, but there was plenty of parking across the street at Disneyland, and there was also remote parking with a shuttle bus.

Comic Books

IDW Panel, with Mark Waid as the Rocketeer.

WonderCon had a greater emphasis on comic books than Comic-Con. The Small Press and Artists’ Alley areas were quite large, at least in comparison to the Dealers’ area of the exhibition hall. There were a number of presentations by the big publishers. I was most excited about some of IDW’s upcoming titles. In addition to the well received Rocketeer anthology series, they announced that Mark Waid would be writing a new Rocketeer mini-series, and the preliminary artwork for that series looked great.

Speaking of Mark Waid, he announced major plans to start a digital comics publishing endeavor. He is actually selling off his entire, large collection of printed comics to finance this digital start-up venture.

Doctor Who/Star Trek: The Next Generation Crossover from IDW, featuring a team up of the Borg and the Cybermen.

I had more of a chance to wander through the Small Press area than I usually do at Comic-Con. I like to pick up what look like promising books. Usually, small press books aren’t very good, but I did find a couple of titles that were interesting. Vigilante Project: The Guitar Hero by Chris Dickens, Chris Campana, and Nik Poliwko caught my eye as a pretty well written book that explores how a hero might actually act in the real world. The protagonist might win his fights, but he will look like a bloody mess afterwards. Another small press book that I liked was The Dinosaurs Are Dead: The Truth Behind the Extinction by Stephen Linquist, Travis Linquist, and Miguel Cervantes. From the outside this looks like a children’s book, but it is definitely not. It is a graphically violent look at the zombie infestation that killed the dinosaurs.

Comic-Con is Dead to Me!

San Diego Comic-Con badges sold out in under one and a half hours this morning. By the time I got in the queue, due to the website being inundated, there were already too many ahead of me.

I’ve probably been to Comic-Con at least 25 times over the years, and will try to go again in the future, but I am strangely not that disappointed about not going this year. Comic-Con has been a zoo in recent years, and almost all the major panels end up on YouTube. Not only is the convention crowded, with long lines for popular events, getting a nearby hotel at a reasonable price has become nearly impossible, and the registration cost for the convention has spiked to $175 this year.

Besides, I’ll be going to WonderCon in a couple of weeks. It’s what Comic-Con was 10+ years ago–more focused on comics at a reasonable registration price without the crushing crowds.

Judging by comments on the Comic-Con Facebook page, it looks like a lot of first-timers got in. I wish them well.

Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers

Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers (2011)
Written by Robert Rodi; art by Esad Ribic; directed by Mark Cowart and Joel Gibbs.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers is a four episode motion comic from Marvel Knights Animation that is based on the 2004 miniseries Loki. It is essentially a character study of Loki (David Blair); Thor (Daniel Thorn) spends the vast majority of the running time as a mute prisoner, with only a few brief flashbacks.

The story opens as Loki is celebrating his takeover of Asgard, with Thor, Odin (Joe Teiger), Sif (Elizabeth Diennet), and Baldar (James Hampshire) in chains. Loki soon learns that ruling an empire is not all it’s cracked up to be. He must mediate in what seems like every petty squabble in the land, and his allies in the rebellion begin to demand payment on his promises used to secure their cooperation.

All of this comes off as a cheap Shakespearian tragedy, with Loki brooding and plotting but not really doing anything. As such, it is aimed at adults more interested in political machinations than teenagers more interested in action.

The artwork is the best part of the production. There is a real sense of dimensionality, and the character designs are quite detailed. Loki is portrayed as an old man with missing teeth and lined face. The Asgard warriors are musclebound and the females are full-figured, to say the least. The superb backgrounds fill the screen with beauty. However, the limited animation detracts from the overall effect with its jerky movements and static compositions.

Each episode is about 20 minutes of story, so I’m not sure why the producers opted to break it into four parts. It would flow better as an uninterrupted movie.

The ending is unsatisfactory. Completely unsurprising spoiler–Thor escapes and wreaks retribution on Loki. We don’t see what happens to several principal characters or the fallout of Loki’s villainy.

Thor fans will undoubtedly want to see this production because it adds some interesting layers to Loki’s personality and his relationship with Thor, but I can’t recommend it for anyone else. The limited animation, lack of action, and lack of a satisfactory payoff makes this a dull morality play.

Justice League: Doom

Justice League: Doom (2012)
Written by Dwayne McDuffie, based on “Tower of Babel” by Mark Waid; directed by Lauren Montgomery

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Snapshot: An exciting adventure reuniting most of the creative talent from the Justice League animated TV series that is almost derailed by major plot holes at the end.

Major spoilers ahead!

The story opens with Batman (Kevin Conroy), Superman (Tim Daly), Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg), Green Lantern (Nathan Fillion) Martian Manhunter (Carl Lumbly), and the Flash (Michael Rosenbaum) thwarting a jewel heist by a gang of thieves who seem to have a little more high-tech than expected. It turns out that they were supplied by the immortal Vandal Savage (Phil Morris) as part of his plot to destroy the Justice League and take over the world.

It turns out Savage is focused on the big picture. Little things like Batman’s secret identity don’t interest him (and anyway, he already knows it). Savage uses his “Legion of Doom” to discover and carry out the Dark Knight’s “contingency plans” for stopping any rogue Justice League member. This leads to a second act filled with nonstop action and suspense as the Justice Leaguers are knocked off, one by one by their rivals: Bane (Carlos Alazraqui), Cheetah (Claudia Black), Metallo (Paul Blackthorne), Star Sapphire (Olivia d’Abo), Mirror Master (Alexis Denisof), and Ma’alefa’ak (Carl Lumbly).

The third act is also filled with exciting action as the League regroups and fights to stave off Savage’s ultimate end game: the literal destruction of half the world’s population along with all technology utilizing electricity so that he can become the undisputed ruler of what’s left. Here’s where, for me, the plot goes off the rails. I realize that movies like this have to up the ante, especially with superheroes as powerful as the Justice League, but really, what kind of crazy does a super-villain have to be to think that ruling a decimated Earth would be any way fulfilling?

And the way Savage plans to wreak this havoc is mind-boggling, even for a comic book story. OK, he demonstrated that he has super-advanced technology earlier in the story, so I can kind of give it a pass that he can launch a rocket from the Earth that will crash into the Sun causing massive solar flares that will destroy anything in their path. But come one, it’s the fracking Sun! There’s nothing manmade that could possibly cause the Sun to explode this way.

If this were the only plot hole, I could forgive it. But the bigger plot hole is that the rocket takes only about a minute to reach the Sun. Even at the speed of light, it would take eight minutes, a fact that they repeat several times in relation to how long it will take the solar flares to reach Earth. A rocket would take months, if not years (it took the MESSENGER probe almost four years to arrive at Mercury) to reach the Sun. This could have been easily explained away in the movie if Savage had simply stated that he launched the rocket months ago in preparation. The climax could still have been as exciting, with the heroes attempting to activate the rocket’s fail-safe rather than attempting to cancel its launch.

Nevertheless, Justice League: Doom is well worth seeing. The chemistry between the returning voice actors is fun, as the they have grown into their roles over the years. Bumper Robinson as Cyborg is a welcome addition to the ensemble, and I hope we get to see more of him in future installments. (This movie just reinforces my desire to see a resurrected Justice League TV series.) There are many nice character interactions between the heroes and their villainous counterparts, as well as some pointed humor between Batman and Alfred (“You’re dripping blood on my clean floor.”) There is also some wonderful poignancy in the second act when it looks like our heroes are done for, especially when Green Lantern thinks he’s killed a civilian and momentarily loses his nerve.

Justice League: Doom is an exciting yet bittersweet end to Dwayne McDuffie’s prolific career as a writer for the DC animated universe (he died unexpectedly a year ago). I wish that the live-action movies were even close to the quality of the animated movies.