Thursday, September 29, 2005

Graphic Lit -- 9/25 and more

Time for some more comic reviews. These ran in the Patriot-News on 9/25, 9/4 and 8/28 respectively.

"Bumperboy Loses His Marbles"
by Debbie Huey
AdHouse Books, 96 pages, $7.95.

Even for a kids’ comic, "Bumperboy" is a little too slight for its own good. The title sums it up: Bumperboy loses his marbles on the eve of the big contest. Can he get them back and win the title? Part of the problem is that Bumperboy’s quest doesn’t offer much of a challenge — the marbles are pretty much lying around in various locales. The other problem is Huey’s art just isn’t polished enough at this early stage in her career to convey the sense of whimsy for which she’s reaching. Give her time, though.

"The Long Ride Home: One Step at a Time"
by G.B. Trudeau
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 96 pages, $9.95.

If nothing else, the current political climate has reinvigorated Garry Trudeau’s "Doonesbury," which had been growing a bit stale in recent years. This mini-collection covers the recent strips involving B.D., who lost his leg in Fallujah, and follows him through the healing process to his eventual homecoming. Trudeau deals with the delicate subject matter with humor, sensitivity and compassion for those serving overseas, and reminds you of how good Trudeau, when he wants to, can be.

"Strange Embrace"
by David Hine
Active Images, $14.95.

This "dark" graphic novel, originally serialized in the early 1990s, isn't particularly scary, but it does manage to provide some rather unsettling moments and generate enough suspense for me to recommend it.

The plot involves a young man in early 20th-century England who becomes obsessed with African tribal art and his relationship with his neglected wife and stern father. Lots of ugly family secrets end up being uncovered, with lots of nasty behavior being repaid for. There's also a story-within-the-story involving a nefarious psychic and his young victim, a distracting side note that takes away from the power of the central tale. Still, readers looking for a good gothic thrill would be advised to check this book out.

"Fables Vol. 5: The Mean Seasons"
by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham
Vertigo, $14.99.

It started off somewhat haltingly, but "Fables" has quickly becomeone of Vertigo's most enjoyable ongoing series. Blessed with arather clever premise -- Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf and other fairy tale characters are exiles living in New York, having been forced to flee their fantasy world -- the series builds on that with compelling characters and engrossing storylines.

The latest volume finds Snow White about to give birth to Bigby's (aka the Big Bad Wolf) kids, while Prince Charming takes over as the mayor of the NYC area known as Fabletown. It might not be the best place for newcomers to start, but reading one collection is all it should take to make you a fan of this delightful series.

"Zig Zag No. 1"
by J. Chris Campbell
AdHouse Books, $5.95.

Campbell has a nice blocky, geometric art style that makes this first issue of what will hopefully be a continuing series go down easy. The downside is that the aimlessness of some of the stories, as well as the penchant for random violence, prevent the reader from getting drawn in. The last story, though, is strong enough tomake you want to pick up the next issue.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Games vs. Politics, yet again

Dennis McCauley, editor of the excellent, has a very well-written think piece on the current political attacks on video games here.

Certainly, the recently passed laws in Michigan and Illinois should give any serious gamer, or anyone concerned about free speech issues, pause. Wishing Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer into the cornfield won't solve the problem either. Gamers both in the industry and out need to step up to the plate and work to calm parental fears and change the public perception that games are "just for kids."

Where have I heard that speech before . . .

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

VG REVIEW: 187 Ride Or Die

for PlayStation 2 and Xbox
rated M for Mature (blood, strong language, violence), $49.99

Yo, peep this homie.

Have you noticed lately how a lot of video games are attempting to create a more "urban" feel?

Games like "Def Jam: Fight for NY," "True Crime," "NBA Ballers," the upcoming "25 to Life" and 50 Cent games and, of course, "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" all in one way or another attempt to cop a hip-hop attitude in the hopes of seeming more "street."

Y’all feelin’ me?

The latest example of this trend is "187 Ride or Die," a rather simplistic car combat game with a lot of "gangsta" window dressing thrown on top. A number of critics have already described it as Mario Kart" with swearing and guns, and that’s pretty accurate.

The game involves a young man named Buck (Larenz Tate, wasting his talent) who is hired by the local gang lead­er to defend his territory against a rival group of thugs.

For some odd reason, doing that involves entering into a number of street races. I guess if you win, your rivals are so ashamed of their poor racing skills that they head home.

To win you not only have to be able to handle tight corners, but also you’ll have to take out your opponents, old-school style. The game gives you a variety of weapons, in­cluding Uzis, Molotov cock­tails and AK-47s. If real gangs used this sort of firepower in street races, they’d call in the National Guard.

If the gameplay were half-decent, a lot could be forgiv­en. Unfortunately, "187" is an incredibly repetitive game. Shooting down other cars is far too easy, and the races themselves begin to blur to­gether after awhile. The de­velopers try to mix things up by including elimination rounds and levels where you have to protect a car from at­ tackers, but after about an hour, the game starts to re­peat itself and interest drops fast.


The game also suffers from poor controls, at least on the Xbox version I played. You steer the car with the left thumbstick, but you also can look behind yourself by click­ing the same thumbstick.

The result? I frequently ended up crashing and having to start over a level because I couldn’t see where I was going when trying to round a tight corner.

As for the "urban" content, it comes off exactly what it is: a cynical attempt by a group of marketing execs to inject an otherwise shallow game with some "flava." It would be laughable if it weren’t so pa­thetic.

Check that, it’s laughable anyway, especially when the gang leader says things like, "Yo, Buck, you ready, gangsta! Its on and pop-lockin’. Race these bustas. ... G-ridas like us don’t lose. Holla back atcha, boy."

You can almost see the slang checklist being ticked off as you play. And, in addi­tion to the swearing, it’s also worth noting that the N-word is thrown around with rather shocking abandon.

"187 Ride or Die" desperatel­y wants to be perceived as a true O.G. But, dawg, this game is truly whack. Fo’ real.

Peace. I’m out.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The SPX done gone

Seriously, where does the time go? Here it is the end of September already and another SPX has come and gone. As promised, I made my annual pilgramage to Bethesda on Saturday and blew gobs of money in all directions. All in all, a good time was had, though it was a much quieter Expo for me this year. I kept my head down, but my wallet open.

I was surprised that attendance for this year's event, while steady, seemed down compared to past years. That was good news for me, as I didn't have to fight through crowds of people in order to make my way to, say, the Fantagraphics booth, but I'm sure that exhibitors will have a much different outlook on the lack of bodies. I passed by far too many booths displaying some nice comics but getting little love.

I did manage to ingratiate myself on a number of unsuspecting folks, and it was nice to say hi to people like Chris Staros, Chris Pitzer, Kim Thompson and Gary Groth, Dean Haspiel and others. It was also very cool to meet (very briefly) Harvey Pekar and have an extremely pleasant lunch with Jason Richards, of RIOT! comic store fame. Jason even blew off an invitation with Johanna Draper Carlson to make the luncheon, which was nice of him.

Other than that, my time was spent wandering around tables, seeing what's new and cool, picking up stuff I missed the first time around and begging for press copies (reviews of which will hopefully appear in this space in the near future).

One thing I didn't do this year was attend any of this year's panels, as none of them (with the possible exception of the American Splendor talk) really set my heart afire. The abscence of ICAF was really noticible for me this year, and I missed seeing people like Bart Beaty and Mark Nevis. With ICAF joined at the hip, SPX was always a place for me to pick up exotic foreign books that I would otherwise never be able to find. Fact is, once you've seen Depuy and Bebarian give a chalk talk and watched a slide show by Max, everything else pales in comparison.

Still, despite these minor gripes, it was definately a good show for me. Among the treasures I picked are:

  • A trio of lovely Ulf K. books at the Top Shelf booth
  • The three initial books from Fantagraphics new Ignatz series, each of which looks fantastic
  • The stunning "676 apparitions of Killoffer by Killoffer." I only managed to get a copy of this once I convinced the nice lady behind the booth that I was a member of the press.
  • The new Paper Rad.
  • A preview copy of the upcoming book by Zak Sally.

Jason and I also got a sneek peek at Buenaventura Press' upcoming book, the eye-popping "Elvis Road" by Helge Reuman. Be sure to keep an eye out for this one when it comes out next year, it's a stunner.

So, anyway, caveats aside, SPX remains a great show and a wonderful place to make new comic discoveries. By 4 p.m., I was tired, sore and my arms were heavy with bags of books. I got in the car, popped in Clarence Carter and headed home. All was right with the world.

PS: Sorry about the poor picture quality. I felt a complete schmuck taking pictures of people milling around and it shows. I'll do better next year, promise.

Friday, September 23, 2005

There's treasure everywhere (or at least in my mailbox)

The postal service has been very good to me this week. In the past few days, I've gotten review copies of the new "Burnout" and "Katamari" games, not to mention "Sly 3," "Pump It Up: Exceed" and a preview copy of "Loveless," the new Vertigo comic by the creators of "100 Bullets."

Oh, and then there was this:

Now, before you start crying "no fair," I should let you know that Andrews McMeel only sent me the first volume of the soon-to-be released Complete Calvin and Hobbes Collection (it officially hits stores on Oct. 4), and not the whole thing (a smart move on their part, as it manages to get the word out to the media without paying high shipping costs). However, having looked closely at this one volume, I'm not entirely sure this collection is the absolute must-have it's being trumpeted as.

First, the good stuff. The strips themselves look great, particularily the early ones, which look much sharper and cleaner when compared with the initial, squarebound collections. It should be noted, though, that the later, rectangular collections ("There's Treasure Everywhere," "It's A Magical World") are equal in print quality and printed at a larger size to boot (though maybe the third volume runs the later strips larger, but I doubt it).

The real gem of the volume is the nice introduction by Watterson which includes childhood sketches and early versions of the strip, where Calvin has his hair in front of his eyes and Hobbes plays poker with raccoons. Watterson is his usual forthright, frank self here, and he's refreshingly open about his early years, his fights with the syndicate about licensing the strip, and life after Calvin, which apparently consists of painting desert scenes.

So my problem with this "Complete Collection" isn't the content, but the packaging. Though the cover itself is sturdy and attractive, the interior pages leave something to be desired. I'm not sure why the publishers decided to color the interior pages a dull tan (perhaps to provide more contrast to the white daily strips, drawing out the art more?) but it's a distracting choice, and gives the pages a slapped-together feel. The design editor at my paper wondered upon looking at the book if they wanted to make it look like the original paste-ups.

There are other concerns. All the art from the previous collections are included here, even the covers and goofy poems, but they're inserted in the book rather haphazardly, without any reference or notes as to where said art work originally appeared. Organizing this material in either the front or back of the book (and perhaps including a table of contents) would have been a much better idea.

Much has already been made of some of the alterations in the original strips, so I won't go into that. Tom Spurgeon at the Comics Reporter mentioned the piss-poor Q&A Watterson did with folks from around the U.S. It's included in the press kit I received with the book along with a suggestion to run it in the paper as a plug for the strip. Other suggestions include exploring "Calvin and Hobbes folklore." the strip's recent return to newspapers and interviewing the various syndicate folk.

Perusing through this first volume, I can't help but escape the feeling that this package was rushed together in slapdash fashion, with little thought given to overall presentation or design. Sure, the strips still look great and the humor is as strong as ever, but when compared other recent high-profile strip collections like "The Complete Peanuts," this package falls woefully short. Even the introduction, as good as it is, isn't as revealing about the creation of the strip as the Watterson's notes in the "Tenth Anniversary Book."

Still, "Calvin and Hobbes" is a modern classic and it is nice to see the material all collected here in one place. If you've already got all the original trade collections, though, there's little reason to upgrade to this "high end" version. This is more of a book for those who have a few gaps on the bookshelf or, god forbid, don't have any of the original trades at all.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

A few quick notes

Here's some things that popped up in my inbox recently:

New York gamers take note: Legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto will make a rare U.S. appearance at the new Nintendo store, 10 Rockefeller Plaza, this Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The first 10 people in line with a DS and a copy of "Nintendogs" will be able use the game's "Bark Mode" to link up with Mr. Miyamoto. The first 200 people in line will get an autograph. There will be a bunch of other giveaways, including limited edition DS skins. Kotaku has more information here if you're still curious.

"Nintendogs" fans take note: If that's not enough "Nintendogs" love for you, the company also announced that it will release a limited-edition bundle featuring the game and either a Teal or Pearl Pink DS. This new, fourth edition of the game will feature the starter breeds Labrador retriever, golden retriever, German shepherd, beagle, Yorkshire terrier and miniature dachshund. It will also come with a special "Nintendogs" DS skin and a bone-shaped screen cleaner.

The retail price is $149.99 and it will hit stores on Oct. 24.

RPG fans take note: Square Enix's "Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King" will hit stores on Nov. 22 for the PlayStation 2. The game's official Web site can be found here.

Prince of Persia fans take note: The upcoming PoP game now officially has a title - "Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones." Ubisoft also announced a special preorder deal: reserve the PS2 or Xbox versions of the game and you'll get the official "Prince of Persia" trilogy soundtrack for free. The soundtrack includes music from all three games, along with a color artbook pamphlet and bonus downloads including an exclusive code to unlock a hidden sword in the game.

People who care about how I spend my weekend take note: I'm going to be at SPX this Saturday, schmoozing and buying lots of comics. Perhaps I'll see you there.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Graphic Lit -- 9/18

Yes, that's what I've been calling the comic review blurbs that I do for The Patriot-News. I admit, it's not genius, but it's better than "Hey Kids, Comics!"

These all ran in the paper last Sunday. Enjoy.

"Bete Noire 1"
edited by Chris Polkki
Fantagraphics Books, 96 pages, $9.95.

"Mome 1"
Fantagraphics Books, 128 pages, $14.95.

Art-comix stalwarts Fantagraphics recently published two cutting-edge anthologies featuring a wide swath of notable artists. But, neither really manages to catapult itself into the status of "instant classic."

"Bete Noire" adopts a hodgepodge, "stuff as much as you can in a small book" approach, so that none of the stories manages to stay with you when you’ve put the book down. It doesn’t help much that several contributions feel like they’re part of a larger ongoing work. I hate to pick on the book, especially since it features work by cartoonists you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else, but apart from Lucie Durbiano’s romantic take on Little Red Riding Hood, the material just isn’t that strong.

Equally ambitious but more focused is "Mome," a new quarterly that aims for nothing less than to be the "Zap Comics" for the new, up-and-coming generation of cartoonists. Rather than a constantly changing lineup, "Mome" features a regular cast of artists, giving the reader a chance to see their work grow and develop over time.

Unfortunately, the first collection is a mixed affair. While Gabrielle Bell, Anders Nilsen and Andrice Arp contribute smart, intriguing work, the pieces by Jeffrey Brown and Sophie Crumb fall surprisingly flat. Other stories feel like first chapters in longer narratives that have yet to find their footing.

Still, if this first issue fails to live up to the hype, the far-flung goal is quite admirable. And there’s enough talent in these pages to have faith that the objective will be reached in time.

"Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922"
by Frank King
Drawn and Quarterly, $29.95.

Everyone rightly acknowledges comic strips such as "Peanuts" and "Calvin and Hobbes" as classics. Equally deserving of that title, though largely ignored, is Frank King’s "Gasoline Alley," a lovely, heartfelt strip that moved in real time, with the characters aging at the same pace as the reader.

Drawn and Quarterly and uber-cartoonist/editor Chris Ware are now attempting to give King his due, thanks to this immense first volume in a projected series that will collect King’s entire run.

What starts as a gag-a-day comic involving the early fascination with automobiles turns into something altogether different when main character Walt Wallet finds an abandoned baby on his doorstep. From there, the strip becomes a warm and funny look at parenthood and the simple joys of life that never tips over into maudlin excess. Extensive essays and archival photos of King sweeten the package. Do yourself a favor and pick up this lovely piece of early 20th-century Americana.

"Der Struwwelmaakies"
by Tony Millionaire
Fantagraphics Books, 94 pages, $19.95.

It’s hard to think of another cartoonist who is able to go from cheerful offensiveness to sublime poetry with the deftness and aplomb of Tony Millionaire. This latest collection of his weekly "Maakies" strip shows that Millionaire is a sublime draftsmen, as evidenced by his frequent backgrounds filled with wooden ships and ornate houses. The gags, at times grotesque, will no doubt alienate those with sensitive dispositions. Those with a fondness for the bizarre and outrageously funny should feel free to dive right in.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005

Monday, September 19, 2005

VG REVIEW: Girl games

Buena Vista Games,
for Game Boy Advance,
rated E for Every­one, $29.99
RATING: One star

Buena Vista Games,
for Game Boy Advance,
rated E, $29.99
RATING: Two stars

Buena Vista Games,
for Game Boy Advance,
rated E, $29.99.
RATING: Three stars

Every once in awhile, it’s a good idea to step out of your comfort zone and try something new

It was with that mantra in mind that I attempted to plow my way through three new Game Boy Advance games: "Lizzie McGuire 3: Homecoming Havoc," "That’s So Raven 2: Supernatural Style" and "Kim Possible 3: Team Possi­ble.

These are all licensed games based on popular Dis­ney TV shows. More to the point, these are games de­signed, like the shows, to ap­peal to elementary school-age girls. Not exactly the demo­graphic most video game de­velopers cater to.

Unfortunately, the rule of thumb is that most licensed games, particularly those aimed at young girls, stink on ice, and except for one pleas­ant surprise, these games fol­low that rule like lemmings to the cliff.

For starters, let’s take a look at "Lizzie McGuire." Imagine you created a "WarioWare" rip-off but took out all the creativity, humor and chal­lenge. You’d end up with something like this.

Like "WarioWare," "Lizzie McGuire" is a collection of minigames grouped together that must be completed with­ in a short time. The difference is that whereas "Wario’s" games show a surreal inven­tiveness and ingenuity, "Lizzie McGuire" games are simplifi­ed to the point that it’s hard to imagine a 5-year-old not get­ting bored with this.

How bad can it possibly be? Well, one minigame involves walking Lizzie across the screen from left to right. That’s it. Other levels fare little better. And the lack of challenge is further under­scored by the fact that you can earn collectable cards that give you a pass on any games you might have lost.

Compounding the problem is the fact that "Lizzie McGuire" looks and plays like it was designed for a 10-year-old console, and not the GBA. If the gameplay it­ self weren’t enough, the stilt­ed animation and repetitive soundtrack are enough to make "Lizzie McGuire" one of the worst games I’ve played this year.

"That’s So Raven 2" fares a little better than "Lizzie McGuire," but then, it would almost have to. The plot in­volves Raven having to get tickets to a big show in order to take out her boyfriend for a night on the town. Or not; I was never quite sure.

Anyway, as Raven, you traipse through the malls and school halls, avoiding bullies and rent-a-cops and collecting fashion coins and other odd­ball items.

Basically, this is a low-rent platform game that doesn’t grate on the nerves as "Lizzie McGuire" does but never real­ly offers any challenge or in­terest.

What’s more, the innate sexism of the game (Raven never seems to care about anything more than boys and clothes) put me off quickly. I don’t know whether the show is as narrow-minded as this game, but based on what I see here, I plan on keeping my daughter as far away from it as I can.

Just when I was about to despair and head back to my little comfort zone, I popped in "Kim Possible 3." Surprise, surprise. Here’s a licensed game that, while not offering much in the way of originali­ty, is a pleasant enough diver­sion to be worthy of recom­mendation.

The catch here is that you not only play titular teenage super-spy Kim but also her sidekick, Ron. In order to get through the various levels, you’ll have to switch back and forth between the two leads. Kim, for example, can swing across chasms using her grappling gun, while Ron can un­lock doors with the help of his pet mole rat Rufus

Yes, it’s been done before, but "Kim Possible" manages to pull it off with finesse. While other aspects of the game might be lacking (the enemies, in particular, barely put up a fight), the sense of exploration within these rath­er large environments is pal­pable and enjoyable.

"Kim Possible" proves that licensed games don’t have to be horrible. It proves that games for young girls don’t have to be insipid or revolve around shopping. It’s a point that most developers would do well to take note of. Perhaps it’s time they started to venture out of their own com­fort zones as well.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005


Ok, let's start this week off with two new reviews that ran in last Sunday's (Sept. 18) paper. First one's the less than amazing driving game, Flat Out.

Vivendi Universal
for PlayStation 2 and Xbox
rated T for Teen (vi­olence), $49.95.

RATING: Two stars

I swear, I just can’t figure out what "Flat Out" wants from me.

In this destruction-derby-style racing game, smashing things is paramount. By knocking over the stuff that litters the race track, you fill up your Nitro meter, which, when full, gives you the boost you need to take the lead and finish in first place.

Sounds simple, right?

Except that the problem with running into debris (and other cars) is that it slows you down. Quite considerably, in fact, to the point that you can often find yourself in last place after ramming into something.

So to win the race you need to fill up your meter, which you do by destroying stuff, which slows you down so much that you have no chance of winning the race.

Is it just me, or is there a really big Catch-22 here?

Adding to the problem is the fact that your computer- controlled opponents have no such problems. The rubber- band artificial intelligence ensures that they will be right on your tail and ready to pass you regardless of whether they planted head first into a wall five seconds ago or not. A better game would have re­warded you for getting your opponents to crash.

If it weren’t for all that, "Flat Out" would probably be a decent, if unexceptional, racing game. The tracks are nicely laid out and the cars themselves handle well.

The only other significant feature of the game worth noting is that your car’s "driv­er" will fly out of the windshield upon impact. Hit an ob­ject hard enough, and you can watch your virtual motorist smash through glass and fall upon the ground in a tumbled heap.

The game’s developers were apparently so tickled with this feature that they cre­ated a whole series of extra minigames designed to ex­ploit it. In addition to the races, you can catapult your driver in long jump, high jump and other sports-related sce­ narios. There’s even a bowl­ing minigame.

If this were a little more cartoonishly done, I could get behind it. But watching my virtual self smash through glass, skid through the dirt and then smash into the ground in a rather realistic (if bloodless) manner doesn’t make me want to keep play­ing. It makes me cringe and want to turn off my Xbox.

Honestly, I’m not quite sure what to make of this feature. Am I supposed to be amused by this? Disturbed? A little bit of both?

In the name of all that is good and holy, "Flat Out," what do you want from me?

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005

In case you missed it

The New York Times debuted their new Funny Pages section yesterday. For those who don't subscribe or couldn't get the paper, you can find the online version here (you'll have to register, natch). As reported just about everywhere, the debut section includes a nice little one-page comic by the mighty Chris Ware. As an added bonus, there' also an mp3 interview with Ware for downloading. All in all, it's a strong start for this new section.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Nintendo reveals next-gen controller

Great googly moogly.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Comic/Games confluence: Bone is out

Bone the computer game is now officially online and available for Windows 2000 and XP. You can download the first part for free here. If you want the rest of the game it will cost you only $19.99, which is a pretty good deal.

I find this release exciting/interesting on a couple of levels. Firstly, the source material that Telltale Games is working with is pretty exceptional and, I think, more easy to translate into a video game format than other non-superhero comics. Secondly, unless I'm greatly mistaken, this is being billed as an adventure game, and, as any gamer worth their salt will tell you, adventure games are few and far between these days.

This is one of the few times in my life where I severely regret being a Mac user. If anyone does decide to try it out, please do email me and let me know how it is, kay?

In related news, Joystiq reports that Telltale will also be producing the formerly cancelled Sam and Max game. This is the third time the sequel to the critically acclaimed "Sam and Max Hit the Road" has been promised, but hopefully three will be the charm here.

Time for some comic reviews

"Shirley: A Sex Comedy"
by Noa Abarbanel and Amitai Sandy
Dimona Comix Group, 40 pages, 9.95.

Despite the book's explicit sex scenes, "Shirley" is less a piece of erotica and more of a character study. Poor Shirley has no trouble finding men, she just can't hold onto them. This is mainly due to her seemingly desperate need to crack inappropriate jokes in the middle of intimate moments. The authors clearly want readers to see Shirley as a free spirit, looked down upon by a bunch of repressed dullards who can't lighten up. The fact, however, is that her behavior is so intensely annoying that she evokes little sympathy.

"The Murder of Abraham Lincoln"
by Rick Geary
NBM, 80 pages,$15.95.

The latest in Geary's "Treasury of Victorian Murder," "Lincoln" delves into the story of the president's assassination with a good deal of thoughtfulness and research. You might think you know everything there is about that tragic day at Ford's Theater, but Geary proves there's a good deal that wasn't in your high school history book, including some lingering and rather intriguing mysteries. Geary has always been a top-notch cartoonist, and this latest volume further cements his reputation. Buy it for the CivilWar buff in your family.

"Ordinary Victories"
by Manu Larcenet
NBM, $15.95.

It's hard to talk about this latest cultural import from NBM without lapsing into effusive superlatives. Ostensibly, it's the story of Marc, a photographer plagued with anxiety over his work, his family, his girlfriend and life in general. More than that, however, "Victories" is an extraordinarily moving look at one man's attempt to find his place in the world and, eventually, to mature. Do yourself a favor and put it on your "must-read list" for this year.

"Dimona 3"
by various,
Dimona Comix Group,64 pages, $9.95.

This anthology features four stories by Israeli artists, each dealing with issues of self-discovery in some fashion. The best story is the third by Meirav Shaul, who uses a loose, sketchy style to tell the dreamlike tale of a shy young girl who goes to a party. The other three tales contain some noteworthy art work, but the stories themselves are rather inconsequential, and they quickly fade from memory once you've put the book down.

by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Vertigo, $12.99.

A mash-up of sorts between "The Incredible Journey" and "Terminator 2," "WE3" follows a trio of bio-engineered and cybernetically enhanced animals (a dog, cat and rabbit, respectively) as they escape their cages and make a break for freedom, with the military in hot pursuit.

There are any number of ways a story like this could have gone horribly wrong, but Morrison and Quitely manage to pull the book off with alarming skill, mainly because they portray the deadly trio as real animals and don't anthropomorphize them into cute, short people with fur. Quitely, especially, brings all his artistic talents to this (rather violent) work, which quickly turns into a reflection on animal cruelty and the dangers of good intentions. Don't be surprised if by the time you get to the last page you find yourself brushing away a tear. "WE3" is one of the best comics of the year.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005

Xbox 360 to drop Nov. 22

Those who thought Microsoft would release their highly-anticipated next-generation console on Black Friday were close, but not close enough. The company that Bill built will release the 360 in North America on Nov. 22, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, according to the latest press release. It will land on Japanese and European shores on Dec. 2.

Releasing the console right before the big Xmas rush may very well entice consumers to cough up $400 plus for the pricey super-duper version, instead of the no-frills $300 one.

GameSpot has more information about the console's release here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Some quick comics links

  • According to Heidi McDonald at The Beat!, Publisher's Weekly will launch their own comics-related newsletter, the appropriately titled Comics Weekly. You don't have to be a subscriber in order to get the newsletter, so feel free to sign up.
  • There's been a big brouhaha on the Net recently over Diamond's new sales standards. Basically the comics distributor (pretty much the only comics distributor of any serious significance) announced that books that earn less than $600 will be dropped from their catalog. You can read about it here, here, here, here, here and here. As someone who's not actively involved in the industry, I don't have too much to add on my own, but it's certainly an interesting story to follow for anyone who cares about the future of independent and small press comics.

VG REVIEW: EyeToy Play 2

OK, let's kick this thing off with a review of the new EyeToy game. This first saw print last Sunday, Sept. 11, so it's not too moldy.

Sony, for the PlayStation 2, rated E10+ for everyone 10 and older, $49.99.

Sony continues its attempt to ingratiate its camera peripheral upon the video-game-playing public with this sequel to the first "EyeToy " game. The good news is that it's an enjoyable game.

The concept is the same as before. "Play 2" is a collection of mini-games such as ping-pong, soccer and boxing. The catch is that you use the "EyeToy " camera to project your image directly into the television set.

In other words, your body becomes the controller with you literally serving as the star of the show.

The games are clever and enjoyable, if a little simplistic. In "Secret Agent," for example, you have to avoid search lights and laser beams while trying to collect keys to break out of prison. "Mr. Chef" has you building burgers, mashing tomatoes, flipping pancakes and other culinary exercises. And in "DIY" you get to tear apart trees with a variety of handyman tools.

There are also a handful of multiplayer games and a Playroom, which offers a more sedate game experience, using sound and movement to rave up your TV screen.

The real item of note here, however, is the "EyeToy Cameo," which makes a digital "mask" of your head and uses it in the game as, say, a punching bag. Which is great if you have any serious
self-loathing issues you need to work out.

The only serious problem with "Play 2" is what just about every other "EyeToy " game faces, that the camera needs a heck of a lot of light in order to work properly.

Playing late at night, I found certain corners of the screen refused to respond to my hand movements no matter how frantically I waved my arms. Daytime was better, but I still needed to have some lights on.

Like the first game, "EyeToy Play 2" is a fun party game that will best be enjoyed with friends and family.

The nice thing about this series is that you don't need to have any familiarity with video games or what button does what in order to play. Anyone from 3 to 83 can enjoy this game. Just make sure your party has a lot of light to go around.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Insert Devo joke here

I've been doing video game reviews for the paper where I work on and off for a few years now. And if there's one thing I've noticed about video game pr people, it's that they like to send a lot of useless (but usually fun) swag. In the past I've gotten bottles, foam fingers, action figures, a "limited edition print," bobbleheads, mini-radios and a plethora of T-shirts.

This one, however, not only takes the proverbial cake, it scarfs it down in one whole sitting:

No, you are not hallucinating. That is indeed a genuine, all-leather, grade-A whip, courtesy of the kind folks at Konami.

What game could the possibly be promoting? Why the upcoming Castlevania sequel, natch.

I don't even want to know where they ordered this thing from. Where do you go to purchase S&M toys in bulk?

On the one hand, this trinket did it's job. It certainly got my attention, as well as the attention of my co-workers. On the other hand, this thing is a bit of an annoyance. After the initial amusement fades, the question remains, what the hell am I going to do with this thing? Cause I sure ain't takin' it home to let the kids play with it.

I'm thinking the office Christmas raffle.

An introduction is in order

Hello and welcome to Panels and Pixels! If all goes according to plan, this blog will serve as a warehouse for my reviews, critiques and other minor thoughts on two of my current obsessions, comics and video games.

A quick bit about me: I am a copy/layout/books page editor for the Patriot-News, a daily paper based in Harrisburg, Pa. In addition to my various duties, I regularly review video games for the Arts & Leisure section. I also review comics for the books page, though on a less regular basis. In addition, my stuff occasionally crops up in The Comics Journal.

One of the goals of this site is to get some of the stuff I write for the paper out to a wider audience (my ego being insatiable), so you'll see a number of P-N approved articles appear here, a week or so after they run in print.

In addition, I hope to offer news and opinions on other noteworthy aspects of these two art forms -- the kind of stuff that wouldn't cut it in a daily rag. When warranted, I'd also like to examine places where games and comics intersect in our culture. For example, I hope to be taking a look at the various comics being designed for the PlayStation Portable console in the near future.

Why comics and video games? Why not just focus on one instead of both? Well, other than the fact the two are mainly what I'm writing about these days, I do see enough similarities between the two cultures to justify this blog.

To wit:

  • Both industries cater strongly to the young male, age 19-35 crowd, usually to the detriment of anyone who doesn't fit that demographic.
  • Both are struggling to be accepted by the outside public as art forms in their own right instead of mindless, escapist entertainment. That attitude is slowly changing with comics these days, but games still have an uphill climb.
  • Both have been under serious attack from various "well-meaning" parental figures, both in and out of the local and federal government, who seek to censor material deemed harmful to children. What the Kefauver hearings in the 1950s were to comics, the Hot Coffee Scandal is to video games today.
  • Both tend to take a rather sexist, sophomoric attitude towards women.
  • Both industries are dominated by a fannish press that tends to favor overblown hype and regurgitating press releases over thoughtful criticism and insightful journalism. Except, of course, on the Internet.
  • Many comic fans like to play video games too.

God, that's a rather negative list. Of course, I'm generalizing wildly here. There are a continually growing number of people who crave intelligent, engaging comics and games. Unfortunately, that doesn't change the general public's perception that such materials are for emotionally stunted college boys. Hopefully, this blog will in some small way help to do away with such preconceptions. And maybe even challenge some of my own preconceptions too.