Thursday, December 29, 2011

Super Dinosaur Volume 1

            Robert Kirkman has pretty consistently entertained me with both The Walking Dead and Invincible, the latter of which I could probably write a whole editorial on why it’s one of the best comics out there right now.  He knows how to write a good, long-term story with big payoff, he knows the exact moment when he needs to drop the hammer and shock the reader.  What I’m saying is I had high hopes before I even started reading Super Dinosaur, and what I got wasn’t quite what I was hoping for.
            Super Dinosaur follows Derek Dynamo (who thinks everything is awesome), the young son of Doctor Dynamo, and the titular Super Dinosaur, a talking T. Rex with power armor.  They fight against Max Maximus and his army of other evil dinosaurs for control of the ore Dynore.  If this is sounding like a Saturday morning cartoon, that’s…about what it is.  Believe me, I was expecting more.  I kept expecting the Robert Kirkman twist, the sudden shock of violence or darkness or…anything.  But no, it’s a cartoon in comic book form.
            This isn’t to say it’s a bad cartoon.  Robert Kirkman showed that he can create a full world from the ground up with Invincible, and he’s taken that same process here.  A few minor characters like Squidious, an evil squid who Super Dinosaur has apparently fought in the past, show both his imagination and his world-building.  And it never becomes a parody of the concept.  There are definite flaws here, like the fact that Derek is too perfect and borderline annoying.  But overall, it’s very straight-forward yet entertaining, and would be perfect for kids to get into comics and have a fun story…
            …Is what I really want to say.  But I’m worried.  I think back to Invincible, and how the first volume was fairly standard superhero stuff, only for the twist to hit hard in the second volume.  I’d hate to think that this is decent G-rated stuff from the first volume, only for the second volume to have Super Dinosaur biting Derek’s head off.   But if that does happen, it seems like it really wouldn’t work.  The comic just isn’t smart enough here to match even the levels of the better cartoons on TV right now.  Would a quick change really make things that much better?
            In the end, I really don’t know what to think.  It’s an easy read, basic but fun, but it’s not the most fun comic out there and definitely doesn’t show off Robert Kirkman’s real abilities.  Young kids would probably like it just fine, but anybody older can easily pass this by. 
           Thanks to Net Galley and Image Comics for letting me review this book.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Aliens: Fast Track to Heaven

            Aliens is an interesting franchise, mainly because it always falls on that line between horror and action.  The first two movies are complete genre shifts between the two, and they’re both considered two of the greatest movies in their genres.  There’s the fear of a single xenomorph slowing picking off a crew one by one, and there’s the swarms of them that can be fought off with the right tactics.  No matter what, though, the biggest fear of the Aliens franchise is how the xenomorphs can come anywhere, anytime.  They crawl through vents, come in where you should be safe, and you never know where the next one is going to be.  Fast Track to Heaven just does not hit this concept right.
            The story has a crew working for the Weyland-Yutani at the Heaven station, a space station attached with a space elevator to Hell, the surface of Jupiter’s moon, Europa.  The elevator has been stopped midway, and they investigate to figure out why.  Turns out there’s a xenomorph on-board, who proceeds to slaughter them as they try to fight it off.
            Problem number one of this book is simply that it does not have the length to tell a complete story.  It’s a mere 38 pages, which is less than the length of two standard-size comic books.  It has to rush through characterization and some of the deaths, which hurts it.  We don’t even see one crew member’s death, despite the rather meager cast.  Aliens is also a franchise that tends to distinguish itself with its characters.  There’s a reason Ripley appeared throughout all the non-vs-Predator movies.  Yet I really couldn’t tell you much about any of these characters at the end of the day.  In Alien and Aliens, they gave us plenty of time to know the characters and care when they die.  We don’t even get a moment to do that here.  The 38 pages also results in an absolutely disappointing ending, with a splash page and a wall of text.  I couldn’t believe it had ended that way.
            Now, to get back to what I was talking about with not knowing where the alien comes from.  The problem here is that the alien pretty linearly follows the crew.  It doesn’t hide and creep around and pick them off.  The crew moves forward, the xenomorph moves with them.  Although it’s always nice enough to give them time if they need to talk about anything.  I wanted some tension here.  I guess it really comes back to the length.  With more pages, there would’ve been more time to rack up the suspense.  Instead, it’s just ho-hum, xenomorph killing people.  That’s how I feel about it.  I wasn’t left with anything memorable at the end of this book.  Just an absolutely standard Aliens story.
            The one thing I did really like was Liam Sharp’s art.  It’s a pretty rough art style, but I feel it fits the book well, and he can hit the violence spot-on.  The elevator-turned-xenomorph-home is an absolutely wonderful example of gruesome, creepy imagery.  Sadly, I can’t say the same thing about the coloring.  It’s rare to have a book where the coloring is so very obvious, but the panels are just covered in single colors.  Characters will be red and the backgrounds will be blue.  The few panels where he uses the full palette of colors to make it look like it would are significantly better-looking.
            I really can’t recommend Aliens: Fast Track to Heaven.  It’s just too short, to the point where it noticeably affects the book.  Across a mini-series, this might’ve been a good story.  Across 38 pages, it’s scrambling to get the bare bones out there.  And for $11?  There are far meatier books you can spend your money on.
            Special thanks to Net Galley and Dark Horse Comics for letting me review this book.