Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bandette Volume 1: Presto!

Written by Paul Tobin
Art by Colleen Coover

            There is nothing quite like a fun adventure comic.  The joy the creators had making it, combined with the mix of action and laughs, just makes a comic experience that’s irresistible.  And Bandette certainly hits all the high notes here, with few low ones in sight.
            Bandette is one of the world’s master thieves, easily able to steal whatever she wants, while also turning around and helping out the police officer Belgique when he needs it.  Along the way, she’s managed to anger the evil organization FINIS. This first volume sets up what will apparently be the plot for the rest of the series: “teaming up” (where teaming up really means a competition with the same goal) with another master thief, Monsieur, and stealing the most prized treasures of Absinthe, the leader of FINIS.
            This does mean the first volume might be a little light on plot, since it’s just set-up.  It doesn’t particularly matter.  It’s far too enjoyable to spend time caring about details like that.  Bandette has a purely fun personality, bantering with an assassin who comes after her, seeing very little danger in what she does, and ultimately doing more stealing for good than for evil.  At the same time, when she recovers a set of Rembrandt mini-paintings, she feels free to keep one for herself rather than give them all to their rightful owner.  And it’s certainly reflected in the world around her.  FINIS’ plans all have names like “Operation Kill Bandette” (which she just laughs off), Bandette’s team of helpers are excited just to help her out, and even Monsieur, who tries to be the serious master thief, seems to have Bandette’s idea for a competition rub off on him.  There is some darkness here, though, notably a silly character apparently being killed.  As this is off-panel, it’s hard to judge too much, and could easily be a bait-and-switch on the audience.  Still, hopefully too much more doesn’t happen in that direction, as it would seem to betray the book’s tone.
            This collection is absolutely loaded with extras, to the point where almost a quarter of the book is extra material.  The prize here is the Urchin Stories, a collection of stories about the various side characters throughout the book, most only two pages long.  Since this is a book mainly focused on Bandette, it’s nice to get a look into all these other interesting characters and their own adventures.  There’s a look at some of the things Bandette has stolen, and explaining the real-world significance behind them.  And finally, a sample of the script, and a detailed look at how the art is done.  It’s all good stuff, and if you’re considering buying these comics digitally, the extras may push it into a physical purchase.

            Bandette is definitely a comic to watch out for.  Its many Eisner nominations, and its win for Best Digital Comic, are no coincidence, and if it can keep everything up, it will probably enter the gallery of must-reads.

Monday, September 9, 2013

My Little Pony: Pony Tales Volume 1

        IDW seems to love the microseries—a spin-off series from their books which has entirely one-shot issues, focusing on different characters.  The closest I’ve come to it in the past was with Mars Attacks IDW, which was a definite mixed bag.  The My Little Pony micro series collection, Pony Tales, has 6 issues which each focus on a different member of the Mane Six, with the other members only making periphery appearances in each issue, at best.  But just like Mars Attacks, despite the strength of the main series, Pony Tales is a marked disappointment.
            There are some definite winners here, so let’s start with them.  Rarity (Written by main comic series writer Katie Cook/Art by Amy Mebberson) focuses on Rarity being sent to a “health spa”, but ends up doing a bunch of farm work instead.  The plot here works well to contrast the character, and there’s several real laugh-out-loud moments.  Applejack (Bobby Curnow/Brenda Hickey) has a monster stealing the Apple family’s crops and replacing them with squashes.  Its moral is a bit forced, but let’s face it, subtlety isn’t what MLP is known for, anyways.  What stands out here is some well-done art and a nice look at the Apple family as a whole.  This is one of the two stories where no other cast member appears at all, and it works out for the better.  And there’s also a lot of fun with the sound effects (a net being thrown literally gets the SFX “Net sound”).  My real favorite was Pinkie Pie (Ted Anderson/Ben Bates), which has her trying to inspire a clown named Ponyacci not to retire.  This story keeps Twilight Sparkle around, and helps to not overdose the reader on Pinkie’s personality, with the plus of giving her somebody to bounce off of.  And it’s also simply a story that works.  This could’ve easily been an episode of the show.  The humor, the writing, everything just works here.
            But for these three fun stories, the other three are almost a drag to get through.  Twilight Sparkle (Thom Zahler) is at least mediocre, having her work at the Royal Archives with a grumpy librarian.  The twist is predictable (again, it’s MLP, so really, not exactly a mark against it), but there’s some good play between the two.  The biggest problem here is the art—the only issue where it was really a problem.  It’s borderline off-model, with Spike in particular looking much pudgier than he does in the cartoon.  Fluttershy (Barbara Kesel/Tony Fleecs) has her revealing her secret hobby for knitting at an art contest, but being extremely nervous about it.  It just takes too long, and the moral is muddled.  And those two problems remain with Rainbow Dash (Ryan Lindsay/Tony Fleecs).  She has to get rid of a cloud containing negative feelings.  I was done with this one several pages in, and it just kept going on and on.  And while I can chalk Fluttershy and Twilight to “Well, kids might enjoy it”, Rainbow’s shoves a ton of memes that only the older fans would get.  All it does is drag the story down more, forcing eye-rolls at best. 
All three of the lesser stories share the same problem: it’s like a 4-issue story you’d expect to find at the end of an issue, only dragged out to 24 pages.  What could be cute in small doses becomes painful in big doses.  Even the better stories don’t necessarily get past this problem, just hide it better.  Rarity’s and Applejack’s stories certainly have their share of repetition, you just don’t feel it like you do with the other stories.  And also, compared to the main comic, which has bigger stories than you’d expect to see in the cartoon, these feel too much like the cartoon, to the point where they don’t differentiate themselves.

Younger fans will probably enjoy all the stories well enough, but the better three are probably the best bet for older fans or those who want to read them with younger fans.  They have the better writing, the nice morals, and some good humor that the other three stories just lack.