Greetings, Rama reviewers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, writing to you from Wednesday with the Best Shots Team. Your cohort of reviewers have a number of books from a number of publishers, including Image, IDW, BOOM!, Dynamite and Pak Man Productions. Wowza! Want some more? You got 'em, at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's let our very own Vanessa Gabriel take the lead, as she books a trip with Nick Spencer's latest book, The Infinite Vacation...
Infinite Vacation #1
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Christian Ward
Lettering by Jeff Powell
Published by Image Comics
Review by Vanessa Gabriel
It repeats time and time again. We have all read it in our history books, and now we watch it every day in the news. There is a timeless struggle of progressive civilization versus a simplistic life. The sense of entitlement that has swept through western culture driving us to create our own destinies versus playing the hand of cards fate has dealt. It is particularly poignant now, in the Information Age, where anything and everything is at our disposal on our smart phones. Infinite Vacation lays bare this thought-provoking phenomenon a la Vanilla Sky 2.0 in Technicolor.
First and foremost, the art is spectacular. This truly is a beautiful book. Christian Ward’s illustrations are flamboyantly colorful and feel like fine art. Where such a bright color palette would be garish to the eye in some instances, his whimsical lines make it a visual pleasure. He creates panels that clearly tell Spencer’s story, and could serve as decorative paintings in a trendy New York bistro. Ward’s art works great with the story, but I found myself going back through the pages of the book to just take in the beauty of it.
The story introduces a young man rocking a permanent nametag. He’s like lots of people, dulled by all that there is but only thrilled by something as simple as a glance from a beautiful girl. He goes by the name of Mark. Mark is fully in the throes of Infinite Vacation, a virtual marketplace where you can buy and sell life experience in an infinite number of variations. But somehow, even exponential instant gratification, leaves him empty. Recently, something has gone awry with his “vacations” because he keeps dying. Even in a world where you can live anyway you desire (for the right price, of course), the very simple reality of death permeates through the convolution of an endless variation.
Infinite Vacation #1 is almost a perfect first issue to a story. Nick Spencer’s writing is super-smart and has layers of psychological and social issues that tickle my brain. He raises some brilliant concepts. Given the ethical consequences of being able to be anybody and anything, then what is of value anymore? The utter impracticality of spending a week’s worth of pay on a moment of instant gratification, but there’s an app for that. Having everything we could ever want, yet never being satisfied. One’s credit rating determining value of life in a very literal sense ultimately exemplifying the “have” and “have not” of existence. I also enjoy the classic story elements of a protagonist facing death and desire. Of course, it wouldn’t be Nick Spencer if there weren’t a bit of mystery and violence on the horizon. He gives us much to look forward to.
Transformers Prime #2
Written by Mike Johnson
Art by Atilio Martin, Allan Jefferson, Jordi Tarragona, Sergio Abad, Juan An Ramirez and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Chris Mowry
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by David Pepose
I wasn't expecting to like Transformers Prime #2, and I had plenty of reasons.
First: I came to the party late, and hadn't read Issue #1. But I wanted to see how it worked as far as accessibility, you know? And then there was the army of artists on board. And it was the Transformers, a property that often gets a little too tied up with its continuity, when it should be focusing its vision.
But you know something? This issue really turned itself around by the end. It's not a perfect book, or even a spectacular one — unfortunately, the visuals still aren't quite in the knockout territory — but the overall story is one that's got some cleverness to it, and it certainly exceeded my expectations as a non-Transformers luddite.
This all comes down to Mike Johnson — and, even more specifically, a little turn of phrase he gives the impetuous Autobot Cliffjumper that makes gives this issue its nice twist. There are a lot of comics that have the punching and the fighting, but they don't have a theme — and the fact that Johnson takes the time to illustrate the virtues of planning versus impulsiveness is short, to the point, and it really helps illustrate the characters of Cliffjumper and Arcee in a way that I think can help turn around a lot of intimidated readers.
As far as the visuals go, it's a mixed victory. On the one hand, editor Andy Schmidt, as well as colorist Andrew Dalhouse, deserve some major applause — considering this book has two pencillers and three inkers, it's remarkably consistent visually, to the point that I didn't realize just how many artists were on board until after I finished reading. While it'll be a mystery why this book needed so many artists — it could very well be a deadline thing, a contract thing, an anything kind of thing — the fact is, it doesn't fluctuate. But at the same time, it also doesn't grab you — the storytelling by Atilio Martin and Allan Jefferson is certainly clear, but the design and composition feels particularly soft, so none of the images really stick with you. A shame.
Still, I have to say this — these little moments, these little character beats, they really do wonders for the Transformers comics, which can be intimidating even to the likes of this Big Two enthusiast. But Mike Johnson is able, with his smaller cast, to boil down some of the encroaching mythologies, and instead focus on what makes each Transformer unique and resonant. If Transformers Prime can overhaul the art to match the writing, this would be a much heavier hitter.
Vision Machine TPB
Written by Greg Pak
Art by RB Silva, Dym and Java Taraglia
Lettering by Charles Pritchett
Published by Pak Man Productions
Review by Scott Cederlund
Technology is great, except for when it isn’t. We’ve all got hopes and dreams about how that next gadget is going to change our lives for the better but do we really understand how it's really changing the ways we live and interact with people? Apple seems to be leading the way with life-altering gadgets, first with the iPod, then with the iPhone and now with the iPad. These aren’t just tech-y gadgets anymore; they’re a new way of life and they’re the future. You’ve got to understand that now that these things are out there, there’s no going back. Today’s iPad is going to look like a black and white TV to our children and our grandchildren. In Vision Machine, Greg Pak writes about those children and grandchildren and their latest and greatest gadget, the iEye, a pair of glasses that’s part entertainment system, cell phone, computer and movie studio. With the iEye, you can broadcast the world that you see in your imagination. It’s the latest revolutionary product from the Sprout Corporation, an Apple-like entity, that’s going to change their lives.
While Sprout may have completely beneficial motives for releasing such a device, there are others with more power and influence who see this as a means to increase their own power. And unfortunately those with less than pure motives are your government, military and other business leaders who have their own use for the new technology that’s in their hands. The iEye brings the world together but it also delivers that world secretly to the government, allowing them to spy even easier on everyone. Greg Pak provides a cautionary tale for the 21st century that as our technological abilities increase, maybe so do the freedoms we give up for them in the form of User Agreements that are easy to get rid of by clicking “I Accept.”
Vision Machine is an enjoyable cautionary tale that raises more questions about the here-and-now than any possible future. Who own our technology? In a digital age, how do we exist? Who rules a non-physical world? Who are the bad guys? In an age of ubiquitous cell phone cameras and web cams, are we readily shrugging of the last vestiges of privacy we have at the cost of a couple hundred dollars? Greg Pak isn’t asking these questions so we have them in mind 10, 20 or 50 years down the road. He’s asking them about today; how are we approaching these questions right now as we pave the digital future for our children and our grandchildren.
More than just a cautionary tale, Pak writes an entertaining and thrilling story as three friends face this new digital frontier together. With RB Silva and Dym on art, Vision Machine is a graphic novel that has a strong story to take on the questions that Pak is asking. As this trio of friends have to figure out who’s really using the iEye technology and who’s looking out for them, Pak and Silva form an alluring future that feels possible and hopeful. This isn’t an idealistic or dystopian vision of our future; it’s something that could be our tomorrow for all of the wonder and horror that idea generates. Pak makes this story for everyone who waits eagerly for the next Apple announcement or who watches all the tech blog, looking for the next gadget that is sure to change our lives.
In that way, it’s hard to call Vision Machine science fiction. Right now, with the wonderful and tempting technology at its centerpiece, it is a fictional tale but for how long? Like all of the best science fiction, Greg Pak and RB Silva aren’t writing and drawing about the future. Pak and Silva are looking at where our technology is taking us and asking is we’re on the right path with how we use it. They’re telling stories about today and the questions we need to be asking ourselves now to forge the way for the future.
Starborn #2 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Lan Pitts): With the previous of this series setting the stage, this issue expands the world and gives you truly an idea of what kind of threat Benjamin Warner is now facing. On the run from creatures from the Hive. A civilization that Benjamin had thought he had created for a novel he was writing. As it turns out, his novel may be closer to fact than science fiction. Everything in his novel, the one that had been rejected on numerous occasions, is appearing before him. It is hinted on why that is, but I don't think Warner still gets it. His childhood friend is more than meets the eye as she unveils herself as his guardian and serves as the guide to the more alien scenarios and terminology. While it does sling a bit more information and out-of-this-world jargon at you, you can relate to Warner as he is just as lost and confused. The story is still coherent with Chris Roberson's direction, and the slow revealing of the mystery has great pacing. Khary Randolph is nothing short of amazing here. From layouts to use of shots, nothing is what I would call "mundane". There's a sense of energy and excitement pouring from every page. Mix in Mitch Gerad's colors and it's just stellar on the eyes. With Roberson, Randolph, and Gerad's stock on the rise, be sure to check this book out.
Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time #1.5 (Published by Dynamite; Review by Lan Pitts): As the resident Wheel of Time fan in these parts, I have to say, this series has been hit and miss, and sad to say mostly misses. While it has been a thrill to see characters I've been enjoying since my pre-teens leap on to the page, sometimes it just falls flat. I can't really blame Chuck Dixon, or the late Robert Jordan here. This issue was just a bit odd though. While it introduced the gleeman (read: bard) Thom and the peddler (read: traveling salesman and news bearer) that's basically it and while this issue takes place in between issues 1 and 2, it almost seems like it didn't need to be there at all. (Props to Chase Conely for stepping up his game.)His backgrounds look incredible and the extra bit of detail really sells the imagery. The only real complaint here is Nicolas Chapuis' colors. They go back and forth from being pretty good, to down right annoying. There are instances here where he does do a great job, but in the same page there will be a panel that is so over-saturated, it's just not pleasant. I'm sure the WoT fans out there are checking this out as I am, but I just wish it were a tad bit better. What comic are you looking forward to most this week?