Thursday, July 28, 2005

Some Warhammer 40,000 & a bit of Judge Dredd, for good measure

I have to admit that when I first decided to read some of the WARHAMMER 40,000 (WH-4K) novels I didn’t really know what to expect. Previously, I’d only read a couple of the trade paperback collections of stories from the WARHAMMER MONTHLY magazine. I guess that I expected all the novels to have a similar sensibility. Stories filled with hard-boiled Space Marines dedicated to killing orcs and bashing each other, in their off-hours, all in the name of the Emperor. To my surprise each of the first three novels I’ve ready had very different takes on the WH-4K universe.

Each book in the Black Library series opens with a page giving you an overview of the WH-4K world. The page is the same in each book, so you can skip it after the first time you’ve read it, although it does remind you of just what it is that drives the individuals, besides their own survival. Overall, it is a dark and gloomy place with little room for the leisure time activities we take for granted. These folks, by and large, are just trying to get by day to day. While as with any space opera, you’ll get various types of worlds (frozen wastelands, deserts and planets covered in dense rain-forest, etc,) for the most part the major cities resemble the Los Angeles of BLADE RUNNER with the citizens strictly fixed in by class and social rank. Pity the poor ‘hive-dwellers’ (as the poorest of the urban citizens are called) who live in the lower most sections of the metropolis.

The first WH-4K novel I read was Ravenor by Dan Abnett, (which I reviewed in greater detail earlier) turned out to be more a thriller of the Tom Clancy “Covert-One’ variety than I had expected. Inquisitor Ravenor leads a team of Imperial agents in trying to track down criminals smuggling in an alien narcotic. Abnett is one of Black Library’s most popular writers and he’s also becoming known for his stint writing comics here in the U.S. for DC. Ravenor is a psychic of enormous power, but his physical body was almost destroyed in an earlier book. He is now encased in a featureless metal shell, only able to experience ‘physical’ sensations when he takes over the body of another person. The book is a good introduction to the WH world and the philosophy/religion which governs it.

The Traitor’s Hand by Sandy Mitchell, on the other hand is much more light-hearted in tone. Commissar Ciaphas Cain is featured in a series of books, which supposedly contain his memoirs of his years with the Imperial Guard; the book is ‘edited’ by an Inquisitor and one time paramour of Cain’s. Cain is not what he appears to be on the surface, but rather is a survivor who has gotten to be where he is by a series of unfortunate accidents. Cain reminds me of “Harry Flashman” the title character in a series of books by George MacDonald Fraser. {Harry was the school bully in Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857) by Thomas Hughes. The adult Harry was just as much a rascal, if not as cruel, in Fraser’s books.) While not a coward by any means, Cain would much rather ‘lead from the rear’ of the action but often finds himself pushed to the forward position in the conflicts, much to his great frustration. With his weakness for games of chance & liquid refreshment, the Commissar would have found himself right at home with Hawkeye and Trapper. In this particular book, Cain finds himself caught on a planet about to be invaded by the forces of Chaos (an alien/other-dimensional force which crops up in all the WH books to some degree or other).

Mitchell Scanlon’s Fifteen Hours could almost be called the “All Quiet on the Western Front” of the Black Library series. Scanlon tells us the story of a young man, raised on a farming planet, who finds himself conscripted into the Imperial Guard. We witness his time in basic training and his first assignment with his comrades. To say that this is anti-war is an understatement. If Scanlon placed his young hero in the trenches of WWI or in Iraq today, the day-to-day suffering and problems with military hierarchy would be pretty much the same. Brilliant!

After reading three of the WH-4K books in a row I decided to take a break from the series. Still it’s not a total departure from the dystopian future genre, since it’s a prose adaptation of a Judge Dredd story from 2000 A.D.

Swine Fever by Andrew Cartmel doesn’t star the well-known Judge, but rather Psi-Judge Zandonella. As her title implies, Zandonella has a special gift which she utilizes on behalf of her fellow judges. Not to give too much away, but Zandonella's gift allows her to 'jump' into the body of the last individual who was beside someone who has died. She does this by touching the deceased. If you’re not familiar with the Judge or his world, just imagine an entire police force of Dirty Harry types armed with explosive ammo and riding jet-propelled motorcycles. (Since I’m one of the few folks who rather enjoyed the Sylvester Stallone film, my judgment {pardon the expression} is probably questionable anyway.) As the good Judge is known to say, “I am the Law!”

In this particular story, there’s a growing underground market in pork and the Judges mean to put a stop to it. To complicate matters (and things in Judge Dredd stories are never simple) it turns out that the pigs being ‘farmed’ are mutations and a bit smarter than your average swine. Imagine Arnold Ziffle, only smarter. Cartmel, with whom I’m not familiar, does a nice job of making you care for Zandonella and her fellow judges, while going about the typical dark humor and ultra-violence for which the Dredd series is known.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Red Sox blow out Yankees!

While the defeat of the Damn Yankees last night (17-1) was sweet, it would have been better for the standing had the Sox also won the previous evening as well. Today's game should be a nailbiter, since it will either give a boost to Boston or bring New York within striking distance of taking 1st place in the AL East.

David Wells certain earned his paycheck last night, but I do have problems with players (whether they are on a team I like or not) being able to play despite a suspension. What's the point of being kept out of a set number of games if you can pick & choose when/if the thing starts to begin with. Just my two cents, as usual.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

A few comments about the All-Star Game

I'm a day late & a dollar short on this, as the saying goes. Still I wanted to mention a few things while they were still fairly fresh in my mind.

Not a classic All-Star game certainly, but one that neither side should feel badly about. Nothing to go into the record books with, but there wasn't either a blow out by either side, nor a pitchers duel. Of course, with nobody being able to throw more than a few inning that's not something likely to happen anyway.

I'm really not too thrilled with the camera aimed up at the pitcher nor at home plate. It's just a weird angle and I don't see what it is supposed to show other than that Fox has this type of thing available. There's a certain 'up the skirt' feel to the whole thing, if you know what I mean. Also, do we really need the talking baseball to explain a pitch to us. How about a couple of the MLB pitching coaches demonstrating them instead?

I admit that Donna and I were both reading during the game, but I don't remember any of the commercials standing out in my memory. Perhaps I missed something since I turned the game on as it started and not for any of the pre-game/anthem singing. Who did they drag out to lip-sync this time, anyway?

The Red Sox are still in first place by 2 and a half games, but they will have to play the Damn Yankees for a series starting tonight. Fingers crossed on this one. I'll settle for a split in favor of Boston.

Regarding the NHL strike, I'm happy for Donna's nephew, Nicholas, since he's a big hockey fan. In fact, Donna would rather watch a hockey game than football, so I don't know if that means we'll be tuning in the Rangers or not.

Thursday, July 07, 2005 Something new on line

I’ve quickly become a fan of the new monthly Comics Buyer’s Guide, since my subscription kicked in. It’s great subway reading, between books, and is also good to have on the coffee table when commercial breaks come along. As I’ve mentioned before, I began subscribing to Alan Light’s The Buyer’s Guide back in the mid-‘70s and continued well into the Krause publishing era. Even when my sub expired it was possible to pick up occasion issues at many of the comic shops I frequented. (Thanks to Elayne Riggs, my ex, I now have most of the monthly CBGs I missed. There’s plenty of fine reading ahead!)

While I really don’t care much about the monthly price guide or the tracking of eBay auctions, the overall format and loads of other material is quite good. Along with the usual reviews and promotional articles on the latest titles, you’ll get columns by Tony Isabella, Peter David, Heidi MacDonald and now Beau Smith, plus others. Naturally, you won’t agree with everything they have to say, or with all the reviewers, but it certainly will keep you informed on what’s current and popular in the comics’ field.

The one thing I found surprising was that while there was a website for Krause, there really wasn’t much available relating to CBG itself. That’s been corrected now and you can get some of the articles and material generally found in the print version over on the new page. There are even some forums available for those who’d like to comment on the latest issues and communicate with some of the Krause editors.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Comments on the Comics Buyer's Guide

Finally catching up on the latest issue of CBG to hit the mailbox. I put is aside so I could finish THE DA VINCI CODE, which I couldn't put down (I'll have a quick review and comments in a day or two.).

As I've said before I'm not reading many comics at this point, but still have a love of the medium which keeps me interested enough. CBG allows me to keep an eye on the new trends and the reviews let me know what is going on in the books I used to read. My prior posts have made it clear that I'd probably have no interest in the latest 'events' coming from the Big Two (DC & Marvel, for those of you who really dont' follow this stuff).

When I began to ease my way out of fandom, 'slabbing' (or sealing comics in plastic holders) and Comics Guaranty, LLC (CGC, the pioneer in this sort of thing) were just beginning to make a mark in the industry. The idea of 'third party' grading of collectables has taken hold and is possibly a good thing, at least for the older and rarer material. At about $25 a pop to get a book sealed in a tamper-proof container, you better not be trying to preserve the latest issue of Ball-Crusher Funnies. You may be a fan of the Mighty Thumb Twister, but don't expect to retire on that resale!

It is probably no coincidence that the idea of CGC and eBay auctions came about around the same time. By that I mean, I don't know if CGC would have had such an impact prior to the ability of fans to immediately put their books out there. The old fashion print ads and snail-mail auctions would take months, plus non-fans probably would not have been picking up the zines which promoted such sales. Now a mouse click will allow you to bid on just about anything.

That's my rant for today. Have a Happy & safe Fourth of July!