Review: Andre the Giant: Life and Legend

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Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge 7/50
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend
by Box Brown
ISBN: 978-1-59643-851-4

I know Andre the Giant from The Princess Bride and vague memories of Wrestlemania. For a time in my childhood I was way into wrestling, because the characters were everywhere, from cartoons, to music videos, to rubbery action figures. That being said, I haven’t thought much about these guys since then, but when I came across an Andre the Giant biographical graphic novel, my interest was piqued.

It’s done in a pleasantly cartoony style, taking us from when Andre was a 12-year old in 1958 France (he couldn’t fit in the bus, so he got a ride to school from Samuel Beckett), through to his death in 1993. It is not comprehensive, but rather a series of vignettes, more than a few of which made me chuckle. It also shows, however, the pain and inconvenience of his acromegaly, such as how he was too big to fit in an airplane restroom, so he had to, um, completely empty his system before a long flight.

One highlight for me, of course, was the illustrated version of anecdotes from the cast of The Princess Bride, such as this moment with Robin Wright.

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It’s a quick read (hence the light review), and if you’re at all interested in seeing inside the world of wrestling or finding out more about Andre the Giant, I recommend it.

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers

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Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge 6/50
Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers Volume 1
ISBN: 978-0785166870

It’s been quite a while since my last graphic novel review. Partly this is because I tore through a bunch of new Valiant graphic novels (reviews to come later), but it was also because I’ve been reading this dense collection of the original Guardian of the Galaxy comics. Well, I’m finally done, so here’s my thoughts on it.

I was first introduced to the Guardians of the Galaxy in 1990 with Jim Valentino’s version of the comic. I bought three copies of issue #1 and I got them signed, thus assuring my financial future! But much like this version of the Guardians, the future in which I got rich from collecting comics was only a possible future. Alas, it was not meant to be. But I digress. After collecting the Valentino run for a while, I worked on collecting earlier appearances of the Guardians, but never got them all. That’s where this handy volume comes in. The 18 issues it compiles bring the Guardians from guest star status alongside the Thing and the Defenders, to their own run in Marvel Presents.

 

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So who are these original Guardians, in case you’re only familiar with the new team? They start off with Major Vance Astro, an Earth native sent on a 1000-year voyage in stasis. The only problem is that hyperdrive is developed while he’s on his voyage, so humans from Earth have already populated the galaxy when he arrives at his destination. Plus, he is somehow damaged by the stasis and has to be encased in a full body suit lest he disintegrate. But his eyes and mouth can be uncovered. And he has psychic powers. And he’s kind of a whiny teenager in a grown-up’s body, and … what was he going to do at the end of his 1000 year voyage if people hadn’t developed hyperdrive while he was asleep, anyway? It’s best not too think too deeply about him.  He’s old, he’s pissed, and he’s kind of an ass. ‘Nuff said.

Charlie-27 is the last survivor of the genetically-modified humans who lived on Jupiter. Same with Martinex, except he’s the last survivor of Pluto. Charlie-27 is big and strong, and Martinex can create and manipulate fire and ice, because Pluto. The last member of the team is Yondu, a version of which became Michael Rooker’s character in the recent movie.

Later on, the team grows to include Starhawk, a character who is “One Who Knows,” which means he gets to move the plot along and act mysterious. He also turns into a woman sometimes, which gets explained toward the end of this volume. Nikki, the last Mercurian, also joins the team. Her power is… she’s got spunk? In an essay in the back of this volume, Stever Gerber says “she was our token female and our token Mercurian.” Way to kill two birds with one stone.

Okay, so that’s who the Guardians are, but what do they do? Well, they don’t get to guarding the galaxy for a while. The first half of this volume involves them kicking the alien Badoon off of Earth, where they have turned the remaining human population into slaves. The Badoon, a race of lizard-like humanoids, are also the reason why so many of the team are the last of their kind. To get rid of these vile creatures requires help from the past in the form of Captain America, the Thing, Doctor Strange, and the Hulk, to name a few guest stars.

The second half of the volume takes the Guardians off Earth and out into the galaxy. There’s some inventive ideas in here, a lot of silly ones, and more than a few batshit crazy ones, like a giant (we’re talking light-years-long) humanoid being whose existence is anti-life itself.

I mentioned before that there’s an essay in the back from Steve Gerber. There’s also one by Roger Stern. Reading them puts a new light on some of the strangeness in the preceding comics, as it makes clear how much of the comic was a seat-of-the-pants affair. Here’s Roger Stern on taking over from Steve Gerber:

[It] was basically my first title for Marvel. I picked it up under circumstances that have since become a trademark for Marvel–it was already late, and not only that, but my first issue was to be the conclusion of a two-part tale about the origin of Starhawk. When Steve brought in the pages of the preceding issue, I said, ‘Gee, this is really bizarre, Steve! How does it end?’ And Steve revealed that he hadn’t really figured that out yet. I was thunderstruck.”

Given that sort of planning, it’s no surprise that these stories meander a bit, but there’s some fun and powerful stuff in there along with the filler. Especially toward the end of this volume, there are stories that pack more of an emotional wallop than I expected from the stories that came before. The emotional impact of the scene below is lessened somewhat when you read what Roger Stern has to say about it, but it still comes as a surprise in terms of the comic.

ggwompwompAnd when super-strong lunkhead Charlie-27 ends up crying, you know the Guardians have grown up some.

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Or maybe they haven’t. I’ll have to wait until I get Volume 2 through an interlibrary loan to find out.

 

The Fifth House Edits: Week Four

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I’ve been so busy, I skipped the Week 3 post, but this week and last have pretty much been the same. At a pace of three chapters a day, I’m going through The Fifth House and making improvements. This includes clearing up confusing sections, cutting out redundant words, sentences and sections, and checking that the characters and their actions flow together from one chapter to the next.

That last part is no small task. When I write 1000 words a day during the first draft, I sometimes have to change my plan for the story in mid-stream. I don’t have time to go back and change what I’ve already written during my drafting stage, so I drop a comment into the document noting the change and advising Editor Andy to go back and fix it later. Other times, I just write filler describing what I wanted to but couldn’t write, or I write something and leave a note explaining that what I just wrote was horrible and could I make it better during edits.

Editor Andy hates First Draft Andy for pulling this crap, but that’s the way it goes. It allows me to keep writing up until The End without getting bogged down in repairing what I’ve already written. Still, it gets frustrating. Here are some of my favorite comments to myself, that make me curse First Draft Andy aloud.

“Confusing. Delete.” So if it was confusing and I should delete it, why didn’t I just do that during the first draft? Because then I would have had to write more to reach my 1,000-word goal for the day.

“This can all be shown instead of told, second time through.” All you have to do is snap your fingers!

“Stood stood stood” I guess I used the same word in three consecutive sentences…

“repetitive” “comma overload” Self-explanatory

“I don’t like this whole paragraph, but I’m moving on for now.” Now you’re just being mean.

“Not taking into account word count, this would be a good chapter end.” In other words, what’s wrong with a 300 word chapter if it’s got a nice hook at the end?

And my favorite: “This makes no sense to me.” In my defense, I get up really early to write.

You get the idea. At my average pace of three chapters a day, I should have this editing done by Valentine’s Day, a gift to myself. And then what? I start all over, undoubtedly finding all new mistakes and confusing sections to fix.

I’ll most likely take a one- or two-week break between this editing pass and the next, though, to work on some short stories and to get a little distance from the book.

There you have it. Writing, editing. It’s work and it’s not always pretty, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Photo credit: Translator’s Revenge by Daniela Vladimirova.

Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge 5/50: Archer & Armstrong Vol 1

Review:
Archer & Armstrong Volume 1: The Michelangelo Code
Fred Van Lente, Clayton Henry, Matt Milla
ISBN-13: 978-0979640988

I was a big fan of the Valiant Universe in the 90s. It started off as an excellent alternative to the Marvel comics and, at least at first, they were more about substance and quality and less about how much money you might make collecting them. Eventually, the universe grew as large (and had as many expensive collector’s covers) as the Marvel universe I had fled, but for a couple of years at least, I picked up every issue of every Valiant comic.

Fast forward to the present and Valiant has been rebooted, but minus Solar, Magnus, and Turok. I avoided it for awhile, but Humble Bundle pulled me back in with their astounding Valiant Comics deal. (Seriously, when they have their comic bundles, get them. The deals are unbelievable.)

All that being said, I’ve finally started to dip into the new Valiant Universe, and Archer & Armstrong Volume 1 was an amazing place to start. This volume contains the first 4 issues and includes a handful of variant covers at the end.

The story starts in Ancient Mesopotamia with Aram (aka Armstrong) trying to convince his brother Ivar to not resurrect their slain brother, Gilad. That doesn’t go so well, but it does let the return reader know that the Eternal Warrior and the Timewalker are present in this reboot. Cut to 10,000 later and we’re introduced to the other half of the titular duo, Archer, who has been raised in a creationist theme park to be the ultimate warrior for a group known as the Dominion. His job is to assassinate He Who is Not to Be Named. One hint: it’s not Voldemort.

A lot of the fun in this first volume comes from the interplay between straight arrow Archer, who is horrified by life outside the amusement park and whose strongest language is the word “flippin’,” and the easygoing, drunken Armstrong.

Even more fun is the world of ancient conspiracies and modern secret societies that Van Lente has dreamed up, including The One Percent, a group of Wall Street elites whose name says it all, and the Green Dragon Lamas, a group of telepathic monks who are not your typical enlightened beings (their choice of mustache may give this away).

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The One Percent. This is what every news story about the economy sounds like to me.

The story in this volume quickly becomes a Dan Brown-esque chase around the world, with the fate of all humanity hanging in the balance. I could list off all the cool elements and scenes in it (ninja nuns), but I don’t want to ruin it for you. Bottom line: this is a great re-introduction to the Valiant universe and it has me eager to read the next volume and the rest of the Valiant books. I highly recommend it.

(This is my fifth entry into the Mother/Gamer/Writer’s Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge.)

Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge 4/50: Usagi Yojimbo

 

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Review:
Usagi Yojimbo Book 1: The Ronin
Stan Sakai
ISBN-13: 978-0930193355

I’ve known of Usagi Yojimbo for years but only ever read a story here and there, so I figured I’d start from the beginning. Of course, it didn’t disappoint. How can you go wrong with a world full of anthropomorphic animals in the equivalent of a samurai movie? In the case of this series, it allows for a mix of funny and serious stories, some of which are straight-up samurai tales that happen to star walking, talking animals, while others rely on the animal nature of the characters. Think ninjas who can burrow through the earth, or a blind swordspig who is deadly with a sword thanks to his incredible sense of smell.

The titular character, Usagi Yojimbo (or rabbit bodyguard) is a masterless samurai, or ronin. (I half suspect anyone reading this knows all this already, but just in case.) His master, Lord Mifune (one of at least two nods to Toshiro Mifune) was killed in battle with Lord Hikiji due to being betrayed by one of his own generals. (Hikiji’s presence is felt throughout this first volume, as many dastardly deeds and personal tragedies can be traced back to his actions.)

Now wandering as a ronin, Usagi picks up jobs here and there as a bodyguard, but also stumbles into many situations where he sees fit to dispense justice on his own. For the most part, he is honorable and wise, although in at least one encounter I felt like he made a mistake and acted too harshly. I’m willing to forgive him this momentary lapse because it sets up a cool (and amusing) villain for later stories.

There are quite a few characters introduced in this first volume who I am sure will return for later stories, including two possible love interests (although one is married to Usagi’s childhood rival). One character that appears in two stories in this book is Gennosuke, a rhinoceros bounty hunter who, with the dark shadow of a beard on his jaw, is clearly meant to be a Toshiro Mifune look-alike. While he is not wholly good or bad, he and Usagi have a fun rivalry in this first volume. I gather from a quick Google search that he will be back for many more stories, which is a good thing.

All in all, these comics don’t suffer at all for being about 30 years old, perhaps due to the feudal setting already being timeless. For those like me who missed these comics the first time around, this collection is an excellent way to catch up, and I’ll be searching out the rest of them because I have quite a lot of catching up to do.

(This is my fourth entry into the Mother/Gamer/Writer’s Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge.)