Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Looking To The Stars - High Praise for High Fantasy!

It’s a good time to be a fan of fantasy.

I regret not mentioning this book before now, but I thought for sure one of the full time reviewers would have leapt on a title of this pedigree. But since nobody has… well, that’s just fine. That allows me to tell you all about the joy and wonder that is Magician: Apprentice

I was waiting for this book the minute I heard about its’ release. I was introduced to Raymond Feist half a lifetime ago; a tender lad of 14. Oddly, despite being a ferocious reader of fantasy literature, I was introduced to the world of Midkemia through the Award Wining (and now free for download) game Betrayal at Krondor.

That game still stands as perhaps the best adaptation of a book series into an RPG over a decade later, due perhaps to Feist’s involvement in planning the story. Suffice it to say that I was impressed by the story as well and was soon tearing through Feist’s novels in record time.

Most of Feist’s books follow a standard fantasy formula – a young man or two grow to manhood while finding themselves learning the mysteries of the universe (such as girls) and fighting to save their world from certain destruction as they are manipulated by forces beyond their control. It worked just fine for King Arthur and Tolkien’s Hobbits but Feist has a gift for characters that breaks the mold of typical heroic fantasy.

That characterization is highly evident in this comic book adaptation of Feist’s first novel. It is said that Feist got to sign off on ever single page of the book and it shows. The characters look, if not like I always imagined then at least fitting of the description in Feist’s text. And while Michael Omeing has added some touches in the script (Of the first five pages of the comic only the fourth and fifth actually occur in the text of the book outside of a flashback), they are true to the spirit of Feist’s novels and only serve to further expand the characters and establish the world.

The comic is off to a slow start with the first issue covering just the first chapter of Magician: Apprentice but the book does not feel the least bit slow-paced. The art is also a perfect fit to the setting and I suspect the slightly Manga feel will be appropriate in future issues. (You Feist fans know what I am talking about and the rest… well, you’ll just have to read.)

I note that there is no set limit on the number of issues so with any luck we’ll have this book around to enjoy for a good long while. But don’t take my word for it! If, for some reason, your comic shop didn’t get any you can preview the first five pages at The Dabel Brothers' Website. and buy it from the company store if you like what you see.

But as glad as I am to see this book come, I am just as sad to see another one go. Well, not go really… the book will still be there. But this week also saw the last issue of Kurt Busiek’s run on Conan. And what an issue it was!

It’s no surprise to those in the know that this year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert Howard – the creator of Conan. Indeed, the cover of this month’s issue makes it hard to forget as we see Howard’s less famous but no less distinguished visage underneath that of his most famous creation.

Not only is this issue a fitting one for Busiek to go out on but it is a fitting tribute to Howard as well and in more ways than you might think. The plot of this issue, centers not upon Conan but around a peasant named Rovann.

Rovann longs for adventure but due to an injured father he cannot leave his home being an only child and the only source of protection his parents have. He contents himself with the stories of others in the bar, buying drinks for those passing through and then telling stories of his own for the other peasants who cheer his stories even as they mock his foolishness for creating such things.

Now those of us who know something of the life of Robert Howard will recognize a lot of the man who created Conan in Rovann. The art also draws a striking resemblance between the two (no pun intended).

Naturally Conan shows up with several other regulars of Busiek’s Conan run. And at a time when greater men panic, Rovann steps up to the challenge before him and proves himself a hero at heart, if not in deed. And then he is given a chance to match his deeds to the heroes who come to his very doorstep and… well, that would be telling.

Suffice it to say, that if you are a fan of high fantasy in any form, you would be well advised to pick up both of these books as soon as possible.

Finally, to shift gears a bit and address some less pleasant things, I’d like to address some comments that came up on our message board this past week regarding last week’s column regarding a Green Arrow #62 preview as well as some thoughts upon the full issue, now that it has been released.

To quote tgc

In regards to Matt’s Looking To The Stars column today, some of if not most of your problems with the six pages you reviewed make sense to me. However you never said anything regarding why you find the art to be so bad. Coming from a fan of Scott McDaniel’s work, I don’t get it. I’d like more of an explanation, with references, as to why you said that.

I did skimp a bit on sticking it to Scott McDaniel, didn’t I? Well, Ask and ye shall receive.

Personally, I liked McDaniel’s work on Nightwing but I think he’s the wrong artist for Green Arrow. Nightwing is a very acrobatic character and McDaniel’s style worked well with that (the flashes of Dick’s motion as he moves on a rooftop, for instance, are classic) during the Dixon/McDaniel run of Nightwing.

Green Arrow, by contrast, is a much more subdued title in terms of the ratio of action to talking heads. Nightwing, under Chuck Dixon’s writing, was a very high action comic which played to McDaniel’s strengths as an artist. Winick, as a writer, favors long conversations with very few action scenes, relatively speaking.

That being said, McDaniel draws, at times, some darn goofy facial expressions. And while this can usually be written off in a fight (person being caught midway through being kicked in the stomach or screaming a warcry), it just looks weird in a talking head’s moment.

But my biggest problem is that somewhere down the line, McDaniel has become sloppier and sloppier. The detail he put into Nightwing just isn’t there and what is worse, his sense of proportion and continuity is just plain off.

To give some examples…

Look at Ollie’s arm in the middle top panel in relation to his chest. It looks a little out of proportion, even given the odd angle.

And the “Richard Dragon” pose on the bottom page? That looks REAL unnatural given that he was clutching his chest a moment ago, even allowing for thrashing around in pain.

The picture of Ollie here looks like it was taken from a coloring book. Seriously. The bow looks particularly badly transposed.

Again, I must emphasize that I like McDaniel’s as a rule but that his work on Green Arrow has seem somewhat half-hearted and not up to his usual standard.

Is there an explanation for this? Well, board regular soak1313 had this to add.

From talking to McDaniel at the Pittsburgh con he made it kind of clear that he was thrown into this book with no real warning. I asked him if he got scripts from Winick and he basically said “Kind of, but I had to just go with it”.

He didn’t look all that happy when asking him about the guiding on what things should look like(from the story point of things) from Winick, and actually didn’t seem too happy with this title being basically forced on him

…He hinted at the scripts not giving much direction as to what certain panels should look like and so on. …

Again this was me interpreting tones of voice, facial, and body language from him while talking. Take that as you will….

You heard it here first, folks.

In all fairness, now that the issue is out, I must come out now and say that some of my complaints WERE addressed after the first six pages. From last week…

But this is just fanboy nitpicking compared to the fact that Ollie is pushing the button on some kind of trigger…. Yes, the man who had just been hit full in the chest with a dart poisoned in such a way that could render a man paralyzed, brain-damaged and blind or just disabled depending on his weight…

It gets revealed in later pages that Ollie was wearing some kind of body-armor under his costume, which was able to deflect the poisoned dart. So mea culpa there, even thought here was no indication of there being any armor until that point.

This still does not explain…

1. Why there is, once again, a Star City Action News team reporting on Green Arrow fighting cops at the Star City wall when, according to last issue, all the News Outlets pulled out of Star City during the last year. Unless, it turns out, the reporters are reporting to empty air ala that one episode of Family Guy and have a good deal more professionalism then to say “Think I’ll go get drunk and beat up some midgets!”

2. Why Ollie is suddenly out of his work pants and in full costume as we go from page 7 to 8.

3. How in the the nine hells Slade… bad ass, ever adaptable Slade… gets punked so easily. I like Ollie but… this issue was Winick moving to the other extreme of the one-sided battle and having a villain being beaten way too easily.

Thank you for indulging me in clearing that up, children. No more talking about the bad nasty books for a while. I promise.

Next week, in fact, we’ll have no discussion of books at all. Come back in 7 for my inevitable and likely questionable review of X-Men 3.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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