Archive for category Review

Shenanigan: Dog Days

This past week, I’ve been house-sitting and dog-sitting for my sister. Some portions of this have been quite pleasant; I’ve cooked several meals that tasted fine and didn’t damage any major appliances in the process. And there’s something to be said about keeping entirely to one’s own schedule (other than the neighbor’s rooster insisting on everyone waking up with the sun).

And then there’s the dog.

Don’t get me wrong: I like dogs. I would love to own one myself someday, if I ever find myself living in a place that can tolerate them. I generally prefer bigger dogs, considering that most of the smaller dogs I’ve seen have been yippity little balls of neurosis wrapped in fluff coats.* Granted, big dogs take a lot of energy, and by the end of the day I’m usually about as energetic as a lump of putty. And that’s where Buddy comes in.

You see, Buddy is a Labradoodle. Aside from sounding like a certain toy from my childhood**, the Labradoodle is a cross-breed resulting from one man’s attempt to create a hypo-allergenic guide dog, mixing the strength and low-shedding coat of the poodle with the thick-as-a-brick idiocy of the yellow lab. Or at least that’s the impression I’m left with after spending a week taking care of a dog who shows his affection mainly through a series of swift headbutts.

Issues of personality and excitability aside, there’s also the matter of the Labradoodle’s fur. It grows thick and long enough on the dog’s muzzle to make it look like it has a permanently ratty beard, plus it grows right up in front of their eyes and rather thickly in their ears. You essentially wind up with a dog who, unless you keep trimming it every couple of weeks or so, goes functionally blind and deaf. I’m not entirely complaining, mind you—this throws his aim off enough that I can at least dodge most of the jumps and tackles. And in spite of being advertised as hypo-allergenic, the dog still sets off my dad’s asthma.

I’m comparing all of this, of course, to the little Welsh corgi I encountered a few days ago on my lunch break. For those of you unfamiliar with corgwn, they’re small dogs bred to herd cattle, sheep, and children by nipping at their heels and being short enough to dodge any resulting kicks. This particular corgi was cheerful and calm, happily accepting any pets or tidbits that happened along its way. I don’t think it would have headbutted me even if it could reach.

So what’s the moral of this story? Probably something along the lines of making sure you study up on a breed of dog before buying, adopting, or agreeing to take care of one. Also making sure that your hybrid creatures don’t wind up with a name that would put most creatures in therapy. But above all else, if you read an article comparing the jumpy lug that just ripped out its own tether line . . . to Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite pups . . . you may want to check for bias on the part of the author.

* My ire is particularly saved for beagles, who are small, threatened by everything, and loud. A beagle doesn’t show affection, so much as tolerate your presence whilst growling under its breath.
** I suppose it’s a better combo name than, say, “poo retriever”, “golden dude”, or “Brangelina”, but that really doesn’t say much.

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Review: Pilli Adventure

There’s something about mythology that just invites writers to make it their own. The ability to delve into collective stories and make references to characters or ideas that resonate easily with an audience is a strong temptation for people who want to save a little energy establishing plot, setting, or characters. Hence, the Greco-Roman pantheon shows up in works like the Percy Jackson series, while Norse mythology gets used in works as diverse as Baldur’s Gate, Oh! My Goddess, and Sparkling Generation Valkyrie Yuuki. If there’s a treasure trove of folkloric wisdom to be found, rest assured that there is a storyteller or game designer just itching to plunder that mythological booty.*

Filling in the niche for Mesoamerican folklore is cartoonist Gustavo Duarte Yza Algeya, whose comic Pilli Adventure pits its hapless title character against the contents of the Popol Vuh, all because she bound the soul of her dead boyfriend into a calavera doll. Or at least, the About page insists that these actions are connected, and I’m willing to believe what it says. Along the way, Pilli also deals with high school, magical girls, and medusa.

Algeya is a native Mexican, and his English tends to be unpredictable. Punctuation often takes a backseat to excitement, and online slang and abbreviations crop up on a regular basis. As a result, the comic sometimes feels like the illustrated logs from a chat-room role playing game—a feeling that gets compounded by how quickly story arcs tend to veer off toward relationship issues and almost-but-not-quite fanservice.

Speaking of fanservice, the art style owes a lot to various manga and anime (although with characters like Jinx the magical girl, the line between inspiration, homage, and parody gets blurry). It sort of says something when a cursed water pot looks vaguely similar to a Dogu. And I’m not entirely sure how to feel about the depiction of all Americans as either frat boys or alien spies for NASA (although with how green Pilli’s skin has become over the last couple of arcs, I’m left to wonder what she is, exactly).

The thing I find most interesting about Pilli Adventure is how many of the mythological baddies have surprisingly harmless motives. Some of the monsters may be out to destroy all humanity or wipe out the Spaniards, but the majority of the monsters Pilli dispatches are following a spectacularly daft personal goal that just happens to cause major collateral damage. Several of them even mention that they’re only in it for the fun. And in the end, that’s what Pilli Adventure seems to be about: having fun**.

Comic Rating: Four heaps of inadvertent nudity.

* Whilst saying things like “arrrrr” and “avast,” natch.
** Let’s hope the casualty count stays low.

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Review: Ace Hoyle

I am not a gambling man.* I know just enough about playing cards that I can make it through a game of Solitaire or Freecell on the computer now and then, and my parents once coached me through a game of cribbage without major injury, but I’m otherwise useless regarding anything at a casino that isn’t served at the buffet.

This makes it a little tricky to review The Adventures of Ace Hoyle, submitted by co-creator Phill Provance. Serving as the eye-catch for casino review site Ace Hoyle.com, Adventures tells the story of professional poker champion Ace Hoyle and the intrigue that goes on around the national poker championships. His paramour, Dolly Finegold, runs into troubles of her own. As you can see, the major figures in Ace Hoyle are named with all the subtle characterization of a Dickens novel or a summer blockbuster.

Ace Hoyle takes a lot of cues from old and new melodramas alike: in the less than 30 pages currently available, readers are treated to fisticuffs, more fisticuffs, temper flaring, and an explosion. Also a lot of poker is played, but the lingo is pretty much foreign to me. I get the feeling you’d need to be a poker player to understand what’s going on.

The artist, Thomas Batha, has a very busy art style. The line art is filled to capacity with detail, which might explain the muted color tone. Generally only one emphasized item getting colored while the rest of the comic is in black and white. Characters are just as melodramatic and exaggerated in depiction as they are in writing**; you can tell who the bad guy is pretty quickly (essentially, if you can see their teeth, they’re the bad guy—or at least off-putting).

In the end, if you’re partial to poker or crazy for craps, give Ace Hoyle a look-see. Otherwise, it’s going to be a very confusing walk down the casino aisle.

Comic Rating: An eight of clubs.

* Unless you count trying out new recipes.
** Personally, I think Dolly’s glasses manage to look better in the regular comic than in the promotional art.

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Review: Currhue

I find myself somewhat at a loss for this review. As you’ve seen in previous reviews, I generally spend the first paragraph rambling about some odd topic that serves to segue into the review itself. But this week’s comic leaves me at something of a nonplus. So I suppose I’ll have to set aside the expository banter.*

Here, then, is a comic called Currhue, submitted by its creator, who calls himself Kloob. It is a strange comic, a baffling comic. A comic that moves swiftly from awkward flirting to murder and sworn revenge, which is all promptly swept under the rug for a plot involving future alien dinosaurs and the reckless bounty hunters who attack them. And also the bounty hunters are nuclear robots.

Awkward flirting aside, this sounds a lot like my five-year-old nephew telling me what his afternoon at day care was like.

Kloob is capable of some pretty decent art, all things considered, which makes it rather baffling that he depicts human characters as spindly little homunculi. This actually ruins one joke, wherein Albert is supposed to be naked, but he looks no different from when he’s clothed, save for the absence of a line or two.

I honestly can’t yet fathom Currhue. It’s still a bit too sparse to make any overwhelming judgments based on what disjointed snippets of plot I can put together. The quickly-discarded extras feel like side characters from an Adam Sandler movie, and the art is just intentionally ugly enough to put me off. The whole comic feels a bit like a fever dream, and I think I’d rather sweat it out.

Comic Rating: Two enormous hands.

* Now we review this comic like men! And ladies! And ladies who dress like men!

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Review: Power Out

As a literary genre, magic realism is something of a minefield. Taking the rough, feverish text of realist fiction and grafting in the limitless whimsy of fantasy can result in stories like “The Wonderful Ice-Cream Suit” (a personal favorite of mine, written by Ray Bradbury) . . . but it can also lead to stories involving the protagonist being raped at gunpoint by the daughter of a naked hermaphrodite who knits the universe together with anti-matter yarn.* Fiction in general can be a crap shoot, but magic realism plays with erotic dice.

Which brings me to the topic of Power Out, a story from the ACT-I-VATE collective submitted by creator Nathan Schreiber. As far as I can tell, Power Out takes its inspiration from the Northeast Blackout of 2003**, though it extends the scope of the incident—and, according to Schreiber, the duration.

The story follows Justin, a teenager with ineffective parents, an irresponsible older sister, and some unexplained past trauma. Considering the sorts of people his sister befriends, it’s little surprise that he spends most of his time in a cocoon of video games and online lingerie ads. But then his parents go out on a cruise, his sister heads out to Cape Cod with some people she barely knows, and irony strikes: the power grid gives out on the anniversary of the invention of the electric clock.

Justin is forced to confront a world full of rude people, people who don’t speak his language, and heat exhaustion. He doesn’t take to it well. An explicit and unsettling wet dream follows, though for the life of me I don’t know why we’re treated to it. It probably shows how disoriented Justin is, but at the same time, I don’t feel at all good for having had to read through an erotic scene between a teenager and an old woman.

Schreiber’s line art flows very nicely, such that even straight lines seem like gentle curls. His talent really seems to shine through when he’s depicting the high contrast between light and dark or pretty and grotesque. His landscapes are likewise nothing to sniff at. Honestly, if the style were being used to depict a less unsettling plot . . . but that’s my own personal taste. Power Out is the winner of a 2009 Xeric Award, so people certainly like what it does. But as I’ve said in other reviews, I guess I’m not one of them.

Comic Rating: 3 Amperes.

* I am not making this premise up. The title of the story escapes me, but I had to read it for a class on short fiction. The things a person will do to finish off a degree . . .
** An event that I remember mostly for having gotten the evening off of work. A bit callous of me, perhaps, but then my hometown got power back after a day or so with few repercussions.

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