School Run #2-4 and Dekada

Yay, more komiks reviewed.

School Run #2 by Macoy TangSchool Run #3 by Macoy TangSchool Run #4 by Macoy Tang
School Run #2-4
by Macoy Tang

Go to my review of #1

Macoy's story of cute munchkins meeting flesh eating zombies escalates the gore and violence, and adds more twists and near-escapes. After having their school bus overrun by an unexpectedly large zombie horde, a handful of students race against time while navigating the treacherous urban terrain in order to make it to safe ground. Along the way they bear witness the best and worse of human nature. And more is revealed about the zombie plague.

The story moves at an economically fast clip, with plenty of emphasis on nonstop action and the zombie fighting. If I have one complaint, it's that the individual minis are so slight that there's not enough time to connect with the main characters or the world they inhabit. Hopefully the pace slows down a bit, but so far this is been an amusing, if at this point an all too quick ride.

Dekada by Lyndon Gregorio
by Lyndon Gregorio

The popular Beerkada comic strip has been running in the Philippine Star since 1998, and this particular book compilation marked its tenth anniversary when it first came out. The cartoon's target demographic is mirrored by its young adult cast, and is meant to identify with their travails as they confront the usual growing-up experiences of college, dating, relationships, finding a job, or finding a life mate. And it's rendered in a streamlined, blocky style that many newspaper cartoons are drawn in these days.

The strip's main weakness is that the cast is often reduced to hooks used to hang its topical humor on, which contrary to the politically-charged cover, primarily addresses pop culture trends affecting Filipino youth that happen to interest creator Lyndon Gregorio.* They're mostly structured as three panel gags, with some extra material is thrown in to attract collectors. The gags themselves vary from occasionally insightful to plain forgettable (the majority of them leaning towards the latter), with a large number already becoming dated after only a few years removed from their original context. When read in large chunks instead of its original format of daily installments, they appear more chaotic than informative. And the usually oblivious behavior of its characters makes them come across less as distinct individuals than as a collection of annoying quirks.
* It also contrasts with a well-known novel with a very similar title.

Fickle Scientists

Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson
Go to: Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson

Petey's been reading some pretty old books or watching Ray Harryhausen movies, because he should be too young to remember that era.

Update: Dinosaurs just got insufferably cuterDeal with it!

Come to think of it, Petey reminds me of Michael Crichton complaining about those weak-minded, liberal scientists through his mouthpiece Ian Malcolm in The Lost World:
"Dinosaurs were now seen as caring creatures, living in groups, raising their little babies. They were good animals, even cute animals... And that new sappy view produced people ... who were reluctant to look at the other side of the coin, the other face of life."


John Carter

John Carter (2012)
· The advanced word of mouth on Disney Studio's John Carter was that it was a flop. No one was willing to give a film based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic character half a chance. That's a shame, for while it won't win any major awards for acting or screenwriting, this is as good way to waste two hours as any. And frankly, I was interested to see how the movie would be able to update Burroughs' work.

· I should mention that I've never read the Barsoom book series. But I grew up when luminaries like Carl Sagan were promising that manned missions to Mars were just around the corner. So I'm a sucker for anything that recaptures that spirit of wonder. And the sword-fighting action doesn't hurt.

· Given that John Carter established the template for fictional works from Flash Gordon to Avatar, the plot is already well-worn. An Earthling, preferably a white male, goes to alien planet and becomes a hero to the natives. The racial overtones must have stood out even more in the original books. John is a former Confederate soldier who encounters green-skinned aliens and "Red Men". The movie naturally tames much of that. John is played as a disillusioned man who is sick of war rather than as a belligerent imperialist. But the movie also reinforces the subtext in it's own unoriginal way. The more "civilized" human characters of Mars (all of them of aristocratic lineage) talk with British accents while the more tribal nonhuman Thark speak with non-Anglicized accents.

· John Carter isn't self-consciously campy, but it doesn't take itself too seriously either. The Jokes emerging from the material don't feel forced. The cast in general is pretty competent. And there's just enough world-building to impart a sense of a longstanding struggle involving nations possessing different technological levels, and varied complex cultures. It's by no means perfectly paced or wholly cohesive, probably a byproduct of adopting the source material to the filmic structure. But it went by quickly enough. Even the disorientating parts were fun.

· Dejah Thoris is easily the best-written character in the movie. It's obvious that she's cut from the classic "damsel in distress" mold, and that her falling in love with the hero is inevitable. But whatever was done to update her doesn't fall into the "strong female character" cliche either. She's fully capable - strong, fierce, intelligent, and cunning. But she's understandably driven by desperation, as she's the only person in the story who comprehends just how bad things will get if she's forced to marry the power-hungry Sab Than. She lies to the non-committal John because this is the only way to convince him to take up her cause.

· I watched the 3D screening, and found that it didn't add anything to the movie. If anything, it made the Depth-of-Field framing shots look noticeably worse.

· This isn't a particularly violent movie. But making the blood blue was an effective way to portray some of the gorier scenes.

· Woola is cute.

· The Barsoom series marks the general public's early fascination with the planet Mars. Unfortunately for the movie, this fascination is at a low point right now. And while the movie isn't bad, its story would feel familiar to fanboys, because it it is.


WIP #1 and Trese: Last Seen After Midnight

Hey, I finally read some komiks this year! Good for me. Now on to the reviews.

WIP (Work in Progress) #1 by Hub Pacheco and Teddy Pavon
WIP (Work in Progress) #1
by Hub Pacheco and Teddy Pavon

WIP first began as a webcomic before seeing print as a mini. Its first ten pages introduce the reader to the main protagonist Eli, a twenty-something slacker and principal narrator who often addresses the reader directly. In the beginning, he's rendezvousing with an attractive girl in front of a comic book store. This opening is the best part of the comic. But the story suddenly breaks away in order for Eli to talk more about his background.

While I wanted to to sympathize with his plight, Eli comes across as more ingratiating than interesting. This is because he's a fairly generic character. His constant patter of fanish in-jokes gets tiresome after awhile. And much of the comic's content can be described as him and his circle of friends rambling on about various geeky topics with little in the way of a strong connecting thread. One moment they're reminiscing about their failed comic book from their college days, next they're praising the Philippine comic industry while mocking mainstream crossover events. Did I mention that in addition to being an underemployed man-child, Eli complains a lot about his inability to hook a girlfriend?

The loose, gag-filled structure isn't compensated for by the anime-inspired art though. It isn't adroit enough to make the gags more compelling, or versatile enough with the characters' expressions to make them more varied and charming. And the story never quite returns to address the opening scene of the comic. Some judicious editing could have helped a lot to tighten the narrative.

Trese: Last Seen After Midnight by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo
Trese: Last Seen After Midnight
by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo

I believe it's been two years since the last volume featuring Alexandra Trese, Manila's renowned supernatural crime-fighter. Given how that book contained a story arc which engaged in some serious world-building, it's slightly disappointing that the series creators have gone back to the "corpse of the week" format. But the riffs on popular culture are entertaining in their own right. Their preferred mode is to blend well-known Manila landmarks with various local folklore and superstitions. The first story "Cadena de Amor" about elemental spirits haunting the darker recesses of Luneta Park is the most typical entry. "A Private Collection" is jarring in that the main antagonist is patterned after the stereotypical big game hunter who hunts more unusual creatures just for the thrill of it. This makes it feel more like a conventional superhero story. The more hip "Wanted: Bedspacer" in which a rash of student deaths taking place close to several college campuses is connected with another kind of spirit, seems derived from contemporary Asian horror cinema. This is the book's best-paced story and is the only one in which Alexandra doesn't come up with the right answer on her first guess, or resolve the problem with violence. That's countered with "The Fight of the Year", a rousing patriotic tale in which an analog of the famous boxer and local hero Manny Pacquiao battles the underworld on behalf of the nation. For once, Alexandra is a spectator and supporting character.

While the book doesn't break new ground, the level of skill and artistry on display shows significant improvement from earlier efforts. The stories themselves aren't particularly terrifying, although they can be creepy and oppressive at times. There are a few references made to past events to keep readers guessing about continuity. So it's a no-brainer for fans of Trese. But the stories are also self-contained enough that new readers could probably use them as a jumping on point, which might be the reason for the return to this format.


Lucky: Less quality but less quantity by Gabrielle Bell
Go to: Lucky by Gabrielle Bell