Comic tip: Pacific Rim – Tales from Year Zero

Recently I discovered a graphic novel which is kind of a prequel to the Pacific Rim movie, which I thought I’d share with you all for it’s a great read. Pacific Rim – Tales from Year Zero was published in close collaboration with the movie’s creators, which is great: some of its most important characters are in the graphic novel, and of course the Kaiju and Jaeger designs are very recognizable as well. Nevertheless, the writers used background stories to the movie that were never filmed, but were originally created to give more substance to the movie’s universe. Thanks to this graphic novel, much of this unknown extra material is now available to us as well.

The graphic novel contains 52 pages of world-building short stories. I’m not going to summarize the stories, for that’s near impossible without spoilers. What I can do however is give an example of the kind of background story you will get: the drifting phenomenon that we got to see in te movie – the neurological connection between two people and a Jaeger – is explained more elaborately in the graphic novel, for instance in the two panels below:

Still, every piece of background information is woven into a a real story, making it a true graphic novel, instead of, say, a compendium.

Recommendation

Even though this prequel is by no means essential to understanding the movie Pacific Rim, I’m genuinely recommending it to you. The stories are well-told with quality artwork and they really enhance your knowledge and understanding of this movie’s world. Plus, they may be short stories, they still belong together as parts of a bigger whole.

In short, it’s a great graphic novel, which I found worth the read. As a bonus, you get to enjoy the movie and it’s characters a little longer! 🙂

So what do you think, will you give this graphic novel a try? Let me know in the comment section below!

Graphic novel: Superman Earth One (vol. 2)

The graphic novel Superman Earth One (vol. 1) was published in 2010 but I only recently discovered it. Oh, how I loved it! Therefore, I was even happier to discover that DC Comics had apparently decided to publish a second volume in 2012, which meant I could get another Earth One Superman fix!

Volume 1 – cover

Superman Earth One – Volume 2 does not disappoint! I guess in great part because its creative team is the same as in Volume 1: acclaimed writer J. Michael Straczynski has teamed up once again with well-known penciller Shane Davis; the inker, colorist and letterer from Volume 1 have stayed on as well. This creates high consistency between the two volumes, both in content and artwork, which adds to a great reader experience.

Story

The story is built beautifully and carefully. We start with Clark, who is now a reporter at the Daily Planet thanks to his “interview” with Superman at the end of Volume 1. His co-worker Lois Lane doesn’t trust the new guy however. Suspecting he’s hiding something about himself, she decides to dive into his past to ferret out who he really is.

Also, we get to see Clark’s new appartment in one of Metropolis’s poorer neighbourhoods and meet his lovely neighbour Lisa Lasalle, with whom he strikes up a quick friendship that seems to hold some ‘more-than-friendship’ promise for the near future.

Entertaining banter: check!

Clark is still trying to get his bearings as Superman when he’s forced to face his first real threat: the creature Parasite, who can siphon his powers away, making them his own. In a way this forces Clark to become more human than he’s ever been, since now he suddenly has to share all the vulnerabilities humans have to face every day.

Meanwhile the army still considers Superman a security threat and is spending more and more time and resources to find a way to kill him…

Likes

For the second time Straczynski and his team have delivered a quality story. It reads like a movie, with interesting characters and conversations, exciting action and, most importantly, a reimagining of Clark Kent/Superman that speaks to the imagination and even managed to actually move me – which to me is quite a feat for a comic.

Touching? This is just the set up. The panels following it really tugged my heart strings…

Furthermore, there are definitely elements in the story that have the same feel as the 2013 movie Man of Steel – having now read both Volume 1 and 2, I have the distinct impression that the script writers for Man of Steel used significant elements from these Earth One graphic novels – which I have no evidence for at all, except that some plot elements seem to be taken almost literally from the graphic novels. Anyway, I like the idea, for I think the quality of the graphic novels is certainly high enough for a movie to be based on.

Although it is a self-contained story, Volume 2 leaves lots and lots of room for more sequels, with more adventures, more character development for the lead figures and, of course, more of Clark/Superman.
Straczynski’s rendering of the character, by the way, is actually one of the few instances in which I can’t say whom I prefer: Clark or Superman. Usually I’m interested in the one, but less so in the other (which of the two I like may vary with different writers), but Straczinsky’s characters are well-built, including both Clark Kent and Superman. So, what a treat! 😉

Add to that Davis’s outstanding artwork, with a very good grasp of facial expressions and emotion, and I’m well underway to becoming a true Superman fan after all!

Dislikes

Given that Volume 1 was an epic heroic adventure and given that this is only the second volume in what may hopefully become a very long-lasting series, I felt the villain of this story, the man-monster Parasite, somewhat lacking. True, he presented a very serious threat to Superman, but I was at best only mildly interested. The Parasite origin seemed, to me at least, a bit contrived and far-fetched (yes, even in something as far-fetched as a comic universe ;-), I still had a hard time suspending my disbelief with this particular plotline). Moreover, even though the Parasite’s past and his bond with his sister had great potential, there was hardly any complexity to him. Frankly, I found the character a more interesting villain before he became the Parasite, in the first pages of the comic, but of course we didn’t get to see much of that.

Buy/Borrow/Skip

I give this comic a Quality score of 8/10 and a Relevance score of 7/10. Although this is a little bit lower than I’d score Volume 1, which I would rate 10/10 for Quality, Volume 2 is still a definite buy, thanks to Straczinsky’s great characters and plot, and Davis’s splendid artwork. This is why I’m really excited that Straczynski will continue publishing many more Superman Earth One graphic novels (as he told MTV Geek this April, yay! 🙂 ) and can’t wait to lay my hands on Volume 3!

Superman Earth One, Vol. 2 – cover by Shane Davis

Which Superman villain is your favorite? Tell me all about it (and also: what you think of this graphic novel) in the comment section below! 🙂

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Graphic novel: Ravine – high fantasy epic adventure!

When I discovered artist Stjepan Sejic while browsing through his deviantart page last year, I immediately fell in love with his artwork. At the time he was working on graphic novel Ravine, together with well-known and critically acclaimed comic writer Ron Marz.

By the way, here’s a video of the artist at work, click here if you can’t see it:

As soon as – finally! – Ravine was published, I bought it, read it without taking any breaks in between and then couldn’t wait for part 2! Oh, that cliffhanger…

Anyway, as I wrote on my About page, I sometimes contribute to the Spiritblade Underground podcast, and although I didn’t write a review this time, I did record an audio version – talking as I thumbed through the graphic novel’s gorgeous pages.

So, here’s episode 268 of the Spiritblade Underground podcast – go to 5:46 minutes for my

Ravine review! (Just click on them bold words ;-))

If you like the Spiritblade Underground podcast, you can subscribe via iTunes or go to The Spirit Blade Underground Podcast Home Page. To summarize from my podcast review: I scored Ravine with 9/10 for Quality and a Relevance score of 7/10!

Here’s where the artist offers the first twenty pages or so for free: Sejic’s deviantart pages. And he’s doing the same for issue 2 and will be doing so for #3 as well! Surely that wets the appetite 🙂

Edit Febr. 2014: The second volume is now available as well!

Thank you so much for listening to my Ravine review, and of course now I’m curious: Will you check out Ravine? And if so, what scores would you give it?

Total Must-See: Pacific Rim

This review is also available as an audio review for the Spiritblade Underground Podcast; you can play the video below (it’s just audio however) or listen to the Spiritblade Underground Podcast, episode 277; just click the link, you’ll find my review at 2:43 minutes.
The written review has some extras however that the audio review doesn’t have, like specific links to source material, several illustrations, and two panels from the graphic novel prequel!

 

Review

Purely based on the title I wouldn’t have picked out this movie from the long list of movies in our local theatre. I mean, to my knowledge Pacific Rim wasn’t any particular idiom or expression, nor a well-known location. But as soon as I saw the movie trailer in the theatre, I think it was during Star Trek Into Darkness or maybe Man of Steel, I immediately knew I just had to see this movie!

Director Guillermo del Toro turns out to have been a fan of Japanese anime from his childhood. In a recent interview with Simon Mayo of Kermode & Mayo’s Film Reviews on BBC Radio 5 Live (you can check out their podcast here or in iTunes), Del Toro recounted his love for the mecha and kaiju creatures that often fill the anime worlds. In very general terms, mecha is the Japanese word for basically any creature or vehicle that is robotic, which in anime are often huge, and by huge I mean really ginormously large. Think Transformers or the gigantic Tripods in War of the Worlds – which by the way, also a GREAT movie, with Tom Cruise. Go find some time and see that one too!

War of the Worlds – one of the enormous Tripods that would be considered a “mecha” in Japanese anime

The mecha’s organic counterparts in anime are called kaiju – giant creatures, sometimes reptilian, sometimes amphibian or even deepsea fish, but basically any superlarge man-threatening creature. Think Godzilla and modernize him with 21st century special effects. You catch my drift.

Story

One day, not so far into the future, a giant monster emerges from the depths of the ocean. Think 25 stories high “large” (according to director Del Toro). It takes some effort but the people from earth manage to kill the beast, using current weaponry like tanks and fighter jets to shoot it down with missiles. Worldwide people celebrate their victory over this primal threat, and move on. To everyone’s great shock however, new monsters appear a couple of years later. Time to develop some new weaponry to fight these Kaiju: through worldwide technical and strategical collaboration the people of earth develop gigantic robots, a kind of mobile weapons of mass destruction which from then on are called Jaegers (after the German word “Jäger” which means hunter).

They are so large and so complex that the neurological stress would be too big for only one pilot to bear, which is why they have to be manned by two people: one for the left brain hemisphere, one for the right hemisphere. To accomplish this there has to be a neurological connection not only with the robot, but also between the two pilots, and this connection is called the Drift.

Drifting is necessary since the pilots will have to think, move and act in perfect unison – just like the two hemispheres of one human or animal brain control one body. This is why every pilot cannot be matched to just any other pilot: to be able to literally share eachother’s mind, instincts, memories and secrets there has to be a deep fundamental trust between the pilots in order for the neurological connection to hold, especially in combat situations. In other words, they have to be “drift compatible.”

 

Or, as the recent graphic novel prequel Pacific Rim, Tales from Year Zero puts it, love is the key:

For a while the Jaeger programme is very successful: every Kaiju that emerges is eventually killed. So governments start feeling comfortable again and the international community decide to prioritize differently: the Jaeger programme is considered too expensive, so let’s dismantle all Jaegers and build giant walls along densely populated coastal areas instead, surely they will be more than sufficient to keep potential future Kaiju at bay. (…ehh, say what?)

As the next Kaiju emerges and breaks through the first of these coastal Walls (duh), the governments realize their mistake. But it’s too late: prognoses indicate that more and more Kaiju will soon appear and now humanity’s only hope are the last four Jaegers, piloted by a small group of people who have kept resisting the new Wall-policy and kept maintaining these four giant battle mechs as best as they could with the limited resources they had. Now the task falls upon them to close the interdimensional access point between the world of the Kaiju and Earth: a rift deep in the Pacific Ocean. Due to some extra vehement Kaiju-Jaeger battles only two functional Jaegers are left when the mission starts and the remaining four pilots embark on a suicide mission in a race against the clock.

Likes

Despite the rather two-dimensional plot – very big robots fight very big monsters – Del Toro has delivered a movie that captivates from beginning to end. This is largely thanks to the characters: the surroundings may be enormously grand, the interactions between the main characters are still close-up, intimate, focussing on matters of the heart just as much as the head. As a viewer I was swooped up by the story from the beginning and right to the end I cared enough for each of the main characters that I wanted to know what happened to them, and rooted for them to beat the near-impossible odds. I consider this quite a feat by Del Toro, considering the total mayhem, the tumultuous chaos, the deafening sounds of fighting monsters and mechs, and the destruction of cities that keeps you on the edge of your seat for large portions of the movie.

Furthermore, the special effects are magnificent, from the cool hightech computer interfaces with which the Jaegers are piloted, to the enormous but yet very detailed Kaiju’s and Jaegers, each and everyone of which has a unique design.

“…both would be a very modest 25 stories high…” Guillermo del Toro on the stature of both Kaiju and Jaegers, during his BBC interview.

More importantly, I’m very happy that Del Toro paid enough attention to building his characters and their relationships: he takes time to show us how a newby pilot is trained, what it’s like to enter the neurological connection for the first time and why it’s so important for entering this “Drift” to have a stabile mind. And he adds some humor to the mix through the sidekicks: two bickering scientists who work for the Jaeger resistance.

Last but not least, the joining of minds in the Jaeger could trigger a number of relevant conversational topics, like What is trust? What is intimacy? What is friendship? and, furthermore, a question that will probably resonate with Christians in particular:

What does it mean to be truly one with Another (and do you have the nerves for it?). After all, it was one of Jesus’s most well-known prayers for His followers to be “one”:
“I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name – the name You gave me – so that they may be one as We are one.” (John 17:11, NIV)

Although I doubt that Del Toro had that bible verse in mind, he nevertheless touches upon these themes, without claiming to have the definitive answers – nor does he go “soft” on you, but instead he manages to have these underlying themes both fascinate the viewer and add to the movie’s action.

Dislikes

Ehh… Yeah. Can’t think of any. Maybe if I tried again……
Sorry, no.

Score

Quality: 10!
Relevance: 8

Which makes this movie is a total Must See, and also a strong contender for my personal Movie Top 3 for this year!

Also check out my review of the graphic novel, it’s 52 pages of very good backstory!

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