Monday, December 30, 2013

WGTB Reviews Robotech Voltron #1

The first novel I ever attempted to write was a Star Trek/Star Wars crossover. I was a teenager and the story began with heroes Kirk and Spock blasting through a wormhole where they came across an Imperial Star Destroyer and found themselves in a shooting battle. This type of story – a property crossover – wasn't original and had been tried many times over, especially in comic books. For example, when Marvel owned the licences to the Hasbro properties GI Joe and Transformers, they produced a four part crossover mini-series in 1986. More recently, Star Trek: The Next Generation crossed with the BBC’s Dr. Who in 2012 in an eight issue mini-series by IDW. And just a couple months ago, IDW further announced that it was going back to the Hasbro well with Joes and Autobots being mashed together again, this time in an ongoing series beginning in the summer of 2014. 

Dynamite Entertainment's Robotech Voltron Vol.1 #1 (December 2013) Written by Tommy Yune, art and letters by Digital Art Chefs Team, pencils and digital inks by Elmer Damaso, Production Manager: James L. Parabay. Supervisor for colours and letters: Melvin Calingo 
So it was with these past comics in mind as well as a dose of cautious nostalgia for two properties I loved as a kid that I picked up Voltron Robotech #1, the first issue of a new five issue mini-series by Dynamite Entertainment. To this day I still read and enjoy the 1980s Comico Robotech comics and have always wanted to see Voltron as a comic book. (I do not know of another Voltron comic series.) That said, the aforementioned caution comes from the fact that while both properties are anime, other than that they don’t have a whole lot in common. Voltron for instance takes place in a distant future or universe that has a magical quality to it, while Robotech is a harder and more military-focused science-fiction. Below are two pages from the comic dealing with the Voltron and Robotech properties respectively.  

This page focuses on the Voltron aspect of the comic...

...and this one the Robotech.
So how did a comic merging the two properties together do? Well, while I’m always a little hesitant to judge a series on the merits of one issue, I have to say for the most part I was underwhelmed by this comic. Sure, in this short introduction to the story, the creators needed to re-establish two universes no easy task but I found much of the opening aspects of the comic rather unnecessary. For example, the first three pages consist of the old Voltron Peter Cullen TV voice over, and this could have been easily finished in the splash. From there I found the rest of the book sparse with its written story-telling almost devoid of captions that would have been very helpful in explaining how these two diverse stories were coming together. Blending two established canons is very difficult, and the book should have errored on the side of more information rather than what they did in issue #1. 
What on Earth indeed?
That said, the art of this book is good and has a classic anime feel to it. The colour palette is rich, as would be expected of this sort of book, and there are no surprises with the panels looking much like anything that's been seen a hundred times before in either Voltron or Robotech. Because of this, if you're inclined to read this type of comic, I'm not going out on a limb in telling you that you already know exactly what you're getting.  

All above images from Robotech Voltron #1 (December 2013) 
But overall the story just lacked a coherent punch to really excite me. Make no mistake, I'm very forgiving of these first issues and will pick up the second. But this is largely on the strength of my affection towards these properties rather than the first issue. Things could turn around, but as things stand it's unlikely I’ll buy #3. For that to happen the second issue will have to have much stronger story-telling and give us more of the great characters we know from both of these properties. Combining these two properties was a cool idea, but because it's otherwise a lacklustre comic book, issue #1 of Robotech Voltron only gets 2.5/5 STARS.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from WGTB!

I would like to wish all of my readers a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 

May your holiday be filled with good cheer and fun with family and friends. And may your 2014 be filled with lots of great sci-fi stories and comic books. Talk to you soon!

Image from National Publications (DC Comics) Comic Cavalcade #9 (Winter 1945)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

WGTB Reviews Two Generals

I remember back in 2005 when I prepared a eulogy for my grandfather. I wanted to write something that was both short and enjoyable, yet grasped the gravitas of a long and distinguished aviation career that began as a fighter pilot in the early 1940s. Coming from small town Saskatchewan, Grandpa learned to fly in Canada before heading to Britain and eventually fighting over North Africa and Europe, ultimately surviving the war and returning to a career as a bush and corporate pilot. Being a humble man, Grandpa never bragged about his remarkable career but would occasionally sprinkle his conversations with fascinating stories about the various adventures he had during the war at Christmas and Easter dinners or at the mutual birthday parties we celebrated (I was born on his 57th birthday).  

Two Generals, Scott Chantler, McClelland & Stewart, 2010, pp. 145, C$ 27.99
I mention Grandpa because he came to mind as I read Two Generals, a graphic book by Canadian writer and artist Scott Chantler. In Two Generals Chantler tells the story of his own grandfather, Law Chantler and Law's best friend Jack Chrysler who both fought in the same war my grandfather did. Grandpa is also the reason that, while I don't normally review books almost four years old, I had to write this piece to tell my readers how much I enjoyed it.

Two Generals is a story about two friends serving in the Second World War. The book was written and drawn by one of these men's grandsons. All images from Two Generals.
As mentioned, Two Generals tells the story of two good friends. Not generals, but commissioned officers from Canada during the Second World War. From their origins in small Ontario towns, the two friends head off -- one married and the other a charming bachelor -- to do their part to end Hitler’s tyranny and win the war for King and country. Throughout the story we follow the lads and their experiences as they join the army, head to England, drink and enjoy themselves in London, train for battle and then, after waiting and waiting, finally launch towards France. As members of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, the men arrive during “Operation Overlord” (better known as the D-Day invasion) and after helping secure Juno Beach, head into occupied France where they experience the same highs, lows and horrors that so many of their friends and colleagues did during that hellish time.

The book is mostly grey, olive green and white, with red used to illustrate danger-focused points.
The story is both a tribute to the two soldiers and educational experience about the horrors and frustrations of war. The art, while not especially complex has a delightful story-telling quality and matches the flow of the dialogue and overall narrative seamlessly. It also selectively uses the colour red to mark points of hazard, which is very effective and gives the reader a sense of foreboding and danger as it happens. All of this makes it a very accessible book for a non-comic book reader and my father for example, not having read a comic book since the 1960s, was able to pick up Two Generals and get into the story immediately. And of course part of this book's charm is that it's a great story. We often hear about the bonds people forge during the toils of war – this is something I knew about my Grandpa – he loved his squadron buddies as much as anyone in his family. How these types of friendship are formed in very clear from this story and when the author describes how Law and Jack's friendship came to an abrupt end towards the end, it literally brought a tear to my eye. It was that sad. 

While focusing on the army, Two Generals doesn't ignore the overall horror that all those fighting faced.
Simply put, this book is a credit to the comic book medium and a great way to introduce any reader to both comics and the history of the Second World War. It doesn't glorify wars, rather explains what happens to many of the people who go off to fight in them. My only problem with the book is that it seems to have a slightly higher price-point than needed, and this might dissuade buyers. This issue won't really be a problem for teachers and libraries, and is probably mitigated by the fact that it's available in softcover now, but if you're looking to spend a little more than you might normally for a trade paperback, then I highly recommend Two Generals. I guarantee you'll read it again and might even share it with someone who's interested in WWII. 4.5/5 STARS