Friday, January 30, 2009

Buffy: The Long Way Home (Season 8 Vol 1)

This is the trade paperback (TPB) collection of the first five issues of the latest Buffy comic book by Dark Horse. It's billed as season 8 of the "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer" show, and indeed it does carry on from the end of that. It even has Joss Whedon, the show's creator, as the writer and "executive producer" together with Georges Jeanty as the artist on issue 1 to 4 and Paul Lee on issue 5. And, like the show, it's pretty enjoyable.

Having Joss as the writer helps. Like many people, I like his funky dialog so his script here is pretty witty. Although, of course, it would've been nice to have the actual actors saying the lines to smooth it over (but, I guess, that wouldn't work in a comic book). The story's pretty good too. As established at the end of season 7, there are now lots of slayers and they've been brought together by the Scooby Gang to help fight monsters. Soon, Buffy, Willow, Xander and the rest are attacked by Amy the witch and a de-skinned Warren who have joined forces and are both out for revenge. Defeating them, they learn that a well-organised and high-tech group known as Twilight are dedicated to wiping out the slayers (see the Wikipedia entry for more details and spoilers).

The story reads like a two-parter of the TV show, although with a lot more action afforded by the unlimited budget of the comic book format. Many familiar characters from the show are brought into this and there are various mentions of other threads (such as the 'fake' Buffy in Rome from the Angel episode "The Girl In Question"). But for some reason, something is lacking. Perhaps it's the fact that the story is only 4 issues long? Perhaps it's a little decompressed with few panels per page? Perhaps it's because it's just not the TV show?

The art, by Jeanty, is generally pretty good. It's clear and uncluttered - I liked it. The likenesses of the characters to their actors aren't bad, although not perfect. Although hardly outstanding, the style works well with the story. The excellent colours by the always-impressive Dave Stewart are bright and fit with Jeanty's clean, smooth lines.

The fifth issue in this TPB, called “The Chain”, feels a little bit like a filler episode. It describes what happened to another 'fake' Buffy, who was sent (literally) underground. The short story, again written by Whedon, is okay, but not as good as the main part of this TPB. The art by Paul Lee also isn't as good as Jeanty's.

The quality of TPB is generally average to good. The pages are nice and shiny but there are very few extras other than a collection of the covers from the five issues at the back. My main complaint is that the four issues of proper story seem a little lacking - if this had been twice as long perhaps I'd have felt more satisfied. Otherwise, this is an excellent continuation of the Buffy universe.

In summary: Fine.

Hustle: Diamond Seeker (s5 e4)

I like Hustle. It's one of those comfortable, no-nonsense, always-delivers-the-goods shows that is neither groundbreaking, highbrow nor even spectacular, but is nonetheless consistently entertaining.

Hustle is about a group of conmen - or grifters - who, in a sort of Robin Hoodish way, con/steal from the bad/rich and give to the good/poor - and themselves. Although these conmen lie, cheat and blatantly bend the law their way, they are the good guys and the people they are conning are pretty much always shown as the bad guys. It's very like Ocean's Eleven (and spin-offs) but slightly smaller on scope and budget. And like the Ocean films, it relies on two things: the elaborate cons and the interaction of the characters.

This week’s episode was as good as always. The team mistakenly come into possession of a stolen, near priceless necklace and there's a ruthless, highly intelligent, rich guy out to get it off them. He collects "love jewellery" and will stop at nothing to get the necklace, including hospitalising the lecherous thief that stole the jewel in the first place. Of course, Mickey Bricks, Three Socks, and the new guys Emma (who looks like a slightly younger version of Kylie) and Sean (a good old ex-Eastenders actor) manage to come out on top and, in addition, make some decent money.

The little scenes between the characters are great. Sure, the con wouldn't work in real life because it, like most of them, relies too much on luck and coincidence (here, the intelligent recluse decides to interrogate Emma in his impenetrable vault rather than, say, in an office. Which was lucky). And I could see how it was all going to work way before the reveal. Also, unfortunately, there wasn't one of those special FX bits where the action around them slows to almost a halt and the gang move around them talking about the con (like the bits in Heroes when Hiro freezes time). But still.

Like all the other episodes, this was wonderfully entertaining. Surprisingly, after four previous seasons, there's still plenty of life in this ol' show. It's a pity each season is so short! So, for me, it's getting a steady Fine grading.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Review Gradings

I'm thinking of rating things, such as trade paperback (TPB) collections and TV shows, based on the old comic book grading scheme. Thus, for example, a TPB I review might get a rating of "Very Fine", which generally means it's excellent and well worth reading but isn't absolutely wonderful (that would be left to "Mint" and "Near Mint" TPBs). Please note that these are gradings/ratings are only rough estimations of what I think and there's no scientific thought going into them. It's just a bit of fun.

Also, this is not the grade of the physical quality of my TPB. When I say that something is "Very Fine" I'm not saying my copy has a small tear and some barely noticeable corner folds. What I mean is that the writing and art within the TPB is very good and that the book was generally enjoyable. It's just a fun way of saying 8 out of 10.

Below are some brief notes regarding the various 'grades'. The number out of ten is a rough guide.


Pretty much perfect, a must. Sort of equivalent to 10 out of 10.

Near Mint

Almost perfect but with a few minor flaws, highly recommended. A score of 9 out of 10.

Very Fine

Excellent and certainly recommended. A few, minor areas could be improved. 8 out of 10.


Enjoyable and entertaining, worth watching/reading/getting. 7 out of 10.

Very Good

Not bad but not brilliant either, recommended if this is your sort of thing. 5 or 6 out of 10.


Okay, but nothing wonderful. Kinda average. 4 out of 10.


Significant faults, miss this unless there's nothing else. 2 or 3 out of 10.


Not worth the bother, pretty rubbish. 1 out of 10.

Obviously, with the things I'm reviewing I will have already done some vetting of them. If something doesn't interest me, or I know it's rubbish, I probably won't read/watch it in the first place. So scores of Poor and Fair will be rare. Thus, expect the average rating to be around Fine. Also, as with comic books, expect Mint ratings to be rare as well.

Blimey, this went on longer than I expected.

Let's Try Again...

Well, so much for doing a Civil War Week. That was over two years ago and I haven’t posted since. Not that anyone was really interested in what I had to rant about the whole thing (though, see below).

I’m going to try and post things here more often. Not daily – god no! But I’ll try to stick something here occasionally when I feel like it, even if it’s just a line or two saying about some TV show I’ve watched recently and whether I like it. Maybe.

As to Civil War – I’ve now read the trade paperback collection (I borrowed it from my local library). And… it’s okay. Mark Millar’s story has a fair amount of action and if you don’t think too much about it all it comes across as quite enjoyable. Of course, as soon as you do think about it, it generally falls apart. Things are just taken too far for the sake of, I dunno, conflict. Steve McNiven’s art is okay – it’s generally clean, understandable and straightforward although his faces sometimes look a bit funny. But I’m not as wowed about it as some people seemed to be. Sure, it was nice to keep the same art team on the book for all 7 issues but at the expense of running late…?

So, generally good but not brilliant. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be but still flawed. I guess it doesn’t help that the Civil War was branched off into dozens of other Marvel books so this TPB only tells half the story. So, as for a rating, I’ll give it a charitable Very Good.

There, that’s it for a review – everyone else has had his or her say so it’s not like I’m going to add anything new. And it doesn’t help that I’m about a year and a half late!