Alpha Shade Book One

The nice thing about reviewing a collection of a webcomic is that, if you don’t have much to say about it, you can just send readers to check it out for themselves.

Alpha Shade Book One cover
Alpha Shade Book One
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Alpha Shade is a science fiction war story with manga-styled art and slow pacing. I couldn’t force myself into it, because the premise didn’t interest me and I was given no reason to care about the characters, so I quit about 15 pages in. The only element that made me wonder was why the soldiers were letting a telepathic cat order them around, but it was only a mild curiosity.

It’s an expensive book for 96 pages of something that’s available for free online, but it’s a handsome package. Instead of the typical small manga format, it’s oversized and in color on thick glossy paper.

The author’s note at the back talks about wanting “the readers to learn … details as the characters do”, resulting in information about the world being reserved for an upcoming future volume. The writer uses words like clues, hints, and possibilities to describe the material here with promise of more to come. That requires a lot of faith in the reader’s patience (and pocketbook), that they’ll stick around (or come back) for a second book.

17 Responses to “Alpha Shade Book One”

  1. Herb Kirchhoff Says:

    It’s really poor form to review a volume without reading the whole thing. And I couldn’t disagree more with the reviewer’s disinterest.

    If she’d read the entire volume, she’d have seen that this first volume of Alpha Shade tells a story of a young female recruit’s introduction to the harsh reality of combat, and how she deals with it. In the process, readers are introduced to other characters who will play a big part in future volumes, plus an incredibly interesting and detailed world where battleships fly, military technology is in the midst of great change as giant fighting avians are being displaced by biplanes, politicians scheme with sentient felines behind the scenes, and people struggle to make sense of things as war rages around them. The back pages give readers a general background on the Alpha Shade world so readers don’t get lost.

    Now, either you like a fictional world or you don’t. I happen to like sci-fi war stories, however presented. I like the Alpha Shade world because it is so intricately detailed. Things hang together. There’s reasons for everything. And the visual depictions are beautiful artworks, presented in a well-made book.

    This first book is part of a multi-volume epic that I’ve been following online. Although I can read the story for free, I still intend to buy the 2nd volume as soon as it’s available, because I’ve enjoyed owning this first volume so much. (^_*)

  2. Johanna Says:

    Why are you talking about me like I’m not here?

    We’ll have to disagree on your first sentence; I think “it bored me to the extent I couldn’t force myself to finish it” is a perfectly valid comment as to the quality and interest level of a book.

    As for the rest, thank you for elaborating on what you like about it. You’ve convinced me that it’s not for me, but I’m glad my readers have a more detailed description available.

  3. Herb Kirchhoff Says:

    Johanna, I was keeping it impersonal on purpose. I wanted to avoid any impression of a personal attack and concentrate on why I disagree with your review.

    But I will stick by my belief that writing a review based on only 15% of the content is a disservice to the authors and to your own readers, particularly since this is only 96 illustrated pages and not “War and Peace.”

    As things stand, I got that you don’t like this type of story and was so bored that you couldn’t finish it. But that’s all I got. (^_*)


  4. Paul Says:

    A review is suppose to be an objective analysis of the pros and cons of whatever is being reviewed. While I couldn’t disagree more with your review in substance, I also disagree with the method through which you go about reviewing. You even admit to us that you didn’t get through the first 15 pages (and the back cover) – and yet you still provide your uneducated insight into the Alpha-Shade universe. I admit readily that I am an A/S fan because of the provocative story that nevertheless succeeds in being exciting and suspenseful, without too many massive cliffhangers. Were I not, however, your review would leave me puzzled as to why you even bothered to post something like it on a website where people might actually have access to it. If you don’t read the entire book, what makes you remotely qualified to write an opinion on it?

  5. Jannelle Says:

    I’d consider the ability to read the series on the web first as an advantage. I could determine if the book was something I wanted to spend cash on before ordering it on line or having a brief chance to see a copy at a convention.

  6. James Schee Says:

    But I will stick by my belief that writing a review based on only 15% of the content is a disservice to the authors and to your own readers, particularly since this is only 96 illustrated pages and not “War and Peace.”

    Yet Johanna gets literally hundreds of comics each week, which means she can only devote so much time to any book. Under those circumstances I can understand her giving up on something she doesn’t like.

    I don’t see her really being really negative about the book, as I don’t believe “it isn’t my thing” as being negative. Yet she did do the creators a service of at least making her readers aware of the series, since they did send her the book. (plus giving fans of it a place to come and do testimonials for it)

    Which means any readers who may like these sort of stories know now know about it, and can go give it a try. In the end that is what most creators probably want to happen when they send a review copy anyway.

  7. Johanna Says:

    I know you fans think you’re helping, but the more you chastise me for not saying enough about the comic you obviously love, the more likely it is you’ll drive me away from bothering with *any* book of this type in the future. As James says, I get more books a week than I can read. The alternative to me briefly saying “it’s not for me, here’s why, go check it out for yourself” is me ignoring the book and saying nothing, especially since anything other than a rave would obviously disappoint you.

    I know you’re looking for reasons to ignore my dislike, and “it’s not REALLY a review” is a convenient hook for you to seize upon. I see that you love the comic. I didn’t. You’re not going to argue me into liking it or giving it another shot — I just don’t have the time or the inclination.

    As I said, I’m glad you can give my readers another impression of the work, and you’re welcome to disagree with me — but do it politely, or I’ll start removing comments.

  8. Herb Kirchhoff Says:

    I never tried to persuade you to change your mind, Johanna, although I disagreed with your evaluation. And as mentioned above, you did do Alpha Shade a service by selecting this comic to comment on, and giving us an opportunity to respond to your comments.

    There must have been something exceptional about Alpha Shade that made it stand out from the slush pile of stuff you get, something that inspired you to at least attempt to read it. So this A/S fan thanks you for at least trying it out. (^_*)

  9. Johanna Says:

    It’s true, I was jumping to conclusions based on the way it’s always gone previously when I’ve had this same discussion with people. That doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing is doomed to happen — comments like yours, Herb, give me hope. :)

    (As for what stood out … the book is a very handsome package.)

  10. Rhandir Says:

    I think I understand your decision to drop it and move on: the first two times I followed a link to Alpha-Shade, I didn’t get it. The third time, I had a tremendous a-ha.

    What I saw was that the authors are taking a series of small scale events and weaving them together into a larger story, told from the point of view of an observer who doesn’t know directly who is important and who isn’t* (there’s no “redshirts” – no obviously expendable characters.) Each character’s decisions and reactions flow logically out of their internal state, or out of their reaction to an external crisis, so the story is built up slowly, frame by frame, page by page. It’s worth noting that even the physical action – the biplane/dragon fight, for instance – follows a plausible progression that adheres to real world military practices while at the same time being dramatically sound. (See p. 73-76 and following.)

    It’s a pretty subtle, slow-paced, approach but by the end of the book I was totally invested in what was going to happen to the characters. Looking back through pages 1-15, I have to admit that the small dramas that I found quite compelling weren’t woven in yet. The narrative of the team sent to deal with a sniper could stand alone as a short story, for instance, but it’s interleaved with the main plot between p. 29-51.

    I do hope you’ll come back to it someday and read a bit further for your own pleasure. (After all, I am a fan, how could I hope otherwise?)

    In any case, I appreciate the fact that you did not just read Alpha-Shade, but chose to review it also. (Because I do understand how slush-piles work.) I hope I have not caused offense.

    *this can be pretty alarming when characters unexpectedly drop dead. As a war comic, it is more honest than most – nice people die, unexpectedly, randomly, and not necessarily while being heroic.

  11. Johanna Says:

    Rhandir, thanks very much, that helps put some things in perspective, and it’s very enlightening.

  12. Christopher Says:

    Thank you Johanna–in case Herb was wondering your review has netted some new fans for this series. I actually started reading Alpha Shade after coming accross yours and your respondants (spoiler free!!) reviews of the webcomic.
    I hope that you end up having the opportunity to look at Book Two when it comes out.
    While I personally felt book one was a cut above much of the comics I have read elsewhere, book two continues the strengths of book one and improves vastly upon them:
    1. the authors have stated that “minor characters shouldn’t act like they believe they are minor characters”–making it really hard to know what to expect next. that combined with the added mystery of knowing there are “rules” to this fictional universe, but not knowing what they are was what I always look for in sci fi. The abrupt shift at the end of book one and the dramatic shifts of perspective and locale in book two–whhooo–
    I haven’t experienced something like this since I read Finder-Sin Eater, by Carla Speed McNeil!
    2.The art improves by leaps and bounds. Take a look at the last couple of pages of Book One to see the jump up in quality…and then hold onto your hat as the quality jumps up atleast another notch, both in coloring, the framing and angle of the panels, the greater distinctiveness and realism of the characters (facial features, skin tone, hair, clothing detail).
    3.The writing. The writing moves the plot in the first books and for me ranged from convincing to hackneyed. S lot of fans have commented on how good the art is and how much it continues to improve–what I haven’t heard is how damn good the scripting of the characters are and how much better it gets as the story moves along. I think you critiqued Book one as failing to engage you in the characters (in defense of the writers–they have said that they saw this piece as an action dominated prologue), well there is a dramatic upswing in characterization that I would place along the likes of Speed, Greg Rucka, Tara Tallan, and Warren Ellis.
    4. Sense of Place, okay–this might not be as impressive to you, but having lived in a certain upper-midwest city for a decad and a half, before moving for work I got major attacks of homesickness looking at the streets of the city the action takes place in. These crazy mugs have actually built 3-D replicas of atleast 2 sets so they could behave like film directors and less like illustrators!
    I gather at this point the Brudlos are about 15 pages ie 4-6 months away from putting out a printing of chapter 2. When it comes out I urge you to take another look at this series.
    5. The Brudlos are in this for the long haul. I remember how heartbroken I was when Galaxion up and stopped altogther. Better to have read Tara’s work, better to have REad THB not knowing if Paul Pope will ever get around to finishing it–than to not have encountered their warped little worlds–but its still frustrating. All indications are that these guys intend to see this project through.

    P.S. I advise you not to read the web comic cause 1. I suspect it will ruin the pacing for you and you’ll be even more frustrated with it or, worse 2. you’ll be hooked and have to wait for a page to eak out a week at a time.

  13. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for the update! I’m glad that they’re doing so well.

  14. Kim Bruning Says:

    Really bad first impression of .

    A really nasty review based on “I hated it, and here’s why” is still better than no review at all.


  15. Johanna Says:

    So if I’m wrong for judging a comic on only some of its pages, what does that mean when it comes to you judging the site on the first review you read?

  16. Kim Bruning Says:

    I’ve learned to never judge *just* by first impressions. I’m still around and replying to you, after all! :)

    I’ve checked some of the other reviews you’ve done, and some of those are pretty good.

    This review could have had a lot more content to it. I’m interested why the author failed to draw you into the story, and I’m also interested in what other things you could have commented on, like the quality of the artwork, or that of the writing.

    There’s always many things you can say about a comic, and you don’t always have to praise it.

    In fact, if the story doesn’t actually interest you, you might possibly be more objective about other aspects of the work.

    I look forward to reading more of your reviews in future.

  17. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for sticking around! For more viewpoints on whether “I didn’t like it enough to finish it” is a valid review, you might enjoy the discussion here and this Steven Grant column.

    Yes, I could have written more… but I find myself lately more and more overwhelmed by the number of books on my stack of review submissions (I think it’s about 200 currently). I thought better to post something short with a link than to ignore it altogether. The reactions I got, though, made me think I should have just ignored the title completely.

    I don’t agree with “there’s always many things you can say about a comic” — sometimes, there are very few, unless you’re being heartless and piling on negatives just to fit a word count.




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