Thrillbent Comic App Allows Import of Other Formats

Thrillbent, the digital comic site created by Mark Waid and John Rogers, has its own iPad app. Makes sense, since the iPad is nearly perfect for reading digital comics. The Thrillbent comic app does something very smart, that customers often ask for: it provides the ability to import your own comic files in PDF, CBR, or CBZ formats (which includes ComiXology backups) from Dropbox.

Thrillbent app logo

Now, there are a few glitches/areas for possible improvement. Once you’ve imported your own comics, there aren’t many organizational tools, which makes this best suited to someone with just a few titles.

Regarding the Thrillbent content, it’s not obvious which comics are free to read and which require payment of the $3.99 monthly subscription fee until you’ve clicked on them (and in many cases, gotten the “unlock with subscription” message). Once I found a free one, I couldn’t find any way to download it to my iPad, so each page turn meant a delay as it reloaded. (It seems that you have to buy the comics, individually, from the Thrillbent website to be able to download them.) Whether subscribed or not, you can mark series as favorites, which have their own section to make it easier to see when a comic updates with a new chapter.

The app forces a horizontal orientation, although if you load your own vertically oriented comic, you can switch at that point. The comic files don’t have a page control marker, so you can’t jump ahead or see how many pages the item has — you can only move forward one page, back one page, or jump back to page 1. That’s ok for the shorter Thrillbent chapters, but I can’t see reading a graphic novel here.

So great concept, good execution, but given the limitations, Thrillbent won’t become the single comic reading tool hardcore fans are looking for. I don’t think it’s meant to be, though; instead, it serves well as a support for the website.

Teen Titans: Earth One

I’m not sure I’ve read any of the previous Earth One volumes. Started in 2009, the label reworks well-known names — Superman and Batman most prominently — for the bookstore market, featuring original stories published in hardcover.

However, like most relaunches, the story makes most sense if you already know the brand. The odd mix of abilities demonstrated here — dirt control (Terra), shape-shifting (Chameleon), body invasion by organic metal (Cyborg), Native American mysticism (Raven) — don’t stem organically from the premise — evil scientist organization experimenting on captured alien. These power sets exist because they’re from the … well, not original Teen Titans, those were superhero sidekicks, but from the most famous Pérez/Wolfman era.

Like most series launches — the book is optimistically labeled Volume One — this is an origin story, a gathering of the troops to make a team. They’re all high schoolers together in Oregon — Tara (Terra, earth mover), Gar (Chameleon, changes shape into green animals), Vic (Cyborg, part living metal), Joey (Jericho, spoiler) — with the exception of Raven, who lives with her grandfather on a reservation in New Mexico. She was the standout character to me, and I’d have liked to have seen more from her than simply being used as a deus ex machina.

Raven seemed to have the most potential, with a well-thought-out reworking (if a bit stereotypical). Originally, she was the daughter of a demon god. Here, while all the kids have parent problems, she has a reliable guardian and is the one whose origin is most changed from the previous, since she’s now a Navajo shaman who has visions. Plus, the Dodsons’ art makes her lovely while maintaining her air of mystery. They’re a good choice for a book about superhero teens, telling the story clearly and attractively.

Writer Jeff Lemire does a good job making these modern-day teens believable, since they spend most of their time grumpy and disaffected. I never bought Tara and Victor as a couple, though, since that seemed too convenient and there’s no chemistry between them. All the kids have very similar voices, too. If you took the dialogue by itself, it would be difficult to know which one was saying what.

The parents are callbacks to the original. Gar’s parents were Steve and Richard, while Tara’s mother was Rita, who drinks to avoid the knowledge of what they’re doing to the kids. Joey’s father turns into yet another Titans reference later on, while Vic’s mother, Dr. Stone, is the stereotypical mad scientist experimenting on her kid.

The book has pacing issues. For example, I quibble with the opening. You have to get through six pages of muddled images, intercut with an equal number of black panels, captioned in an alien language to set up the premise, which we’re all familiar with from numerous other stories. I’d rather have started with the kids. And the book reaches a natural stopping point, with the team beginning to form, but like so many superhero stories, it’s clearly intended to continue, with many open questions.

It’s a weird mix, more realistic characterization in what boils down to a 50s movie plot. It’s a decent read, if very familiar, but somewhat unsatisfying in that we don’t know whether or when we’ll see more. And if we do, one slim story a year requires a lot of patience for what should be a pulpy adventure read. Still, it’s true to the feeling of the famous New Teen Titans while modernizing the threat that brings them together and cutting the ties to the rest of the DC universe. No superhero sidekicks or second generations here, just kids coming to terms with abilities they didn’t want.

J. Caleb Mozzocco points out that this reads like a TV pilot, and a single-volume introduction is a good way to get media interest, but one wonders how well that would work when the Teen Titans are already so well known, in different roles, as a cartoon. But for those disgusted by the current DCU, with its poor writing, bloodthirsty tone, and gory, hard-to-read art, this is a decent alternative. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

*The Wicked + the Divine Volume 1: The Faust Act — Recommended

The first collection of new series The Wicked + the Divine is bargain-priced and mind-blowing, which makes it a wonderful deal.

Kieron Gillen writes and Jamie McKelvie draws the story of reincarnated gods as pop stars. It’s a dynamite high concept, but one that becomes something a lot deeper. Laura meets Luci, short for Lucifer, at a concert, and her desire is so great it gets her backstage. The portrait of a dedicated fan, finding meaning in life through adoration of a performer, is both very current and disturbing, particularly since her object of worship is literally that. The gods are doomed to die within two years, but Luci takes a different route, getting imprisoned after exploding the heads of some guys trying to kill them.

Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the surface. McKelvie’s art is so slick and attractive, and Gillen’s dialogue so snappy, that it can be difficult to comprehend everything going on, particularly when the gods are lesser-known. Everyone’s got some idea of what Lucifer means, for example, even when she looks like a young David Bowie, but Sakhmet or Amaterasu are much lesser-known. They’re global, though, drawing from more traditions than the European, another modern touch.

Reading all the issues of The Wicked + the Divine at once helps. The idea of reincarnating gods is a particularly potent one for the comic business, with their superheroes being reinvented every so often for a new generation. Sometimes it clicks, and sometimes it’s a failure that fades away. Playing with the concepts of youth and power and sex and fame and passion and yearning is nothing new to comics, but this incarnation is darned attractive. It’s very enthusiastic about the nature of death and transformation, another idea that often fascinates the young, with their unconscious feelings of immortality.

Lucifer is birthed through fire and mysticism, surrounded by phrases that carry significance beyond their cliches. It’s not just the art that speaks to us, it’s what we bring to it, what it touches in us. Idols once meant gods; now they mean pop stars. Or here, both. Their countdown to magic, “1-2-3-4″, also sounds like a drummer getting ready to start playing the next hit.

As for the book, I understand, I suppose, the desire for a work to speak for itself, but I found Gillen’s text pieces in the issues very helpful in understanding what I’d just read, particularly the one from issue #5 that talks about the themes that inspired the book’s creation. Those pieces, sadly, aren’t included here. I suspect that’s to drive single-issue sales, but that effort seems to look backwards, towards keeping the market the way it has been. A collection should include all the significant material from the issues, in my opinion, since it’s got so much more potential to be found by a wider audience.

On the positive side, all the gorgeous variant covers are included in this book, plus a gallery of promo art. I wonder what happens in the next story in this series? And whether we get to find out who Tara is? We’ve seen a number of the pantheon, but not all twelve yet. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

Girls With Slingshots Volume 8

It’s pretty impressive that the webcomic Girls With Slingshots is celebrating its tenth anniversary with its eighth book collection, reprinting 200 strips in color. The volume is only available from TopatoCo right now (or at next summer’s conventions, I’m sure). I explained the series premise when I reviewed the first four books four years ago. In short, it’s a slice-of-life gag strip with soap opera overtones.

Girls With Slingshots Volume 8 cover

Even though I read the series daily, it’s a lot of fun sitting down with a new volume. For one thing, I’ve forgotten the storylines of two years ago, such as the one the book starts with. Hazel and Zach are on the outs because he wants to commit and she doesn’t want to grow up. It’s a shame to see a good couple go bad, but it’s well-told and understandable, if heart-breaking. On the more positive side, we also get to see Thea and Mimi decide to get married and some goldfish shenanigans.

The cast is large enough that I can’t keep everyone in my memory, so it’s like re-meeting old friends when I read about them again. I particularly miss Tucker and Fiona, who have some great introductions and interactions here. They’re also the subjects of the “how to draw” bonus pages.

Author Danielle Corsetto does a wonderful job with expression, which keeps her characters sympathetic, even when they’re doing things outside my norm. Jamie’s complicated love life comes to mind, although anyone can relate to the desire to feel loved and satisfied.

The back pages also include some information on Danielle’s summer cross-county road trip. I hope the next book doesn’t take two more years to appear, because I like spending time with this ever-growing group of friends.

The Adventure of the Plated Spoon and Other Tales of Sherlock Holmes

Unlike the other recent collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, The Adventure of the Plated Spoon and Other Tales of Sherlock Holmes relies mostly on reprints and curiosities, with just a few new tales.

The book opens, after an introduction by editor Loren D. Estleman that emphasizes the continuing popularity of the title character, with a short, silly parody by J.M. Barrie (writer of Peter Pan and contemporary of Arthur Conan Doyle) that I first read in 1944’s The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, the anthology by Ellery Queen that was pulled from publication after a dispute with Doyle’s estate. “The Adventure of the Two Collaborators” has been published since then, of course — the copyright page credits a 2007 collection. Also reprinted from that long-ago Queen collection is Vincent Starrett’s “The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet”, about bibliophiles. (The copyright on that is quite misleading. Although the in-book story introduction states that the piece is “now in the public domain”, the copyright page credits a book collection that is copyright 1975.)

The author Queen is represented next by a chapter from A Study in Terror, the 1966 paperback retelling of a movie that pitted Holmes against Jack the Ripper. That one is credited to a 2001 reprint edition — I keep mentioning the copyright page because I find it odd, given the recent legal debates over Holmes, that such recent versions were cited.

The prolific Edward D. Hoch is responsible for a more recent choice. “The Adventure of the Dying Ship” appeared in the February 2014 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, although it was apparently written around 1998. It situates Holmes on the Titanic, perhaps because the movie had come out in 1997 and put the boat back in everyone’s minds. It also guest-stars the author Jacques Futrelle, a mystery writer who died in the catastrophe in real life.

There’s a chapter of a Fu Manchu novel by Sax Rohmer that features Holmes and Watson-like characters and an excerpt from the first novel by Laurie R. King featuring Mary Russell, a young woman who captivates the retired Holmes. Most interesting to me was a short piece (two pages’ worth) by Arthur Conan Doyle himself from 1922, although “How Watson Learned the Trick” is quite unsympathetic to the loyal sidekick. Arthur’s son Adrian contributes “The Adventure of the Red Widow”, with an old family, a manor house, and a guillotine.

Not everything in here is a reprint — there are a few new stories. “The Mysterious Case of the Urn of ASH; or, What Would Sherlock Do?” by Deborah Morgan features her novel character Jeff Talbot, an antique seeker. He obtains a trunk full of Holmes-related memorabilia, which leads him to solve a long-ago mystery. I thought it well-written and a pleasant palate cleanser from the too-faithful fan-worship of some of the other pieces.

“The Adventure of the Deadly Interlude” by James O’Keefe follows Watson during the period where he thought Holmes dead. “The Adventure of the Rounded Ocelot” by Larry D. Sweazy sends the team to the Bahamas to investigate a missing piece of art. Although following the original characters, it has a more modern tone, which didn’t sit right with me. The editor’s “The Adventure of the Plated Spoon” pairs Holmes and Watson up first to find Watson’s missing wife and then to defeat the “white slavers” who tried to capture her. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

In the Company of Sherlock Holmes

Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon

This is the book, the one that resulted in Sherlock Holmes being declared public domain. Co-editor Leslie S. Klinger, in addition to being the editor of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, is also a lawyer, you see. The Conan Doyle Estate demanded payment for a license for this book, and Klinger sued. The result was favorable to all those, like these authors, inspired by Holmes. The introduction sums it all up, or you can find more details at the Free Sherlock! website.

The book may be remembered more for its historical effect than its contents, since they’re a mixed bag, although I enjoyed more of the stories (all new) than not. I suspect people attracted by the idea of “more Holmes stories” will be surprised by how many of the stories are modern or don’t feature Holmes directly. It’s important to pay attention to the subtitle and the phrase “inspired by”. In the Company of Sherlock Holmes is a followup to A Study in Sherlock, which took the same approach.

For example, the book’s first story, “The Crooked Man” by Michael Connelly, is a Harry Bosch tale using elements of the Holmes story of the same name and featuring a coroner named Art Doyle nicknamed “Sherlock”. While atmospheric, it doesn’t tie up its loose ends as neatly as the classic stories, and it likely is more satisfying to those who’ve read Bosch before.

Sara Paretsky’s “The Curious Affair of the Italian Art Dealer” is much more what I expected, a story set in the classic milieu, although Holmes fans may not like their hero being wrong a few times. There’s more focus on Watson and an homage to Amelia Butterworth, a detective from the late 1800s created by Anna Katharine Green.

I loved “Dr. Watson’s Casebook”, by Andrew Grant, which abridges The Hound of the Baskervilles into a series of Facebook-like posts. I particularly enjoyed the humorous use of likes and dislikes. For example, when Dr. James Mortimer shares “The Legend of the Baskerville Family”, it’s followed by “Sherlock Holmes does not like this”, because he finds such a “fairy tale” “complete nonsense.” Or when Mortimer encourages the heir to continue renovating Baskerville Hall, it’s liked by “The Association of Devon Building Contractors”.

“The Adventure of the Laughing Fisherman” by Jeffery Deaver is a modern take that really works. Paul Winslow has Holmes-like deduction and observation powers but suffers from depression. He loves the Holmes stories and finally finds a way to use his love in the real world. The story takes a twist you won’t see coming that’s shocking in its audacity and rewarding in how neatly it all ties together.

I was impressed by “Dunkirk”, by John Lescroart, which is set during the World War II operation of 1940. A “Mr. Sigerson” assists on a small boat evacuating British soldiers from the beach and the encroaching German army. It’s not a mystery, but the subtle emotion really affected me.

There’s a comic entry, “The Problem of the Empty Slipper”, written by Leah Moore and John Reppion, drawn by Chris Doherty, and inked by Adam Cadwell. I liked Doherty’s art style a lot, with its streamlined European influence, and I’ll be looking for more work by him. The eight-page story is bizarre, featuring Holmes running through London, interacting briefly with a variety of people along the way, after getting a smoke of his favorite pipe tobacco. The other stories are as follows:

  • “The Memoirs of Silver Blaze” by Michael Sims retells the mystery involving a stolen racehorse from the horse’s point of view.
  • “Art in the Blood” by Laura Caldwell follows the disruption of life and business of an art dealer called “the Sherlock Holmes of the art world”.
  • “Lost Boys” by Cornelia Funke is a psychological dive into Holmes’ boyhood by way of an abused Baker Street Irregular.
  • “The Thinking Machine” by Denise Hamilton is the story of a data analyst, unfamiliar with emotional intelligence, whose new boss is named Moriarty. The analyst works on programs to predict buyer behavior at the same time his family is struggling with life changes.
  • “By Any Other Name” by Michael Dirda is a literary mystery that starts by postulating A. Conan Doyle as a pen name used by his friend Watson. It’s peppered with references to other works and characters of the period.
  • “He Who Grew Up Reading Sherlock Holmes” by Harlan Ellison is a confusing mishmash.
  • “The Adventure of My Ignoble Ancestress” by Nancy Holder features a best-selling author paralyzed by the murder of her parents who inherits a house related to a Holmes story.
  • “The Closing” by Leslie S. Klinger is a bittersweet tale of a divorced couple, one a Holmes fan, trying to move on with their lives.
  • “How I Came to Meet Sherlock Holmes” by Gahan Wilson is a short biographical sketch followed by three cartoons with Watson and Holmes.

(The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

Digital Manga Launches New, Smaller Tezuka Kickstarter

After the massive failure of their overly ambitious Kickstarter to publish 31 books by Osamu Tezuka, Digital Manga is back with another try, one they’re calling “Smaller, Quicker, and Affordable”.

Ludwig B by Osamu Tezuka

It’s faster than I expected, frankly, but I suspect that Digital Manga started replanning long before the previous effort finished, given the amount of feedback they got from potential customers. This time, they’re asking for a more reasonable $21,600 to publish two volumes of Ludwig B, Tezuka’s unfinished Beethoven story created late in his life.

In the company’s Q&A, one gathers hints of the feelings behind the choice:

It is a fascinating drama with much emphasis on Ludwig van Beethoven’s rearing life and how he came to be one of the greatest music composers. Tezuka mentioned in his afterword that he relates to Beethoven in many ways, including to being a relocation freak himself. Beethoven changed his residence on 17 occasions in his lifetime, Tezuka moved 8 times before he got married. Tezuka actually visited Beethoven’s apartment in Vienna so you can imagine how much he was into his life while he was working on the title. The story takes you back to the late 1700 to early 1800 in Europe where the aristocrats frequently abuse and oppress the common people. As a commoner himself, Beethoven often encountered prejudice & discrimination but he bravely fought back and used it as motivation to end up being an official composer for the Royal Family.

Q2 – Why did you pick this series?
Because I can relate to the story so much. It’s like myself and my company, Digital Manga, where we are always pushed back by our big competitors with a lot more resources, connections, manpower, etc.

[…] Being poor makes you a great human being!!

The books will have a list price of $15.95, and Kickstarter supporters can get both in print for $32 (plus international shipping; domestic US is included), which seems fair. If you just want digital, the price is two-for-one, both volumes for $15. Many higher-priced tiers include collectible goodies as well. Estimated print date is next July.

Now, whether the previous Kickstarter titles will ever be tried again is an open question. I was once told, given my dislike of some of Tezuka’s old-fashioned “mature” works, that Rainbow Parakeet would be best for me to try. That was one of the titles in the failed effort. If it’s seen as tainted, that would be a shame.

In a statement included in the Kickstarter from the company president, they give this information:

So instead of publishing 50~70 books a year, we have switched the gear to 20~30 volumes. This change would substantially lower the cost of publishing including licensing fees, advanced royalties, labor, and other pertinent expenses. It would still take 20 some years to make all books available but it is way better than waiting 50~60 years. Under this revised schedule, we would still need to run each Kickstarter campaign with 1~5 books while leaving 1~2 weeks breathing period between each campaign in order to reach our milestone of rolling out over 400 books within the given time frame.

So expect to see a lot more Digital Manga Kickstarters this coming year. It remains to be seen whether they get declining results from using the method so frequently.

Agent Carter Promo Clips Work

Spinning out of Captain America: The First Avenger comes Marvel’s Agent Carter. One might make fun of the possessive title — are there others out there you’d confuse it with? — but it does keep the title sorted closely with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. That’s significant because Agent Carter is a mid-season replacement for the latter.

Agent Carter stars Hayley Atwell as the title character, a spy who faces danger and sexism in the 1940s. She previously starred in an original short film as a bonus on the Iron Man 3 DVD.

The show is scheduled to debut January 6 and run for eight episodes. Two promotional previews (as seen below) have been released, and while the hair is wrong (too fluid, not restrained enough for the period), I admit, I’m eager to see it.




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