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Monday, May 26, 2008

Pi: The Book of Ants $2.95 & 28 pgs - From 1999

From Artisan/drawn by Edward Ross Flynn, based on the movie/sold in comics shops and by mail.

"...a science fiction thriller about....a renegade mathematician attempting to decode the numerical pattern beneath the ultimate system of ordered chaos--the stock market. Pursued by an aggressive Wall Street firm and a Kabbalah sect....Max races to crack the code."

You'll agree that Max races in Pi: The Book of Ants. It takes about three minutes to read this comic. Admittedly, three minutes is amazing since Max is tackling a controversial philosophical and religious question that has remained unanswered by some of the best minds in history for many centuries.

But you'll be less amazed when you learn Max's answer. It is profoundly mundane.

Mundane is a shame since the art in this comic book is dark, distinctive, visually clear story telling that simply hasn't much of a story to tell. Additional dialog and captions that could have slowed the reader and built some suspense and macabre atmosphere was subtracted from the total package.

The writing in Pi is badly flawed. Choosing to let the art carry his story, Darren Aronotsky fails to develop any of his characters. It is hard to care about what happens to total strangers.

The intriguing philosophical question upon which his entire story hangs is framed and then barely discussed. That weakens an already shallow and mundane revelation that is meant to be the climax of Pi.

Those ants in this comic's subtitle are reduced to an artistic design element. I suspect they were meant to be more.

Regrettably, when weighing its strengths and weaknesses, Pi adds up to much ado about little.

Michael Vance

NBM Books - From 1999

I frequently refer to paperback reprints of current comic strips. For years, the firm Andrews and McMeel has dominated the field, but Nantier Beall Minoustchine (NBM) has recently emerged.

Two recent volumes are reprints of Rick Detorie's One Big Happy. That strip, as did countless predecessors, looks at family relationships for its humor. The major character is the irrepressible Ruthie.

Ruthie's repertoire of misinformation and her streak of bossiness place her in the ranks of lovable brats. She is slightly less obnoxious than Lucy in Charles Schultz's Peanuts, Little Iodine in Jimmy Hatlo's They'll Do It Every Time or Angelica in Nickleodeon's animated Rugrats on television. She reminds me of Myrtle in Dudley Fisher's almost forgotten strip, Right around Home.

Ruthie meets her match in her grandfather, Nick. Of all the characters, he seems best able to decipher Ruthie's garbled logic and malapropisms (use of wrong word for humorous effect). To paraphrase: if there is a Groundhog Day, shouldn't there be a Groundbeef or Groundchicken Day?

Oprah, The Jerry Springer Show and other television programs often give Ruthie a hilariously melodramatic view of life. The old adage that "little pitchers have big ears" is all too true.

Two other NBM volumes are reprints of Kevin Fagan's Drabble. Anyone who enjoys such films as Dumb and Dumber will find this strip worth investigating.

Drabble has never been one of my favorites, but it has improved over the years. The antics of the incredibly inept Norm and his equally obtuse father, Ralph, make teenage characters such as Archie Andrews look like Einsteins.

Norm is childishly naive and innocent although he is a college student, while the six year old Ruthie can often be as cynical a manipulator as any adult.

Every NBM book I have seen costs $9.95. This is reasonable, and I am glad to see more strips preserved and distributed in a permanent format. It is a shame that such classics as Right around Home have never been reprinted and are fading rapidly in memory.

-- Dr. Jon Suter

Starship Troopers #s 1-3 - From 1999

Four issue series, $2.95, 22 pages each from Dark Horse. Art: Davide Fabbai, sold in comics shops and by mail.

One must give discredit where discredit is due. The recent movie adaptation of Robert Heinlein's SF novel, Starship Troopers, did little to honor the book or the writer. It was as much like Heinlein's novel as a planet is like space dust. Oddly, the comic book adaptation of the movie doesn't even credit Heinlein, easily one of the greatest SF writers in history.

Obviously, fame is fleeting, and professed homage to a master can be inappropriately disrespectful.

Then again, one must also give credit where appropriate. The comic book miniseries, Starship Troopers: Dominant Species, is closer to Heinlein's style than was the movie.

Heinlein made his futuristic novels distinctively real. He did so, in part, because he knew that, although technology changes, men do not. And since familiarity breeds contempt in humans, he understood that future men would think starships and aliens as mundane as we consider buses and aardvarks to be today. It is a subtle but important part of Heinlein's style perfectly captured in plot, dialog and art in the comic. It is also needed as young friends are reluctantly and relentlessly drawn into a bloody war with gigantic aliens that look like dung beetles.

This was to be expected. Writer Jan Strnad is among the best writers in comic books today.

It was unexpected but delightful that the excellent art in this series also lives up to Heinlein's legacy. Distinctive, lively, and clear in its visual storytelling, it makes this marriage of words and pictures seem seamless.

And that is seemly. It just seems a shame Heinlein's name isn't mentioned somewhere.

Starship Troopers is recommended.

Michael Vance