Stuff I got Free at New York Comic Con

New York Comic Con, April 18-20 2008

By Rich Chapell

Regular readers of this column know that I am perhaps a bit too fond of Free Stuff. New York Comic Con fed this jones to the limit. I actually got more stuff than I could carry comfortably. Some was free to everybody, some was offered to the press in the hopes weíd review it. Iím going to do my small part to encourage the continued flow of Free Stuff by providing free publicity to everyone who gave me anything. Thus the glorious cycle of Free Stuff goes on.

In Odd We Trust by Dean Koontz and Queenie Chan. Del Rey, tentative release date June 24, 2008

I donít remember how I acquired this uncorrected proof of a manga-style prequel to Koontzís Odd Thomas series. Iíve read several Koontz novels, albeit none in that particular series, and IĎve always found him to be formulaic in the extreme. All of his characters have suffered a traumatic childhood event which explains every aspect of their personalities and behavior. People, even fictional ones, are and should be more complex than that. Weíre not privy, in this story, to Oddís personal transformative experience, but his girlfriend Stormy spent time in foster care. During that time, something happened that she doesnít talk about. I assume this comes out in other books in the series.

Odd Thomas is a psychic. He sees dead people. He has a mysterious ability to find whomever heís looking for. Although heís only 19 in this story, heís already established a relationship with the chief of police of his small California town. The usual formula for this type of story would have the cops refuse to believe the psychic until itís almost too late. In this story, the cops have complete faith in him, and calmly go back to directing traffic, trusting a 19-year-old and his armed girlfriend to stop the serial killer. Iím sorry, but even in comics, cops just donít do that.

The story is a fairly exciting and suspenseful detective tale, with a satisfying conclusion. The psychic gimmick propels the story without getting in the way, and when itís played for laughs (The ghost of Elvis is a recurring theme) it gets the laughs without derailing the story. Queenie Chanís illustrations are effective and evocative. The manga elements donít intrude on the storytelling. Even Koontzí characterization is much less heavy-handed than usual for him. However, the police in this story are so depicted so unrealistically that it detracted from my ability to enjoy the story.

His Majestyís Dragon: Book 1 of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik Available in paperback from Del Ray Ballantine Books

This book describes the adventures of a British naval officer during the Napoleonic wars. In style and tone, itís much like a Horatio Hornblower or Master and Commander adventure, butÖ with Dragons! Captain Will Laurence is on the verge of a great career in the British Navy until a captured dragonís egg hatches before he can return it ashore. When the fledgling dragon bonds to him, he is forced to seek a new life in the Aerial Corps, defending Britainís shores from dragonback.

The writing is effective, the characters well-drawn, and Novikís ideas about dragon biology and psychology, while somewhat derivative of Anne McCaffrey, are interesting. However, the story betrays a lack of knowledge of, or interest in, the battle tactics of the era. With no clear understanding of how battles were fought, she has no clear ideas about how these tactics would be changed if the men and ships had air support. The dragons are layered rather superficially over a story of the manners and mannerisms of the 19th century. Novik clearly spent a lot more time thinking about how dragons would affect social mores than she did about the warfare that the story is ostensibly about. Thatís not necessarily a dealbreaker. Itís just a matter of whether the readerís interests match those of the writer.

Iím not sufficiently impressed that I plan to seek out the subsequent books in the series. If I happen across them, though, I wouldnít turn them down.

Emily the Strange Super Crunchy Chocolate Bar: Hard Rock Screwy Flavor with Teeth

Thatís right, Iím reviewing a candy bar. Why not? It was free, and our purpose here is to celebrate freedom, or, more accurately, freeness. They handed out a great amount of Free Stuff at the Emily the Strange panel at the con, and my share of it was a candy bar. I would have preferred a book or a record, but one does not question the Free Stuff Fairy.

Often, specially labeled candy is made with the cheapest possible ingredients. Theyíre selling a label, not a product, why spend more money than they have to? Thankfully, this was not the case with the Emily the Strange bar. Itís good quality milk chocolate, liberally embedded with fresh almonds. I was disappointed that there werenít Emily shapes engraved into the chocolate, but making a special mold for the candy bar would triple, at least, the cost of producing the candy. I can understand why they didnít go for it.

The Emily the Strange franchise is all about individuality. Emily does what she wants, when she wants. But no matter how strange she may be, sheís one of us. We all like chocolate.

Seize the Night: A Dark-Hunter novel by Sherrilyn Kenyon Currently available from St. Martinís Paperbacks

There was a gigantic stack of these on the con floor, free for the taking. I think the author was signing as well, but I didn't see the point of standing in line to get a book i'd never heard of signed by a writer I'd never heard of. There were so many more interesting lines to stand in!

Take equal parts Anita Blake, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Anne Rice, remove all the interesting bits and stir in some tepid soft-core porn, and youíve got a Dark-Hunter novel. The Dark-Hunters are blessed, or cursed, by Artemis, goddess of the hunt, to be immortal demon-hunters. Demons keep coming, and the Dark-Hunters keep killing them. In between, the usual soap-opera events go on with more than usual histrionics.

The book is set in New Orleans, but Kenyon fails to provide sufficient description or local color to indicate whether sheíd ever actually set foot in that city. She never fails to tell rather than show. Instead of saying ďHe staggered back, gasping for air.Ē sheíll say something like ďHe was surprised.Ē Bad, bad writing. At one point, apropos of nothing, the heroine says ďSomething wicked this way comesÖĒ identified as the title of her favorite Ray Bradbury book. I honestly donít know if Kenyon was trying (and failing!) to be somehow ironic, or if she honestly didnít know thatís a line from Macbeth.

Iíd never read a Dark-Hunter novel before, and I never will again. Awful, awful book.

Make Way for the Ping-Pong Club Anime video tape released in the U.S. by Software Sculptors, Japanese with English subtitles

Someone left a stack of these video tapes in the convention press room, so naturally I took one. I donít watch a lot of anime, and I was completely unprepared for this. I understand that high school club adventures is a genre unto itself in Japan, and I was looking forward to stories of practice and dedication, leading up to victory at The Big Game. What I got was puerile Beavis and Butthead-style humor coupled with incomprehensible Japanese fantasy sequences featuring bizarre costumes, talking animals and naked girls.

I canít say I liked it. I canít even say I understood it. What I can say is itís like nothing Iíve ever seen before. I have a second tape with four more episodes of Ping Pong Club. Eventually, Iíll watch it.

The Order of Odd-Fish by James Kennedy Delacourte Press, release date August 12, 2008

This was on display at the Delacourte Press table. When I picked it up and thumbed through it, the woman behind the table offered me an advance proof of the book. I donít know whether she saw my press badge or if sheíd have done that for anyone, but Iím grateful. This was a fun book.

Jo Larouche had lived for thirteen uneventful years, except for having been found in a basket as a baby with a note warning ďThis is a DANGEROUS baby.Ē Her ordinary life is abruptly interrupted, and she is launched into a world of talking cockroaches, floating heads, and knights who joust from the backs of ostriches. She struggles to find her place and fit in (this is a book for teens, after all) and largely succeeds, except that many of her new friends live in dread of the return of the dangerous baby. As she struggles to discover just how she is dangerous, and to whom, she partakes in a series of wacky, but increasingly dire, adventures.

I spent the first half of the book shaking my head as first-time author Kennedy piled weirdness on top of weirdness. I was prepared to dismiss it as mere weird-for-weirdís-sake when suddenly the plot kicked in. All at once, the book transformed from a fun-but-inconsequential voyage of self-discovery to a grand epic with real peril and devastating consequences. All of this without young Jo Larouche losing her charm or her supporting cast losing their endearing eccentricity.

I donít know whether this transition was intentional or if, two hundred pages in, Kennedy finally found his voice, but Iím already looking forward to his next book.

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