Monday, May 31, 2010

Conduit Day 2

The second day was also fun. I got a signed copy of Monster Hunter International. I'll be posting a review of that later, once I finish it. Overall I have to say it was a rewarding experience, being able to listen to people in the market talking about different subjects. Just listening to other writers and their experiences, and being able to learn from their experience was incredibly invaluable.

That really was the best part about going to Conduit, getting inspiration from other authors, being able to talk to them. It's nice realizing how they aren't afraid of new authors, it's a very open community. Best of all, according to the authors there everyone in the industry is an introvert, which made me realize that approaching them would be easier for me, seeing as how I'm also an introvert.

Oh yeah, and next time I see Dan Wells I'm telling him his maskerade isn't tricking me. That man is a creepy, creepy man. Oh he's friendly, but dang that first chapter of his book I Am Not A Serial Killer is already freaking me out. I'll get into more detail when I review the book. That's assuming that I manage to finish the first chapter.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Conduit Day 1

Well this was the first convention I've been to that I had to pay for. I say "pay" loosely, since I've yet to actually pay for it. Isn't having good friends great? Though when they start threatening to shatter my kneecaps I can't help but feel that the definition of "good" is being stretched just a little.

Conduit is a pretty small Con in Salt Lake. It's mostly focused for writers, and most of the guests were writers, or had connections to the writing industry. Sadly there weren't really any editors attending, though we did have a good time talking to some of the authors there. The main purpose for attending conventions like this is to network with people in the industry, so hopefully there will be some editors we can track down and talk to tomorrow.

Overall the panels were pretty good. I could go into more detail about them, or I could just link to Nathan's blog, since I know he kept better notes than me.

We talked to John Brown for a little bit. He's a pretty cool guy, I'm definitely going to check out his book. As soon as I can afford it. -_-

It was interesting seeing how easily a panel can fall apart. And I gained a new respect for panel moderators who keep things on track, as I've seen how easy it is for a group of writers to loose track and go off on tangents. Though I think that the audience also has a responsibility for not asking questions that go off track.

While fun and informative, my ADD aside, Conduit was a bit smaller than I expected, than any of us expected. Then again, it was worth it to talk to a few of the published authors and to get to know them, realize that being published is in fact possible. On that note I need to get back to finishing my book.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Movie Reviews: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog


I know I fail as a geek for taking so long to get around to seeing this. But when I finally did, I had to punch myself for waiting so long. I won't lie, I actually kinda like musicals, as long as they are actually entertaining. There's just something about the main character singing about how they're going to kill their rival.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog goes beyond just being a musical in a time where musicals are frowned on by the general public, and an internet sensation. What really struck me about this movie was the irregular antagonist/protagonist dynamics between Captain Hammer and Dr. Horrible.

Generally you don't cast a villain as a sympathetic protagonist. But in the case of this movie, not only do the Whedon Brothers do this, they do it well. Not only is Dr. Horrible a sympathetic protagonist, but Captain Hammer is an easily hate-able antagonist.

Horrible is a loser with the goal of joining the Evil League of Evil. A goal that he regularly fails at. Evil aside, this clear goal make us root for Horrible as a protagonist. And while the goal is evil, there is a grain of good in it. He mentions (in song) society's ills several times, and reveals that he wants to fix them. The only problem is that his solution is to take over the world.

video
Sorry.

But, since there is a small core of good in his goals, we as non-villains, can allow ourselves to root for him.

His other goal is to win the love of his life, Penny. It's a simple, classic goal for a protagonist, and easily his most understandable goal. We all know the feeling of feeling nervous around someone we have a crush on/love. Because this is a major part of his motivation, we are able to see him as a real human being, and not a villain stereotype of any kind. This makes Dr. Horrible all the more sympathetic.

What makes Horrible all the more sympathetic towards the viewer is his personality, and the contrast between him and Captain Hammer.

Horrible is the typical loser, but the lovable kind. When you look at him you don't think, "Well of course he's a loser, just look at him." Instead we see him as a loser when he doesn't deserve to be one. He's funny, sympathetic, and overall a nice character (who wants to take over the world). His strongest characteristic however is his unwillingness to kill. This comes to a head about halfway through when he realizes that the only way to achieve his goal is to kill someone.

The most interesting part of him is that while to the viewer his two goals, become an established super villain, and gaining Penny's love, seem at odds towards each other, to Dr. Horrible they are both connected. Which in the end, is just as great a tragedy as the actual ending. Even if things had worked out the way he wanted, he still would have only gained one or the other.

Captain Hammer on the other hand, is a jerk. He's a hero, but it's quite clear that he's only in it for himself and the adoration of the public. This in itself wouldn't be such a big deal, if it weren't for his general arrogance and relationship with Dr. Horrible.

Captain Hammer and Dr. Horrible's relationship is the classic bully/victim relationship. Hammer's bullying of Horrible is portrayed as excessive behavior from a so-called hero, and reveals Hammer's true selfish personality. In fact, Captain Hammer is so detestable that by the time Dr. Horrible decides to kill Hammer, we're actually cheering for him. Despite the fact that reluctance to kill was one of Horrible's redeeming qualities, Captain Hammer has become so detestable that we want him gone as just as much as Horrible wants.

Overall this entire production was an education in itself for me. I was able to learn a lot about how to make characters sympathetic or antagonistic, whether they are the classic heroes or villains, or not.

If you liked my review, buy the movie at: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

The cast needs paying!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mistborn Movie Blog

I just found this today. Looks like I'm definitely going to be watching this one for news on the Mistborn movie. They were also kind enough to link me.

Definitely worth checking out.

Mistborn Movie Blog

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Graphic Novel Reviews: Wonder Woman - The Hiketeia


I first picked up this book from my campus library because it had Batman on the cover. Granted, Wonder Woman was stepping on him, but I thought Batman could make anything good.

I was wrong.

What followed was a story that just wasn't worth the minimal time it took to read the thing. I know I normally suggest that you at least give graphic novels the little bit of time it takes to read them. In this case I really can't do that. I'm all for giving everything a shot, but this really isn't worth the time.

Everything about this comic felt forced, especially the conflict. The entire premise, while workable, felt rushed more than anything else. But I doubt that adding more pages to this would have helped much. I don't know much about Wonder Woman, but even to me her behavior seemed off. Everything that she did seemed more like it was only because the plot demanded it. In fact, all the events in this book seem to occur simply because that's what needed to happen to advance the plot.

I found the character of Danielle to be completely unlikable. Sure the events surrounding her and her motivation were sympathetic, but she herself didn't do anything to make me root for her. Just reading her dialogue was a pain, as most of it was her blubbering. You try reading several several panels worth of, "Buh buh but..." and not instantly hate her. Which is why I really take issue with the quote on the back of the book that calls the conclusion to this story "[a] heartbreaking ending..." For the ending to really be anything close to that, I probably need to actually care about the character.

The artwork really doesn't help the book's case. It's not the worst, but most of the time I swear Diana looks like she's stoned out of her mind.

Overall what this comes across is as nothing more than a show case of what Greg Rucka learned during his research. There's no real emotional investment in the story, and any real conflict is overshadowed by the reader trying to figure what the heck is going on.

For the record, I did a little bit of research on the Hiketeia, and actually managed to find one site that wasn't about this book. This doesn't make me an expert, although what I did read had absolutely nothing to do with this book. In fact, my understanding was that the Hiketeia wasn't demanded of one person, but instead was used to request asylum from a sanctuary, usually run by a priest.

I'd make a bigger deal of this, but it doesn't surprise me that a modern writer adapted a piece of history for their own use. Which really is what this entire book comes across as. Just one big excuse to tell a very bizarre story about...I apologize, because I appear to be confusing myself just trying to talk about this book.

Just be aware that it isn't in any way satisfying. The emotional drama is shallow, Danielle's motivation and back story is...cheesy, and the only good thing was Batman. I was so happy to see him come for Danielle just so we could get this book over with.

If you don't believe me and want to see if this graphic novel really is that bad, buy it here: Wonder Woman - The Hiketeia

Though, really, it'd just be a waste of your money.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Graphic Novel Reviews: Ultimate Iron Man - Volume 1


Wow. Just...wow. When my cousin told me that this book was amazing, I was kind of skeptical. But I must say, it really was that good. It was a fast read, as most graphic novels are, but a lot of why I read it so fast was because I was completely gripped by the story.

It probably helps that the book is written by Orson Scott Card, Science Fiction Legend. Granted I haven't read any of his other books, and among my friends the consensus is that Ender's Game is great, but his other books don't quite compare. However, judging just by Ultimate Iron Man I think his reputation is deserved. Maybe he has his fair share of less than stellar books, but this book is a witness that he really is a good writer. He completely rewrites the Iron Man mythos, which I actually preferred, since there's hardly any point in rewriting the origin story if you're not going to add anything new. I'm looking at you, Ultimate Spider-Man.

I know that my past few reviews all follow a strict template, but I decided I didn't want to use it this time, as I'd rather have the freedom to let my thoughts flow as they come to me. I'll continue to try and keep things organized, but I don't want to use a strict format right now. I might adopt it again, it did work pretty well for my more organized reviews, but at the moment I'm experimenting with format and such things, so we'll see what works best.

Since I've also decided I don't want to give too much away in these reviews, I'm going to try to refrain from mentioning the plot too much. Especially since most of this plot doesn't even have anything to do with the original Iron Man story. In fact, a good portion is about his parents. Granted, for some people this deviation from the original might be a turn off, but I found it quite rewarding. It's a new take on the Iron Man origin story, that completely changes everything, and brings fresh new material to the table. As such I would definitely rank Ultimate Iron Man Volume 1 over Ultimate Spider Man Volume 1. I don't know how the story advances, but I'm definitely going to start reading this one, as I manage to get my hands on it.

This review may be shorter, but they don't all need to be long, so I'm going to content myself with keeping this one short. Bottom line, this really is a good graphic novel. Is it Watchmen good? Probably not. Is it an enjoyable read? Definitely. And even if you end up not liking it, it really isn't a very long read, so no time lost really. So you might as well give it a shot.

If you liked my review, but the Graphic Novel here:
Ultimate Iron Man, Vol. 1 Hardcover
Ultimate Iron Man Volume 1 Paperback

Thursday, May 20, 2010

THIS IS A LINK!!!

THIS IS THE BLOG OF A GOOD FRIEND OF MINE WHO WON'T SHUT UP ABOUT ME LINKING HIM!

Seriously, though, he's got a really good blog. Definitely worth checking out.

Graphic Novel Reviews: Ultimate Spider-Man - Volume 1


I've always loved Spider-Man, ever since I was a kid. But living overseas I never really got much of a chance to get my hands on any of the comic books. Instead I had to rely on recordings of the animated series sent by my grandma. Which I really appreciated by the way. Once I was older I realized exactly how long the Spider-Man comics have been around for, and realized I'd probably never be able to read them all the way through, or even get my hands on them. Also, at that time I was more interested in the X-Men, and had been reading the Essential X-Men anthologies. Granted, as time passed I came to realize the inherent flaws with ongoing superhero comics, but that's a story for another time.

Recently I've been interested in getting into the Spider-Man comics, but my current focus is really Batman, and I don't think I'll be able to read the old Spider-Man issues knowing what awaits me once I reach the 2007 issues.

Fortunately there's an alternative, a slightly annoying, not entirely satisfying teenage alternative, but an alternative nonetheless.

I actually first read this several years ago, and enjoyed it quite a bit. When I reread it for this review I still enjoyed it, but I was reading it from my older, slightly more jaded perspective, meaning that I noticed the flaws all the more.

With that in mind, let's dig into Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 1.

Series Background

The purpose of the Ultimate Universe is to reboot several popular Marvel Franchises, to open them up to a new audience without years of continuity to worry about. Of course they could have just put a summary of significant events at the front of new issues in the regular continuity. But I guess that's why I don't work for Marvel.

Whether this was really necessary, or even effective, I'll have to admit it wasn't a horrible idea. It worked for me, though later on in the book they make some changes that I don't agree with. But since those don't happen until several volumes later we won't worry about them right now.

Plot

It's the same plot over and over again. The basic origin story. Peter gets bit by a "magical" spider (magical as in, no matter how they explain it, getting super powers from a spider bite would never work with real science. Hence, "magic.") and gets spider powers. Uncle Ben *spoilers* gets shot and dies *spoilers* and it's Peter's fault *spoilers?* Then "With great power comes great responsibility," and somehow this means Peter has to fight crime.

I guess I should go into more detail?

In this version the spider was treated with the Oz compound, the chemical that turns Norman Osborn into the Green Goblin. So far we've had a radioactive (and somehow still alive) spider, a genetically modified spider, and a spider treated with a super enhancer. Oddly enough, this version of Peter gaining his powers makes the most sense. Later on the Oz compound kind of becomes the "go-to" deus-ex-machina for super powers. But I have to admit, the spider venom and super enhancer mixture makes much more sense. Especially considering the alternatives.

The rest of the volume focuses on Peter learning to use his powers, being a typical high school nerd. Must...not...make...emo...joke...used...quota...already... Norman Osborne injects himself with the Oz compound, and becomes the Green Goblin. He then murders his wife and tries to kill his son Harry. But in all fairness to the Oz compound, Norman was kind of a jerk before his transformation.

Also, somehow the Oz compound doesn't enhance his abilities, but instead turns him into a monster with some kind of pyrokinesis. Not sure how that is meant to be "enhanced abilities of me."

Characters

Peter Parker - He's a waling stereotype. Reading him again is getting old. I know that as an audience we're meant to sympathize with him, and I do, but really, he's such a dork that it makes me want to beat him up myself! And I'm a geek too! Okay, I'll be honest, it's bringing back bad memories and they're making me a little agitated. And how come he gets a hot girlfriend just by being his dorky self, and I was stuck with fantasizing about comic book women?

You're the only reason I never committed suicide.

You're the reason I almost committed suicide.

Spider-Man - I put him and Peter separate, because they really are separate characters. Where Peter is a dork, Spider-Man is a wisecracking smart-ass who kicks righteous amount of tush. However, his snarky teenage attitude is something that appeals to younger readers, not so much myself. Which is fine, since the book is written with a younger audience in mind.

Mary-Jane - She's smart, kind, beautiful and can't stand jocks and the "good looking jerk" stereotype so common among high school students (?). In other words, she's an impossibility. I'm sure we all know that kind of girl doesn't exist in high school (yes, I am still bitter). She's basically every nerd's dream girl. The kind that loves them for who they are, pimples and asthma included. To me she comes across as just being there because she's Mary-Jane and an integral part of the Spider-Man mythos.

Joe Quesada does not agree.

As such, there really isn't much characterization on her part, other than that she's perfect for Peter Parker and any geek reading this book. As such, I frankly found Gwen Stacy a much more interesting character. And while she herself is also somewhat important to the Spider-Man mythos, her introduction to the series was much more effective. It made her a much more interesting character, especially when compared to Mary-Jane, who, again, appears to only be there as a wish fulfillment for geeks everywhere. For the record, I didn't know that Gwen Stacy died in the regular continuity (I kinda approached this with a blank slate), so her death had a much stronger impact on me.

Also, keep in mind that the guy Mary-Jane does end up dating can climb walls and punches super villains. You probably don't stand a chance.

Uncle Ben - Why is it that in his every incarnation I can't just write him off as "Oh, he's a goner"? I swear every time I see him he's that much more awesome, and makes me wish he was the main character instead. But that's just the hallmark of a great character, you want to see more of them. Granted, if they're more interesting than your main character, then you might have a problem.

Aunt May - Like Mary-Jane, her presence here is required, and as such I don't think much thought was put into her characterization. Basically she's there to be old, and keep child services off Peter's orphaned back. She becomes a much stronger character later on, but in the first volume she really doesn't do much of anything.

Flash - He's a jerk. A typical high school jerk. If I meet someone like him I'm going to beat the snot out of him, assault charges be damned! (High school wasn't kind to me, can you tell?)

Kong - Not, as far as I can tell, from the original continuity, and yet of the side characters he's one of the more interesting. He's big and quite a bit of a jerk as well. However, he's also the one who lets Peter stay at his place, when the latter runs away from home. Sure he's still as selfish as his friend Flash, but even though he turns on Peter for a while when Peter leaves the basketball team, he's still one of the most interesting characters in the series. There are times later on where you can tell he's conflicted, but can't seem to pull himself out of his role as bully. OVerall he comes across as just more human than a lot of the characters. He even has a few moments later on where he amazed me. Yes he starts out as just another bully, but as things begin to change with the events leading to Peter becoming Spider-Man, Kong also changes, leading to quite a bit of enjoyable character development.

Harry Osborn - The thing I don't understand about Harry is why Peter is friends with him. Is it just good characterization that Harry, despite being wealthy and obviously popular, is still a good friend? From what I can tell it comes across more as Harry just taking advantage of Peter's brains to help him with homework. Maybe the writer didn't intend this, but that's what it comes across as. Not really a good friend. At least in the movie version Harry is picked on about as much as Peter is, rather than making some excuse about why he can't use his popularity to help Peter. I guess my big question is, what is Harry's motivation for being friends with Peter?

Norman Osborn - This version is not nice. He doesn't even pretend to be nice. Even before turning into the Green Goblin and going crazy, he tries to have Peter killed to cover up any involvement of his company in Peter's accident. He only stops when they realize that Peter has gained powers. And even then it's only because he wants to further study Peter.

Art Quality

The art quality is good, but nowhere near the best Marvel has to offer. The coloring is its strongest point. However, there are times, especially in the later issues of the first volume, where I can't help but wonder why Peter is in school when he so obviously has the mumps. Either that or his cheeks are swollen from being punched in the face too many times.

Appeal

Younger readers, especially those that don't have a background in the Spider-Man continuity. Like I said before, the entire series is made for new readers. As such, anyone that's a long time comics fan might want to be wary of this one.

Propriety

Dear Marvel Editorial Staff:

Please stop letting your artists draw Peter Parker in his tighty-whities. It's really creepy.

My Final Decision

It accomplishes its purpose, a brand new Spider-Man for a new generation. Unfortunately I'm not a huge fan of the Ultimate universe. The Ultimate X-Men are all right, but haven't really wowed me. In fact, if you want X-Men, but the Essential X-Men volumes.

As far as Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 1 is concerned, I'd say don't expect more than a light read. Really it's not bad enough that I'm going to tell you to lay off, but if you grew up reading Spider-Man this book isn't for you. It targets a younger audience, and sadly at times this shows in the quality. It's not that the writing is bad, it's just very generic and not quite up to my tastes.

Overall this series has some potential, and some really good parts to it. Since I can still remember the volumes to come I have to say that someone who doesn't have a background in the series will be able to enjoy this much more. There is some genuinely decent writing later on in the series. If you, or your children are going to read a comic book series, you could do worse than this one.

If you liked my review, buy the Graphic Novel here: Ultimate Spider-Man Book 1

Book Reviews: Maximum Ride


Well, to be quite honest, as short as this book was, it took me forever to read. There's something about those short chapters that just makes me want to put the book down more often. I'm not entirely sure why it took me so long to read. It's not like the characters are irritating (in the first book, they start to wear on you by the second book). There's nothing wrong with the plot, though frankly it is kind of all over the place.

Plot

Not hard to figure out. It's about a group of genetically engineered kids who've escaped from the research facility where they were grafted with Avian DNA. They're kids with wings.

When the youngest, Angel, is kidnapped by the insidious Erasers, mutants with Lupine DNA grafted into them. In other words, they're werewolves. When Angel is kidnapped, the rest of hte group goes after her. Things happen, things go wrong, etc. Basically the plot reads like a movie, which can be a good or a bad thing. It's an easy, quick read, which makes it ideal for younger readers.

Characters

They're all very distinctive, which is another strength of the book. Each character is easy to tell apart from the others.

Max is the main character. This isn't a serious spoiler, but she's a girl. I didn't realize this until chapter 15! She's the leader of the Flock, and has a very strong maternal streak to her (this was evident earlier in the book, but for some reason her femaleness didn't register with me until it was flat out stated).

Fang is more or less the second in command. He's brooding and serious. Also, Emo.

Iggy is the third oldest of the kids. He's blind, and a genius with explosives. This combination scares me. He's also my favorite character (until book two).

There really isn't much I can say about Nudge. She's black, I bring this up because I didn't know this until I checked the wiki page. Patterson really should work on actually describing his characters.

Gasman apparently gets his name because he farts a lot. He does this all of once in the book. If a character is going to have a defining characteristic, it helps when it's mentioned more than a couple of times.

Angel is psychic, also far too young to have morals.


Writing Quality

It's very basic, and easy to read. Patterson is very sparse on his descriptions, which while it makes for an easy read, also leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Seriously, fifteen chapters before it's mentioned that Max is a girl! This makes the book ideal for younger readers, not so much for anyone older than twelve.

Ending

Very open. It basically screams, "Buy my next book!"

Buy/Don't Buy

This is a bit touch and go. I don't know how the series ends, but from what I've heard from a friend the ending is kind of lame. So really, buy it with the risk of getting into a series that might disappoint you.

Addendum

I would just like to say, that in the time it took me to write this review I read the second book. I'll just say this, it really isn't worth it. This book took me even longer to read than the first, and really didn't give me anything that was worth my time. Besides annoying me with the main characters and shoddy writing. Granted there were some pretty powerful moments, but in the end it all just felt manipulative.

If, for some reason, you still want to buy the books, buy them here:
The Angel Experiment (Maximum Ride, Book 1)
School's Out - Forever (Maximum Ride, Book 2)

Book Reviews: Unseen Academicals


Like most Terry Pratchett books, it took me a while to get into this one. But once I was halfway through I couldn't put it down. For the record, I'm a huge Terry Pratchett fan, but even I was approaching this book with a skeptical eye. Seeing as how he's been having health issues I was concerned that the quality of his writing would start slipping. Were my fears warranted? Well, I could tell you right now, but then what'd be the the point of writing the rest of this review?

In classic Pratchett style, Unseen Academicals takes something from our modern world and inserts it into Pratchett's fantasy world, Diskworld. In the past it's been a parasitic shopping mall, Hollywood, and the Postal system. This time round it's soccer.

More specifically it's the evolution of soccer in Diskworld, portrayed in a way that accurately mirrors the development of Soccer in our world. Compared to the main themes of the book however, the soccer is more of a subplot to the self-discovery plot of a brand new character, Nutt.

The cast features the wizards, but they tend to make way for brand new characters, Nutt, Trev, Glenda and Juliet.

I found Nutt an interesting character, both brilliant and self-depreciating at the same time. The plot focuses around him and his heritage, but it allows for excellent development from Glenda, the female lead, and second tier characters Trev and Juliet.

I was a little wary about approaching the book with brand new characters, as I tend to be more appreciative of his established characters. Okay, that's a lie; I approached the book with unfettered fanboy giddiness. But my point still stands!

The writing quality is classic Pratchett, which according to people that know anything about grammar, means it's filled with grammatical errors. Oddly enough, this in no way detracts from the story. Perhaps this is just part of Pratchett's genius, that he is able to write an entertaining story while paying less attention to proper grammar?

The ending is satisfying, while at the same time being that vague ending that a lot of Pratchett's books have. You're left to figure out what happens to the characters afterwords, or at least up to the sequel.

Around halfway through the book or so you get an interesting plot twist that I still don't know what to think about. I won't spoil it, obviously, but it had me both laughing and thinking, "Seriously?"

Compared to many of his other books, this one doesn't rely on knowledge of existing characters as much. Granted most Pratchett books can be read out of order, but the prevalence of new characters in this book make for a much gentler learning curve. While the characters make the book easily approachable for new readers, Pratchett's style is something that needs to be eased into. Many new readers would most likely find this a bizarre book, which is exactly why we love it.

If you liked my review, buy the book here: Unseen Academicals

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Manga Reviews: Naruto - Volume 2


This is coming out relatively fast after the first one. Mostly because, like I said, the library wants these two back. So after this one I'll review a few other things before moving on to the third volume. As soon as I finish reading and reviewing all the books I got from my campus library, expect reviews of One Piece, Fairy Tail, and Bleach. In fact, I've got quite a few manga in my personal library I can start reviewing. Granted, a lot of these will have to be put on hold until I can afford to buy the rest of the volumes. That, and a few of them I want to put rereading on hold for now. Sure, I love the series, but I can only reread something so many times. So I really can't promise anything for now, we'll just have to figure that out once we get to that point. Right now Fairy Tail seems like the most likely candidate, as finishing rereads and reviews would give me a reason to finish collecting that series before the other series such as One Piece, which by now has far more volumes than I can safely buy right now. Another like that would be Buso Renkin, which may not be the greatest manga out there, but is only ten volumes long, meaning it's one of those rare series I could actually complete without having to wait who knows how long.

In case you didn't notice, I'm pretty excited about manga, and can ramble on about it for quite some time. As such these reviews may get a little wordy.

Most of my friends don't really like manga or anime, and because of this I always feel like I should defend my love of this medium. It really won't make any difference in the end, but still I feel that I at least have to explain it for myself. I like anything with a good story, like I've said, but at the same time I've realized that I also love zany, bizarre humor. Not all manga has that of course, but overall the main complaint I hear about manga is that it's just bizarre. Which, frankly, I really like.

Speaking of bizarre, Naruto is certainly ripe with examples. Whether it be mostly nude illusions, or fighting styles that remind me more of something Gandalf would do, rather than an assassin.

Volume two begins with chapter eight, which is the last of the mini-storyline that encompasses Kakashi's training. We immediately get to see the purpose of the test, and why they failed it. What was being tested wasn't their individual abilities, but their teamwork. I kind of enjoy this, since most shonen manga focus entirely on the main character being the strongest simply on his own. Well meaning intentions aside however, Naruto will sadly fall into this trope soon enough. Pretty much every manga does at one point or another.

Kakashi is well established by this chapter, as we get a better look inside his head, and hear his philosophy.

"In a Ninja's wordl, those who violate the rules and fail to follow orders are lower than garbage. However, those who do not care for and support their fellows are even lower than that."

Another strong point of this chapter is the moment where Naruto realizes that this really isn't a game. People have died serving as ninjas, and in the future more will die. I really like his expression when he realizes this, I think Kishimoto did a great job of portraying Naruto's emotions in these panels.

Seeing the grin wiped off his face brings me satisfaction.

The chapter ends with the three characters learning the value of teamwork, and oddly enough, there was quite a bit of character development fitted into just eight chapters for Naruto and six chapters for Sasuke and Sakura. The character development isn't over yet, but it's off to a good start.

As an introduction this mini-storyline was pretty good. It introduces its characters, has a clear goal, and even manages to develop a little bit of tension, and included a good moral in there. Overall, well written, and an enjoyable read.

And now we move on to the first real storyline that spans multiple volumes. I really rather it didn't, as I did not enjoy it my first read through. That doesn't mean that I'll necessarily hate it now, after all, I enjoyed the Barratie and Drum Arcs in One Piece after reading through them a second time. Maybe the Zabuza Arc will have the same luck.

The Zabuza Arc is an interesting one for me, as when I look at the manga as a whole, it always seems disconnected from the rest of the manga. It's almost as if Kishimoto just wrote it while he was trying to figure out what he was supposed to do with his manga. Granted the arc is referenced a few times later on, but that's not until after the time skip. Overall, as I am approaching this arc, I still am not looking forward to it, knowing that it really doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the plot.

Chapter nine starts with the group on their first mission. Retrieving a missing cat. Not very ninja like but, I'll take what I can get. Apparently Naruto feels the same way, and complains about the lame missions they've been getting. The Hokage explains the Shinobi ranking system and how they divide the missions between the three ranks of Ninja. It's a little bit of an info dump, but still interesting nonetheless, and it doesn't take too long.

Besides the Ninja ranking system that the Hokage explains, Kakashi later explains the world wide Ninja system, and gives a little world building. Basically this chapter is the info dump chapter.

I'd just like to point out, that after their first real fight, I'm finding myself liking Sasuke more and more. He may be arrogant, but he's competent, and it amuses me when he makes fun of Naruto. Too bad this state of events won't last.

Another thing I should note, is that Naruto while aimed at younger boys, does have some material that parents might find questionable. Besides the partial nudity, there is also a fair share of blood. However, while this might be a problem for some, I personally think that it's nothing worse than what I read when I was younger. The only difference between this and what I read was that most of the books I read didn't have pictures of the injuries the characters were afflicting.

What strikes me as a little odd, is that the world in which Naruto is set isn't very consistent. While at certain times it seems like feudal japan, at others it seems like it's meant to be a more modern setting. In this case it's the presence of both traditional Japanese clothing, and modern business suits. Not that big a problem, but later on there will be more examples. This is just the first time it's really noticeable.

Since action is such a large part of shonen manga, I'll be bringing it up several times over the course of these reviews. Contrary to what you might think, action scenes are harder to write and draw than they seem. An interesting action scene works the same way an interesting story does. The important thing is conflict and tension, and characters that are competent and pull off tactics that keep the flow of the action interesting to watch. Because this is hard to pull off, a lot of shonen action scenes end up getting less interesting as the manga progresses. In the case of Naruto the early action scenes really were great. Especially when compared to fight scenes that are all about the main character getting stronger and beating up his enemies. In Naruto the characters fight smart. Even Naruto does that from time to time. Strategy and trickery are emphasized in the Ninja fighting styles of this manga, and make for an interesting read, with fights that are much more intelligent than your average fight. Whether this remains so, we'll just have to see as I progress through these reviews.

I know I was beating on the Zabuza Arc earlier, but right now I have to correct my statement slightly. As far as villains go, Zabuza is one of the more chilling ones. In fact, I'd almost say that someone like him would fit better in a more mature series. If he were in a series where there was no guarantee that the main characters could survive, while in a series like this where there are over forty volumes left for me to go through, the effect is slightly ruined by my knowing these characters survive. Overall though, he still remains a threatening villain.

Earlier I said that chapter eight was the info dump chapter. Actually, this whole volume is something of an info dump. Not that I can really blame Kishimoto for it, this series does have something of a more than moderate learning curve. He's basically having to establish how his world works, and that's going to take some explaining. In Kishimoto's defense however, he does manage to keep the explanations fairly short and to the point.

Volume two ends with a cliffhanger that I can't help but feel isn't quite as strong as the one at the end of Volume one.

Riveting.

The goofy cliffhanger aside, Volume two sets up a surprisingly interesting storyline, with the promise of good action to follow. In fact, I have to admit, that this second volume is very much an improvement over the first volume. So far the manga has been interesting, if not quite as interesting as its popularity would suggest. Still, it's a strong start that definitely has me interested in reading more.

If you liked my review, buy the manga here: Naruto - Vol. 2

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Manga Reviews: Naruto - Volume 1


Considered the world's greatest manga by fans, and a festering boil by everyone else, Naruto is certainly a cause for controversy. Whether it be ninja's that have more in common with wizards than actual shinobi, or the fact that according to some its popularity is completely unwarranted.

As a One Piece fan myself, I could write a long, impassioned rant about how One Piece is Japan's most popular manga, rather than Naruto, and that it's all because of the horrible 4Kids dub that One Piece does not enjoy the popularity that Naruto enjoys in the states. But, since it's already painfully obvious what a huge dork I am, I'll spare you that, and instead focus on the purpose of this series of reviews, namely to review the entire Naruto series, volume by volume.

Why? You ask. Because it gives me content, and I really haven't seen any other review blog that reviews series by volume rather than the entire series as a whole. If I ever get into doing video reviews, there's a good chance that I'll get back to these old reviews and use them as basis for my scripts. Kind of like Linkara did with his All-star Batman and Robin reviews.

For starters, I used to be a pretty big Naruto fan. Right now I'm more of a passive fan, as recent events in the manga have annoyed me, and the anime is a showcase for everything that is wrong with the anime medium. Don't get me wrong, I still love anime, but Naruto tends to be the one example nay-sayers point to, along with Dragon Ball Z. And they have good reason. Lousy filler, two years worth of it, and horrible pacing make it an unwatchable series, at least in my humble opinion. Of course, because of the way anime based on popular manga has to make sure that they don't over take the manga and run out of material, they have to add in filler to extend the series. Unfortunately it's rare that the filler is ever watchable, and so far the only filler worth my while has been One Piece filler.

What? I said I was a One Piece fan.

Where was I? Oh, right, Naruto. As I was saying, I used to be a pretty big Naruto fan. But recently I've lost my enthusiasm for the manga. I still read it, but I don't really care as much anymore. Mostly I just read to see how it will end. Though I've decided it's never really going to end, and could even end up as long as Hajime no Ippo. I pray this isn't the case, while at the same time hoping other manga I read does last that long. Especially One Piece, that doesn't even look anywhere close to ending, and Bleach which just might finish it's second storyline by the time it reaches over eight hundred chapters.

Seeing how Naruto is such a large phenomenon, whether positive or not is up to the individual to decide, I've decided that an analysis of what makes it so popular, volume by volume, is in order. I'll try to remain as objective as possible, but I can't make any promises. At the end of each storyline, regardless of whether the current volume is finished at the time the storyline ends, I will analyze what we've read so far and make a judgment about how the storyline contributed to Naruto's popularity.

Along with that, I'll break each review into the individual chapters, and by the end of the volume I will decide whether it was effective in making me want to read the next volume.

And with that little introduction out of the way, I present to you, Naruto - Volume 1.

The volume is broken down into seven chapters, each part of what I've decided is not really a storyline, but more an introduction to the characters and the world they live in.

The first chapter focuses on the titular Naruto, a young ninja in training who has failed the ninja graduation exam twice (as a bit of a plot hole for later, wouldn't that make him two years older than everyone else in his class?). Naruto is an annoying trouble maker, who only acts like the class clown because he wants people to acknowledge him. Or something like that. We also learn that his ultimate goal is to become the Hokage, and have everyone in the village notice his worth. This is a strong driving force for him, until the later half of the series, where his primary motivation changes, but more on that later.

I should also probably mention that the first page of the chapter explains the back story of the series, with the demon fox being imprisoned by the fourth Hokage, and overall it makes for a pretty awesome setting. And what do we get immediately after this? A bratty little kid vandalizing the statues of the men he wants to surpass with graffiti. Is it to late to abandon these reviews?

Also, I apologize if my review sounds slightly familiar up to this point. However, he brings up some good points. I highly recommend his review, and his other reviews, but what I'm planning goes into a little more detail, which I hope will redeem me from bringing up similar points.

The chapter continues with Naruto being dragged back to class, where he is meant to transform into a copy of his teacher Iruka, but instead performs what he calls the Ninja Centerfold, or Sexy no Jutsu, transforming into a naked, older female version of himself, and into the main source of fanservice for this series. Though really, I'd rather he didn't.

Naruto fails the ninja graduation a third time, but one of the teachers, Mizuki, tells him about a scroll that if he steals it from the Hokage's study and learns one of the techniques from it, Iruka would let him graduate. Of course Mizuki turns out to be a major douche, and it is revealed that he only wanted Naruto to steal the scroll for him. Mizuki also reveals that Naruto is the demon fox that destroyed the village. Later it is revealed that Naruto isn't the fox itself, but instead a container for the fox's spirit.

The chapter ends with Naruto mastering the Shadow Clone technique, making a thousand flesh and blood copies of himself, and beats up Mizuki. And thus the chapter ends with Iruka giving Naruto his headband, and declaring him a graduate.

The first chapter is pretty much self contained, and overall, not that bad a read. Never mind the ridiculous giant shuriken, and the fact that Iruka should probably be going to the hospital after getting stabbed in the back with one of those Shuriken, rather than going to get ramen. Just keep in mind that character's shrugging off fatal wounds is common in manga and anime, and if you want to read or watch it, you're going to have to suspend your disbelief.

Overall I really liked how they set up Shadow Clones as Naruto's weakest technique, but by the end of the chapter, he's made it into his strongest technique. And don't worry, we'll be seeing that technique again. And again. And again...

The second chapter starts with the introduction of a character far more annoying than Naruto. The chapter is essentially filler, as the real meat of the story doesn't start until the third chapter. Granted it introduces Konohamaru, who is something of a recurring character, though unfortunately as the series progresses he won't be used to his full extent, though what we do see of him shows some pretty impressive character growth.

The second chapter really doesn't do much, and overall is just a bridge between the first chapter and the third chapter. It introduces new characters, which is the overall purpose of the next few chapters.

Chapter 3 - Enter Sasuke.

Having already read the whole series, reading that title just makes me sigh. I won't got into a rant about how much I hate Sasuke, but I will still say that as a character, he's bland, and I had to suffer through a years worth of publication featuring only him. Granted he's the main reason I haven't dropped the manga. Simply because if I can suffer through a year of nothing but Sasuke, then I can stand anything Kishimoto throws at me. Though some recent chapters almost proved that wrong.

Besides Sasuke we are introduced to another less than popular character, Sakura. Sakura has been accused of being useless, only ever contributing to one fight, and annoying the crap out of readers with her constant pinning over Sasuke. To be honest, I didn't mind her so much. She isn't that bad a character. Sure she's not the most likable character, she's pretty shallow and selfish, but really, young girls like that do exist. Kind of like irritating class clowns like Naruto exist. Sakura is, frankly, fairly well written, and while she starts off incredibly horrible, just within this single chapter she starts to change. It takes a while, but she slowly ends up loosing the selfish personality. And while her character still gets on a lot of nerves, I just chalked it up to her being an actual human being, not a caricature. Of course, recent actions of hers have frustrated me, but we aren't to that point yet, so I will keep mum on that subject.

Let's just get back to Sasuke quickly, before we move on. While bland as a character, in his introduction he isn't that unbearable. Granted I, and many others, came to hate him, but in this chapter alone, he really isn't that bad. And honestly, I kind of applaud him for the harsh talking to he gives Sakura, who really, really is worse than I remembered.

The ninja's are divided up into three man cells, and I'll admit I got a chuckle out of both Naruto and Sakura's reactions when they realized that the two of them were not only on the same team, but also on the same team as Sasuke. I especially love how Iruka's expression plainly says that even he knows that team is a mistake. This brings up another topic about this series. Humor. While a more action, and somewhat drama, oriented series, Naruto still manages to pull off some decent humor, which we slowly start to see in this chapter. Granted Kishimoto tries for jokes earlier, but this is the first one that really made me laugh. And it won't be the last.

I also find it amusing, in a slightly vindictive way, that Sakura's single most romantic scene in the entire series was actually with Naruto, who was disguised as Sasuke. I sincerely hope that she eventually finds out about this, because while her violence may be a problem for some, I enjoy seeing the main character beaten up by the female lead.

In chapter 4 we are introduced to Kakashi, a fan favorite character. And it's easy to see why. He is first introduced as an exceptional ninja, and then he falls for a simple trap. He then proceeds to out fight all three of them while reading a book.

Besides chapter four, the last three chapters focus on the final test the team has to undergo. They have to take the two bells Kakashi has on him. Since there are only two bells, the one who doesn't get the bell fails and has to go back to the Academy.

After several impressive action sequences, which include some pretty good laughs, including Sakura fainting twice, the volume ends with Kakashi declaring that none of the three kids will ever be Shinobi, and that sending them back to school would be pointless.

And that's volume 1. Is it bad? Not really. Is it good? It entertained me enough. Does it make me want to read more? Now there's the million dollar question. Overall I could probably skip reading the next volume, especially considering that I've read the whole series before already. But approaching it as a first time reader, I can say that the cliffhanger is fairly effective. By that point I've been entertained by the characters enough that, flaws aside, I kind of want to see what happens next. As such, I'd say that Naruto can definitely support itself past the first volume. It isn't the greatest manga I've ever read, but at this stage it's good enough. Then there's also the fact that I've already said I'd review this manga all the way through, so I can hardly stop here.

If you liked my review, buy the the manga here: Naruto - Vol. 1

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Graphic Novel Reviews: Batman - The Return of Bruce Wayne Issue 1


FINALLY!!!

I'm sure most of you that read Batman have been waiting forever for this one. If you're like me, you still haven't forgiven Morrison from making this series necessary, but you're still going to read it because you're a hopeless Batman fan-boy.

What did we learn about Bruce in this new series? We know that he doesn't remember who he is, which kind of takes away the whole "Batman breaking out of the greatest trap ever" doesn't it? We also know that Superman, Green Lantern and Booster Gold are on their way to find Bruce. If they don't the world is doomed.

There's not much to talk about the story, Bruce shows up among a bunch of cavemen, in the middle of a tribal war, gets a giant bat headpiece, and kicks caveman butt. That's it. And for some reason the youngest caveman puts on war paint that makes him look like Robin.

Why?

Then whatever it is that is transporting Bruce through time transports him to another time. I'd like to say Puritan, given what the woman who finds him is wearing, but the sword he's carrying for some reason is more medieval. But since he's still in America it's probably the Puritan age.

So what'd I think? While nothing really happened, I still liked it. The story hasn't really gripped me yet, which makes waiting for the new issues easier, while at the same time makes me wonder whether it's worth buying the individual issues. I'll definitely keep reading it, and buy the trade paperback once it hits the shelves, but I'm not sure I can recommend buying the individual issues, especially for people that already spend a great deal on monthly issues already. I know Morrison wants this to be a big, epic event, but I still remain doubtful. At least the even has started and we finally get to see Batman return back to his time.

If you liked my review, and still want to buy the individual issues, you can buy them here: Batman Return of Bruce Wayne #1
Or here: Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne Variant #1
Or here: Batman Return of Bruce Wayne #1 Sprouse Variant

Actually...you might just be better off running down to your local comic store and buying it there. Only the first link is even close to reasonable, and you still have to pay shipping.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Graphic Novel Reviews: Pride of Baghdad


These aren't the kid friendly, Hamlet inspired Kings of the Jungle here. Pride of Baghdad is not a read for the young, and even some older. Rape is part of a character's back story (seriously, what's up with that? It's the second book in a row that I've read that uses it as a story telling tool. And don't even get me started on all the manga that uses it), though since she's a lion, I'm not sure what to think. A lot of the animals come across as almost more human than animal, while at the same time after a lot of what happens I can't help but think, "They're animals, of course this kind of thing happens."

The story of Baghdad, and its message, is to portray the effect of war from the point of view of animals. The war is meant to come across as a strange, alien thing. Personally it would work better for me if the Lions weren't so human, rather than being animals. Mostly this is a problem of dialogue, where animals say something that just sounds strange coming from an animal. Like a turtle (tortoise?) knowing the name of a river. Seriously? The turtle understands human and heard someone call the river by its name?


Plot-wise the story is quite weak, as it only serves as a tool to portray the human world from an alien perspective, and for to reach the last line of the Graphic Novel.

Soldier 1: Were they wild?

Sergeant: No, they were free.

Who talks like that!? I apologize for the abuse of punctuation, but seriously!? That's how you're going to end your comic? With a cheesy line spoken by someone who has no place saying that? Was that just the captain's habit? To go around saying, "No, they're free"?

Soldier 1: Sir, are we sure these were insurgents?

Captain: No, they were free.

Soldier 1: ...what?

Okay, so that was a lame joke, but I'm sorry, this really is a ridiculous ending for an otherwise enjoyable comic. Oh I know I chewed it out for its weaknesses and general silliness, lack of meaningful plot, and bizarre characterization, but overall it was still an enjoyable read, and, most importantly, it was a quick read. A lot of these graphic novels really are quick reads, which in some cases is a strong selling point, but in others is a weakness. In the case of Pride of Baghdad, it's a strong point, as there really is not enough plot to support more pages.

If you enjoy non-mainstream graphic novels, this one is worth a shot. Would I buy it? Probably not, I picked it up from the library. Should you buy it? Only if you buy it from my link.

If you liked my review, buy the Graphic Novel here: Pride of Baghdad

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Graphic Novel Reviews: Identity Crisis


Say what you want about Identity Crisis, whether you liked it or hated it, I definitely enjoyed it more than some other G.N.'s I've read. While the "Thirty minutes till now" worked for the first time, it lost its effectiveness as a viable storytelling framework, and quickly became needlessly confusing.

While that annoyed me at first, fortunately Brad Meltzer stopped using it towards the latter half of the book, and I quickly found that I was enjoying what I was reading. I guess I just like mysteries more than I thought I did. Not to mention that after reading Meltzer's version of Dr Light, I suddenly have a renewed appreciation for the Joker. As in if I had to choose who to invite to my birthday party I'd rather invite the Joker.

Without giving anything away, Identity Crisis is a crime story, with a "who-dunnit" plot, and a twist ending. The art is passable, while at the same time being nothing special. It's good art, not much more that I can say about that.

If I had to describe this book in a word, that word would have to be "emotional." I raged at Dr. Light, felt conflicted at the choice the JSA had to make, and the one they had to continue making, I felt chilled at the wordless page where Dr. Light is plotting, and I almost felt like putting the book down at the beginning the "five minutes till now" structure was annoying me so much.

I don't know much about the history of these characters, I only really know Batman, and Power Girl since i just started reading her series and did some research on her background on wikipedia. Batman had very little panel time, but Power Girl only had one little cameo in a double page spread. So the knowledge I had did me no good approaching this book. However, the book itself is self contained, and every personality trait of the characters involved was properly developed. It doesn't rely on any kind of background whatsoever. I know that all the characters have back stories, but this book uses them as if they were original characters in a brand new novel. Anything that happened in the past that was important is properly explained.

If Identity Crisis has a weakness, besides that early story structure, its that there are quite a few deaths. More than anything else it seems like they were going for shock value, as at least a few deaths had very little to do with the overall story. The aftermath of these deaths carried on to their respective titles, but at the time they served little purpose other than for the shock value.

Overall, it's worth a read. I enjoyed it, despite the odd opening issue.

If you liked my review, buy the Graphic Novel here: Identity Crisis

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Graphic Novel Reviews: Mouse Guard - Fall 1152


Buy the Graphic Novel here: Mouse Guard: Fall 1152

Recently I realized something about myself.

I don't like Superhero Comic Books.

Granted, I love Batman, and am quite fond of Batman, Red Robin, Gotham City Sirens, and to an extent Power Girl (though I have yet to read beyond the first issue, I find the overall light tone...okay so there's a mass panic and people die, but the character of Power Girl is a very fun character to read. More on this later). But after reading JLA: One Million, I realized that it really wasn't any fun to read when I a) didn't know all the characters that well, and b) really, really had no idea what was going on. True, JLA: One Million isn't exactly well written, but it did turn me off to giving titles like JLA a chance.

Mouse Guard on the other hand is the exact opposite of JLA: One Million. The story isn't excessively grand, and the characters were portrayed much more effectively than in JLA: One Million. The story is similar to the Redwall series, for those of you that are familiar with them. It revolves around a society of mice, the cities that they've built, and the guard they've established to protect themselves from the dangers of the wild.

The three main characters are all guardsmice that were sent to investigate the disappearance of a merchant, but come across something much larger. Guardsmice function as both soldiers and guards for travelers, pathfinders, and so on. For me they easily stand on par with other fictional organizations such as the Guard of the Citadel, and the Veni Yan. I'm a pretty big fan of warrior organizations, both in fiction and in history, so this graphic novel really spoke to me.

Mouse Guard - Fall 1152 is a quick read, but David Petersen (who entirely deserves his Eisner Award if you ask me) manages to fit in an incredibly gripping story, and strong characterization, while at the same time establishing the mythos of a world that carries a delicious Celtic flavor with it. The world of Mouse Guard may be small, but thanks to Petersen we have a rich history portrayed in very limited space.

I would even go so far as to describe Mouse Guard as poetry rather than prose. I say this because, like poetry, Mouse Guard manages to say the most by telling the least. Words and pictures are sparingly used, and beautifully crafted, to convey a wealth of information as effectively as possible. And after trying to read John Byrne for the past few days, you have no idea how much I appreciate this. For me the purpose of the graphic medium is to tell as much of the story as possible through the pictures. Excessive narration only disturbs the flow, as witnessed in far too many older comic books. Petersen understands this fully, and allows his pictures and characters' actions to speak for themselves.

The art is gorgeous, with backgrounds that at times allude to the Bayeux tapestry, and at other times have a texture reminiscent of parchment. The overall sketch-like art style used on the mouse characters reminds me of the classic Disney films directed by Wolfgang Reitherman.

This is the first volume, with the second one coming out soon, and several more volumes announced. It's a fairly young series, but definitely worth supporting. I wholeheartedly suggest that you pick up a copy.

Viking Swords and Beowulf

Well, this doesn't have anything to do with what I normally blog about, but bear with it. This is for my English 291 Early British Literary class.

Ancient weaponry, especially swords, is something of a hobby of mine. While reading Beowulf, and noticing the importance placed on swords, especially Hrunting, the sword given to Beowulf, I thought it would be a good idea to do a little research into viking swords to provide a little background information to go along with our study of the text.

History

Just to provide a little background, I'll briefly go over the evolution of the viking sword, starting at the Iron Age. At the beginning of the Iron Age, iron replaced bronze as the primary material used to create swords and other weapons. The story of the viking sword most likely used by Beowulf begins with the Celtic culture at the dawn of the Iron Age.

The Celtic sword, several examples of which are shown in the image above, were relatively crude weapons when compared to later steel weapons. Quenching techniques had not yet been developed so iron swords were created using the same forging techniques used to create bronze swords. During this period, however, smiths learned new techniques and slowly discovered the method by which to make steel, which resulted in swords that were harder to break, and more capable of holding an edge.

As the Celtic culture declined, other cultures picked up on their iron and steel working techniques, which led to the creation of several swords inspired by the Celtic design over the course of history. The next step in the evolution of the Viking sword was oddly enough carried on by the Romans.

The Roman Gladius is a fairly iconic sword, that is recognizable even by people with no interest in historical weaponry. It was a short steel sword, similar to the Greek swords, used in close quarters. The Gladius was not the primary weapon of the infantry, who focused instead more on tight formations and the pilum, or spear. Strong similarities can be seen between the Roman Gladius and the Celtic swords, especially in the shape of the grip, which in both cases does not feature a cross piece.

Before the Gladius developed into the Viking sword, however, there was one more evolutionary stage, that also took place among the Romans.

The Spatha was a much longer sword than the Gladius, and was developed for use by Cavalry officers, who would have need of the longer reach the Spatha provided from horseback. Their use was widespread among the conscripted Germanic troops, and found wide use among heavy infantry in later years. Eventually it replaced the Gladius among front line troops, providing them with a longer reach.

The Spatha eventually traveled north, where it was developed into the weapon used by the Norsemen, and Vikings.


Forging and Dimensions

The Viking method of forging blades was passed down from the later Iron Age, around the time that steel was developed. The technique was referred to as Pattern Welding, and was the answer to the two main problems that iron and steel swords had. Iron, while much harder than bronze, was still not quite hard enough to hold an edge. It was a fairly malleable material, but could still be beaten out of shape, and had to be regularly sharpened. Steel on the other hand was much harder and could be sharpened to an edge, and retain that edge. However, it was also brittle, and could easily shatter if the force of impact was large enough.

Pattern welding took the advantages of both materials, and combined them to negate the disadvantages of both. For those familiar with the Japanese style of sword forging, they already now that the Katana is created by folding a harder steel layer over a softer iron core. The folded edge would then be sharpened and hold the edge, while the soft iron on the inside absorbed the vibrations of impact during combat. However, the method of folding the steel over the iron leaves the soft iron exposed on one end. This was not an issue in the case of forging Katanas, as the soft edge was also the inside of the curve, and wasn't used for fighting.

Viking swords, and its predecessors, however were all double edged weapons. Meaning that folding the steel over the iron was never an option, as the edge that would be created would remain the weaker edge. Instead of folding, while a viking sword was forged the smith would take a bar of iron, and five smaller bars of steel. Keeping the iron in the center the smith would then weave the bars of steel around the iron, creating a blade that perfectly encased the iron center, and created a steel shell that could be beaten and sharpened into edges.

Because of this forging technique, Viking swords had both the properties of iron and steel. They were hard, held an edge, and could not be bent out of shape. They were also flexible, and could bend just enough to prevent them from shattering after use.

A common feature of Viking swords was a fuller, which ran down the length (31.5" long) of the blade in the center. It was a groove that served the dual purpose of lightening the blade, but most importantly it served to stabilize the blade, and allow it to keep its straight shape more effectively. To understand how this works it helps to think of the blade as a I-beam.

The I-beam provides rigid support during construction, and is lighter and stronger than just a regular steel beam could be. Because of its shape the three plates of metal prevent each other from bending out of shape. I apologize if I can't really explain it, I'm not an engineer, but this is how it was explained to me by a researcher of medieval weaponry.


Another iconic, not functional, feature of Viking blades can be seen on the pommel, the counterweight at the edge of the hilt. Usually, to some variation or another the pommel featured five nubs arranged along the bottom of the pommel.

Social Role

Oddly enough, the sword was not the preferred weapon of Vikings. Instead the average Viking would choose cheaper weapons such as axes and spears. Swords were reserved for the richer members of society, those that could actually afford them. Beowulf, being a Prince, would definitely be one such who could afford such a weapon.

What's even more interesting is Unferth's gifting of Hrunting to Beowulf. If the sword was even half as magnificent as it is described as, then Unferth was a wealthy man indeed. Even more impressive is the fact that he gave this weapon to Beowulf, and what an incredible gift it was. Considering how Unferth was Beowulf's main challenger, and generally displayed suspicion towards Beowulf, this event marks exactly how much Unferth's opinion of Beowulf had changed. Not only that, but it marked exactly how magnificent Beowulf was, that his deeds were so great that they caused a man who had challenged his claims to not only change his opinion, but to provide Beowulf with such a noble and rich gift.