A Mae, Vol. 1 Review – Beautifully Frustrating

Mae, Vol. 1TITLE: Mae, Vol. 1:
AUTHORS: Gene Ha, Danny Busiek, 
PENCILLERS: 
Ha, Paulina Ganucheau, Sally Jane Thompson
PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Comics
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: January 25, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I would call Mae a blend of Doctor Who and The Wizard of Oz, with a little Harry Potter sprinkled on top. Our creator/writer/artist Gene Ha makes a point to name drop all three in the pages of Mae, Vol. 1. So I imagine he’d be okay with that statement.

What’s more, Mae has a lot in common with those stories. It takes a seemingly average young person and thrusts them into a world of fantasy and adventure. Nine years after Mae’s sister Abbie mysteriously vanishes, she abruptly reappears telling stories about another world. Monsters, talking cats, and a price on her head from the House Zemetrasi. To Mae, it’s all beyond belief. But Abbie has been followed, and their father is soon kidnapped. Now Mae must follow her sister into a place unlike any she’s ever known, and become the hero she never knew she could be.

It’s always fun whenever an artist, much less one the caliber of Gene Ha, gets to just cut loose and create. The most appealing aspect of Mae, for my money, is seeing all the eccentric fantasy elements and characters Ha designs. The robotic, and very tall Rytir Kazisvet, who kidnaps Mae and Abbie’s father, is tremendous. I’m also rather fond of the fuzzy little creature in a hoodie that comes after Abbie early in the story (shown below). And then you’ve got the Dukes, four human heads which all share the same robotic body. It all feels like we’re just scratching the surface, and future issues could bring us anything.

There’s something to be said for the way Abbie and Mae are dressed. Both outfits are very distinct, and in a broad sense allow you to get their characters almost instantly. Abbie’s outfit consists of a fez and a Napoleonic War style outfit. It feels very adventurous, and the fez seems very much like a nod to Matt Smith’s time on Doctor Who. Mae, on the other hand, is wearing a scarf (a nod to the Fourth Doctor?), glasses, hat, and coat. It’s a look for a modern woman who’s well-read, and isn’t afraid to flaunt her geekiness.

It’s refreshing that Mae is our title character and main hero here. She’s a fangirl, but she’s not depicted as social awkward or an oddball. In essence, she’s just an average girl who happens to love her some Doctor Who and Harry Potter. While her lines about such things usually come off contrived, she feels like the most genuine and real character in the book.

Initially, I couldn’t figure out why this book reminded me so much of Toy Story. You can argue it evokes memories of the human-centric Pixar movies in general, a la The Incredibles. But Toy Story was what came to mind for me. Then when you look closer, you realize Ha’s pencilling, shading, and inking make the figures pop to the point that they look three-dimensional. This effect also does wonders for the creatures Ha designs. Under someone else’s pencil, that little fuzzy guy with the sunglasses might look like fairly generic fantasy character. But drawn by Ha, he almost looks lively enough to be one of the Muppets. Albeit, a fairly violent Muppet.

On the downside, there are a few points where characters look static, and the image feels artificial as a result. The best example in the book can be seen in the lower lefthand portion of the image at right. Abbie, as she’s laughing, looks detached and unnatural. Though I will say the adjacent panels look lovely.

Mae marks one of Gene Ha’s only stints as a writer. To say the least, it’s ambitious. These are his characters and his vision, which he actually raised the funds for on Kickstarter. The world he’s created has a lot of depth, and has a sort of Oz quality to it. But a times it’s a struggle to figure out exactly how it works. It’s clearly influenced by bits and pieces of our world, or “old Earth” as they call it.

Ha starts small, first setting the story in the girls’ home in small-town Indiana. We then spend an issue in a city in our fantasy world, before we expand and find out what sort of politics drive it. In issue #4, Mae and Abbie sneak into the castle of the House Zemetrasi, searching for  Rytir Kazisvet and their father. There’s talk of a war with someone called the “Obruoni,” and a quest for the “technology of the ancients.” It’s all very vague. Who are these people? And what do they want? And why? It’s not that there’s a lack of interest, just a lack of comprehension. Heck, does this fantasyland even have a name?

In the bonus material included for this book, Ha says he avoided exploring the setting and the alternate history because it got in the way of the larger adventure. But there’s always something to be said for context. There’s some quality adventuring on these pages, but it feels like a piece of this story is missing.

Mae also presents a challenge I’ve never come across before: The names of certain people and places are hard to pronounce. It’s tough to even sound them out mentally. The Dukes are collectively called “Nehynouci Vojvodove.” And the city they visit is called “Krunyrves.” I get the idea that another world is going to have a different sort of dialect. But at least words like Oz, Gallifrey, and Hogwarts are easy to wrap your mind around.

Paulina Ganucheau tags in for issue #6, giving us a standalone Abbie story. Our supplemental material also includes a nice little tale from Mae’s school days by Danny Busiek and Sally Jane Thompson. Neither advance the primary narrative, but they offer an intriguing look at the world of Mae through an alternate lens. The same can be said for the series of pin-ups we get from the likes of Amanda Conner, Philip Tan, and Yanick Paquette. Gene Ha obviously has plenty of friends on the comic book A-list.

In the end, I’d call this first volume of Mae as “beautifully frustrating.” Gene Ha’s art is gorgeous, and it’s fascinating to see what he creates here. We’ve also got two delightfully strong female leads. But it feels like our story is incomplete. Still, perhaps the biggest compliment I can give Ha is that despite my frustrations, I’m still interested to see what’s next for our young heroines. I’m hopeful they have many more adventures to come.

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A Review of The Muppets – Nostalgia, Sentiment, and Chris Cooper Rapping

The-Muppets-2011-Movie-Final-PosterTITLE: The Muppets
STARRING: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Jack Black
PUPPETEERS: Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Peter Linz, David Goelz, Bill Barretta
DIRECTOR: James Bobin
STUDIO: Walt Disney Pictures
RUN TIME: 120 min
RELEASED:
November 23, 2011

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I find it very fitting that a new Toy Story short was attached to The Muppets. Toy Story 3 was such a huge hit last year with it’s central theme about growing up that made many a grown man cry. But it also had a $200 million budget, cutting edge computer animation and an A-list cast. Nothing against the Toy Story films, but The Muppets proves you don’t need all those bells and whistles to make a movie as heartfelt, tremendously entertaining, and at times genuinely moving as that. This film did it with less than half that budget and a bunch of felt puppets.

The first Muppet movie in over a decade takes place quite a few years after Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest of the gang have gone their separate ways. During a vacation to Hollywood, Walter (a new puppet character) and Gary (Jason Segel), two brothers and lifelong Muppet fanatics, discover that an oil tycoon (Chris Cooper) is preparing to bulldoze the building that The Muppet Show was performed in. Together with Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), they set out to reunite the Muppets and raise enough money to buy the theater back.

83361_oriIf there was ever any doubt that the Muppets still deserve their place of reverence in popular culture, this film shatters it. It hits just about every note it needs to hit to make it the perfect comeback movie for the franchise. There’s a significant nostalgia presence in the film, mostly for The Muppet Show and 1979′s The Muppet Movie. We also see the return of three classic Muppet songs, which should really warm the heart of old school Muppet fans like yours truly. Does that make me biased? Maybe, maybe not. I’d like to think it works well in the context of these characters being portrayed as entertainers making a comeback. Hopefully kids being exposed to the material for the first time find it as great as we did back in the day.

One of the great things about this move is that it’s essentially art imitating life. The Muppets have been around here and there, but since the property was purchased by The Walt Disney Company in 2004, nothing of great significance has been done with it. We got a couple of TV movies, some appearances in music videos and a some online content. But none of it seemed to generate enough interest in the franchise to really give it momentum again. As a result, the Muppets largely fell out of the limelight for awhile. It’s that touch of reality that gives this movie a bit more kick. When a network executive (Rashida Jones) tells Kermit and a room full of Muppets that they’re not famous anymore, your inner child squirms as you wonder if that’s actually true. As the characters are trying to raise the money, you’re rooting for them to succeed, just as many of us are rooting for this movie to be a success so we can have the Muppets back again. Had this movie not worked it would have been devastating for the franchise.

The Muppets, cast photoThankfully, it works as well as any of us could have hoped for. By touching on issues like family, love, friendship and finding your place in the world, while integrating some classic Muppet-style humor and music, this film becomes a piece of work I’d like to think Jim Henson himself would have been proud of. Frank Oz, who famously helped develop many of the Muppet characters, and puppeteered and voiced Miss Piggy and Fozzy Bear, allegedly opted not to contribute to the film because of how some of the characters were portrayed. As a fan, I’m not sure what his mindset could have been at the time. Kermit and the others are as great as they’ve always been, and now they’re being shown to a new generation of fans.

The world can be a pretty dark, scary place nowadays, and that’s exactly why the Muppets needed to resurface like this. Lord knows, this place could use a few more smiles these days. And who’s more qualified to make us smile as we try and find our own rainbow connection?

RATING: 9.5/10

Images from rottentomatoes.com.