Ongoing Investigations: Case #123

Let me be up front and tell you that while Level Up does touch on the topic of video games it is not nearly as much about the games as you might first suspect. Video games come up and they are used as a metaphor but they are one of several metaphors used in the book. It is really the story of how a boy grows up with the expectations of his parents while tying to balance it against his own desires to be happy. We see Dennis Ouyang go through his life oscillating between hiding himself in video games which he loves and beings quest to becoming a gastroenterologist despite the fact that he has no interest in the job. After his farther dies and he gets kicked out of college he is visited by four little angels that act as nagging guilty consciences that demand that he fulfill his destiny of becoming a doctor. So he whips himself back into shape and is slowly but surely is on his way to satiating the angels. He makes friends and even finds love but he is constantly plagued by the fact that he is going into a career he hates. Despite the addition of the angels it is an extremely relatable story. We have all expectations place on us by the people who raised us and know how they can conflict with our attempts live our own lives. The more the exceptions placed on you the more the book will speak to you. Dennis and his friends sell the story by being delightful characters that draw you in. The art simple and has a very independent comic vibe but it is expressive while maintaining a warm feeling. Level Up is a nice one book story with a fairly important lesson for anyone who is lacking direction their life or remembers what that feeling is like.

The first chapter where we see Dennis’s failed attempt to get a Nintendo for Christmas might be the most relatable scene of the book, you wanted him to get it but knew he wouldn’t. And it is just as easy to struggle with Dennis as he weighs his father’s desires against his own changing perspective. It said it all to me when Dennis’s mother told him “Love is for people. Not work.” Each generation in each culture deals with this difference in thinking, but the Asian American experience depicted here should be very familiar, I know it mirrors my friend’s stories. But I think what was refreshing about this story is the balance it strikes in the end proving you don’t have to cast off your family completely to be who you are. Though I have to say that parents might need this lesson more than kids. Gene Luen Yang brings these lessons in with video games, humor, and great pacing. Sparse words are needed as Thien Pham perfectly conveys everything you need to know visually. A perfect collaboration.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #113

I jumped into the Incredible Change-Bots series with a copy of book two. From what I can tell the first book ends the series but was popular enough that they made a sequel. Since this is a comedy it was no too hard to find a silly reason for new silly events to occur with the Change-Bots. The story itself is unabashedly a Transformers: Generation 1 parody down to having Autobot and Decepticon analogs with its own version of Optimus Prime and Megatron as well as most of the other well know Transformers. It takes the overall silliness of the original Transformers cartoon and pushes it to its logical comedic extreme. The humor often very dry even if the jokes themselves are rather goofy. There is humor beyond being a transformers parody but the Transformers parody is a framework that is omnipresent an inescapable.  I think overall the series would work a bit better as a page a week web comic so that the joke does not wear out its welcome. As it stands I found myself losing interest about half way through the book. It was never bad but it just could not sustain my interest. The art is rather of crude but it adds a whimsy to the story that an extremely detailed art style would have prevented. I can clearly see the appeal that a book but I never really got into it. Then again I never liked Adventure Time so maybe I just have a broken sense of humor.

Incredible Change-Bots Two doesn’t have such a complex story that you can’t pick it without having read the first; you probably could have guessed that from the title. What I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t just a funny robot series, it is a Transformers parody without trying to hide it in the least. This is most apparent in its opening recap of their history from the war on “Electronocybercircuitron” between the “Awesomebots” and the “Fantasticons” to their landing on earth and continued rivalry. Sadly, those first six pages are the best part of the entire book. They are funny enough to make you giggle as any parody should but the rest isn’t nearly as amusing. This may stem from it not pulling as obviously from Transformers as the opening sequence did; I wonder if the first book is different in that respect. Or perhaps it is just my personal taste about how long a joke can go on. I have rarely seen a parody that didn’t wear out its welcome in about 60-seconds. I agree with Hisui that I could see this as a weekly one-page comic worth tuning-in for because once again its major downfall was length. I really enjoyed the art-style which can be kind of elaborate on the splash pages but most of the time feels like high-level crayon drawings; it added nicely to what humor was there. P.S. I don’t know why Hisui doesn’t like Adventure Time!

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