Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review: Street Angel

Ok, let me see if I can properly set this one up... In a crummy ghetto, there lives a homeless twelve year old, (13 after some fancy time-travel) orphan named Jesse Sanchez. This girl also happens to be a bad-ass kung-fu fighting, skateboarding, lethal weapon. She uses her skills to fight evil geologists, an endless amount of evil ninjas, ancient gods, pirates and nepotism. Sound awesome? That's because it is.

Street Angel is easily one of the funniest things I've read this year. The whole graphic novel has a sort of lighthearted feel to it, yet still packs in some violence and adult humor that makes this one not for the kiddies.

Street Angel is one of those rare graphic novels that achieves a perfect balance between story and art. Each aspect has a role to play and they come together nicely to make the stories flow real smooth. The artwork is nothing super eye-popping, but that isn't a bad thing, I think it is sometimes nice for art to be unassumingly great, and not distract the reader too much from the comic experience.

Aside from the hilarious stories, there are a few additional add-ons that sweeten this graphic novel. First are the character bio pages that give you typical things like height, weight, and eye color, but also some history, powers, and a sweet abilities matrix. My favorite was the bio for the evil super computer, MegaPute. Also, in the back of the book, are some early character sketches, a cover gallery, and twenty or so Street Angel pin-ups by a wide variety of indie comic artists.

The Street Angel graphic novel collects the first, and only, five issues of the Street Angel comic. Each comic is its own, stand-alone story, and shares very little continuity with the previous issues. Don't let that stop you from reading this graphic novel though, as each story is extremely enjoyable and worth a read. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved reading Street Angel. It was really a lot of fun. If you are in need of a refreshing read, one that creates the joy of reading, then this is the book for you. But really, just read it. Support Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca, some great indie comic creators, you wont regret it.

Grade: A+

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jet City Comic Show

Yesterday I attended the very cool Jet City Comic Show here in Seattle. The event wasn't nearly as big of an event as the Emerald City Comicon that I went to back in March, but it was still pretty sweet even if it lacked some of the big star power.

As far as special guests went, it was sort of a humble, gathering. The biggest name of them all, Greg Rucka, couldn't make it, but his partner in crime, Matthew Southworth, the artist for Stumptown, was there. Other cool/interesting creators in attendance were Mark Rahner, whose Zombie-Western Rotten is garnering some solid accolades. I've been wanting to jump on this series for awhile, but the early issues are either out of print or tough to come by, and the first trade was due out a month ago, but still hasn't hit the shelves. When I spoke to Rahner, he said the trade should be on the way soon, as he has been sending death threats to his publishers. Michael Oeming of Mice Templar fame was there too. For fans of the capes and tights variety, dudes from that style of comics were there too, most notably Chris Samnee the artist of Thor the Mighty Avenger.

The one media guest was Scott L. Scwartz, who I guess is most known for his work on Buffy, and the Ocean's 11, 12, and 13 films. Turns out he is a totally cool guy. He saw my Red Sox hat and we spoke about sports and professional wrestling (of all things) for about half an hour.

I think the coolest person I spoke to on the day was Sean Dietrich, an creator/artist working for Rorschach Entertainment. He does some indie comic work and is also a live artist. We spoke about his work, and he told me about his efforts to help young, developing artists learn the business side of getting jobs in the comic industry. He's a very cool guy and it was nice to talk to someone who is doing such positive work.

Considering it was the inaugural event, I thought the Jet City Comic Show was pretty awesome. It had a very chill, laid back feel, and I think the whole thing went over quite well. I expect to see it build momentum in the following years.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review: Wolves of the Calla

The road to the Dark Tower is fraught with peril, and Gunslingers cant turn their backs on people in need.

The simple townsfolk of Calla Bryn Sturgis are in need of some gunslinger assistance. Every twenty years or so, the Wolves come out of Thunderclap and steal away one of each set of the town's twins. This may not sound so bad, but in Calla Bryn Sturgis twins are commonplace, and a single child is a rare occurrence. After half the twins are taken, they are returned months later, called "roont" (ruined) by the townsfolk, the kids are shells of their former selves,doomed to a short life, mentally empty, and destined to grow to a hulking size. The wolves are due to come in a month. Which of course is where Roland and the gang come in handy. The townsfolk want the gunslinger's aid, but while the gunslingers are trying to protect the town, they must also protect a single red rose that grows in a vacant lot in New York City. The rose is important as it's safety is mysteriously tied to the Dark Tower which Roland seeks.

To further complicate things the gunslingers face a few pressing personal issues that threaten to doom their quest for the Dark Tower.

Wolves of the Calla is one of the strongest Dark Tower books yet. The plot grabbed me early on, and doesn't really let go even at the end. King managed to juggle a lot of elements, yet the book flowed nicely and despite its length of about 750 pages, it didn't have more than a couple slow points.

The people of Calla Bryn Sturgis were an interesting group of folks. I really enjoyed a couple of the characters. The heavily conflicted Benjamin Slightman was an extremely "realistic" character to me, I felt like I could see things from his point of view, but I didn't approve of his actions.

The most important man the gunslingers meet in Calla Bryn Sturgis is Father Callahan. King fans will recognize this guy from 'Salem's Lot. Callahan has quite a story to tell of his life since the events of 'Salem's Lot, from vampire vision, to killings, to alcoholism, to his own death, and his travels in parallel earths...the guy has been through a lot. Somehow, he has wound up in the Calla, and he's got a powerful magical item hidden in his church.

Though in some ways the gunslingers helping the townsfolk seems like a side-quest, that really isn't the case. The overall plot thickens quite a bit, and King really ups the ante for the entire series. Everything is setting up nicely for an absolute gut buster of a finish and I can't wait to see where everything stands once the dust has cleared. I'm definitely hooked and I'm excited for the next two books.

After a couple of slower Dark Tower books, Wolves of the Calla is a pretty much a return to awesome. You really cant go to far wrong with a book that has gun fights, vampires, time travel, robots, lightsabers, demons, and Stephen King's deadly, explosive version of Harry Potter's snitch. There is a lot to love about Wolves of the Calla I really enjoyed this one from the start right up to the lightning paced finish.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

DC Shuts down Wildstorm

I just read this over at Comics Alliance. Turns out DC Entertainment is shutting down the Wildstorm imprint and folding all the characters and such into the DC universe to be relaunched at a later date.

I haven't read much from Wildstorm lately, but they are responsible for my favorite super hero team ever, The Authority. There was a sweet run where The Authority was penned by Warren Ellis, then Mark Millar, and Frank Quitely drew a few issues during that stretch as well. It'll be lame to have such great characters, and ones that deliberately poked fun at certain well-loved DC heroes, get relaunched by DC sometime down the road. Sad.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Review: Mesmo Delivery

Mesmo Delivery is a one shot, fifty-eight paged artistic gem written and drawn by comics up and comer Raphael Grampa.

An Elvis impersonator and a hulking ex-boxer sign up to deliver an unknown cargo for Mesmo Delivery. In need of a break, and some refreshment after some time on the dusty road, the two men make a pit-stop at a run down desert oasis bar in the middle of nowhere. While the Elvis impersonator naps, the ex-boxer enters the bar, and unwillingly becomes part of a violent bet. What follows is a visually stunning, expertly choreographed, blood-fest that is simultaneously horrifying and mesmerizing.

Grampa is, flat out, an amazing artist. He has a strong attention to detail, the environments just sort of spring to life with detail and realism. His line work is pretty damn sweet too. But, you should just see it for yourself:

See? What'd I tell ya? Pretty amazing.

The story of Mesmo Delivery is nothing to write home about, essentially the bulk of the story is the epic fight scene, but there is enough of a story, with a bit of back story mixed in, to make it so that this isn't just an ultra-violent extravaganza. But really, Grampa's strength lies in his art work, and that shows here.

Here's to hoping the guy gets some steady jobs drawing some amazing looking comics in the very near future. I do know he drew the cover for the up coming Strange Tales 2 for Marvel, but aside from that, I'm not too sure... I can't wait to see what else he can do.

Grade: B+

Friday, September 17, 2010

Live in Concert: Willie Nelson

Last night I saw Willie Nelson live at the Puyallup Fair. (Don't worry about trying to pronounce "Puyallup", I always mess it up.) I've been a Willie fan for a long time, but I don't think I developed a full appreciation for his music until I became an adult. I think you sort of have to go through the ringer a bit before you can fully enjoy Willie.

Even at the age of 77 Willie can still entertain. The guy is pretty animated on stage, and he goes through about a dozen or so red bandannas per show. He played a ninety minute set without any pauses, plunging directly into the next song after one was finished. He more or less alternated between his sad songs and his upbeat, snappy ones throughout the set, mixing in some covers of songs by Hank Williams, Ray Charles and Waylon Jennings. Towards the end, he played a couple of his newer songs, I Ain't Superman, and You Don't Think I'm Funny Anymore. Both of those songs were new to me, fantastic and pretty damn funny too.

Willie played most of my faves, with the exception of my personal favorite, Me and Paul. Still, it was a totally awesome performance, and one I'll never forget. Easily one of the best concerts I've ever been to. Not to mention, I got to hang out at the State Fair afterwards. Bonus!

Grade: A+

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Author Event: Brandon Sanderson

Last night the Brandon Sanderson book tour made a stop here in Seattle, and Battle Hymns was there in attendance. The event started out with a few laughs as Sanderson mentioned that the reading for the night would come from the prelude of his latest novel, The Way of Kings. Sanderson mentioned that he "cheated" on the book because he has a prelude, a prologue, and the first chapter which he referred to as his "second prologue", since things don't really get fully rolling until the second chapter. This got a few laughs from the large crowd.

After reading the prologue he did a Q&A session, and there was no shortage of good questions from the fans. A quick recap: No new news on Sanderson related films. There's some promising things in the pipeline, but he wont know for sure until the end of the year. Also, even less is happening on the video game front, so don't hold your breath. While on tour and taking a "break" between books, he's been writing a Mistborn short story.

It struck me as strange that the first two questions that fans asked were about his previous work being put out in other mediums. Shouldn't you ask him about, I don't know? Writing? Well, plenty of other people did just that and Sanderson discussed how he juggled working on The Way of Kings and his Wheel of Time stuff at the same time. Basically he can only write one thing at a time, but can be editing and fixing lots of other stuff at the same time, however he only has the creative juices for one item of new material. I am always intrigued by how various authors work and create, so this bit was quite interesting to me.

The crowd was mostly adults, but there was one young boy there who was sporting a copy of one of Sanderson's Alcatraz books. About mid-way through the Q&A the kid and his father got up to leave, as it was getting late on a school night. Sanderson noticed this, stopped what he was discussing, and signed the boy's book before he left. This extremely charming, and classy moment seems to capture Sanderson quite well. I could tell that he really loves his job, and his fans, and it seemed to be a pleasure for him to get a chance to interact and talk about his work.

All in all it was another cool author-related experience for me. I haven't read any of Sanderson's novels yet, so this author event was a nice introduction for me. I sort of feel like I am a fan before I even read a page of his writing. I will say that I look forward to the time when I do read his stuff, and it will likely be more enjoyable, knowing that Brandon Sanderson is a great guy.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Reading Challenge Review: Here Be Demons

So, it turns out that if you are a demon, the ultimate punishment is to be banished from Hell. That's just what's happened to arch-demon Atamar and his band of sexy succubi and creepy incubuses. (See cover art for detail.) For the past few centuries Atamar and his crew of underlings have been banished to the barren desert of Africa for being the Detroit Lions when it comes to the business of corrupting souls. In order to return to Hell, they must find some unlucky souls to corrupt and buy their way back in. Too bad the desert isn't exactly teeming with life. Atamar and the gang have already screwed up a couple of previous chances to harvest some soulage, so when a band of American archeology students arrive for a summer dig, the Hellspawn decide to dust off their A-games and crank up the sinning!

The group of students turn out to be more, or in some cases, less than what the demons bargained for. Thinking this might be their last chance for redemption, the demons create, with demon magic, an archeological miracle which ratchets up the drama, tension and emotions, and hopefully also their target's susceptibility to sinning. However, tensions are running high amongst the demons as well, and the underlings are losing faith in their leader. How far will the demons go (moral dilemma!) to make it back to hell?

Here Be Demons wasn't such a great book. Mind you, it wasn't terrible, but it sure wasn't great. The first thing I struggled with was the flatness of the characters. Friesner actually did an okay job of character building, but the characters themselves were pretty lame. The demons didn't seem the least bit demonic, they were pretty much just cheesy, and boring. The American students reminded me way too much of the typical "B" movie characters you might find in a flick called "Spring Break Fest" or "Surfin' Summer". They were just stereotypical and flat. Dweeby Professor? Check. Strapping Young Lad? Check. Sex-Kitten Virgin? Check. Nerdy-yet-Sexy Girl? Check. Loser who turns out to be a good guy? Check. I wasn't as disappointed about the students as I was about the demons. I think Friesner really missed a chance to do something cool with those characters and make them unique and interesting...but she didn't.

Friesner's writing also left a bit to be desired. I think, in fact I'm pretty sure, this was meant to be a "humorous" book. Yeah, but it really wasn't. There was a chuckle here or there, but I definitely wouldn't call this book funny. To further muddy the waters, Friesner's prose was like a road plagued by a pot-hole or two. There were certainly times when I thought she cranked out some finely written passages, but that wasn't always the case. Things often felt out of sync as I read. Paragraphs often felt jumbled and the pacing was pretty damn haphazard.

Unfortunately, nothing all that interesting happened in this book. The ending, despite a well written demon-fight was pretty ho-hum, probably because I wasn't attached in the least bit to any of the characters to care about what happened to them. So, I am somewhat sad to say, though not really all that surprised, that this is a Reading Challenge fail. I can't give Here Be Demons my recommendation. I think I expected more from the concept.

Grade: D

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Review: Preacher: Salvation

When we last parted company with Jesse Custer, he had survived a nuclear charged showdown in the desert with the evil forces of The Grail, only to fall from an airplane. Somehow he lived through the fall, only to wake up a month later missing an eye, and his memory of how he survived. Not wanting to spoil too much important plot stuff, I'll just say that he has also temporarily parted ways with his usual traveling companions, Tulip and Cassidy. Not surprisingly, after going through such trials, Jesse is a man in need of some quiet reflection, Which brings him to the town of Salvation, Texas.

Salvation has a bunch of problems, but most of them can be traced back to local meat baron Odin Quincannon. Before too long, Jesse has made many of the town's problems his own, as he becomes the town's Sheriff. The new sheriff and Quincannon quickly become enemies and their mutual hated soon spills over into all out war. Custer may seem like the ideal guy to take on the corrupted and violent Qunicannon, as he seemingly has nothing to lose, but as he becomes more involved in the town of Salvation, and makes connections with it's citizens, he discovers that he has a lot to protect.

Though the plot of Preacher: Salvation seems to take a break from the main story line, yet I felt that this is one of the strongest Preacher trades yet. Ennis seems to be at his best when he is writing about strange, creepy, weird, and violent characters and situations... and there is plenty of all that to be had here.

Once agian, a major strength of the graphic novel was Ennis' ability to build interesting, and complex characters. Odin Qunicannon is one of the more memorable characters to populate the Preacher world so far, and his rivalry with Jesse is extremely entertaining. Ennis' character building skills don't just stop with Quincannon though, as he populates the town of Salvation with a variety of colorful and interesting characters, and by virtue of that, the town comes to life.

Despite the fact that this is one highly entertaining and action packed graphic novel, I couldn't shake the sense that Jesse's stop in Salvation is sort of the calm before the storm. Everything seems to be gathering energy for one mean assault. There is only two volumes of Preacher left, and I got the sense that this may be my last chance to catch my breath.

Though the past couple volumes suffered a slight dip in quality and entertainment value, Salvation recovers quite nicely. Steve Dillon's artwork is as solid as ever, and the story itself was more entertaining than the last two volumes. I can't wait to see what is in store for the rest of the series.

Grade: A-

Monday, September 6, 2010

Review: The Devil's Alphabet

The Devil's Alphabet by Daryl Gregory

In The Devil's Alphabet, Paxton Martin returns to his hometown of Switchcreek, Tennessee after living in Chicago for many years. His reason for the homecoming is to attend the funeral of his old friend, Jo Lynn, who has supposedly committed suicide. Switchcreek however, is no normal town, and it should come as no surprise that there may be more to Jo Lynn's death than expected.

When Paxton was fourteen, a mysterious disease rocked the small town of Switchcreek. When the dust cleared, and the quarantine was lifted, one third of the residents, including Paxton's mother were dead, and another third, Paxton's dad included, were mutated into monster-like oddities. The disease got called Transcription Divergence Syndrome, or TDS for short, and it had three waves of transformation which led to three varieties: the first wave got called "Argos", massive gray-skinned giants, who are apparently infertile, but extremely strong. The second wave resulted in a group called "Betas", sometimes called blanks, due to their lack of human expression. The betas are hairless, seal-like folk whose females members are able to reproduce asexually. The final wave are the incredibly obese "Charlies" or Chubs as they are sometimes called. The older male chubs secrete a mind and mood altering drug-like fluid called Vintage, which may be the town's chief export.

Paxton was one of the lucky few who escaped the disease seemingly unchanged. In addition to the loss of his mother, and the transformation of his father, Paxton's best friends, Deke and Jo Lynn were also transformed by the disease. All of which were factors in causing Paxton to flee to Chicago. Jo Lynn's death brings him back and a decline in his father's health keeps him in town for longer than expected. While there he reconnects with old acquaintances, uncovers some seedy, small town corruption, acquires an addiction to vintage, and unwillingly encounters some of his repressed memories.

The thing that hooked me into this book were the mutations caused by TDS. Gregory did a fantastic job of not only creating human, yet very un-human life forms, but he also did a fantastic job of creating individual cultures within the various groups that inhabit the town of Switchcreek. I enjoyed the interplay between not only the TDS groups themselves, but also between those groups and normal humans. I can't imagine the author's challenge of creating these groups, and then inserting them into regular every day American life, but Gregory did just that, and he did it quite well.

The main character Paxton is not the most easy to relate to guy. For most of the book he plays a very passive role as things happen to him and all around him, but he rarely actively sets out to make things happen. On top of the fact that Paxton's not a go-getter, he's also just not that awesome of a guy, what with him being a borderline alcoholic, and an avid drug user and all. Needless to say, I found it hard to root for the guy.

Compared to Paxton, the secondary and supporting characters were interesting, often likable, and well written. Paxton's Argo friend Deke, was quite interesting, especially in the way he fit into the town's intricacies. Switchcreek Mayor, Aunt Rhonda was another strong character. Her motivations are clear, though her machinations are murky at best.

Much like his previous work, Pandemonium, The Devil's Alphabet is another strong effort from Daryl Gregory. This book benefits from strong plotting and solid pacing. The story moves along at a modest clip, and kept me interested throughout. Overall, this is another good book from Gregory, though for my personal tastes, I didn't like this as much as Pandemonium. Still, Gregory seems to be a strong, and creative new voice in the fantasy/horror genre. I certainly wont hesitate to read whatever his next project may be.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Reading Challenge

A couple days ago, Seak posted this over at his blog:

Feeling Challengy?

I was thinking not too long ago about what if I just grabbed a random book from the bookstore and tried it out. One whose author I've never heard of before and maybe just because the cover strikes me in a certain way.

Hence a challenge.

So, we're trying to find those "diamonds in the rough". And while we know this won't work out best for everyone, as a collective, maybe we can find some really good stuff that no one has read.

Consider yourself challenged.

A bunch of other bloggers are participating, including a couple of the dudes from Speculative Book Review as well as some awesome blogging ladies:

Simcha from SFF Chat

Melissa from My World...in words and pages

Amanda from Floor to Ceiling Books

Oh yeah, and then there's me.

Selecting the perfect book for the challenge was a challenge in and of itself. I was looking for a somewhat specific, yet random blend of sweet cover, slim page count, and, fingers crossed, a female author. My search led me to this little gem: Here Be Demons by Esther Friesner.

Here's the blurb from the back: The road to hell is paved with bad intentions...but intentions alone are not enough. Hell hates a failure, and the archdemon Atamar has just not been pulling his weight in the competitive world of bad deeds, rotten behavior, and corruption of mortal souls. So he and his team of junior demons have been put on probation - thrown out of the comforts of Hell into the realm of the living. They wont be allowed back in until they've collected a fat bonus of innocent souls, fully corrupted and ready to drag down to the Devil himself.

Unfortunately Atamar has landed in the desert, miles from the nearest known sin - until a team of American archeology students arrives for a summer dig. And when the gleeful demons descend to do their worst, they discover that their idea of bad deeds is sadly out of date - at least when the youth of America is involved!

Should be interesting!

Friday, September 3, 2010

The United States of Star Wars

The folks over at Geekologie have created a map of the United States where the states have been replaced by worlds from the Star Wars universe based on geography and other factors.

They seem to dislike my home planet...ahem, state of Maine, because they turned Maine into Naboo, which is pretty much the shittiest Star Wars planet...I mean, c'mon, that asshole Jar Jar Binks is from Naboo! At least I live in Kashyyk, which is sorta cool, but full of furry-ass Wookies. You can see your home state/planet here.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Review: The Crown Conspiracy

The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan

The Crown Conspiracy follows two men: Royce Melborn, a skilled theif, and Hadrian Blackwater, a skilled fighter and swordsman. Together they make up an elite, and highly regarded specialist team, taking on dangerous and often discreet assignments for the conspiring nobility in the lands of Avryn. While on one such assignment, they become the unlucky scapegoats in an elaborate plot to murder the king. Thinking they were on a mission to steal a famous sword, they instead wind up taking the blame for the King's murder, are jailed, and sentenced to be drawn and quartered at dawn. This all goes down in the first few chapters...

The premise of the book may sound a little bit cheesy...Theives! Mercenaries! Capers! Hi-Jinx! Yeah, certain stereotypes come to mind, but that is certainly not the case here. Sullivan instead employs these tried and true narratives of the genre, strips away the cliches, and presents the heroes, Royce and Hadrian as skilled, yet regular men who use their abilities to make it in the world of Avryn.

Sullivan seemed to buck a lot of the current fantasy trends, like super stealthy magic wielding assassins, and dark, gritty characters, or sprawling multi-volumed epics with massive casts of characters and instead produced a focused tightly written stand-alone that tells a captivating tale. Yes, The Crown Conspiracy is the first book in a six book set called the Riyria Revelations, but each book is apparently written so that each stands alone, and is a complete story in and of itself. That being said, I can see how certain elements from this book may play roles in other novels of the series, but there were no cliffhanger endings or plot threads left unfinished by the end.

To some fans of the gritty fantasy juggernauts that sag the book shelves The Crown Conspiracy might sound sorta..."fantasy-lite" and sure, it lacks such "qualities" such as sex, profanity and hardcore violence, but despite not having all those things, and despite weighing in at a slim 306 pages, this book is very much a great fantasy novel. Sullivan's plotting is certainly solid, and the pacing is great. The story unfolds with amazing ease, and moves along without any slogs, or stutters.

By far the most endearing aspect of the book for me was the situations Royce and Hadrian often found themselves in. I loved that lives, fates, futures and fortunes often hung on their decisions and actions. More often than not, the options at hand were not great, and while I usually agreed with their way of thinking, I often found myself thinking something along the lines of: "Oh boy, freeing that wizard doesn't seem like a good idea, but, what the hell else were they gonna do?" Sullivan's ability to present believable dilemmas, that had realistic, though not always ideal or perfect outcomes was refreshing and a great quality of the book.

More and more often lately I find myself shying away from giant, brick sized epic fantasy novels, so it was extremely refreshing to find a series that is seemingly epic in scope, yet tightly focused, with enjoyable characters, strong plotting, and delivered in slim, easily digested package. The Crown Conspiracy fit my current fantasy tastes quite well, and I look forward to reading more from the Riyria Revelations.

Grade: B+