Sunday, January 30, 2011

Comic Quickies or This is the End

Nemesis #4: This issue is the grand finale.  Like most Mark Millar comics I've read, aside from Kick Ass, I'm not sure why I bothered with this one.  I'm beginning to think Millar's creating method involves coming up with a bunch of crazy, balls out, brutal circumstances and then linking them all together with thin narrative connections.  For example: A Black-ops team storms a mansion on a covert night mission, a fat dude tied to a bed and wired with c4, the president wired with explosives, the oval office getting blowed up...all these things happen in the span of about a dozen pages, but the problem is that they really don't have any kind of emotional impact beyond a cheap shock value because well, they happen too damn often to mean anything at all.  Yeah a lot of shit gets blown up, and lots of people die, but who cares because no time was ever invested in making those things important.  The onus is on the eye candy and while all the crazy shit happening might look "cool" and be the wet dream of a 14 year old boy it doesn't mean shit to me.  So the question remains: Why bother?  In all honesty, I don't really know.  I'm definitely still finding my way in the comics world, and it is hard to pass up the chance to read one of the BIG name creators in the floppy format.  Shit, I'm still learning my tastes, and I enjoyed Kick Ass enough that I guess Millar got a free pass on this one.  Well, I'm a bit wiser now, and will definitely be more cautious of Millar in the future.

The Bulletproof Coffin #6: Another finale here, and this one was done extremely well.  The previous five issues in this mini-series have consistently been amazing, but I was a bit skeptical that the creative team of David Hine and Shaky Kane would be able to wrap this one up nice an neat.  There is a lot of meta-textual, story within a story action going on through out this series, and I think that element makes it harder to wrap everything up without any kind of weird plot holes.  Well, that wasn't an issue at all here.  Shit, Hine and Kane even managed to plug themselves into the story, along with the rest of the comic production team, in fairly significant, and hilarious roles.   

The Bulletproof Coffin is an excellent mix of action, mystery, meta-textual mayhem, super heroes, lots of weirdness, and some great humor as well.  I feel like this was one of the most under-rated, under-appreciated titles of 2010, and far more deserving of attention than many of the other Image titles that get lots of press and have their first issues sell for $30 on ebay before they hit comic shops.  Hopefully enough people will buy this in trade so that it can be widely enjoyed.  I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that these guys start some sort of new project together asap.

Sweet Tooth #17: I lumped this one in with the "This is the End" theme because I thought this issue was the end of the "Animal Armies" story line, but it turns out I'm wrong and #18 is actually the end of the "Animal Armies" story arc.

I know I probably say this every time I write about Sweet Tooth, but I really think this comic gets better with each issue.  Each time I read one I think, "yup, that's the best Sweet Tooth yet."  This issue is the best Sweet Tooth ever because of the giant punch in the feelings it delivers.

Jeppard has been on an insane quest to rescue Gus for the past few issues, and his crazy plan looks be just about working.  The confrontation between Jeppard and his character foil, Abbot is more amazing than I could have imagined, plus a MAJOR plot twist hits that just about knocked me off my readin' perch.  This issue hits hard on all notes, especially the emotional one, and just like that, I am even further sucked into this crazy world that Jeff Lemire has so wonderfully created.  I can't wait for the next issue.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Comic Quickies or Flights of Fantasy

The Cape One-shot: Joe Hill, yeah that Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, popular horror novelist, and writer of the successful comic series Locke & Key.  The guy seems to be popping up on my radar a lot lately, sadly, even though the guy is seemingly everywhere, The Cape is my first taste of Joe Hill. 

As a kid, Eric loved to play superheroes with his brother.  Eric was The Red Bolt, and Nicky was the Streak.  One day while playing in the yard, Eric fell from a tree, impaling his arm on a broken branch and fracturing his skull.  The result is a lifetime of splitting headaches and little motivation.  Luckily, Eric has a good woman in his life, his girlfriend Angie, but Eric doesn't seem cut out for a normal life, causing lots of friction with his far more motivated girlfriend.  After hitting rock bottom Eric discovers that he has a unique special ability.  But will this new power help Eric patch things up with his lady, and finally discover his full potential?

The only thing bad about this comic is that it is a one-shot.  I would love to read more, and see what the hell happens next.  There was a tease about The Cape returning in 2011, so it looks like I'll get my wish.  definitely a great, self-contained comic, with plenty of ground for further exploration.

Kill Shakespeare #8: Just when I was getting back into this comic, the creative team delivers another dud.  Aside from developing the love story and introducing a character that is long overdue for an appearance, nothing really happens.

With the aid of Iago and Falstaff, Hamlet sets off in search of that elusive bastard wizard Will Shakespeare.  In the mean time, Lady MacBeth is rallying her troops and setting things in place so that she'll profit best from the coming war between Juliette's band of rebels and King Richard's soldiers. 

I've generally been a fan of the art work throughout this series, but this issue felt a bit weak to me.  The pages of Kill Shakespeare are packed solid with panels full of art and lots of detail, but I've started to notice that facial expressions are not a strong suit of the artist, Andy Belanger.  Sometimes he'll dedicate a panel to just a character's face, but the expression on the face will not even come close to matching what is going on in the word bubbles.  This causes a disconnect that brings me out of the flow of events, and is pretty frustrating.  After this issue I'm unsure I want to carry on with this rollercoaster of a series.  Maybe adding Shakespeare to the mix will help...too bad he is probably at least two issues away from making his debut.

Dracula The Company of Monsters #4: Kill Shakespeare should take note as DTCOM cranks out another issue where the plot moves forward in leaps and bounds.

 In this issue we finally get an idea of what Conrad, the president of the evil corporation that resurrected Dracula, has in mind for his company's newest asset.  Let's just say, it ain't pretty.  In the meantime, Marta Stefanescu, and her vampire hunting family are mourning the recent loss of her father when they realize what Barrington Industries was up to in the mountains of Romania.  As Conrad seeks to fulfill a dangerous pact with Dracula, Marta and her crew hit American soil in search of Dracula and his accomplices.

I wanna point out how extremely cheesy the covers for this comic are, and I also want to add that they do a really shitty job of representing what lies between the covers.  This comic is by no means the cheesy piece of shit the covers suggest.  The story is compelling, and I enjoy the characters too.  This was another strong issue, and the series looks to be headed in some very interesting directions.

Monday, January 24, 2011

China Mieville's online comic

While perusing the headlines at Bleeding Cool I came across this sweet little tid-bit.  It looks like China Mieville has himself a fledgling online comic.

Titled London intrusion, the webcomic is in the early stages, but Mieville's ink-line art is looking pretty good. The guy has one of the most imaginative minds out there, so chances are it will develop into something pretty cool.

The tantalizing first four parts can be found at Mieville's tumblr blog Rejecamentalist Manifesto

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Review: The Umbrella Academy v1: Apocalypse Suite

Umbrella Academy is a graphic novel that starts off with an atomic flying elbow and never looks back.  This first volume features liquid smooth pacing and some sexy artwork.

Many years ago, all across the world,  forty-three children were born to mostly single women, who previously had shown no signs of pregnancy.  Many were abandoned or put up for adoption, but one man, Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a.k.a. The Monocle, managed to track down seven of the children and adopt them for himself, his reason: to save the world.

The children Hargreeves adopts all have special gifts, with the exception of one,  which they use to become a super hero team.   After a quick origin story which I pretty much just gave you, Umbrella Academy jumps ahead ten years to showcase the team's first adventure, where they protect Paris and battle the Eiffel Tower which has gone insane.  From there we get another jump, this time of twenty years where the team is kaput and each member is off doing their own thing.  Spaceboy, the former team leader finds out that his adoptive father has died, so he returns to his childhood home for the funeral.  In the meantime, Vanya, the one child without any kind of special powers, gets a mysterious phone call for an audition to become the first violin chair in an orchestra.  Eventually the rest of the "family" turns up at the mansion for the funeral and the adopted Hargreeves children turn out to be a pretty dysfunctional bunch.  They all carry a lot of weird baggage, but possibly none more than Vanya, who has always been the outcast due to her glaring normal-ness.  During this sad, awkward reunion, a world ending threat conveniently surfaces and its time to get the old team back together...too bad the team doesn't get along so well, but they're kinda the worlds only hope, so they'll pull their shit together and save the world right?

Umbrella Academy  is a super hero comic at heart, but it is also something a little bit more.  For one, it is written by a "rock" star, Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance.  I've never listened to them, but a quick foray to you tube shows that they are not my musical cup of tea.  Nice hair dye guys...Anyway, I'm not gonna let the dude's other gig cloud my judgment here.  As I said earlier, Apocalypse Suite features one of my favorite things: great pacing.  The plot really rolls along nicely, and it is packed, fucking packed with cool ideas.  Not to mention, plenty of tragedy.

The characters of this graphic novel aren't really that well developed, I don't feel like I got to know the individual characters that well, save maybe Vanya, but what I did get was a strong sense of the tragedy and neglect that played a huge role in their young lives.  They were all adopted for less than loving reasons by a father who didn't seem too interested in them beyond what kind of potential they possessed.  As a result you get a mixed bag of pent up emotions and weird baggage that they've all dealt with in different ways.  In this sense, it was much easier for me to understand the Umbrella Academy team and why they functioned, or dysfunctioned they way they did, rather than understand the team members on an individual basis. 

This graphic novel is also a treasure trove of great, beautiful, wonderful ideas.  There is a wonderful blend of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and straight up weird all interacting in this graphic novel.  I kinda wanna live in the world of Umbrella Academy.  It is a world where the Eiffel Tower is also a rocket ship, aliens exist and live on earth, monkeys can talk, human heads can get grafted onto gorilla bodies, time travel is possible and lots of shit gets blown up.  Completely original.  I loved it.

This graphic novel would probably not be what it is without some great artwork, luckily artist Gabriel Ba delivers.  I can't say that his style is totally unique, since I have a hard time discerning his art from that of his brother, Fabio Moon, but it is unlike anything else I've seen.  His style is somewhat angular, detailed and boldly expressive.  It has just enough slap-dash to it to fit the bizarre world perfectly.  The writing and the art work so well together to create a world that feels familiar but also extremely unique and bizarre at the same time.

I do wish that I could have connected to the individual characters more, because I think it would have added to my enjoyment, but even still, there is a lot of unanswered questions and a large amount of mystery still shrouded and unanswered that guarantees I'll be back for the second and final graphic novel.  Definitely a cool, fresh feeling graphic novel that can and should be enjoyed by many.

Grade: B

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review: Empire in Black and Gold

Fifteen years ago Stenwold Maker witnessed the fall of Myna at the hands of the Wasp Empire.  He returned to his home in the Lowlands to warn of an impending invasion from this new, and dangerous threat to their peaceful and thriving existence.  His initial warnings fell on deaf ears, and as the years passed and the Wasps focused their energies on other conquests, Stenwold's continued warnings started to sound more like the ravings of a paranoid madman.  Not willing to stand by and do nothing to protect his homeland, Stenwold created a vast network of spies to help him stay on top of the Empire's comings and goings.  Now with the territories north of the Lowlands partially in the Empire's grasp, they appear to be turning their attention at last to the Lowlands, a land of city states too concerned with their bustling commerce to pay attention to the dangers they face.  The Empire is a canny bunch, and they are onto Stenwold and his schemes, so he and his newly anointed batch of spies must do whatever they can to survive in the rapidly changing world and find a way to protect their land, and their way of life.

Empire in Black and Gold is a pretty damn refreshing book.  Over the past couple of years I have become increasingly skeptical of starting in on any new fantasy series.  More often than not, I read the opening novel in a fantasy series, and then don't read any more of the series.  Usually for one of two reasons.  It is either waaaaay too much of a time/page investment for something I am not totally fired up about, or the book doesn't offer anything new in the way of furthering the fantasy genre.

Yes, on the surface, Empire in Black and Gold treads the well worn path of peaceful-land-gets-invaded-by-evil-empire, but Tchaikovsky wraps all that up in what is in my mind a totally fantastic idea: Peoples with traits/powers akin to those of common insects.  So instead of having different races and ethnicities, Tchaikovsky has humans that are ant kinden, wasp kinden, beetle kinden, mantis kinden and so on.  Each kinden has unique skills and qualities that sets them apart from the other kinden.  I'm totally in love with this concept, and it plays out very well as there is long held tension/hatred between certain kinden groups that plays into the story, not to mention the Wasp kinden who are trying to take over the world.  I think the concept of differing kindens is the major strong point of the novel, and a quality that sets this new series apart from all the other epic fantasy series out there.

It takes more than just a good concept to hook me, and Empire in Black and Gold has some other strong suits as well.  For one, I enjoyed the diverse cast of characters.  Tchaikovsky's novel features interesting and compelling male and female characters that are, for the most part, fun to read about.  For the most part the story follows characters that are on the "good" side, Stenwold, his niece Cheerwell, his ward Tynisia, the mantis weapons master Tisamon, a dragonfly Salma and a half-breed, Totho.  However, the novel also features a character, Thalric, who provides the reader a point of view from the Wasp side of the struggle.  I think the idea was to present a wasp character that would be somewhat sympathetic to the reader, thus adding a facet to the wasp people that doesn't portray them simply as the "evil empire".  While I appreciate the attempt at creating a "shades of gray" character that is truly not evil nor good, the effort felt a bit contrived to me, and I thought the Thalric character fell flat and was more of a plot device than anything else.

Empire in Black and Gold scores high on another  favorite fantasy staple of mine: sweet, sweet, glorious combat.  Tchaikovsky shows great talent for writing a battle scene, whether it be single combat or larger engagements, the action scenes are great.  The other great thing is that he doesn't skimp on them either.  There is plenty of sword fighting and action in the novel, but it all serves a purpose and is never frivolous. I like feeling close to the action, and Tchaikovsky does a great job of bringing the reader in close to the action, making battle scenes a personal emotional affair rather than an abstract, panned out view of the action at large.

Empire in Black and Gold is a strong debut and a solid first novel in what looks to be a great epic fantasy series. There were times when the pacing slowed down and my interest waned, but I think there are enough positives in place to keep me going through the series in the future.  I look forward to reading more from Tchaikovsky in the future.

Grade: B

Monday, January 17, 2011

Comic Quickies or New Beginnings

I've been up to plenty of new comic reading lately, I just haven't had much chance to share.  This week's edition of Comic Quickies features four titles that all share something in common, they are either the first issue of a new series or the first issue in a new story line.

Who Is Jake Ellis #1: This comic was easily my pleasant surprise of the month.  This one looked cool in the previews, and the issue itself exceeded my expectations.  The comic begins with a deal gone wrong, and some shady business men trying to kill our main man Jon.  As Jon makes a nifty escape, the comic comes to a full stop and replays the last fifteen seconds, this time showing the same exact opening scene, but with Jake Ellis, Jon's invisible guardian-angel-type-dude, in the picture this time showing the role he played in aiding Jon's escape.

From there the issue speeds along with great pacing.  Jon is pretty much on the run for reasons not totally clear yet, aside from the few details that could be parceled out from the opening scene.  I gotta say that I got totally sucked into this one, and I'm most likely on the hook for the duration of the five issue series.  I wanna know more about what is going on, and definitely wanna know who is Jake Ellis.

Infinite Vacation #1: Another debut here.  Infinite Vacation takes a fairly common comic idea: that there are millions of alternate universes all populated with the same people but where in one world a guy might be a janitor, in another he might be president.   In Infinite Vacation people have the ability to download an app to their smart phone and buy their way into one of their own alternate lives.  The changes don't have to be as extreme as switching from a janitor to the president, you could simply switch to the universe where you had the balls to talk the pretty girl who smiled at you in the coffee shop.

The main guy in Infinite Vacation, Mark, seems to be pretty bored with his own existence and switches lives about nine times a day, in the top 20th percentile for switching.  I get the feeling Mark is your typical bored rich kid, since it is pretty costly to make changes to other yous.  One cheaper option, that Mark uses quite often, is to simply visit other universes and hang out with say, the Mark who decided to open a surf shop in Tahiti.  Mark seems like a pretty confused guy who is looking for the happiest way to live his life, but things get even more confusing when Marks from the alternate realities start getting killed soon after our Mark visits them.

The concept behind Infinite Vacation is pretty interesting, but I'm not sure how it will sustain a full on monthly series.  I definitely enjoyed this first issue, and I'm interested to see where this one is going.  I'm not totally in love, but I'm willing to pick up a few more issues to give it a shot.  I gotta add that there is some seriously trippy art work in this comic.  Very pleasing to the eye.

Chew #16: There's strange alien writing in the sky, the future's uncertain, and the end is likely near, but that doesn't stop Tony Chu from trying to figure out what the hell the alien writing means.  Sure, everybody is on edge, including Tony's partner John Colby, who has taken up heavy drinking, but they need to find a guy named Daniel Migdalo who might be able to translate the alien script.  You see, Migdalo is voresophic, which means he gets smarter with the more food he eats. Since Colby is out of commission, Chu teams up with agent Velenzano to try and track down Migdalo.  As you might expect from Chew, things end poorly for Chu.

It looks like Chu and the other FDA agents have been forced to switch their focus from the chicken prohibition to dealing with the strange Alien writing.  An interesting side story that takes place in this issue is that of the former fried chicken restaurant Mother Clucker's.  It looks like with the help of D-Bear the restaurant will be reopening its doors.  I'm excited to see what this little story thread leads to as it parallels the main story line.

The Sixth Gun #7:  After an epic opening storyline that filled the first six issues, The Sixth Gun begins the Crossroads storyline.  The opening pages of this issue find Becky and Drake Sinclair laying low in New Orleans.  Becky is still bound to the 6th gun, and Drake is in control of four others.  The final gun is still in the hands of Miss Hume, but she seems to be out of the picture for the moment.  This new issue introduces a potential new player, Kirby Hale, a pretty boy who flirts with Becky at a saloon, then single handedly destroys a gang of thugs after getting called out for a standoff.  Hale comes across as the golden boy hero, but knowing Cullen Bunn's writing style, Hale could end up being the exact opposite of what I think he is.

Drake Sinclair's voyage through the creepy ass cypress swamp is shaping up to be one hell of a supernatural adventure.  It is nice to see the story moving forward, but I can't say that I have too big of a clue as to where it is headed.  All signs point to more greatness though as Bunn sets the table nicely.  Definitely one of the best on-going titles out there. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Review: Ex Machina V2: Tag

It seems crazy that in 2011 folks all over are still fighting for same-sex marriage rights.  I feel like the things I read most often: fantasy and comics, with the occasional exception, often value escapism over dealing with contemporary issues such as gay rights.  Well, given that Ex Machina is a modern story about a mayor in the city of New York, it is only fitting that the series covers some hot/controversial topics.

In the second volume of this engaging series, Mayor Hundred makes the most controversial decision of his political career, which is sort of saying a lot given his past political dramas.  Thanks to that decision, (legalizing same-sex marriage) Hundred is forced to face tough questions about his own sexual preferences, all while dealing with a strange, possibly supernatural power that plagues the subways.

Someone has been putting up mysterious tags in the subway tunnels that sort of resemble Chinese script.  Mutilated bodies of humans and animals have been found near these tags, and they seem to be somehow connected to the source of Hundred's power, and his past days of heroic adventures.

Once again, Ex Machina features a nice blend of super powered action and political wheeling and dealing.  While that stuff is certainly at the center of this volume, this volume also provides a nice glimpse at the man himself, Mitchel Hundred.  If there is ever a politician I can relate to, it is Hundred.  He truly is a regular guy who simply wanted to do good, and through supernatural forces found himself in the position to actually do some good and make positive changes.  Hundred's approach to politicking resembles his status as a normal person.  He doesn't really follow any party lines, but still plays the political game quite well, and he seems to enjoy his wild card  status.  His mayor gig seems to be a 24/7 type thing, but Hundred does manage squeeze in the time to date a pretty reporter lady; simultaneously pursuing a lady he is interested in while quelling questions about his sexual preferences.  The date scene is quite good as it builds up Hundred's character a bit more, and fleshes out his personality.  It also ends hilariously. 

This volume also provides some more back story, adding in some of Hundred's adventures as the Great Machine, and his early relationship with the American government. I was definitely a little bit confused by the mystery glyphs, and how they connect to Hundred's powers, and his past.  I get the feeling that all that information is going to slowly get leaked over the course of this series.  Due to the slow unraveling of important plot points Ex Machina  is definitely a comic that demands full attention.  Sometimes it can be hard to keep all the flashbacks straight while maintaining a proper time line in my head.  I had to reference the first volume a couple of times to make sure I was getting it all.

Ex Machina is unlike most other comics out there.  It features a nice blend of heroics and political wrangling, but also demands your full attention, all while covering interesting topics that are pertinent to the modern world.  Add to that the fact that this comic is very well written, filled with fantastic characters and absolutely beautiful to look at.  Truly a great piece of engaging, fun, and compelling artistry.

Grade: B+

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Review: Song of Susannah

I apologize for the recent dearth of content. Bad plumbing, school, work and football playoffs have all joined forces to suck away my free time.  Fear not, I continue to read and pile up material for the blog.  So, without further time wasted let's take a look at the penultimate Dark Tower novel...

Right after the battle with the Wolves from Thunderclap, Susannah Dean, Gunslinger and member of Roland's ka-tet hightailed it to the Doorway Cave and traveled to the New York City of 1999.  Susannah unfortunately, isn't in complete control of her own body.  She has been possessed by a former demon named Mia.  Mia has made a deal with the Man in Black to give up her eternal life as a demon in exchange for being able to give birth to a baby and raise it for part of its life.  All Mia has to do is deliver Susannah's body to a restaurant called the Dixie Pig, and into the clutches of the Crimson King. 

While Susannah is battling mental demons in the New York City of 1999 the rest of her ka-tet must split up to make two equally important things happen.  The first task is to save Susannah, and the other involves traveling through inter-dimensional doorways to East Stoneham, Maine of 1977 and buy a Manhattan vacant lot from Calvin Tower. 

In a strange twist of fate, Eddie and Roland, who were hoping to rescue Susannah wind up in Maine, while Jake, Oy and temporary ka-tet member Father Callahan find themselves in New York City of 1999.

I read this book over the Holidays thinking it would be a great curl-up-and-read-for-a-day book, but I had a hard time getting fully into this one.  It was a little bit frustrating to see King go back to that whole Susannah-battles-with-split-personalities thing again.  I felt like I was revisiting material that has already been covered.  Roland, easily my favorite character of the series, played a smaller role in this installment, but the shootout he and Eddie get into is easily one of the most memorable and bad-ass scenes of the entire series.  I'm also always intrigued when an author inserts his or herself as a character into a work of fiction.  Reading King write about a 1977 version of himself was pretty cool, and a bit mind-bending given all the cross-world, space-time continuum stuff that goes on in this series.  

I think what was most frustrating for me in this book was the amount of teasing that went on, and the lack of forward movement towards the Dark Tower.  I don't want to spoil anything for readers who haven't gotten this far in the series yet, but goddamnit, there were some things in this novel that took up a shit load of pages, were a dominant factor in the last novel as well, and still didn't come to a close in this novel despite all signs pointing to that very thing happening.

 In a long series the author must tie up the lose ends so the series can come to a clean, well packaged finale.  It felt like that was one of King's aims here.  Aside from a bloody, fiery shoot-out, the East Stoneham, Maine story thread was a bit dull.  Really, how exciting can you make a real-estate deal?  Yeah, this was probably as exciting as they get, but still, not the best use of Roland and Eddie. 

 Maybe my expectations for the book were too high, but I sort of assumed, given that the goal of this series is to finally arrive at the Dark Tower, and given that the final novel is called The Dark Tower, that the ka-tet would at some point in the penultimate novel, uh, like head in that direction.  Ok, yeah, metaphorically they did make headway, and accomplished some (somewhat) important things, but I feel like less time could have been spent accomplishing the things that did happen, and more time could have been spent moving the story towards the finish line.

My feeling at the end of this was that the book came very close to the edge of a great climax, had the reader riding high on a wave of rising action that promised great things, and then stopped short, delivering a brutal cliffhanger ending that left me 1) cursing Stephen King for being such a damn tease and leaving me on the hook like he did at the end of The Wastelands. 2) Hungry for that final slice of gunslinger pie.  I mean, shit, there's no way I not finish this series now.  I gotta find out what happens next.  Overall, probably the weakest installment in the series, but magically, good enough to leave me thirsting for more.

Grade: C

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Review: Everyday Matters

Everyday Matters by Danny Gregory is a tough book to categorize.  It's not a graphic novel, at least not in the traditional panels-with-sequential-art sense.  But it is not really a novel either.  I guess it is better to call it a graphic memoir.

Everyday Matters is a unique book in the sense that it came into fruition during a crossroads in Gregory's life.  The book is a memoir of his wife's paraplegia, the terrible accident that caused it, and how that accident changed every aspect of his life.  The book is also about drawing, and how Gregory discovered the joy in drawing, and how through that practice, he was able to gain new perspective on life, and come to peace with his vastly altered lifestyle.

Gregory's life changed completely one day when his wife tripped and fell beneath an oncoming subway train.  She survived, however every minute detail of their life was altered by that event.  As you might guess, the world didn't seem to have much meaning after that, but one day Gregory decided to take up drawing and the result was a new perspective on life, and a view of the world that was once again filled with meaning. 

Everyday Matters is an incredibly inspiring book.  If you've ever wanted the inspiration to draw, or write for that matter, than Everyday Matters is a book that will inspire you for sure.  Not only is the book filled with eye catching illustrations, but it is also filled with Gregory's insights on life and tips on how to get yourself started as an artist or a writer.  It will also get you to see and appreciate the important things in life which is a rare treat in any book.

It seems fitting to make Everyday Matters my first review of the year.  Lots of people make resolutions this time of year, and this is a book that will certainly fuel your desire to make your life better.   For me it gave me a different perspective on life, and some serious food for thought in regards to how I approach my daily challenges.  It also inspired me to take up drawing again, and to appreciate the positives in my life no matter how big or how small they are.  This is one of those books that could literally be recommended to anyone and it would probably affect them in a positive way.  Do yourself a favor, set aside an hour or so of your life, and read this book.

Grade: A

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

More "Best Of" linkage

Of course, no sooner do I write up a post linking to various year-end "Best Of" posts from around the blogosphere, a bunch of other bloggers create more "Best Of" lists.  These are worth checking out!

First up is Patrick from the awesomely named, awesomely written, blog Stomping on Yeti.  His list is adamantly not a "Best Of'" list, and is instead a list of books from 2010 that he recommends.  Even still, it is a great resource, and there is a nice variety of Novels, Short Fiction, Young Adult, and Graphic Novels.  Check out the Recommended Reads here

The Mad Hatter is back.  This time he delivers a comprehensive list of his favorite reads from 2010 from across the genre.  Its scary just how many of these books I want to read in the near future.

Graeme from Graeme's Fantasy Book Review has been at the blogging game for years now, and has been one of my favorite blogs for years.  He's provided me with plenty of reading inspiration and his reviews have been a good guide for my reading endeavors.  His "It's the End of the Year.." post  focuses not only on his best reads of the year, but he also mentions some of the bigger titles that he did not read this year.

Next up is Pat from the Fantasy Hotlist.  The Hotties, his year-end award post is worth a look.  Like it or not, they guy is pretty much the blogger with the best hook-ups.  He gets sweet books for free, nets interviews with the big-named authors, and plenty of other perks.  I'm pretty much insanely jealous.  The thing is, if anyone has his/her finger on the pulse of the Sf/F world, it is Pat, so The Hotties are worth taking a look at.

Aidan from Dribble of Ink is another blogger who I've followed closely for a few years.  We have similar tastes so I'm usually keen to see what he's been reading.  His Favourite Books post only covers four books, but they're interesting choices. 

Lastly, is Rob from the aptly named Rob's Blog o' Stuff.  Rob delivers an detailed list of his Reading Year in Review, complete with some reading stats for the nerds number lovers out there. Plus, you get to see pictures of his super cute dog. 

Ok, I think that might be all of them.  I'm sure someone else will post up another vital year-end list soon after I put this up on the blog.  Hopefully these links will help people make great 2011 reading decisions. 

Monday, January 3, 2011


Its hard to believe that a year ago I started this blog. I'm pretty proud of the work I've put in on the site in the course of the year. At the time I started this thing I'd never even written a review before, I just wanted a place where I could put down my ideas, thoughts and reflections on the things I read and listen to in a fun, interactive way.

I gotta say the blogging experience has blown away even my wildest expectations. I get more traffic than I ever expected to get, I've gotten occasional comments from friends, followers and authors whose works I've reviewed, which helps to inspire and give me the desire to keep plugging away. I've also discovered some new blogs/bloggers I admire through the experience. The coolest thing that has come out of the blog so far is that I'm now the comics review writer for SFF World, a gig that is extra special to me given how huge of a role the forums there have played in helping me make reading choices and given me another place to learn about, and discuss the things I love: comics, fantasy, and music.

Some tasty snacks made by my lovely lady!

Its been a trip to feel like I'm a part of the sf/f blogosphere, yes, a rather small and somewhat insignificant part, but a part all the same. Its been sweet to follow other blogs more closely and read hundreds of reviews, congratulate the bloggers when they have kids, or move on to bigger and better things. I look forward to another year of meeting new people and sharing my love for all things fantasy/comic/music related.

Also, I wanna thank everyone who stops by this little corner of the internet. It always brings a smile to my face to read your comments...that fact that people actually read the things I write is still a bit unbelievable to me. Anyway, thanks! I hope I give you plenty of reason to keep stopping by in 2011.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Books of the Year

2010 was a pretty good year of reading for me. I managed to read a total of 35 books, which is a decent number for me, especially considering that I also read 50 graphic novels. The quality of the books I read was pretty solid, but nothing was completely mind blowing...On the other hand, there weren't too many books that were flat out terrible either. I don't normally get to read too many new releases, and this year was no different, as I only managed two 2010 releases, one that pops up on the list here, and Who Fears Death being the other. Looking back at a year's worth of reading makes me excited for reading in the new year. I hope to expand my tastes, and experience some new authors. Until then, my Top 5 reads from 2010:

#1: The Lions of Al-Rassan: Reading a Guy Gavriel Kay novel has become sort of a special event for me at this point. Before I even open the cover, I know that inside there will be a rich, imaginative world that isn't so unlike our own. I know that the story will be populated with memorable characters who come to life through strong writing and skilled character building. I also know that the story will likely capture my imagination and have me thinking about it even when I'm not actively reading the book. I really enjoy the immersion experience I get when reading a Kay novel. Then I start reading, and it is all those things and often more.

The Lions of Al-Rassan not only featured Kay's sharp writing skills, but what stood out for me was the setting. The lands of Al-Rassan represent the real-life Iberian Peninsula and Kay does a wonderful job placing the reader there. I guess you could argue that he's not creating an alternate world like other fantasy authors, so his job is easier, but he still needs to make a guy like me who's getting constantly drizzled on in Seattle feel like he's breathing fresh mountain air, or dumping desert sand out of his shoe. Kay did that for me here, and that true feeling of escapism is one of the great things about reading.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Kay at an author event in May, and I'm happy to say that he's a kind, intelligent and friendly guy (pun intended). It's always a bonus to know that that author you're reading is a good person.

#2 Little Brother: This book faced two difficult, uphill challenges before I even started reading it. The first challenge was that I don't normally read sci-fi. For some reason, I never find the imagined future that the author presents to be anything other than depressing. I hate reading a book and feeling like the future is going to suck. The second challenge is that I don't normally read Young Adult titles. No real reason there, just that I tend to stick to books written for an adult audience. Luckily, this book smashed through those obstacles like it was the Hulk. It helps that the book essentially takes place now and is has a techno-thriller feel to it. Second, it never once felt like it was a book aimed at a younger audience. This is most definitely a book that anyone can enjoy.

Little Brother does a fantastic job of being timely. The plot, which centers around a terrorist attack in San Francisco, is believable and scary. The results of the terrorist attack, the way the government reacts to it, the way it changes civilian life, and the way it changes the characters was very fitting given the circumstances. The book also struck on a common American narrative theme, that "if you put your mind to it you can do anything" ideal came into play as the main character, Marcus pitted himself against the Department of Homeland Security. The book is also is perfectly paced and very well written. The fact that it overcame my predilections and managed to add a few surprises make it a lock for the number two spot.

#3 The Judging Eye: (I'm counting this as a 2010 Release since that's when the TPB version I own came out.)
After fully loving the Prince of Nothing trilogy, I had high hopes for the first installment in the follow up series. This book didn't disappoint. The novel followed three main threads, and while each was compelling its own way, I was most intrigued by Achamian and the events of his story. Achamian is one of the only likable characters in the story, but what is amazing is that even though the other characters all inspire my hatred, they are skillfully written and great characters despite their lack of redeeming qualities. Bakker has a strong knack for putting the reader into the minds of his characters and giving the reader an idea of their motivations and desires. The result is that I get a bit creeped out by what I find there...but in a good way.

This book would probably make the list based solely on the strength of the Black Halls scene which is a modern homage to Tolkien's Mines of Moria. I knew at some point the shit would hit the fan, yet when it did, Bakker still managed to rock my socks off. Hands down my favorite reading moment of the year.

#4 Fevre Dream: I thought I was totally sick of vampires, but I found myself in need of a late Autumn horror read and I just happened to have this GRRM title sitting on my shelf. That it was a vampire novel, and that it was a non-A Song of Ice and Fire GRRM novel made me doubly skeptical, but Martin easily erased that skepticism in the early pages. The skills that make Martin a favorite author of mine are on display in this, one of his earlier novels. Robust characters, and expert world building brought the Mississippi riverboat life of the mid 1800's vibrantly to life. Add in a healthy dose of the supernatural where vampires aren't wearing eye-liner, and you've got a great vampire story.

The only thing keeping this from a higher ranking is that it was a bit lacking in Martin's trademark unpredictability that highlights the plots of his fantasy material. Still, a great read if you find yourself hurting for some GRRM while waiting, and waiting and waiting...

#5 The Wastelands: Stephen King's Dark Tower books were a very big part of my life in 2010. I read four of the seven novels this past year (Song of Susannah review forthcoming) and the series becomes more of a favorite with each installment I read. Looking back at my reviews, I noticed that even though I love each book, the grades they receive on my highly "consistent" grading scale don't necessarily reflect that love. Because I love this series so much, I think I hold the individual novels to a higher standard, and despite the series' strong, yet not overwhelming GPA, my Books of the Year list would be sadly lacking if I didn't include one Dark Tower novel.

Of the three I've reviewed, The Wastelands gets the nod here. In this novel the stalwart characters of the series, Roland, Eddie, Susannah and Jake come to the forefront. I've come to love each of these characters, flaws and all, and I can't wait, though I'm a little scared, to see what King has in store for them in the finale. Aside from fantastic characters, this book features a battle with a giant bear, more travel between parallel universes, and a deathly ride aboard a psychotic train. This novel is well written and a feat of sheer fantastic imagination.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Graphic Novels of the Year

2010 was the year of the graphic novel for me. I read 50 graphic novels in all, and had to retrain myself from reading more. After some serious flirting in 2009, I definitely fell in love with the comics medium this year. After a year of reading widely across the medium, I feel like I've covered many of the comics bases quite well. I read a few super hero tiles, I read works from the big names like Ellis, Ennis, and Moore, and I read some lesser known indie titles as well. Each read taught me a bit more about comics in general, while my interest in the medium mounted, my tastes became more refined. There's a mountain of comics reading ahead of me in 2011, but for now,I give you my Top 5 Graphic Novels of 2010

#1 Preacher: Until the End of the World: Such an easy pick for the top spot in my Graphic Novels reads. The second volume in Garth Ennis' masterwork is amazing on all levels. At the heart of this volume is the love story between Jesse and Tulip. Ennis does a great job portraying their shared love. There are some seriously lovey-dovey lines that might come across as extremely cheesy in any other setting, but somehow coming from the mouth of a tough-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside Texan it just sounds right, and genuine. These soft and somewhat sentimental moments only make the rest of the book better.

The graphic novel would fall flat if it only had a love story to stand on. Luckily, there is a great conflict as well. Is there a great conflict than battling the demons of your past? For Jesse these demons are flesh and blood. Jody and T.C. are their names, and they are just about the two most evil, sinful, despicable fuckers in the history of the world, and they want nothing more than to make Jesse's life as miserable as possible. The result is a story that is literally mind blowing and amazing. I'm a softy for a believable love story and a sucker for jaw dropping moments, and this graphic novel delivers both with style.

#2 Scott Pilgrim volumes 1-6:
For a week back in August, Scott Pilgrim took over my life. I had recently given up on a book I was reading, and needed something easy to get into. I picked up Precious Little Life and there was no looking back from there. Sometimes a book just strikes all the right chords with me, and that was the case here. The right graphic novels at precisely the right time.

It isn't just that I see a lot of myself in Scott Pilgrim, but to deny that would be a lie. Scott Pilgrim and I are similar in some alarming ways, which caused an instant connection to the character and the books. But, I was also able to relate to many of the other characters that populate these stories as well, and because of that I was able to connect to these books as a whole, and the themes represented in the story. In the end, the six part story was extremely engaging, and gave me things to think about and analyze about myself, which I think is part of the magic of reading.

#3 All Star Superman: As a kid Superman was always my least favorite hero. The guy was just too good, and too powerful. I'd take a darker more conflicted character like Batman, who relied on his own smarts to get by, over Superman any day. As an adult, I still think Superman is pretty lame. His character is just so boring and he pretty much represents everything I dislike about capes and tights comics. So what the hell is this title doing on my Graphic Novels of the Year list? Well, I guess miracles do happen every now and then.

It helps that this is a Superman story written by Grant Morrison who breathes new life into the character, takes a guy who is probably the most complex, loneliest, most difficult to understand person on the planet and uses those qualities to make Superman sympathetic, and a character the average reader can relate to. Not only that but Morrison creates a Superman story that you might care about reading. To add to the stellar writing, is the absolutely beautiful artwork by Frank Quitely. All Star Superman is lovely to behold. The artwork is great, and combines with the story seamlessly. This is really a beautiful package and my surprise read of the year.

#4 Street Angel: This is a graphic novel that is just sheer fun. First off, it stars a homeless 12 year old girl who is a bad-ass skater and kung-fu master...instantly different than anything else on the shelf. Street Angel also features some memorable bad-guys like Dr. Pangea, MegaPute, and hordes of ninja gangs. To make it all the more sweet, there's a character named Afrodesiac...he's pretty much how you are picturing him in your head: totally awesome.

Compared to some the other titles on this list, Street Angel isn't as flashy, or fancy to look at, but it has a bit of a diamond in the rough quality to it. The story telling is quick paced, and snappy, the stories are funny with a healthy dose of action and violence mixed in, and the characters are hilarious. Reading should be fun, life should be fun, and Street Angel is just that: lots of fun.

#5 Top 10: I had the first volume of Ex Machina lined up to go in this final spot, and then I remembered that I read Top 10 this year.

Top 10 features the perfect harmony of great writing and great art. The magical thing about this graphic novel is the cast of Police Officers that work at Top 10. Moore had a pretty large cast for this story, and instead of focusing in on one of two cops, he gave equal treatment to each, or more accurately, focused on characters when the story demanded it, as they reacted and interacted with the plot and the events of the overlying story. I thought this was a unique way to go about telling a story but it really worked out well.

There are some cool sci-fi elements at play in the story as well, and having it all take place in a city where every citizen has some type of super-power actually made it even more interesting. As far as police dramas go, this is a great story; add in the other elements like the superheroes and parallel universes, and you get something even better. It helps that it is expertly written and has some beautiful art.