Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Books of the Year

2012 was my most productive reading year since I started Battle Hymns...I chalk that up to my two hours of bus commuting each day.  On top of that, 2012 was my most adventurous year of reading yet as well.  I definitely made more of an effort this year to go out of my reading comfort zone and try new authors and try new reads.  I tried to reflect those efforts in this year end list.

Of all my 2012 year end lists, this one was the hardest to put together.  The top two were clear-cut but the three, four and five spots were tough to decide on.  I should mention that this is not a list of my favorite 2012 books.  Rather, it is a list of my favorite books that I read during the 2012 year.  The publication date of these books was not taken into consideration.  Without further ado....

#5. Among Others: This was one of those books that just barely missed being incredible.  If not for what I saw as a bit of a let-down at the end, Among Others could have easily topped this list. As much as this book is a magical work of fantasy, it's also a love letter to the fantasy and sci-fi genres themselves which I found quite amazing.

There were other books I read this year that I graded higher, and some of those didn't make this list. Among Others deserves a nod though as it is wholly responsible for kindling my interest in older works of fantasy and science fiction. If not for this book, there'd be no "Kicking it Old School" feature on this blog, and I would have missed out on some great reads in the process.  Among Others is one of those books that I started reading slower the closer I got to the end because I didn't want the experience to be over. It's truly a book that I treasured.  

#4. Scourge of the Betrayer: Scourge was a fantasy debut that not only lived up to my expectations, but actually surpassed them, all while coming off as something different and fresh.  Those qualities lead to a sure-fire winner in my book.

Scourge of the Betrayer is a book with sharp writing and deep character exploration.  Braylar is one of the more compelling fantasy characters I've read, and I found it impossible to not want to read more once I'd turned the final page of this novel. As much as I want to see where this story will go, I'm equally as interested in discovering what has come before with the characters and this world.  For my money, this was the best mainstream fantasy I read in 2012.

#3. Leviathan Wakes: I don't often fancy myself much of a science fiction reader, and I certainly haven't had much success with the space operas I've tried to read in the past. However, I'm a huge fan of Leviathan Wakes.  The writing duo of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who form like Voltron to make James S.A. Corey, seemed to have folks like me in mind when they created this space opera series that is pared down, and accessible, all while providing a fantastic read.

With limited POVs and a scope that is within our own solar system, this story was right up my alley.  I enjoyed the story, the characters, and the politics of the worlds and civilizations that are depicted in this novel.  This was one of the more engaging reads of the year for me, and it was nice to experience sf that pushed all the right buttons for me. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what else this series has in store.

#2. Kafka on the Shore: As great as those books mentioned before on this list are, Kafka on the Shore stands out as a completely amazing novel.

I'd never read a Haruki Murakami novel before this, and Kafka on the Shore served as a revelation as to what I'd been missing out on. The writing here is just a cut above what I normally see in my other reads.  I've rarely seen such incredible character development, and the visuals Murakami evokes are wonderful.  A great read on all levels, and book that I can't recommend more strongly.

#1. The Islanders: Speaking of books that stand out as singularly amazing, The Islanders is definitely one such book.  This jigsaw puzzle of a novel had me spellbound with its mystery and myth.  Christopher Priest takes a wholly unique approach to telling his story of murder, art, islands, and the folks who inhabit them. I loved every page of this book.

I love that I had to work for the results I got from the reading experience, and I love that I look forward to reading The Islanders again some day to see what I notice on a second read through that I missed on my first go-round.  Simply one of the most wonderful books I've read.

Hey, I should point out that this is two in a row for Mr. Priest, as he took the number one spot last year for The Prestige. If you aren't reading this guy yet...

Most Honorable Mention:

Bitter Seeds: Definitely one of the sharper reads of the year for me.  Mad Science, Nazis, and entertaining combo for sure! Also, I can't get Gretel, the pre-cognitive who seems to be pulling all the strings, out of my head.

Theft of Swords: Heroic bro fantasy at it's finest.  Sullivan manages to make each installment stand on it's own, yet each story works in many over-arching plot threads that deal with a more epic story.  I'm anxious to read further on in this series.  Great stuff.

Well, there you go.  My top five reads from the 2012 year.  What'd I miss out on? What, I ask you, Battle Hymns readers, were your favorite reads of the year?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012 Graphic Novels of the Year

2012 was an epic year of comics reading for me.  In what was probably my most voracious year of reading ever, I managed to read a grand total of sixty-three graphic novels!  Definitely the most comics I've ever read in my life, and there was lots of quality too.  Picking out the titles for list was pretty tough, and there's a lot of great stuff that I read that won't get mentioned.  As always, there's a mix of the new and the not so new on the list here, that's just how I do it here at Battle Hymns.


#5. Orc Stain: Take some incredibly detailed art, a crazy cast of characters, a hilarious plot, and a fantasy world where orc penis is the main currency, and you not only get the genius wonder-comic that is Orc Stain, but you also get the fifth best comic I read all year.

One glimpse of this comic which was written, illustrated, colored, lettered, and all that good stuff by the one-man comic machine that is James Stokoe and it's easy to see that you are holding something perfectly unique, and wonderfully creative.  There simply isn't anything else like Orc Stain.  Stokoe's art is stunning in it's level of detail, and it's beauty.  He just draws awesome stuff.  Orc Stain is also a hell of a lot of fun to read, as it is hilarious, and creative, and well written. Stokoe pretty much hit this one out of the park. This is an all around gem that will make your life more awesome.  Read it.

#4. King City: A couple years back I came across a couple single issues of King City and instantly fell in love with the art.  All twelve single issues were more or less impossible to track down at that point, so I resigned myself to waiting for the trade to come out.  And boy did it ever come out. When Image released King City, they collected all twelve issues in one thick volume and priced it at the bargain price of $20.

That's by far the best fucking deal you'll find on any shelf.

King City is another work of comics genius.  Brandon Graham, who is pretty much my comic creating hero of 2012, delivers the goods here as writer and artist. His story follows a "catmaster" who can do a number of amazing feats with his cat.  As per usual with Brandon Graham material, the story flows organically, the characters seem like people you know, and there's a heavy dose of puns.  Additionally, Graham makes this one of the more beautiful comics on the shelves with breathtaking art, pages you want to stare at for hours, and mini-games included right on the pages; a recipe for one phenomenal comic.  Just writing about King City makes me want to go grab it off my shelf again and read it.

#3. By This Shall You Know Him: It was the cosmic, geometrical, swirly, floaty art that initially drew me towards this comic, but it was the story and that drew me in.  Becoming fully engaged with both the art and the story of By This Shall You Know Him is a true pleasure and an experience that has stuck with me since I read it back in mid-October.

I've never read something quite like By This Shall You Know Him, and I sort of hope that I don't, as this comic felt like a wholly original piece of art.  I've never seen such layerd or textured illustration like this. Not to mention, the combination of art and writing evoked this really interesting cosmic feeling that you probably can't get without the use of drugs. This was one of my first indie-somewhat-underground-comic reads and I feel like I've been opened up a whole new world of wonder.  This is an absolutely unforgettable comic, an instant classic in my book.

#2. Skyscrapers of the Midwest: There's so much to love about this comic.  Like any top five graphic novel of the year, it has great art, and great writing.  That's a given, but the emotions artist/writer Joshua Cotter was able to evoke is what really impressed me with this graphic novel.

The highlights of such emotional evocation came when Joshua Cotter managed to perfectly capture so much of the experiences, emotions, and wild imaginings of childhood.  I was blown away with the numerous times where he perfectly captured and articulated complex childhood feelings; feelings that in some shape or form everyone experiences.  On top of that Cotter captures the awkward, the bizarre, the sad, the tradgic, the embarrassing, and also the hilariousness that comes with moving from childhood into adolescence.  This is flat out on impressive work of art, one that has stuck with me, and one that I've been recommending to anyone who's willing to listen.  I laughed, I cried, and I even wrote a fan e-mail to the writer/artist. (That should say something!) This is a comic I treasure.

#1. The Underwater Welder: If you know me, and know my comics tastes, then this probably won't come as much of a surprise.  Much like my Comics of the Year post, my most anticipated graphic novel became my most favorite graphic novel.

Jeff Lemire told me a year prior to this release that The Underwater Welder was shaping up to be the comics work of which he was most proud and I can see why.  Though he's responsible for some absolutely great comics, this one stands out as his best both in terms of art, and writing.  Lemire utilizes two distinct art styles here, which help to add to the emotional impact of the story.  As a monthly reader of his comic Sweet Tooth it was cool to see how Lemire adapted his art to a different story.

As usual with Lemire's work, his story is one that packs an emotional wallop, and I can definitely see that this is a story that I'll come back to at various stages of my life and gain new insights and experience different emotions each time I read it.  Any story that can be read over and over and offer new things each time is a treasure and Lemire has created one of my all-time favorite comics with The Underwater Welder.  Lemire is one of the very best writers of our generation and The Underwater Welder is his finest work yet.

Most Honorable Mention:

Batman Snow: Despite Batman Year 100 coming onto the scene later in the year, I gotta give the nod to Batman Snow as my favorite "mainstream" read of the year.  This one gets the edge because the story packed more of an emotional punch.  A great Mr. Freeze story, coupled with some ridiculously fun art.

Ghost World: This comic impressed me with it's cross-generational appeal and with the fact that it's a work that is a cultural touchstone.  It was also a great gateway drug for me towards reading more indie-comics.  It also provided a great look at how to masterfully intertwine art and writing so that the two seem indistinguishable from one another once into the flow of the narrative.

So there you go, my 2012 Graphic Novels of the Year.  A pretty amazing list of work.  There's some heavy hitters on there, and a couple of pleasant surprises.  All told, I had an awesome year of comics reading.  There's lots more good stuff unread on my shelves too, so next year should be equally great.

So, how about some outside input? What stuff did Battle Hymns readers read this year that you loved? Anything you'd like to see me cover? Chime in with comments!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry DMX-Mas

All right y'all, it's that time again.


I just wanna take a minute here to wish everyone a Happy Holidays.  Regardless of what traditions you hold to, (I'm rocking the Festivus festivities this year) I hope everyone has a happy, safe, fun and book-filled holidays.  If there's tasty food and drink involved, all the more awesome!

Also, a big thanks goes out from Battle Hymns HQ to everyone who makes this blog a part of their life.  You're awesome.

Cheers everyone!

Oh, and take a minute to watch this video.  It is AMAZING!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

2012 Comics of the Year

2012 was easily my best year of comics reading yet.  Not only did I read a ton of great comics, but I honed my tastes further and branched out in new directions. The result being that I was rewarded with some amazing gems.  Scarily, my comics reading pile continues to grow; I think I have enough comics to last me the next couple years...

As always, I read my fair share of both floppy single issues and collected editions, or as they're more commonly known: graphic novels.  My 2012 Comics of the Year list covers just the former, the single issue stuff, and there was so much good stuff it was pretty hard to choose just the top five.


#5. Prophet: Prophet has been one of my favorite monthly titles this year and a big reason is the sheer variety of talent that Brandon Graham has brought together for this title.  Ever since issue one (or technically issue 21), there's been a smorgasbord of talented artists associated with this comic.  Though the main players have primarily been Graham, Simon Roy, and Giannis Milonogiannis, there have been plenty of other awesome folks getting credits for this title. The result is that I've had the wonderful pleasure of being exposed to some amazing talent along the way.  Farel Dalrymple stands out as an artist who has worked on this book and impressed me greatly with his talent.

On top of all the great artistic talent associated with this comic, the story has been incredibly entertaining and intriguing.  Any week where there's an issue of Prophet is a special week.  Graham and company have created an absolutely fascinating universe to set their story in, and I love the feeling of discovery and exploration that comes with each issue.

The icing on the cake for Prophet is that each issue comes with a back-up short comic, and all of these have been fantastic. The back-up Shock Post by Malachi Ward and Matt Sheean stands out as one of the best comics I read all year.  Awesome, awesome stuff.

#4. Fatale: The combo of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is one of my favorite comic creating duos.  When these guys are together they create fantastic comics.  They did a couple of super powered spy stories in Sleeper and Incognito, then some straight up crime with their Criminal stories.  Their latest work is Fatale  a sort of crime-Lovecraftian mash up.  

I'll admit I wasn't totally enamored with this comic from the get go. I liked what I was reading, but I wasn't totally feeling it. I had enough faith and past experience with Brubaker and Phillips to keep plugging away and sure enough, everything congealed in the fifth issue.  We're two story arcs in now, the second of which was fantastic, and Fatale was an easy pick for this top five list.  

There's an awesome blend of horror and crime going on in this comic, a mix we don't see too often, and I think fans of both genres will find plenty to like here.  

#3. Godzilla The Half Century War: Despite the fact that I love monsters, I can't say that I've ever really been a Godzilla fan.  Well, that all changed earlier this year when James Stokoe started working on Godzilla The Half Century War.  

This is one amazing comic.  

It's amazing for lots of reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is that this is almost completely Stokoe's vision.  He does the writing, art, and lettering.  The only thing he doesn't completely himself is the coloring, and he gets "coloring assists" from someone, so he still has a hand in that aspect of the book as well.  That's an amazing amount of work to put into a comic, but the pay-off is great as there is no loss of vision along the way.  

This is one absolutely gorgeous comic too.  Stokoe is definitely one of my favorite artists, and his work here is some of his best.  His stuff is always hyper-detailed, and that skill is put to amazing use here as you really get a feel for the destruction and mayhem Godzilla can cause when he wrecks shop.  Add in some fucking phenomenal monster fights and Godzilla The Half Century War is probably the best treat for your eyes on the shelves. Oh, the story is pretty flippin' great too! A must read for any comics fan.

#2. Multiple Warheads: 2012 was the year of Brandon Graham in the comics world.  His King City stuff got recollected and republished, His amazing re-imagining of a Rob Liefeld comic, Prophet came out, and to top it all off, he started releasing his Multiple Warheads mini-series.  That's a pretty impressive output, but even more impressive is the incredibly high quality of it all...most impressive of all though is that fact that Multiple Warheads makes this list with a mere three issues worth of material on the shelves.    

Multiple Warheads, is completely a Brandon Graham entity as he handles all the comic creating duties: writing, art, colors and lettering.  To put it simply, Graham is a comic creating powerhouse of unique vision and artistic talent.  His comics simply aren't like anyone else's.  In fact, it almost seems like a deliberate effort is being made by Graham to not be like anyone else.  

And I love it.  

His stories meander, follow interesting paths until they are no longer interesting, then find another path to follow until something else comes up.  Along the way the reader is treated to some really beautiful art, and a boat-load of puns and jokes.  The misogynist parlor joke being my favorite so far.  Multiple Warheads is a shining example of how much fun comics can be, and I love and am grateful for every panel of every page.

 #1. Saga: It's not often that my most anticipated title becomes my most favorite, but that's exactly what happened here.  Saga stepped onto the scene back in March, and it has been absolutely top of the line ever since.  Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that a space opera about star-crossed lovers on the run could impress me so much, but it did. I love this story and I love these characters...with the exception of The Stalk, she scares the shit out of me!

What's impressive is that I can't point to either the writing or the art as the primary culprit of quality.  Both aspects are so wonderfully connected and work so well together that they seem to flow into one another. Granted, both the writing and the art are top of the line, and Fiona Staples has got to be the best discovery of the year for me, but it is impossible to talk about one without the other working the way into the conversation.  Simply said, Saga is a great example of how comics should work, how the art and the writing should be a combined effort.  

Month in and month out this has consistently been the best written and best looking comic on the shelves, and honestly, despite so many other really great comics, an easy pick for the number one spot.  

Most Honorable Mention: 

Sweet Tooth: Despite all the nice things I said about the comics above, Sweet Tooth is still my favorite monthly comic.  It hasn't had a dip in quality either, I simply didn't put it in the top five because I've covered it so extensively here at Battle Hymns.  I will be really fucking sad when the last issue comes out in January.  

The Sixth Gun: Another flat out fantastic comic which only gets better as the issues go by.  The fantasy-western combo has found it's home here.

Best Single Issue of 2012:

Stumptown Vol 2. #4: Holy fuck, this is an amazing comic!  This beauty gets top billing for one big reason: the best flippin' car chase scene in a comic ever. 

First, a little side story: Seattle has a bunch of drawbridges, which are really cute looking but it sucks to be stuck at one in your car while the wings raise up to let some rich prick in his yacht motor through on his way to a day of sailing. I've always thought about how cool it would be if someone just said "fuck it" and used the raising wings as a ramp to jump to the other side rather than waiting. 

It turns out Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth have had the exact same thoughts, because that very scene, among many others that were amazing, plays out in this comic.

Ahh, wish fulfillment, even vicarious wish fulfillment, can be a wonderful thing

This issue would not have been such a success without the talents of Matthew Southworth. He not only made me feel like I was watching cars scream by me at break-neck speeds, but he also played around with the format of the comic so that when the cars turned, you had to physically turn the comic in order to continue on with the story.  This was a really cool concept, and brought me closer to the action. 

I don't think I've ever had such an overwhelming sense of fun and excitement while reading a comic.  A singularly great issue and an easy pick for best single issue of the year.

So there you go, my best comics of the year. Image almost completely swept the category.  What stuff did you folks read that you thought were deserving of mention?  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

2012 Album of the Year

Okay, so I'm gonna come right out and say it: I totally failed in this category this year.  I only reviewed one, ONE (!!!) 2012 album, High on Fire's De Vermis Mysteriis.  An album I gave a whopping C minus not exactly Album of the Year material.

There were plenty of other great looking 2012 metal albums that I should have listened to, but never got around to checking out.  My focus  definitely wasn't on checking out new music this year.  In fact, when I did find myself listening to music, I found myself gravitating towards music that I've loved for years, and steering clear of the new stuff.  When pondering this very post, that fact dawned on me and I instantly started worrying that I was turning into an old fogey who only listens to old music.

A scary thought.

I've been combating my old fogey-ness, and trying to remind myself that my glory days are ahead of me, the past few days by gearing my Pandora stations towards new music that I've been wanting to check out.  That's not enough though. I need to bite the bullet and listen to full albums.  Here's a few I'm looking to listen to a lot more in the coming months:

Baroness: Yellow and Green- I've heard bits and pieces of this double album, and everything I've heard so far has been fantastic.  I love their two previous albums, so I'm looking forward to getting to know this double disc release much better.

Yellow and Green ranks as possibly the most glaring oversight in my metal listening this year.

Huntress: Spell Eater- The dudes in Huntress were once in a barely known hard rockin' band called Trigger Renegade.  They were awesome, yet never achieved the success they deserved.  They recently got a major facelift by adding a new vocalist, the scarily talented banshee screamer Jill Janus.

With a name change, and change in approach from hard rock to metal they created Huntress and have been hell bent on metal stardom ever since. I'm long overdue for giving their debut album a few solid listens.

The Sword: Apocryphon- Well, I got to see these guys live, which is something, but I haven't yet had the chance to give their latest album a full listen.  If their new material is as good as it sounded at their show, I have a feeling that Apocryphon will be The Sword's best album yet.

Definitely an album I'm looking forward to hearing more of.

So, yeah, a bit of a shitty start to my year-end awards, but I'll be sure to bring the thunder with the remaining categories.  I know I dropped the ball on the metal music front this year, and even though I singled out a few albums I want to check out more, I'm sure I missed mentioning a few good ones.

What music did you folks listen to that was amazing? What metal music, or non-metal music am I missing out on?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review: Blood Song

I've had my eye on Anthony Ryan's Blood Song ever since my interview with Michael J. Sullivan.  Blood Song was a book that Sullivan singled out as a recent great read. His words about it, and further research were enough to convince me to give this book a read.

At the age of 10, Vaelin al Sorna's father leaves him at the gates of the 6th Order, a militant religious group devoted to the arts of war.  Over the course of the next few years Vaelin is trained, hardened, and tested repeatedly in the various skills required of any great warrior: the sword, bow, horseback riding, tracking, wilderness survival, and more.   During that time Vaelin learns to put his past behind him, embrace the faith, and look to his fellow brothers of the 6th Order as his only family.

However, the past has this bad habit of popping back up from time to time and there are people, powerful people, who are unwilling to forget just whose son Vaelin al Sorna was before joining the 6th Order.  Before too long, Vaelin finds himself ensnared in the struggles of the great and mighty.  Struggles that will not only test Vaelin's skills, but also his faith.

Blood Song is one of those books that reminded me of some other fantasy works I'd read, but at the same time, managed to stand on it's own as a fantasy novel that is different enough stand out from the crowd.  Ryan is a writer that does no hand-holding for the reader, and instead drops them right into his world mid-stream.  From the opening, Vaelin has been captured by the Alpiran Empire, a land mass that barely makes it onto the map that's provided, but we don't know how, or why.

While captured, Vaelin tells the tale of his life, which reminded me a bit of The Kingkiller Chronicles, a story of which his training with the 6th Order was a big chunk of.  The tales of his training again was reminiscent of The Kingkiller Chronicles and Harry Potter, yet still different enough to be interesting. The biggest difference being that Ryan doesn't linger on the "schooling" aspect.  The ensuing ten years of Vaelin's life unfold over the course of about half the book.

Ryan uses this portion of the book to show the reader pieces of the world, the various politics at play, how many of the various faiths throughout the land work, who many of the players are, and how all these things work (or don't work) together.  I'm definitely a fan of this show - don't tell approach, and it works particularly well here as it made me want to keep reading the book and learn more about the characters and the world they inhabit.

With the exception of a few short sections where events are seen through the eyes of the chronicler, Blood Song is seen wholly through the eyes of Vaelin.  I liked that Ryan limited the POV shifting and instead focused on Vaelin and the events that he is part of.  The success of having a limited POV is based a lot on having a character that is interesting enough to be around for the course of the book.  That's definitely the case here as Vaelin is a character I greatly enjoyed.  He's a guy I could relate to in some ways, didn't like in others, and when he got thrust into interesting situations he kept me incredibly entertained.  Add to that the fact that there many of the situations Vaelin found himself in were incredibly tight spots with no clear "right" way to do things and you have a recipe for success.

I wouldn't say that Blood Song is a fast paced book, but it is deliberately paced, and has an incredibly interesting plot which I found quite addictive.  Ryan also mixes in some great action and adventure.  These scenes are definitely the star of the book as they are vivid, tense and insanely entertaining.  Again, I was happily reminded of other works of fantasy as Ryan's tight pacing and vivid description of the action sequences was reminiscent of Steven Erikson.

By the time I had worked my way through Blood Song I was quite taken with the characters, and the world.  If I had my druthers, there'd be more time spent with the female characters as they were quite interesting, and well written, just in too small of doses.  I definitely have high hopes for the rest of this series given that the opener was so strong.  Blood Song isn't available in print until July, but it is available for your fancy e-reading device, which is way better than having to wait.  Strongly recommended.

Grade: B+

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Comic Review: Daytripper

It's always a treat when I find myself in a room with people who are into the same things as me.  When this happens at the comic shop, it can be troublesome too, because it usually results in me adding a bunch of comics to my "must read" list.  Daytripper was a comic that got bandied about during one recent comic shop chat-session, and when one of my buddies gave his synopsis of it, I knew I had to read it.

Daytripper follows the life of Bras de Olivias Dominguez and each chapter of this ten issue collection focuses on a different key period in Bras' life; His thirty second birthday, a memorable vacation, the birth of his first child, weekends at his grandparents' and more.  Though there's a variety of life stages and moments that the story chooses to focus on, each chapter ends the same, with Bras' death.

The next chapter will then begin, oblivious to his death in the previous chapter, and then again end with his death.  Each chapter follows Bras through life, through the highs and the lows and the reader begins to get not only a full picture of the man's life, but also of the true meaning behind this work: to live life every day as best you can, because the future's uncertain and the end is always near.

Daytripper is written and illustrated by the powerhouse Brazilian comic making twin brother duo, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon.  As I've come to find with these guys, their work here is honest, profound and deeply moving.  Though I've been impressed with all the stuff I've seen from Moon and Ba so far, this is by far their most impressive effort in the comics medium.  Both in terms of writing and art.

To be honest, I'm not sure how Moon and Ba broke up the art and writing duties, but whether they split it, share it, or however they parcel it out, there is no discernible shifting between styles, or voices.  Instead, Daytripper has a very clear voice, and the story flows along seamlessly.  The art here is quite good, and it does particularly well when it comes to depicting a variety of emotions.  Daytripper is a powerfully emotional book, and Moon and Ba nail that emotional aspect through their art.

Daytripper is easily one of the more powerful comics I've read in a long time, and despite coming in the wake of recent reads like Lemire's The Underwater Welder and Cotter's Skyscrapers of the Midwest, it's also one of the most powerful reads of the year for me.  Daytripper is a book that made me cry, at my work desk, in the middle of the school kitchen...during school lunch.  Needless to say, there were a lot of people around.  There was just no helping it. This is a comic that is incredibly moving and brought both tears of joy and sadness to my eyes.

I remember getting my hands on the first issue when Daytripper was coming out in singles, and liked what I read, but wasn't sure from reading the first issue, if it would be a story that continually caught my interest.  See, the one weakness of this book is that it takes a while for the reader to get the hang of just what Moon and Ba are attempting to do with their story, and I can see that it would be hard to stick with the story if one were reading it in single issues.  That moment where the book, and Moon and Ba's motives clicked for me came fairly early on, but I had the benefit of a strong recommendation and contextal interpretation from a friend. In different circumstances, I could see myself getting weighed down by the repetitive deaths and sad endings to each chapter, and thus not ever getting around to seeing the subtle beauty that this book provides.

In the end, Moon and Ba have created a comics work that is absolutely unforgettable.  This is a comic that has found it's way into my mind on a daily basis since I started reading it. It has not only given me plenty to mull over, but helped me see life through a more beautiful lens.  This is a comic I'll gladly pass on to others to read.  It's really great stuff.

Grade: A+

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Author Interview: Tim Marquitz

Alright folks, I'm happy to announce that I've got another awesome author interview lined up for you.  This time Tim Marquitz has kindly offered up his time and wisdom to be part of Battle Hymns.  Not only does he write the awesome Demon Squad series, but Tim's also a big metal music fan, so he has cool points to spare.  Okay, that's enough from me.  On to the interview!

Battle Hymns:  Let’s start with a softball: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Tim Marquitz: Certainly. I’m a dark fantasy and horror author who hopes to one day write for a living. I live in Texas with my wife and daughter and way more cats than any sane person should be forced to cohabitate with. I’m also a big fan of heavy metal and mixed martial arts, both obvious influences upon my writing and my bad attitude.

BH: You have a number of published works, of which I’m only familiar with the Demon Squad books, would you mind talking a bit about the stuff you’ve written?

TM: I’m a bit compulsive when it comes to ideas, writing whatever hops into my head rather than worrying about brand and sticking to a single genre. Where the Demon Squad books are urban fantasy, I often write novella length horror stories in between to cleanse the palette, so to speak. My horror books tend to be darker and more graphic than the DS stuff, and certainly more serious.

I’ve also written some dark epic fantasy, though it’s more dark than epic, as well as some sword and sorcery. I like exploring new worlds and chasing different ideas, which drives me to jump around the genres a bit.

BH: You’ve created one of the most memorable characters of all-time in Frank Trigg.  What was the genesis for that character?

TM: Thank you. Frank is a mutt of ideas. He started out as Bob the minion of Death and evolved from there. I wanted a character that wasn’t just flawed, but was real. A lot of the concept came from the Die Hard movies, the Bruce Willis character getting his ass kicked but soldiering through to handle business.

Frank also evolved through my influences, heavy metal and fighting. While it’s nice to have good guys in the world, it’s less realistic than what’s really out there. People are selfish; it’s ingrained in our DNA. Our drive is to survive and breed and take pleasure where we find it. Frank takes that concept a couple steps further, and I think the foundation of human desire is what makes him interesting to people. He’s fun in small doses and you don’t have to take him seriously.

BH:  How much of Tim Marquitz is there in Frank Trigg?

TM: Way too much. Frank is me without the censors of polite society and the manners my mother beat into me growing up.

BH: The Demon Squad series is shaping up nicely, with a major plot thread that’s been simmering in the background about to come to the forefront and it appears things may be building towards a finale.  Do you see the series as a finite thing, with an ultimate ending in mind? If so, do you have the entirety of the series mapped out?

TM: I’m really not sure how far I’ll go with the series. I’ll write it until it’s no longer fun for me or the readers. The world is so wide open I can see myself writing ten or fifteen books without any issues, though, but I haven’t plotted beyond the books already written.

I’m very bad about contemplating the big picture. The pieces fit together as I go and give me ideas for future plots, but I don’t tie my hands by having a predetermined direction in mind. I like the idea of the end of the series being a surprise to both me and the readers.

BH: Can you tell us about your process that goes into writing a novel?

TM: For me, it’s pretty simple. An idea comes to mind and I think about what I’d like to get out of it. From there, I write a list of vague plot points, characters, concepts, cool scenes, or whatever else comes to mind. As I’m going through all that, the idea tends to sharpen and I begin to see it more clearly. If I feel It’s exciting and fleshed out enough to commit to, I sit down to outline the book, with nothing more than simple plot direction in mind.

Once I get into the writing, I know where I’m going and have spent enough time with the concept that I have a good idea of the voice I want to use for the characters. The story feeds off the writing from there.

BH: Are you able to write full time or do you have a day job?

TM: No, I definitely have a job. While things have picked up for my writing in recent months, I’m still dependent upon my job for money and health care. As much as I would love to write full time, I’d need to feel extremely comfortable before I left my job. I have a family to take care of, and I would hate to see them be hurt because something happened to screw the writing gig up after I quit working for a steady paycheck.

BH: Who are the biggest influences on your craft?

TM: Clive Barker is easily the first on the list, though I’d have to say that Jim Butcher is more of a direct influence when it comes to the Demon Squad books. Brian Keene is another, as is Stephen King of course. There are also a whole crop of newer writers that are inspiring me to step up my game. With the desire to get better, every book I read has an impact upon how I approach the next piece I work on.

BH: What inspired you to become a writer?

TM: Fame, fortune, and all the hot women waiting around to have sex with famous authors. Oh, and the lack of dress code. That’s a biggie.

BH: What goals do you have for yourself as a writer?

TM: My short terms goal is to better my writing/publishing situation at least once a year. I shoot to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way on my ultimate goal of writing for a living. I work to get better every time I sit down at the keyboard, and I push myself to keep moving forward in terms of new works and new ways to expose myself (sans a trench coat).

BH: You’ve been a grave digger, a bouncer, and have worked in public schools.  Which job was the toughest?

TM: Of all my jobs, I’d say working the graveyard shift at a convenience store was the toughest. While the work isn’t back breaking or mentally challenging, dealing with the late night customers was a chore I’m not emotionally equipped to handle. Between the drunks, the regular beer runs, and watching hookers exchange microwaved burritos for the promise of sex acts with other customers, a person just has to have more patience than I do to survive. 

It also takes so much more willpower than you’d imagine. I mean, come on, can you picture how difficult it is to turn down a blow job just to sell a woman a six pack after hours?

BH: Name three things you couldn’t live without.

TM: This is a tough question. I’m not very materialistic or sentimental. While it might not make anyone in my life happy, I can probably live without everything. I might not be the happiest man on earth afterwards, but I’d survive.

BH: Own up to a guilty pleasure

TM: Hmmm. I’m a big fan of the Duran Duran ballads the Chauffer and Save a Prayer, and I love listening to Faith No More’s covers of Lionel Ritchie’s Easy and the Bee Gee’s I Started a Joke. [Editor's note: Both are great songs!]

BH: You are a self-proclaimed metal head, and it shows in your writing.  Do you listen to music while you write?

TM: I don’t actually. I find myself writing to the rhythm of the music if something is on rather than to the rhythm of the story. My mood is affected by what I’m listening to so it’s almost impossible to separate the two processes. If I’m listening to something sad, that’s what I’ll write, and so on, so I prefer silence when I write.

BH: What bands are you listening to these days? Do you have an all-time favorite album/record/CD?

TM: I listen to a ton of different bands, but I always find my way back to the bands I grew up on: Metallica, King Diamond, My Dying Bride, Anathema, Candlemass, Venom, Slayer, Bolt Thrower, Cradle of Filth, etc.

As for all-time favorite, that’s tough. While I can listen to Metallica’s Master of Puppets over and over, I think Acid Bath’s When the Kite String Pops is the album I think of anytime someone mentions a favorite album. There’s just so much of what I love squeezed into the songs on this album.

BH:  Is there a band or a song you wish could be erased from the canon of rock/metal?

TM: I’m not much of a rock fan, and never have been. There are tons of songs I would happily sacrifice, and I’m sure it’d piss a bunch of folks off. Anything AC-DC, Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, and the vast majority of those bands could disappear and I’ve never even notice. [Editor's note: But then what would I sing at Karaoke?]

BH: What was the last concert you went to?

TM: It was Judas Priest, Testament, and Motorhead. The sound was shit, and it was a sour realization of just how old I’ve become, but it brought back good memories regardless.

BH: Have you read any books lately that you thought were especially good?

TM: Way too many. Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire books, Michael J Sullivan’s Ryria Revelations, Jeff Salyards Scourge of the Betrayer, Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds, Theresa Frohock’s Miserere and a butt-load more I know I’m forgetting.

BH: What would you like to see change or see more of in the Fantasy genre?

TM: I wouldn’t change anything. There’s such a wealth of great new talent out there and amazing stories that I’m damn happy with how things are. With all the new opportunities presented by smaller publishers and self-publishing, the market is righting itself on the measure of quality. It’s a wonderful time to be a reader.

BH: What does the future hold for you?  Any new projects you can spill some beans on?

TM: I’m going to release my sword and sorcery novel, Witch Bane, in late December. I’ve been sitting on this book for nearly two years because of various opportunities, but I’m tired of waiting. The cover is being worked on as I type this, and I can’t wait to get it out there.

I’m also plotting a new urban fantasy title I’d like to experiment with, and I’m starting the process for the fifth Demon Squad book. I’ve also got a story in the Angelic Knight Press anthology, No Place Like Home, out in January, and I’ve a story in the Triumph Over Tragedy anthology arranged by author R.T. Kaelin with Sarah Chorn (of Bookworm Blues). All of the money for this project goes to the Red Cross to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy, so I’m honored to be a part of it.

BH: Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?

TM: Just that I appreciate each and every one of them. It’s so humbling to see the reviews and comments across the net, people digging what I’m doing. Not ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to picture doing what I do now, and it’s all thanks to the readers supporting me and telling their friends that allows me to do it. I’m beyond grateful.

And thanks to you for having me, Ryan. \m/

And Thank You Tim!  Thanks for taking the time to be part of Battle Hymns.  I greatly appreciate it.  I hope everyone enjoyed that one as much as I did.  If you haven't given Tim's Demon Squad books a chance yet, (or any of his other published works) I strongly urge you to check 'em out. They are a ton of fun.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Comic Review: Queen and Country Vol. 1 & 2

I've had a lot of success in the past when reading comics written by Greg Rucka.  Rucka is one of the few writers, both inside and outside of the comics medium, who can write fantastic female lead characters.  This quality makes Rucka stand out from the crowd given the fact that well-depicted female leads can be hard to find in the comics medium.  However, Rucka has proven his skills in this area in the past with Kate Kane in Batwoman, Carrie Stetko in Whiteout, and Dex Parios in Stumptown.

With Queen and Country, Rucka has penned another engaging comic series where a female character takes center stage.  Queen and Country is an international espionage story that focuses on a British Intelligence team called the S.I.S., and much of the story centers around Tara Chace, one of the field operatives.  In this opening volume of the series, which collects three story arcs, an awesome twelve issues worth of material, the reader is introduced to the world of international espionage, and all the crazy politics, games - and the players that play them, and all the ins and outs that go into making a mission successful.

As a field operative, Chace's life is one of alternating dull boredom and inactivity, mixed with intense bouts of incredibly vital and stressful missions in the field.  While Chace is doing her thing in the field, her director of operations, the perpetually chain smoking Paul Crocker, is often walking a fine line between watching out for the safety of his team and dealing with all the political complications that are part of the international spy game.

Queen and Country impressed me as it felt like a very realistic take on what the international espionage game is really like.  You won't get tons of action, shooting, explosions, or cheesy villains, but instead the story focuses on the people, modern spy politics, and how the S.I.S. folks respond to situations that pop up.  As much as I've enjoyed Bond and Bourne films,  I found the stories in Queen and Country much more engaging and in the end, equally rewarding.

The first Definitive Edition contains three story arcs, and in each arc a different artist provides the visuals.  Steve Rolston, who impressed me before with his work on Ghost Projekt is first up on the art front, and he set the bar incredibly high with some fantastically detailed art.  Rolston's lines are incredibly clean, and his art is a joy to look at.  From there, on the second arc, the series rolled out another of my favorite comic artists, Brian Hurtt, of The Sixth Gun fame.  Sadly, I didn't get the trifecta of great art I was hoping for, as I wasn't a fan of Leandro Fernandez, who handled the art for the third arc.

Fans of the first Queen and Country volume will find plenty to like in the second volume as it delivers much of the same good as the first.  Rucka's writing is great, the stories are entertaining and engaging, and the art is again a mixed bag of artists which were sometimes good, sometimes not so good.  To be honest, I wasn't such a fan of the artists in this one, but the story was definitely good enough to carry me through despite the fact that this volume wasn't as easy on the eyes as the previous one.

Rucka's writing in this series is top notch.  Not only is each story arc interesting and engaging.  In many ways each story arc could be read as a stand-alone, which is a big reason why the alternating artist trick works pretty well for this series.  However, the arcs all connect as part of a larger tapestry.

That being said, I've found that the individual character arcs are what makes Queen and Country stand out as a fantastic series.  I've enjoyed following Tara Chace on missions, through her interactions with her colleagues, and her incredibly dreary personal life. She's one of those characters that I found myself thinking about during the interludes when I wasn't reading the book, and still find myself reflecting on even after turning the final page.  Additionally, the character arcs for the other primary S.I.S. team members are equally interesting and amazing.

Queen and Country stands out as one of the better comics I've read this year. The only real drawback being that because of the shifting artists, the art is inconsistent. So far, I'm 50-50 on whether I enjoyed the art  or not, which isn't exactly the best track record. However, when the art is good, it is really good.  In the end, I was still treated to a fantastic story where the focus is on well written, interesting, memorable characters.  More comics gold courtesy of Greg Rucka.

Grade: B+

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Live in Concert: The Sword

Yesterday, after the longest hair cut of my life, a two hour ordeal at a training salon where I'm pretty sure the trainee cut each individual stand of hair on my head one at a time, I met with my good friend, and fellow metal head, Justin. Justin and I had tickets for The Sword a metal band that has been covered around here once or twice.

Prior to the show we walked over to the Pine Box, a funeral home turned bar with a great selection of beers on tap. They also have a nice selection of wood fired pizza on the menu, so we did a little bit of pre-show beer and pizza indulgence.  We were joined for the beer and pizza portion of the night by my lady, and later by Mike, the third person in our concert going party.  The Sword show would be Mike's first metal concert, which was exciting.

Having little interest in either of the opening bands, we hung out at the Pine Box sipping beers until about 9:30, and then walked over to the venue to see when The Sword would hit the stage.  It turned out we had about another hour to kill, so we walked to another nearby bar which you can see in this awesome video.  After more beers for Justin and Mike (none for me...I'm a total light weight!) we made to into the venue just as the second opening act was finishing up their set.

We scored a decent spot on the floor about 20 feet back from the stage and held firm as bodies jostled for position while the roadies set up for The Sword.  The dudes came on just a few minutes shy of 11pm and proceeded to shred steadily for an hour, often launching directly into the next song immediately after finishing up the previous one.  They provided a nice mix of songs from their new album Apocryphon with songs from past albums.  What impressed me the most with The Sword was that all their material translates amazingly well to the live show.  Their music inspired a lot of headbanging and even a fairly large mosh-pit for a Seattle crowd.

With a solid hour of playing under their belt, The Sword left the stage only to return a couple minutes later for a three-song encore.  All told, it was a very impressive performance from The Sword and I'm very happy to have had the opportunity to see them live with a good crew of friends to share the experience.  If you haven't yet experienced The Sword they are definitely worth a listen, and if you are a fan, then I strongly suggest seeing them live.  They rocked.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Comic Quickies: Wrapping Up Fables

Fables Vol. 9 Sons of Empire: In this ninth volume of the Fables series, which I've plunged head-long into over the past half-year, there's a definite "calm before the storm" feeling.  Both sides, the Adversary and his empire, and the exiled Fables gear up for war.

In the Homelands, the Adversary calls together his most trusted advisers for a war council.  Together, they plan an invasion that would more or less decimate earth and all it's inhabitants, while putting an end to the threat of the exiled Fables.  Pinocchio, who's become on of the Adversary's favorites, is faced with the unfortunate task of throwing a big monkey wrench in their plans.

Meanwhile, Bigby Wolf, Snow White and their family embark on a risky trip back to the homelands to pay a visit to Bigby's dad, and his cubs' grandfather, the North Wind.  Bigby and North don't totally get along, so it's a trip neither one is looking forward to.

While all that is going down, the Empire sends an ambassador to Fabletown, Hansel, one of the two kids who stuffed Fabletown head-witch Frau Totenkinder into a hot oven.  Hansel is all grown up now and he's a total prick, which makes him a great match for Fabletown Mayor, Prince Charming.

I can't say that this was my favorite Fables volume, as it did more to cause me to lose steam for the series than it did to make me want to keep reading.  Under different circumstances, this is definitely a volume that would have caused me stall out on the series for a bit. However, I had the 10th and 11th volumes on loan from the library, so instead of taking a break, I forged onward.

Fables Vol. 10 The Good Prince: I'd been wondering when the Frog Prince, also known as Flycatcher, who up to this point has been seen mostly as the Fabletown custodian, would get a chance to shine in this series.  That question is answered here in this tenth volume, as Flycatcher finally gets his shit together, dons some sweet magical armor, hops down the witching well, puts together an army of ghosts, and travels back to the homelands.

Upon returning, he sets up his very own kingdom within the very confines of the Adversary's own homeworld, and begins building a castle and recruiting followers to his cause.  Flycatcher's kingdom, called Haven, is special because no harm can come to those who are part of the kingdom.  As more fables come to join Haven, the boundaries of Flycatcher's kingdom expand, and soon the Adversary starts chucking armies at Haven to remove the pest from his empire's backside.  However, the prince has a few non-violent tricks up his sleeves.

I was a little torn on this volume between like and dislike.  Sure, it was cool to see Flycatcher come up with a peaceful solution to problems which saved countless lives, but on the other hand, this whole story thread seemed just a little too convenient of a way for Willingham to remove a huge portion of the threat to Fabletown.  *Sigh* With the epic showdown looming so close, once again, this story arc did more to cool me off on this series.  There's just too much build and not enough payoff.  These last two volumes have felt more like bloat, or teasers.  I definitely have the feeling that the last two volumes could have easily been condensed, or trimmed in favor of taking a more direct line towards the conclusion of the main story arc.

Fables Vol. 11 War and Pieces: At long last, this eleventh volume finally gets to the long awaited war between the scrappy exile Fables and the Adversary and his world's spanning empire.  I've been excited to see this battle since the end of the first story arc.

Too bad I was a bit let down by the whole thing.

After about 70 issues of mounting tension, plots, sub-plots, twists, and a fair amount of bloat, Willingham finally gets around to telling the story of the war for the Homelands, and he told it in such a way that it felt like I was reading a highlight reel for the war.

I honestly felt a bit cheated.

This is a comic that gave something like nine issues to Flycatcher, a story arc that felt like a plot device to get the writer out of  a tight bind, but less than five issues to a confrontation that has been building for the entire length of the series.  That's not to say the conclusion wasn't good.  It was good.  I just wanted more of it.  This was the pay-off I've been reading towards and I felt like it barely got covered. I was sad.

As much as I've enjoyed this series overall, I don't think I could have read it in single issues, it would have been way too tiresome and tortuous, especially given the pay-off.  Overally, I'd say this is a remarkable comics series, but could have been much, much better with less bloat and a more finely tuned focus.  My plan has been to read Fables up to this point and then quit, unless I really wanted to carry on with the series.  After having read the first eleven trades worth, and covering everything up to my original destination, I gotta say that I don't have any urge to continue on with this series.

Despite being a series that flagged heavily towards the end, this is still a pretty great fantasy comic.  Sure I was a bit let down by the effort put into the ending, but it is still a pretty good ending.  Certainly not perfect, though no series is, I still recommend Fables, but with the caveat that one will have to be prepared for some writerly indulgence which leads to bloating along the way.

Overall Series Grade: B-

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Book Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

The snazzy cover and promises of time travel are what initially drew me towards How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.    Reviews from around the web led me to believe that the author, Charles Yu, was a young and upcoming writer in the SF genre, and that this debut novel would herald in a great writing career.


The novel, stars Charles Yu, (yup, he's the character in his own book), who's a time travel repairman. Yu is an unambitious loner who's only companions in life are a dog and the sexy female voiced AI on his computer, which he happens to have the hots for.  In the universe How to Live Safely... is set in, time travel exists, but most people don't use it for much other than to continuously travel back to the worst day of their life and relive that moment over and over again.

Yu's own family isn't much different from the norm.  His mom is stuck in a one-hour time loop where she repeatedly prepares dinner, and his dad, who had a hand in inventing time travel, is somewhere lost in time doing who knows what.  And Charles, well, he's in a tough bind because one day he accidentally shoots his future self, and now he's inextricably getting closer and closer to the time when he becomes that future self who gets shot.  His key to survival is in a book called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which, of course, is written by none other than Charles Yu.

On the surface, this sounds like what might be an entertaining and humorous read, but that wasn't my experience at all.  I found this book to be a pretty slow and boring read.  Yu commits what is, in my books, a cardinal sin of writing and tells but doesn't show.  This led to long, windy paragraphs where Yu would describe events and what people were feeling to great, and excessive length to the point where I'd either get lost in the sentences, which felt quite repetitive, or I'd mentally fall out of the flow of the narrative completely due to the weak prose.  The end result was that I never really felt fully engaged in this book, and reading through it would feel like a chore at times.

There's not really any characters to speak of either.  Sure, there's Yu himself, but he's not really all that likable.  There's very little substance to the current version we see of him and for the most part he spends his time thinking back on his past and his relationship with his dad.  In those moments, he's a bit of a jerk.  As for other characters, there's Yu's parents, but they aren't much more than just names for completely undeveloped characters which play a small role in the narrative.

The plot isn't much to speak of either.  The whole thing where a time traveler runs into his future self resulting in a situation where his life is seemingly in irreparable peril has been done before.  More than once.  Yes, I'd have been okay with this if he had managed to put a twist on the plot, or do something new with it, but that wasn't the case.

With a stale plot, characters I couldn't care one way or the other for, and writing that failed to capture my interest, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe was a definite let down.  I can't find a reason to recommend this as it was a book that failed to hit the mark on multiple levels for me. Despite the many lows, my interest in the subject matter, (I do love me some time travel), and the bits of humor here and there, were just barely enough to keep me going on this one to the very end. That being said, "just barely" doesn't cut it, so, sadly, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is one book I do not recommend.

Grade: D-

Monday, December 3, 2012

Comic Quickies: Recent Great Reads

Comeback #1: I've been waiting for there to be an Ed Brisson penned comic ever since I picked up his three issues of Murder Book at last year's Emerald City Comic Con.  Those three issues showed me a writer with a knack for telling compelling stories and I've been eagerly awaiting Comeback.

In Comeback, time travel has been developed, but is illegal.  However, the technology is used very discreetly by the ultra-rich who enlist the help of a secret company, Reconnect, to go back in time and save a loved on from death. For a hefty fee Reconnect will collect the loved one, stage their death, and bring them to safety.

Mark and Seth are two of the agents who do the collecting and time traveling.  However, on the mission that plays out in the opening pages, something goes terribly wrong, and the person they are meant to be saving dies during the time travel.  If that's not bad enough, Seth is starting to look a bit worn down by their job, which isn't good considering that in the wake of their most recent mission, they've been given another tough job.

The art, which is handled by Michael Walsh, is definitely easy on the eyes.  His art reminded me a lot of Tonci Zonjic from Who is Jake Ellis? fame and Where is Jake Ellis? (which I'll cover here shortly).  Anyway, Walsh's art is another strong aspect of this title.

This one gets positive marks for being a story about time travel, with a healthy dose of crime mixed in...a combo that I couldn't resist.  This opening issue is definitely a stage setter, but I like how things are looking.  I just hope that this doesn't wind up being one of those "Just one more job, then I'm out" kind of stories. For now, I'm feeling it.

Where is Jake Ellis? #1: The five issue series (Who is Jake Ellis?) which proceeded Where is Jake Ellis? was one of my top reads from last year.  High octane espionage action anyone?  However, since then, I've admittedly become a little bit lukewarm on writer Nathan Edmondson.  The stuff he's written since then hasn't impressed me nearly as much.  In fact, I almost didn't pick this issue up.

I did though, and I'm glad because it appears that Edmondson is in his groove when it comes to writing stuff with "Jake Ellis" in the title. If you haven't read the previous Jake Ellis material, I urge you to do so, not only because it is awesome, but because nothing in this new story arc will make any sense if you don't.

That being said, it will still be a shit ton of fun because Edmondson has distilled his comic down to pure, unrelenting action.  His agent, Jon Moore, is on the run from mysterious spooks who want him dead.  It's that simple.  Moore uses his considerable spy/survival skills to narrowly avoid death in awesome and exciting ways.  The kicker is, in the past he's had a voice inside his head (Jake Ellis) who has helped him survive, and now that voice has mysteriously gone silent, and Moore's head is on the chopping block.

Tonci Zonjic's art is stylish and cool, and very inviting.  He captures action and emotion with equal skill.  He and Edmondson are a great pair for this title, and I'm definitely excited to see what they have in store for us.

Batwoman #14:  All hail the best superhero title on the shelves.

(I actually have zero proof that the above statement is true, given that this is the only superhero title I read...but it is really fucking awesome so there!)

So why is Batwoman so awesome?  It's awesome for a lot reasons: Kate Kane is a really cool character, Batwoman battles stuff straight outta myth and urban legend, and there's a whole bunch of stressful and distracting stuff in her life such as relationships, family, and job stress, that make Kate seem like a real person. And now this comic is even more awesome because Wonder Woman has been added into the mix. Okay, sure, Wondy's been on the scene for at least two issues now, but I'm loving the Wonder Woman/Batwoman team up.

On top of a fun team up, and a cool story that has spanned the entire length of the series so far, this comic has J.H. Williams III on art knocking that shit out of the park with each issue he works on.  I love looking at Williams' art.  He has the most creative panel layouts, and he always experiments with interesting ways for the art and story to interact.  I was really taken with how he chose to show how Pegasus received his grievous injuries in this issue.

After dropping all the other DCnU titles I was reading, Batwoman continues to go strong, despite putting a lot of Kate Kane's personal issues on the back-burner for the moment.  I will say, I like this title a lot more when JHW III is doing the art, but Batwoman is good stuff.