Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Album Review: The Hunter by Mastodon

Well, it's been a long time coming, but here it is at last.

The Hunter is Mastodon's fifth full length album, and after experiencing major stylistic growth with their previous album, Crack the Skye, it seems like the band chose to pause for a moment with The Hunter and consolidate their gains.  The first thing I noticed with this album is that it is much more straight forward and accessible than it's predecessor.  For one, every song is much shorter and less complex that past Mastodon songs. It seems like there was an effort being made to have this album have an almost pop-music feel to it in the sense that each song is short, melodic and has a hook.

Now don't get me wrong, this is not a pop album, Mastodon is still as metal as ever, but it seems to me that the band took a page out of pop music's book by making the songs so short and catchy.  Make no mistake, these songs will get stuck in your head.

Another thing that is different here, and unique to this album, is that the band strays away from the concept album.  As a guy who rarely listens to just one song at a time, and prefers to hear an entire album from start to finish, I'm a huge fan of the concept album.  So it should come as no surprise that I was a little sad to hear that Mastodon wouldn't be delivering their usual concept album greatness.  I personally feel that the album suffers from this lack of cohesion, and to me, sounds like a collection of Mastodon songs that are good, but lack that epic quality I've come to love.

The songs are still great, and have the ability to stand on their own without being a part of a greater tapestry. These aren't their heaviest songs, or their most instrumentally amazing, and certainly not their most complex, but damn it, they are really fun to listen to.  Bassist Troy Sanders seems to take the lion's share of the vocal duties here, and I couldn't be much happier for that fact.  Sanders is definitely my favorite of the Mastodon vocalists, so it was great to hear his voice all over this album.

It's kinda strange, I wouldn't say that The Hunter stands out in comparison to their past efforts, but it is an incredibly listenable and infectious album.  It usually takes me a few listens to fully appreciate a new Mastodon album, but with The Hunter, it was pretty much love at first listen...and now I can't stop listening to it.  All in all, another great effort, and I think a lot of these songs would sound great live.  Hopefully I'll be able to catch them next time they roll through town.

Grade: B

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Noir a Collection of Crime Comics

Let's see here...I love crime comics,  more specifically, I love noir crime comics.  So I walked into my local comic shop one day and what do I see? Noir a Collection of Crime Comics! As if anything could make me want to read this more, they go ahead and feature some of my favorite comic creators like Jeff Lemire, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Fabio Moon, and Gabriel Ba.

On the surface, this seems like it is pretty much the perfect graphic novel for a guy with my tastes.  However, as any good reader and dermatologist knows: you gotta get below the surface to find out what is really going on.

What you get in this slim little number is a bunch of comic shorts written and drawn by a plethora of creators, all working in black and white, pouring on that India ink to achieve the right atmosphere.

Its a pretty cool concept, and it works for some of the stories, but not all the stories.  The biggest problem that I had, was that many of the stories that were included in this collection walked a very fine line between being a crime story and being a horror story, and on a couple occasions, were pretty much straight up horror.  Now don't get me wrong, I don't have any problems with horror, but when I'm reading a collection of crime noir comics, I want the comics to actually be crime noir, not horror.

The highlights here were the stories by Lemire, Brubaker, Phillips, Moon and Ba, but I enjoyed a few others as well, most notably, The Last Hit written by Chris Offutt, and drawn by Kano and Stefano Guadiano.  The remainder of the tales ran the gamut from good to bad, and everywhere in between. As much as I enjoy the short form, and love checking out new comic writers and creators, both of which were amply provided for here, overall, I'd say this one was a bit of a disappointment; Mostly because it didn't really deliver on the crime noir as advertised.

There's definitely some mini treasures to be found here, but not enough of the good stuff to warrant my full recommendation.  If you like your crime with a healthy dose of horror, and want to read some short comics and feel out some creators, this is a good quick read.  If you are looking for some hard boiled crime noir, this doesn't quite cut the cake.

Grade: C-

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book Review: The Tiger's Wife

To say that The Tiger's Wife is hot right now would be an understatement.  It seems like everywhere I turn, someone is heaping more praise on it.  Every bookstore I walk into has copies in their "Staff Picks" or "Bestsellers" section.  Every other person on the bus has a copy in their hands. This book is so hot it might as well  have been forged in the fires of Mount Doom.

Since everybody and their mother (mine included!) has been reading this book, it's kinda unlikely, despite my remarkable insight, that I'll add much to the discussion with a standard review.  Plus, it seems stupid to try and say meaningful things about a book that has already had lots of powerful, positive endorsements.

Instead I'm gonna try something new here and express my love for this book in song...or songs (a couple of really cheesy ones at that) that I feel capture the most impressive aspects of this book.

HUNGRY EYES by Eric Carmen: 

If there was ever a song that captures the feeling of pure anticipation it is Hungry Eyes.  Sure, the song is about anticipating sex but for my purposes, lets just discuss the general idea of anticipation.  Going into The Tiger's Wife I had a remarkably high level of anticipation. A hard thing to avoid given all the positive hype and praise surrounding this book. That said, it didn't take too many pages of reading to figure out that The Tiger's Wife is the real deal. It is a rare and special thing when expectations are so thoroughly met, yet, like the song, that anticipation was met full on and all the promise was fulfilled. An impressive feat.

NO GUTS NO GLORY by Bolt Thrower:

It takes a lot of guts to write anything. Shit, I still feel shy about pushing the publish button on my blog posts at times, but writing a novel seems like a whole 'nother level to me.  You are basically giving the world a piece of yourself, and I'm incredibly grateful Obreht decided to share. The Tiger's Wife was a novel that approached and engaged all my senses, astounded me with it's beautiful prose, and ensorcelled me with its weaving of multiple narratives.  Obreht really came out of the gates strong here, and made an impressive push for greatness. Like the epic Bolt Thrower lyrics, Obreht seemed to get strength from the inside, and achieved glory.


This song sorta ties into the whole anticipation/fulfillment bit, but I think this Hall and Oates hit is not only about anticipation, but also about how the experience of the anticipation and follow-through process leaves a person changed.  (Yeah, I might be grasping at straws to find deeper meaning in a soft rock song, but it's my blog damn it and I'm allowed to do that kind of shit.)  Getting back to The Tiger's Wife, the point I'm trying to make is that this is a book that left me changed after reading it.  It fueled my love for reading, rekindled my faith in young, active writers, and made me appreciate the beauty that can be found in the written word.  I got the feeling like I was holding a little treasure in my hands each time I opened the book to read more pages.  It's rare that I deliberately slow down my reading so a book won't end, but this was one of those times.

Plus the book was special enough to make me listen to Hall and Oates AND songs form the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.  Impressive.

Grade: A+

Monday, January 23, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Incognito Bad Influences

When we last left Zack Overkill, he'd been working for the good guys, the S.O.S., a group of government backed science heroes.  He's been with them for over a year, doing their dirty work, earning their trust and now they want him to take on a mission that will take him back into the criminal underworld he thought to be behind him.

Overkill is tasked with the job of infiltrating a criminal organization in order to extract another S.O.S. agent who they think may have gone over to the other side. Overkill has to use his frayed old connections to get back in the good graces with the people he's been busting, maiming, and imprisoning for the past year, and try to infiltrate one of the biggest crime organizations in the world.

When I began to read the second Incognito trade, I was shocked to see that the plot was eerily similar to that of one of Brubaker's and Phillips' earlier works, Sleeper.  It felt a little cheap that they would basically re-do the plot but with different characters.  Being the trusting and patient guy that I am, I figured I'd stick around and see if they'd take the plot in any different directions this time around.  For the most part, things stayed mostly the same, except for one major difference: The ways in which Zack Overkill and Holden Carver (the main guy in Sleeper) handle being a bad guy.

While Carver was very much reluctant, Overkill is just the opposite, and instead pretty much lives it up in a way that only a super powered baddie can.  Whether its hard core drinking, prostitute orgies, or just enjoying cracking some skulls, Overkill seems to be back in his element.  Though I thought there was more tension with Carver in Sleeper, it is sorta fun to revel with Overkill in his return to the uh, dark side.

Getting mixed up with the bad crowd isn't all fun and games, as Overkill quickly learns.  He soon uncovers a nefarious plot, and is torn between doing the right thing, trusting his allies, and saving his own ass.

Once again, the high quality of storytelling and art was evident in Incognito Bad Influences, but it didn't really deliver too much in terms of new material, which for me, was ultimately disappointing.  This was basically well written, well drawn rehashing of the plot from a previous title by the same creative team.  Not exactly what I was hoping for.

The ending seemed to leave the door open for more adventures with Zack Overkill, so we'll have to see what the future holds.  It appears that any more Incognito stories are on the back burner for now because  Brubaker and Phillips will be concentrating on their creator owned Image title, Fatale.  In terms of quality and entertainment, you can't go too far wrong with Incognito Bad Influences, but if you have already read Sleeper, you will probably enjoy this one less than someone who hasn't.

Grade: C

Friday, January 20, 2012

Book Review: Dust of Dreams

I don't know what I was thinking, but I started reading Dust of Dreams during finals week last quarter.  Considering that reading a Malazan Book of the Fallen novel can often times be an incredibly challenging endeavor, I threw caution to the wind and dove in.  I guess my brilliant stratagem behind this was that my holiday break would be filled with the latest adventures of The Bonehunters and their allies. So, with two books left to go in this EPIC ten book series, and with myself feeling like a slacker because I erroneously thought Seak had finished the series, I dug in my heels and cracked open the penultimate volume, Dust of Dreams.

This one takes place more or less completely in the empire of Lether and it's surrounding regions.  Flipping to the list of characters involved in this novel, there's lots of familiar faces to be had, and plenty of fan faves as well.  Not only that, but the story is more or less centered around one massive army, The Bonehunters, so that's pretty much a recipe for Steven Erikson awesomeness right?  Fun characters, and the promise of wide scale battle is pretty much what he does best.  So this one was great right? Right....?

Well, not exactly.

Its a bit hit or miss to tell the truth, and probably more miss than hit.

Like every other Malazan Book of the Fallen novel, this one is pretty massive.  816 pages of massiveness to be exact.  That massive page count isn't such a big deal if that's what the story requires, the problem here is that this one felt extremely bloated, and probably could have been half as long if not even less. Especially considering how much actually happened in this novel, which isn't much.  I think that as these gigantic fantasy series go on in time, the editing disappears as the publishers give a successful author a longer leash, and make less changes because they know the baby is gonna sell no matter what.

At least it felt that way to me, because as I said earlier not a lot happened here.  Without spoiling too much, the gist of what when down is that an army moved from point A to point B, then had a battle.  That's about it.  In many ways Dust of Dreams was basically a set up novel for the grand finale in The Crippled God and I've heard other places that Dust of Dreams is basically the first half of what is basically one MONSTER final book that is the combination of DoD + TCG.  Which makes me a little bit more lenient in terms of what happened in Dust of Dreams, but it still felt like there was too much of nothing going on, over the course of a shit load of pages.

Like every other Malazan Book of the Fallen novel I've read so far this one had its fair share of ups and downs.  The downs were, well...down there. Waaay down there.

There were definitely times when I wondered whether or not it was worth even finishing the series, that's how frustrating this book was at times.  Dull plot threads, tedious passages where nothing happens, and some strange barbaric torture rape that was just disgusting and unnecessary.  Not good.  Not good at all.  

The ups, though fewer and far between than usual, and vastly outnumbered by the downs, were just good enough to see me through to the end.

Like I mentioned earlier, the cast of characters here was, for the most part, a who's who of my favorite characters from the series, barring Karsa Orlong and a couple others.  It was good to check back in with Fiddler and the rest of the Malazan marines, and meet a few new interesting characters along the way.  Also, the parts that featured King Tehol, Queen Janath, Chancellor Bugg, Treasurer Bugg, and Ceda Bugg were always fantastic.  Not to mention every scene with Ublala Pung, which were equally hilarious and fun.

The polarizing effect of fun characters and great action versus dull characters, and tedious unnecessary plot lines really wore on me in Dust of Dreams.  Its been a problem that has plagued me throughout the series, and probably wont totally go away in the final book either.  It took an even greater amount of persistence to get through this one than any other volume in the series.  Thankfully, there was just enough here, not to mention a pretty major cliff hanger to keep me on for the finale, but make no mistake, this one was a slog.

In my opinion, this was the weakest installment in the series so far.  After reading this dud, I'm not exactly eager to cap off the series.  I'll likely need a pretty good extended break, to forget the pain of this read, before I hitch up my trousers and take the plunge on the finale.

Grade: D+

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Incognito

In the world of comics there are a few dynamic duo's.  Dudes, (Or should I say "epic bros"?) who, whenever they get together on a project, bring out the best in one another, and raise the bar.  No, I'm not talking about Batman and Robin, or whoever else, I'm talking about comic creators who, whenever they work together, bring the thunder.  In this particular situation, I'm talking about the creative team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.

I've dipped my cup into the Brubaker/Phillips punch bowl before and enjoyed the flavor, and have been hounded by other comics readers to get my ass on the Incognito ride.  So I did.  And you should too.

Incognito stars, of all things, a dude named Zack Overkill.  Zack was once a super villain, and is now in the witness protection program because he ratted out his old boss, an evil, powerful and connected man by the awesome name of The Black Death.  The problem is that Zack, who formerly never played by the rules, is now forced to live out his life as a member of the 9 to 5 rat race.  As Zack goes about his duties as a file clerk, he pines for his old days of terror, death and destruction.  As Zack sinks into depression, he starts in on the drug abuse, and soon enough he realizes that the recreational drugs in his system have messed with the drugs that for the past few years have blocked him from using his super-abilities.

With his super strength back, Zack once again dons a mask, and goes around town tearing it up like the good ol' days.  The difference is that this time he's more of a vigilante than a villain.  It doesn't take long, before The Black Death's organization discovers that Overkill is still alive, and assassins are sent to finish him off.  Now, Zack finds himself allied with his old enemies, the good guys; A tenuous allegiance at best.

If I had to point to one aspect of this graphic novel that stands out above all else, I'd point to the noir feel that Brubaker achieves with his writing, and is aided and abetted by Phillips' art.  With Incognito it isn't just the visual style, there's a darkness to the characters, the dialog and the settings that fully delivers the noir feel to the title.  There's a level of seediness, grit and sexiness that you don't often find in any kind of story these days, but Brubaker and Phillips drag it up from the depths and give it a home here, to great success.

In terms of writing, Brubaker is one of the best working in the comics medium.  His characters are engaging, and his plots are full of all the things I love: twists, back-stabs, and double crosses.  I couldn't ask for much more.

Phillips has an art style that is all his own, and stands out as unique and instantly recognizable.  For my money, he's the perfect guy for super-powered crime story.  Each panel is brimming with atmosphere, giving the reader a great sense of setting.  On top of that, he can draw some pretty great super-powered battles too.  Want to feel like you are being cornered in a dark alley?  Phillips can deliver.  Want to see what happens when a guy with super strength punches someone in the face?  Yeah, he can handle that too.

Though I feel like overall, the writing and art in Incognito is more polished and sharper than my previous Brubaker/Phillips reading experience, Sleeper, I think I enjoyed the story more with the original.  That said, Incognito is still great stuff, and definitely worth checking out.  This is a great title for someone trying to bridge the gap between superheros and creator owned indie-style comics.

Grade: B

Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Review: Raising Stony Mayhall

It's been mentioned around here before that I'm not the biggest fan of zombies, vampires and the like. I, apparently, am in a minority, because the fantasy world is teeming with the undead these days.  If a "hot" new release doesn't have vampires in it, then chances are there's a zombie to be found somewhere betwixt the covers. I'm so sick of those undead fuckers...

But then along comes this Daryl Gregory guy.  He writes two awesome books in Pandemonium and The Devils Alphabet, and then what does he do?  Writes a Dracula comic, and publishes a book about Zombies.  DAMN! Just when I thought I was done with the undead, I get pulled back in...

So with the genre being more bloated than a fat man on a bean and cheese diet, does Raising Stony Mayhall, a book with a zombie as the main protagonist, have anything new to offer?

Why, yes is does actually.

The world in which Raising Stony Mayhall takes place is one very similar to our own, with the biggest exception being that there was a Zombie outbreak in the 60's that nearly got out of hand and wiped out the entire human population.  Crisis averted, zombies are now public enemy number one, and are hunted and executed with impunity.  So, when Wanda Mayhall and her three daughters are driving home through an Iowan snowstorm and discover the body of a teen mom with a baby in her arms they are shocked to discover the baby is one of the living dead.

Rather than turn the baby over to authorities, they decide to keep the child, and strangely enough, the child begins to grow.  Not only does Stony grow, but he's also quite capable of thinking, learning, and do most of the other activities considered human.  For years, Stony was able to remain a secret from the world until a terrible event occurs and causes Stony to flee the only people he's ever known.  On the run and out of options, Stony quickly discovers that he's not the only living dead guy around.

It's pretty clear to see from the plot synopsis that Gregory's zombies aren't your typical brain dead shamblers.  The zombies of Raising Stony Mayhall are in fact much more than that. Like I mentioned before, they are capable of coherent thought, speech, and have the ability to learn. In fact, since they don't need to eat or sleep to stay alive, nor do they feel any pain; One could almost argue that they are kinda like an evolved species of human.  Granted, most of the zombies that populate Stony's world don't take advantage of this, and sit around all day smoking and watching daytime TV.  Still, for me this distinction was important, and a very interesting part of the book.  An interest that worked out well for me, because Stony too was interested in the science behind the zombies, and his search for the secrets of their genetics was one of my favorite aspects of the book.

As a group that is being hunted to extinction, the zombie underground network was another engaging aspect of this novel.  I enjoyed reading how the population managed to survive, and how the various factions within the group tried to gain sway over the zombie people. (Big Bite anyone?)  The political wranglings were quite fun to read, and the giant zombie meeting at a warehouse in the middle of nowhere made for a fantastic scene.

More than anything though this book is the story of Stony Mayhall's life, and his life is a pretty fascinating one.  We see all the events of the story through his eyes, and his struggles to not only help his species survive, but also gain acceptance by the rest of the world is quite amazing.  The fact the Gregory actually got me to root for zombies is no small feat.

As impressive as that is, I was also impressed that Gregory was able to once again deliver a story with a pretty powerful emotional punch, on top of an engaging story.  I think I was less moved by the emotional aspects of Raising Stony Mayhall than I was by the emotional bits in Pandemonium and The Devil's Alphabet, but I think that stems from Stony being a harder guy for me to relate to or connect with than Del or Pax.  Still, there's no doubt that Gregory is one of the sharpest writers going these days, and I love him for the fact that he can write fantasy that is fresh and different than most everything else on the shelves.  Gregory is a writer that deserves to be read.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Spotlight on Blue Estate

I wanna take some time and tell you all a little bit about one of my favorite comics of the moment, Blue Estate.  I've mentioned this comic a total of two times here at the blog, which frankly, doesn't do the comic justice.  Not even close.

Most recently, I lauded Blue Estate as a runner up to my favorite comics of the year, calling it "crafty, twisty crime writing at its finest". However, prior to that, Blue Estate garnered only one other mention, waaaaaay back in April when the first issue came out, and the best platitude I could muster back then was "pretty solid".

So how did Blue Estate go from pretty solid to the lofty ranks of a Battle Hymns "best of" runner up award?  Well, surprisingly the recipe for success is quite simple.

Blue Estate has done one crucial thing that has moved me from "pretty solid" to being one of my most favorite comics: it just gets better and better with each subsequent issue.  The first volume, which collects the first four issues is a great read, but personally, I got completely sucked in by the 5th-8th issues. Everything awesome about Blue Estate got more awesome in these issues, and when things get completely ratcheted up like that, I get really excited.

Allow me to highlight some of the awesomeness...

As each issue comes along, I've gotten to know each character a bit better. I discover bits about their past, their motivations, and how they are interconnected with the other characters that populate the series.  In Blue Estate, you get a lot of what at the surface might seem like familiar crime story cliches;  There's a troubled starlet, a Russian mafioso, Italian mobsters, private eyes, detectives, strippers, and so on.  However, these characters are in no way caricatures of things you've seen before.  These characters are becoming increasingly fleshed out, and developed so that, while they have an air of familiarity, these "standbys" of the crime genre are being taken in new and interesting directions.

I know I might be mixing my story telling mediums a bit here, but the best comparison I can make, and probably the highest praise I can heap on, is that the characters in Blue Estate remind me a lot of George R.R. Martin's characters from A Song of Ice and Fire in the sense that there's some I love, some I hate, some that I love to hate, some that are pure entertainment to read, and others who I started out not liking and now like, and vice-versa.  Most importantly, like I do with ASoIaF, when certain characters aren't in a particular issue, I miss them.  With such well crafted characters at the core of the series, I find myself pining away between issues.

Putting my emotions aside for a moment, there is one other key element of awesomeness I want to point out, and that is the plotting.  Simply put, Blue Estate has some of the most insanely intricate plotting I've seen. I'll be the first to admit, I pretty much have no idea where this story is going. But you know what?  That's fine with me because I've developed a lot of faith in the writing of Viktor Kalvachev and Kosta Yanev and the scripting by Andrew Osborne.  As the story progresses there's been conclusions to scenes, and story lines that have knocked my socks off with the way they are concluded not only with crafty writing, but with a sense of humor, and a large degree of style.  The "style" factor is hard to put into words, but it makes its mark in the atmosphere, the dialog, and the art.

Furthermore, the writers have pulled off a fantastic, magician-like performance in terms of keeping things hidden, keeping me guessing, and delivering little clues along the way that deceive, hint and enthrall.  These factors add up, and give me faith that there's great things to come for this series.  There's no doubt that there's some hidden agendas I know nothing about, and I can't wait to see where things go.

I should also add that back in April, when I discussed the first issue, I wasn't completely in love with the rotating art duties.  I've since come to terms with it, and frankly have no problems with it at this point.  I think as I've become accustomed to the story and the characters, the changing art styles feels like second nature at this point, and has become yet another unique and endearing quality of Blue Estate.

I hope some of you give Blue Estate a shot, so we can talk about it here, and give the dudes at the comic shop a rest from my monthly rave-sessions.  The first two volumes are out now (or will be by tomorrow 1/11), so this is a great time to check out an awesome series.

Grade so far (Issues 1-8): A

Monday, January 9, 2012

Comic Quickies: In With the New

The Activity #1: When I heard that Nathan Edmondson, the author behind the awesome Who is Jake Ellis? had a new spy/espionage series coming out, did two things: 1) fist pump  2) immediately add the comic to my pull list.

When The Activity finally arrived in my pull box, I took it home, pulled it out and began to read. From past Edmondsonian reading experiences I was fully expecting to be completely hooked by around page two or three.  Sure enough, I was pleased to see things get off to a nice start with a slick little spy-team mission.  Sadly, that early momentum wasn't sustained throughout the entire issue.

Once the opening sequence is over, you meet the cast of characters, learn about their job: a soldier and civilian team of covert operatives who use the fanciest technology and handle the most high-stakes operations.  You also learn that one of their team was recently killed in action, so with their new recruit in tow, the team heads to Rome to clean up a botched mission by another agency.

It's sad to admit, but as far as first issues go, I found this one to be pretty boring.  The cast introductions were pretty standard, and the clean up mission was dull and lacking in any kind of tension.  My hope is that with introductions and introductory missions out of the way, things will pick up from here.  I have pretty high expectations for this considering how great Who is Jake Ellis? was, hopefully The Activity will deliver.

Sacrifice #1: Completely self published and self distributed, Sacrifice is a title that is probably pretty hard to come by, especially considering the hype surrounding this title prior to it's release. Admittedly, I bought into the hype, and even went to a rival comic shop (the only one in town to carry copies) to secure my copy.  With illicit comic in hand, I dove in.

Your basic package is this: some time travel, Aztec sacrifice ceremonies, and some trippy ass art.  Apparently there's some Joy Division references or something in there too, but if they were, they went right over my head.

Basically, what happens is a dude named Hector eats some fast food, then mysteriously time travels back 700 years or so to the time of the Aztecs.  Next thing you know he's caught up in some sort of political struggle between rival religious factions and literally trying to keep his head on his shoulders, and hopefully avoiding getting killed once the Europeans come.

Though there was a degree of guilty pleasure involved in getting this title into my possession, I can't say that I was really drawn in by the story, which is a bit confounding to me, because I'm usually a sucker for time travel, and things trippy.  The art is sorta bipolar; great one moment, then ugly the next.  Sadly, there was nothing here to hook me, and without the power of being written or drawn by a trusted creator, I probably wont give this another shot. Just not my flavor.

Fatale #1: Crime, magic, horror and a story-within-a-story all rolled into one?  Without a doubt, Fatale, the latest from super duo Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is right up my comic reading alley. As you can imagine, I was hooked quite early in this one, and then Brubaker and Phillips continued to set the hook, and reel me in as the issue progressed.

There's a lot going on in this first issue, a lot to take in, but the gist is this: the godson of a recently deceased crime writer discovers an unpublished manuscript, and winds up running for his life from would be killers.  He is saved from being gunned down by a mysterious woman he's only met briefly once before at the writer's funeral...only to nearly die in a fiery car crash.  When he awakes in the hospital, he begins to read through the manuscript, further unveiling more mysteries, and questions for the already beleaguered reader.

With points of view that alternate between the mystery woman, a crooked cop, and a reporter who's in over his head, Brubaker definitely throws the reader in at the deep end.  Plenty of seeds were planted here in the first issue, and from the looks of things, this is gonna be an incredibly entertaining comic to read in the coming months.  A very promising start to a new series from two of my favorite comic creators.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Book Review: Haunted

It had been too long since I'd last read me some Chuck Palahniuk and Haunted had been sitting neglected on my shelves for far too long, so in an effort to do a bit of a year-end clean out, I picked this one up and gave it a go.

If you've never read anything by Chuck Palahniuk, his stuff is, to say the least, interesting.  His characters often tend to be folks who are fed up with the normal, run of the mill life and wind up rebelling in violent or illicit ways against the norms of society.  In some ways, Haunted, and the characters that populate the tale, fit this description; but in many ways do just the opposite by engaging in sometimes extreme behavior so that they fit in with society's image of what their life should be like.

Haunted is a book comprised of 23 short stories "written" by the characters who have all answered an ad for a writers retreat.  Assuming the retreat will be some cushy place where the writers can idle in luxury and miraculously create their masterpiece, the diverse and strange group of "artists" are woefully unprepared when they discover that they are being held against their will in a situation that is more like "Survivor" meets the Donnor Party than it is Villa Diodati.

Once the group discovers that they are trapped until they can create their masterpiece, there seems to be group effort to make their living situation as dire and horrible as possible so that when the media discovers them, their personal survival story will be all the more interesting and marketable.  From there, characters take to extremes to make themselves the "star" of the story by any means necessary, which often includes the removal of body parts.

As time passes, and behaviors become more extreme, the short stories themselves become increasingly intense.  Palahniuk has a strong gift for writing that will completely suck you in, often against your will. There were many times during Haunted that I was queasy from the content, but couldn't bring myself to stop reading.  That said, there are times when Palahniuk can write things that are absolutely hilarious, and on the flip side of that coin, write something that is absolutely the most disgusting thing you've ever read, only to outdo himself a chapter or two later.  It makes for quite the reading experience.

If you like to feel like you are running a gauntlet of pain, depravity, and nausea inducing moments only to arrive at the end and see that your reward is punch in the gut, than you can do no wrong with Chuck Palahniuk and Haunted.  But, rest assured, there's no doubt that you'll be reading something completely different than your usual piece of fiction.

In Haunted, Palahniuk's skill and story telling prowess is top notch, and his ability to suck a reader in is uncanny.  However, I think his style of fiction is maybe an acquired taste, and probably not for everyone.   If you are like me, and have a type of story or style of narrative that you enjoy but occasionally go looking for something outside your reading comfort zone, than Haunted is a great place to venture to. I enjoyed being outside of my reading comfort zone.  That being said, I've enjoyed some of Palahniuk's other works more than this one.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Album Review: Kyuss- Welcome to Sky Valley

Before he reached rockstar status with Queens of the Stone Age Josh Homme was in a little stoner metal band called Kyuss.  In QotSA Homme handles both lead guitar and singing duties, however, in his Kyuss days, at the tender age of 15 to 22 he was just a young phenom guitarist.  Though the band is filled with highly talented stalwart performers, I think Homme’s unique guitar tone, which he achieved by playing through a bass amp, is what gives the band their dirty, dusty, desert sound that makes them a completely unique entity in the metal genre. 

Kyuss is one of those bands that somehow never quite reached the level of recognition they deserved, and in fact, are sadly mostly obscure, which is crazy given how awesome this band is.  Though their entire catalog is worth giving a listen to, my favorite is their third album, Welcome to Sky Valley

Maybe the band didn’t want to get big, because they didn’t do themselves any favors or make this album very accessible due to the fact that they lumped their songs together on this album three per-track, which makes listening to an individual song a bit of a pain in the ass.  As an full-album-or-nothing guy I don’t have such a problem with this, but I can see how it would really bother a lot of people.  

With Welcome to Sky Valley, Kyuss achieved a unique sound that others have tried to duplicate, but failed.   Homme's guitars have a low trudgey tone that induces instant head banging.  The bass thunders, and when you add in the drums you get a unique heavy sound that feels slow, but actually moves along at a pretty fast pace.

The only caveat here is that vocalist's John Garcia's voice is a bit of an acquired taste.  His range is quite limited, but he never tries to go outside of his comfort zone and if you do enjoy his voice, then it is no sweat.

Criminally under-listened, Kyuss may just be the best band not many folks of heard of.  If you aren't already a listener, remedy that ASAP. Every song on Welcome to Sky Valley is an incredible piece of desert metal magnificence, and unique sounding.  So get out there, get your hands on Welcome to Sky Valley and branch out from there.  Enjoy!

Check out the Demon Cleaner video...Sorry, I wasn't able to embed it!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

It's That Time Again...Blogiversary!

Holy Shit!  Battle Hymns is 2 years old today!  In internet terms, that is like the equivalent of a pimply tween or something.   Scary.

As awesome as my first year of blogging was, I gotta say, the second year was even better.  More people checking out the site, more comments, more exciting interactions, more posts...oh wait, actually, one less post than the year before.  All in all, a wonderful year, and the kicker is that, this coming year looks to be even better.

Before I blab on too much, I just want to say thanks to everyone who stops by Battle Hymns and shares some of their time with the blog.  I greatly appreciate it, and continue to be completely charmed/chuffed/touched that you feel the urge, or have the interest to read what I have to say.  It's really quite awesome of you.

In my personal life, if all goes to plan, then I'll graduate in 2012, and hopefully score what people call a "real job".  The graduating part will be awesome, and I'll be a much happier man once I get school in my rear view mirror.  The "real job" part, well, the awesomeness of that remains to be seen.

In my blogging life, I have a shelf full of great stuff I'm drooling over that I can't wait to read and review/share here at Battle Hymns.  I'm also hoping that once I get done with school, that I'll have a bit more spare time to dedicate to making the blog more awesome than it already is, and add more content.  Until then, I'll do my very best to entertain and enthrall all who visit with my usual reviews of books, comics, and music along with the occasional other stuffs...  Hopefully you'll all continue to join me!