Thursday, May 31, 2012

Kicking it Old School: Ensign Flandry

I've decided to go ahead and give this series of old timey Sci-Fi and Fantasy reviews an official name: Kicking it Old School

What books will fit into that category?  Well, this is up for debate, but for now I'll say: any book written before I  knew how to read, (1986), will be considered fair game for Kicking it Old School. However, I may push that publication date up as far as 1990 if necessary...that may rouse debates among Old School historians out there, and if so, feel free to debate what can and should be considered "Old School" in the comments section. 

My second excursion into the old school annals of science fiction and fantasy didn't pan out as well as my first go 'round.  Poul Anderson's Ensign Flandry seemed like it might be a fun read as it appeared to promise a sort of James Bond-style adventure --- in space, and not in a shitty Moonraker sort of way.

Well, truth be told, Ensign Flandry does have a very James Bondian feel to it.  The novel stars young Dominic Flandry, an Ensign in the Terran Empire's navy.

When things kick off, Flandry finds himself waylaid after a crash landing on a backwater neutral planet when he (quite accidentally) becomes the hero of a battle between the planet's two primary sentient species.  Aside from helping him gain the respect of the locals, it helps him get noticed by the local Imperial brass, and Flandry soon finds himself caught up in the greater struggle between his own Terran Empire and their rivals the Mersian Empire.

Before this one is over, Flandry's adventures will take him across the length of a galaxy, under a sea inhabited by sentient sea-folk, into the heart of enemy territory, and into the arms of a lover or three.

Along the way, Flandry relies heavily on luck to defeat his enemies, and uses his wits to help him bed a few intergalactic babes.  Sound familiar?  Though Ensign Flandry wasn't published until 1966, a solid 13 years after Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, it appears Flandry made his debut way back in 1951 in a Poul Anderson short story (if we are to trust Wikipedia).  Either way, the familiarity of the two characters is similar, but there's a lot of characters who are just like other characters out there in the world of fantasy, SF, comics, and what have you, so whatever.

Similarities to pop culture icons aside, the problem I had with this one was that this wasn't all that exciting of a book. Overall, this is a pretty slow read, with the plot unfolding pretty slowly. There's a lot of exposition and discussion of what is going on in the galaxy, but not a lot of showing those things going on.  With the galaxy teetering on the edge of war, and dashing young dude as the main character you'd expect there to be lots of clandestine action, but sadly the bits when people stop talking and start acting are few and far between. When Anderson did deliver an action scene or two, he tended to gloss them over, and describe what happened in retrospect.

Worst of all, the final climactic scene, which is a fairly large space battle, has Flandry more or less on the sidelines as things unfold. Who ever heard of a main character sitting out the climax of a book which has his name on the cover?  I was flummoxed.

As a whole, this book had too many shortcomings to really win me over.  Truth be told, there wasn't really anything all that special about this one at all. Sad but true.  I don't see myself carrying on and reading any more of the Flandry books, but I'm determined to not let this deter me from reading and enjoying some more old school sf/f.

Grade: 6.5 Slap Bracelets

Monday, May 28, 2012

Comic Quickies: Dial T for Tardy

Comic Quickies are back after a brief hiatus.  I've been so insanely busy with school and other life adventures that I've haven't had much time for blogging.  In fact, this is the first time I've sat down to pound out a blog post in over a week... I've been able to keep the blog semi-regular with updates thanks to a couple blogging binges where I cranked out a load of posts, but that supply is starting to dwindle.  So, even though much of the stuff in this Comic Quickies is a week or more old, it's stuff I've read this month that I think merits mention.

Dial H #1: I knew as soon as I heard about China Mieville's comic debut, Dial H, I would have to pick up the first issue.  However, I did a dumb thing and didn't add it to my pull list, so on the day this one came out, I walked into the store to grab a copy off the shelf, and was sadly denied because the shop had sold out all of their copies.  I had to wait two weeks for the re-order to come in, and then, grabbed one of the last few re-order issues. So, suffice it to say that the "H" stands for "hot".

Keeping with China Mieville's modus operandi, this one is kinda weird.  It starts out as two out of shape friends are having an argument about being out of shape.  One guy leaves in a huff, only to be attacked by street thugs a few blocks down the street.  Nelson, the other friend, hustles to try and help, but catches an epic haymaker for the effort.  Luckily, he gets punched right into a phone booth, and while trying to dial 911, somehow gets magically turned into a strange freakshow of a superhero by the name of Boy Chimney.

As the magical smoke-phantasm producing Boy Chimney, Nelson is able to ward off the attackers and carry his friend to safety.  He then awakes a few hours later on random roof top with a minimal memory of the night's events.  After piecing things back together, Nelson figures out that his buddy has gotten on the wrong side of his sketchy employer.  Hoping to set things straight with his new-found Boy Chimney skills, Nelson returns to the magic phone booth and tries to duplicate the previous night's transformation, which he sorta does, but with vastly different results.  From there things get weird and weirder.

I can't really say I was a fan of this one.  It is just all kindsa strange, and nothing about the first issue made me care about what was going on.  Maybe I'll check out the collected trade sometime down the road, but for now, I'm gonna pass on this one.

The Bulletproof Coffin Disinterred #4: Rounding out the "That Shit Cray" double header for the month is the fourth issue of The Bulletproof Coffin Disinterred.  This one scores high in weirdness for the fact that it is a total non-linear issue comprised of 84 panels printed in random sequence.  Yup.  Weird.

The idea here is that one can just paw through the issue willy-nilly and read the damn thing in any order and achieve some sense of entertainment and enlightenment.  I'm not so sure I was enlightened, but this sure was entertaining.  It was one strange, fucked up issue, but I'm always interested to see how people push the comics medium in new and cool directions.  Shaky Kane's art was awesome and trippy as per usual, so I was hugely entertained by that to say the least.

Though the first Bulletproof Coffin mini series provided a great story, this second mini series appears to be just a collection of one-shots set in the world of BPC.  So far, there is nothing to tie together the four distinctly different narratives that we've seen so far, but I also wouldn't put it past Hine and Kane to tie it all together somehow by the end.  If you wanna get your dose of strange, surreal and off-beat in the same serving, Bulletproof Coffin is your medicine.

Mystery in Space (One-Shot): So, uh, I totally picked this up because it had a short comic in here by Nnedi Okorafor.  Sure, there were a few other draws, like the Ryan Sook cover, and the Mike Allred short, but it was pretty much all about Nnedi.

Her story is pretty cool.  I'm not sure if this is her first foray into comics or not, but she's off to a pretty good start.  The story, The Elgort had Okorafor's stamp all over it as her writerly voice, or whatever you wanna call it, came through loud and clear from the get go.  Her scripting was a little shaky, but the story was assisted by some purely sublime art by Michael Kaluta, who I was familiar with from some Rocketeer Adventures stuff.  Overall, The Elgort was a great fantasy story veiled as an SF tale.  This one stood out as the champ of the collection.

The whole she-bang-a-bang probably wasn't worth the $7.99 price tag, but I enjoyed enough of the various comics to be entertained.  I find that I always get really excited about short comic collections, but am ultimately disappointed by what's between the covers.  Maybe  I should lay off them for a while.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Review: Scourge of the Betrayer

Many fantasy debuts get lots of attention and hype, then fail to live up to expectations.  In my experience, it is a rare occasion when a fantasy debut not only lives up to the hype, but exceeds my own expectations and manages to bring something new and fresh to the table.  Jeff Salyards' debut, The Scourge of the Betrayer, does just that.

Arkamondos, a young, bookish and inexperienced scribe has recently been hired to chronicle the exploits of a band of soldiers from the Syldoon Empire.  Syldoon soldiers have a dire reputation throughout the realm as treacherous bastards who eat babies and virgins, so it should come as no surprise that the group Arki hires on with are a tough bunch.  The toughest and most enigmatic of them all is the company's captain, and leader, Braylar Killcoin.

Braylar is a mysterious guy to say the least, simultaneously frightening and fascinating. Braylar's weapon of choice, a flail, bearing the heads of old long lost gods, is as mysterious as it's owner, as the weapon appears to possess some magical qualities.  However, Arki signed on with this crew in hopes of recording a historic adventure, and it appears that's what he'll get as they embark on a mysterious mission...all he's gotta do is survive the adventure, and Braylar's temper to tell the tale.

Scourge of the Betrayer, the first installment in the Bloodsounder's Arc series, wastes no time getting rolling as Salyards drops the reader right into the head of Arkamondos.  From page one onward the reader experiences the novel through Arki's perspective, which makes for a very interesting read.  Though Scourge of the Betrayer seems like it would fall into the category of epic fantasy, the book has a very intimate feel as Salyards uses the first person perspective to give the reader an up close and personal view of the book's events.  Not only does Salyards achieve this through Arki's perspective, but also through his flat out brilliant descriptive writing.  The man does a wonderful job with his world building, or maybe more accurately, scene setting to the point where I felt like I could smell the blood, the mud, the beer...and the offal.  Though little of the world and it's settings, cities and regions are explored, those that were featured had a high level of detail and were places that brimmed with life and realism.

Not only did Salyards impress with his ability to give his story a strong sense of place but the people he populated his story with were impressive as well. Even though Arki, and many of the other Syldoon soldiers were impressively written and stood out as memorable, Braylar Killcoin sorta stole the show here.  Braylar is an incredibly interesting and mysterious character, and I found myself always wanting to know more about him.  Salyards does a great job of introducing Braylar, building him up, planting a few questions and seeds of mystery in the reader's head then slowly delivering the reveals as the book progresses.  That can't all be an easy thing to pull off, but Salyards does it in style.

Sure, I might have described this as "intimate" Epic Fantasy, but there certainly are hints that the events in this book will become threads in a much larger tapestry as the series progresses.  Strangely enough, even though lots happened here in terms of character development, world building, and story progression, Scourge of the Betrayer is a slim 255 pages. That's a page count that is almost unheard of in these days of giant cinderblock sized fantasy novels. Believe me, there is a lot of substance packed into the book here.  In fact, I'd say that there's absolutely zero fluff, or wasted pages here at all.  Instead, there's a great deal of efficient writing that doesn't waste time telling the reader what is going on, and instead shows in fantastic, in-your-face detail.

So, my gut reaction: Holy shit, this is an impressive book!  Scourge of the Betrayer has everything I look for in a book; great characters that I care for and want to know more about, a fantastic setting I enjoy, and a plot that captures my imagination, engages my mind, gets me to ask questions and yearn for answers.  This is one hell of a debut, and I can't wait for the next installment in this series.  Highly recommended.

Grade: A

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Transmetropolitan Vol. 4 The New Scum AND Vol. 5 Lonely City

I admit to feeling a little bit guilty as I write this because it has been ages since I read the material I'm sharing with you...and by the time this post actually goes live, more time will have passed between the actual reading of and blogging about. (I read these on April 9th and 10th.) Two reasons for the long delay come immediately to mind:

Reason the first:  I've had a few reads recently that I've wanted to write timely reviews for, so I've bumped them ahead in the queue.

The second: I'm a little unsure of the worth of reviewing anything after the first three volumes or so of a long comic series...if someone has made it this far into a series, they'll probably keep reading regardless of my review right?  And if someone is reading my review of the 4th, or 8th volume of a series, is that gonna make them want to read volume 1?  I can come up with good arguments for and against either question...

In the end, my answer for anything regarding the blog is this: If I have something to say about it I'll say it.

So, in regards to a long comic series; if I think there is something worth mentioning about a particular volume, I'll blog about it here.  So maybe that means there wont be reviews about volumes 6 and 7, but there will be for volume 8, or whatever.

Well, it just so happens that I do have something to say about these books, or maybe more accurately, I have something to say about my comic reviews and the actual reviewing these comics will be a good way to discuss that issue too.

One of my favorite blogs about comics is 4th Letter!, particularly the posts written by David Brothers, a guy who always seems to have intelligent, compelling and challenging things to say about comics and the medium.  Well, he recently wrote a post where he said:

"...if you write a review that’s got one paragraph of art discussion toward the end… mannnnnnn. I looked at the eight most recentreviews on CBR and seven out of the eight have a few paragraphs about the writing, one paragraph about the art, and then an outro. Like they’re writing from a template. Boring.

Listen, here’s a challenge to everyone who writes reviews, especially if you do this lazy words-first thing. Find a comic you like. Write a review that’s predominately about the art, and leave one short paragraph toward the end for the writing. Talking about art isn’t hard. You look at it, you examine how it makes you feel and how it portrays the action on the page. Take a close look and find something you like, and then talk about why you like it.

This is simple, and if you’re writing about comics, you should be able to do this. You don’t have to be fluent at art. You just have to be conversational. Comics is a visual medium. There are words, yes, but when you open a page, the first thing you see is the pictures. So how about you pay attention and talk about the pictures in something more than a perfunctory manner?"

I read these paragraphs and I though to myself: Fuuuuuuck.  I am so guilty of that.

Maybe that isn't true about every comic review I post, but it's true for the majority, and certainly, anytime I've spoken about the Transmetropolitan series, that has been the case for sure. Which is a total injustice because Darick Robertson is responsible for some really great art in this series.

What strikes me as most interesting about Robertson's art in Transmetropolitan is that his art is highly detailed, and expressive and evocative, but there are a lot of times when I don't like looking at it.  The guy is masterful at capturing and depicting the grit and the grime and the ugliness of life and there are times when he does this so well it can be painful to see because it is so true to life.  

There's a single page splash in The New Scum that has just burned itself right into my brain and refuses to be scrubbed away.  There's a bunch of single page splashes throughout the opening sequence of this trade, and they are meant to depict the pictures of the city that Spider Jerusalem has captured via his glasses.  The one that I can't get out of my head is of two men carrying a spitted dog between them and the caption says: "The dogmongers carrying their wares to market."  In the foreground there's a flaming oil drum and the eyes of the two men are just completely lifeless.

It's the lifelessness of the eyes that gets me because I've seen that look, that complete lack of spark in people's eyes before. Even though it is hard to see when I'm reading a comic to escape and forget about life, stuff, whatever, it is an incredible talent that Robertson possesses.  I can't really think of too many other artists that can really capture the human condition and all the craziness and sadness and tragedy that exists in cities, or the world.

I guess what I'm saying is that there's a rawness and realness to Robertson's work. Whether he's drawing Spider in a sumo-suit, screaming at the top of his lungs while charging his assistant, or drawing the absolute worst of police brutality, he brings life and all its joys and harsh truths to the page and that is what makes these Transmetropolitan books special, unsettling, memorable and ultimately worth reading.

For my money, it's Robertson's ability to bring Warren Ellis' nutty, futuristic world to life that really gives this comic an identity.  His art defines the series and raises it up to a higher level.  So, if you are reading this and haven't given the Transmetropolitian series a shot yet, I encourage you to do so.  It's a comic sereis that will challenge your comfort zone as much as it will thrill and entertain. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Book Review: The Wind Through The Keyhole

Ok, sure, when news of this book came out, I wasn't exactly dancing the commala in excitement. In fact, I was a bit wary of the whole idea.  However, I slowly came around and decided to make this one a day-of-release purchase when it came out.  Well, I tried to do that at least, but my book store of choice was sold out of copies by the time I got there and had to wait two days for new ones to come in.  Woe is me!

Believe it or not, I survived that terrible ordeal and took it upon myself to devour this tasty morsel in as few sittings as possible.  Of course school and life conspired to make that dream shatter and I was instead relegated to scraping together all the tiny quiet moments in my life and turning them into Dark Tower reading moments.  In the end, the consumption arrangement didn't matter, because damn it, I was once again back in Mid-World with my old pals Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah and Oy, and I was willing to say a big thankee to Sai King for that.

The Wind Through The Keyhole is best described, as it has been elsewhere a hundred times over, as Dark Tower 4.5, meaning that it fits nice and snug between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla.  If you are new to the series, or just working your way through, and you get to read this one in sequence, I am pretty fucking jealous, because I think this book works best in sequence rather than as an add-on after one has read the whole series.  The reason I say that is because, with the whole series behind me, there was a bit less tension in this one than there could have been.  Still, this was a fun and entertaining addition to the Dark Tower series.

My favorite thing about this book is that it is a story-within-a-story-within-a-story.  I don't know why, but I love that kind of shit.  The novel begins with Roland and his ka-tet holing up in an abandoned town to wait out a brutal storm called a Starkblast.  While the weather rages on outside, Roland entertains the crew with a story from his gunslinging youth, titled Skin Man.

This story features Roland and his former ka-tet mate, Jamie DeCurry, as they travel to a distant barony to investigate a series of grisly killings that may be the work of a shape-shifter.  When they arrive in Debaria, Roland and Jamie encounter a town still reeling from the night's previous attack which left a score or more farmers, field hands, women and children dead.  Miraculously, there's one survivor, a young lad by the name of Bill Streeter.  Since young Bill is Roland's only and best  lead in finding the killer, he quickly puts together a plan to nab the skin-man.  The catch is, young Bill plays a critical role in said nabbing and in order to calm Bill's nerves before the big event, Roland tells him the story of The Wind Through The Keyhole, an origin story/coming of age tale of sorts for Tim Stoutheart, a legendary Gunslinger.

Though I enjoyed each of the three stories this book provides, my hands-down favorite was the title story itself, The Wind Through The Keyhole.  This is one of the finest works of storytelling I've had the pleasure to enjoy.  It felt like I was reading a classic fable or folktale as told by Stephen King...a very awesome experience.  This one had some great classic fantasy elements in it, complete with haunted forests, dragons, dark magic, and even strange little people that I pictured as a cross between oompa-loompas and brown barbaloots. (Probably not how King intended them to be imagined, but fuck it, I'm my own man.)  All this with some decidedly King-esque twists and mutations to old standards and you have one fantastic story.

Aside from The Wind Through The Keyhole portion of the novel, the rest of the book was borderline mediocre in terms of entertainment value...which is kinda strange given that The Wind Through The Keyhole story is the furthest removed from having a connection to the actual Dark Tower series.  The reason I didn't enjoy the other two portions as much boils down to the fact that I already knew what happens before and after those events; so there wasn't much tension to either story line.  That doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy this book, or that I didn't savor each new, fresh moment with Roland and his ka-tet, but this one lacked the power that a book possesses when the reader does not know how things will turn out. Don't get me wrong, the whole book is a good one, but for me, it suffered from being an after-the-fact addition to the main storyline.

All told, it was pretty sweet to back in Mid-World and I'm grateful for the opportunity for new Dark Tower material, especially stuff that didn't alter or change what had already come before.  The kicker is, this didn't really add anything to the story either and in no way feels essential to the series.  Sure it's a good book, but it could be taken completely out of the series and it wouldn't effect a damn thing.  You can't say that about any of the other books in the series, and I think that's where King faltered most. Sure, he slipped this one in nicely between books 4 and 5, but it doesn't really matter because he doesn't really do anything other than give some side story and fill in unnecessary details that we don't really need to know.

So...yes, I'm happy this book exists; purely because I'm a big fan of the Dark Tower books.  Yes, the book is a fun and entertaining read, and even has some extended moments of sheer brilliance, but for me, the book was lacking because it fails to be an essential addition to the Dark Tower series.  Solid, but not solid gold.

Grade: B

Friday, May 18, 2012

I Get Around

Today I have the pleasure of Guest Poster of the day over at Bookworm Blues.  Sarah asked me if I'd like to to take part in her Special Need in Strange Worlds event, and of course, I jumped at the opportunity.  Not only was she kind enough to grant me the opportunity, but Sarah also said some very kind things about me in her introduction, which totally brightened my day!

If you haven't yet stopped by Bookworm Blues today, stop and and take a look at my guest post, My Favorite Differently Abled Characters. While you're there, take the time to read through all the other amazing guest posts people have contributed...they are quite impressive.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Nightmare Alley

One things for sure, Seattle is a pretty sweet place to live if you are into comics.  Not only are there some baller comic shows to hit up, but we also have some great comic shops as well.  Among the best of 'em is the retail shop for indie publishing house Fantagraphics Books.  Fantagraphics is responsible for publishing some of the very best cartoonists in the business, and for publishing cool underground comics. Their stuff is always high quality when it comes to printing and binding and all that stuff that makes a book feel special when you hold it in your hands.

In an effort to not blow all my money on comics, I hold myself to about two visits to Fantagraphics per year.  The thing is, I always leave having spent more than I anticipated, all because they have such an amazing selection of comics on hand.  My most recent trip yielded a few sweet purchases, one of which I've already spoken about here, Seth's It's a Good Life if you Don't Weaken, and at least one more that I'll cover here at a later date.

Anyway, I always try to pick up one thing that seems a little out of my ordinary reading comfort zone, and this time I took a chance on Spain Rodriguez' Nightmare Alley.  I've been entertained by carny tales before and this one looked like a it had a bit of a mix between Tod Browning's Freaks, Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes with a dash of Priest's The Prestige.  As it turns out, Nightmare Alley is it's own beast, yet reminiscent of those other works I mentioned as well.

When the story starts out, the primary character, Stanton Carlisle is low-rung assistant in a mind reading act, which is part of a traveling carnival.  Thanks to some sleeping around, a fortuitous death, and his own skill, Stanton quickly rises up though the ranks and before too long has left the carnival life behind for greener pastures.  Eventually he comes to headlining his own show as The Great Stanton, which though lucrative, isn't enough.  With swindling in his blood, Stanton starts up an elaborate, phony, yet convincing career as a spiritualist which really starts the dough rolling in.  The problem is, Stanton is plagued by strange dreams, and the unquenchable desire to always make more money.  What transpires is one of the more tragic rise and fall stories I've read.

Nightmare Alley was originally a novel, then a movie, and now finds a new medium as a graphic novel.  I've never been such a huge fan of adaptations, as I'm a firm believer that the medium something is created in should be the destination, not merely a vehicle for the work being adapted into other mediums.  We see this most often with books and comics being adapted into movies, but rarely the other way around as is the case with this one.

Biggest word bubbles ever.
So how did Nightmare Alley fare as an adaptation?'s pretty awkward at times.  The biggest thing I had a problem with was that there were some ginormous word bubbles all throughout the comic.  The  gigantic word bubbles were pretty obnoxious, and tended to drag down the pacing of the story.  This also put a lot of the onus on the words rather than the art which, in my opinion, was detrimental to the comic.  I wish that when Spain had made his adaptation, he had trimmed down the dialog to be comic-friendly.  That doesn't have to mean cutting a shit load of material either, it must means altering the source material to work best in the new medium.

This adaptation also suffered from some awkward transitions.  There were times when the comic would move from moment in the story's timeline to the next with no warning or context for a change.  This was confusing as hell, and frustrating to say the least.

Spain uses the four panel page as his standard, go-to format for most of the book, with deviations from this format occurring every now and then.  I don't recall having seen this four panel approach used extensively before, but it was both a blessing and a curse for me here. I liked that it allowed for Spain to really fill the page with lots of detailed art, but often, much of the large panels will just filled with the huge word bubbles.  It seems silly to work in such a large panel format, then utilize the space for something that ultimately took away from the story.

Spain's cartooning was a bit hit or miss for me as well.  There were some pages I couldn't take my eyes off, and others that flew completely off my radar.  His style wasn't exactly something that I immediately fell in love with when I flipped through the comic prior to purchase, but it is a style that matches up well with the content of the story.  I really enjoyed his pages and panels that depicted the carny life.  He really captured the seediness and weirdness that is such a big part of the whole traveling carnival.

Spain was also quite excellent when it came to creating atmosphere with his art.  This played out in a lot of different ways, but was most notable when he wanted things to feel creepy and strange.  He was really good at utilizing unique angles to depict scenes which, while subtle, helped make certain scenes and sequences have more power.

In the end, Nightmare Alley had too many ups and downs for me to really enjoy the whole package.  The story had too many awkward moments, and I attributed this to a weak adaptation from novel/film to comics.  Though Spain's art was the real, and only star, it was often overshadowed, or overwhelmed by the monstrous word bubbles that plagued nearly every page.  Sadly, there wasn't really anything to fall in love with here, and I can only recommend this for devoted carny-fiction fans or Spain Rodriguez fans.  Otherwise, I think Nightmare Alley would fall flat for more casual readers.

Grade: C

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Coming Soon: More Rocketeer!

First the comics world taketh away, then it giveth back....or technically the other way around since this news is a month and a half old, but whatevs.

The good news is that IDW, the publishing house that has brought us not one, but two awesome Rocketeer anthology mini-series, is bringing a full-length Rocketeer adventure to fans this August.  Even though this was announced waaaaay back in mid-March, I somehow missed this wonderful little piece of good news, but I'm elated enough to share it now.

From the looks of things, the writing will be handled by Mark Waid, and the art by Chris Samnee.  Both choices I approve of for the series.  Waid seems to have a knack for recapturing the silver-age feel in his work, while delivering an entertaining script.  On the art side, Samnee is simply an awesome artist, and he seems like a great match for the Rocketeer.  If you don't believe me, check out his deviant art page.

Here's what IDW had to say about the series:

"IDW is pleased to announce that this summer, Dave Stevens' legendary, high-flying avenger of the skies will soar once again!  This August, renowned writer Mark Waid teams up with the inimitable Chris Samnee to bring The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom! to comic shop shelves everywhere.
Everyone's favorite adventure-prone jetpack owner, Cliff Secord, finds himself at the center of another adventure when a mysterious tanker pulls into L.A. Harbor carrying dangerous cargo."  

From what I can tell, this is meant to be a four issue mini-series.  Even though this is four more issues of Rocketeer material than I expected, I sorta wish it was more.  Hopefully IDW, Waid and Samnee will have success and they'll keep rolling out more Rocketeer material.  Either way, since this news, for me, came hot on the heels of the imminent end of Sweet Tooth, I feel a bit better about the world of comics.  

Proof that Samnee and the Rocketeer are a good match. 

If you haven't done so already, I strongly urge you to check out IDW's Rocketeer Adventures anthologies.  The first one is available in a spiffy hardcover trade, and the first two issues of the second anthology are available in floppies at your friendly neighborhood comic shop. Do yourself a favor and check 'em out!  

**Special thankee-sais to Comics Alliance and IDW for the info and pics!  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book Review: Demon Squad - At The Gates

How good are Tim Marquitz' Demon Squad novels?  They're good. Good to the point that I was excited enough when At the Gates arrived here at Battle Hymns HQ to give it the rarely seen "double bump".  What the fuck is a "double bump" you might ask?  Well, a double bump is when I get a book, bump it to the top of my to-read pile, then when I'm done reading it, bump it to the top of my review queue.  See? Pretty special.

Things pick up in At the Gates more or less mere moments after things left off in Resurrection. Frank Trigg's angelic cousin showed up at his front door, beaten to within an inch of her life and bearing the news that Heaven has fallen.  That's a lot to take in all at once and before he can wrap his brain around all that, Frank is forced into action as he must deal with a trio of thugs sent to put an end to his cousin, Scarlett.

Once the dust clears and Frank has a chance to catch his breath, he learns that there's a brutal war going down in heaven with the gates of Eden and a few stalwart defenders the only things that can hold back an army bent on the destruction of not only Earth, but the destruction of Heaven and Hell too.  As per usual, our old pal Frank Trigg finds himself right smack dab in the middle of things, out manned, out gunned, and playing catch up on just exactly what the hell is going on.  The stakes, and the action have never been more epic in a Demon Squad novel as Frank and his friends from DRAC must face down half breed angels, lycanthropes, vampires, and epic death storms that are wreaking havoc all across Earth.

Once again, with another Demon Squad book comes noticeable improvements in every aspect of the book. The plotting is tighter, the dialog sharper, the characters continue to develop, and the world building is greatly improved.  Marquitz is a writer that is improving in leaps and bounds with each novel he turns out, and it is nice to see such developments play out on the page, to the benefit of both the novel itself and the reader's enjoyment.

The most marked improvement comes in terms of the world building.  After reading Armageddon Bound I mentioned that the events that take place in the real world, didn't seem to have too much effect on the regular non-demonic/non-angelic folk who populate the world.  That problem was addressed and remedied to an extent in Resurrection, but Marquitz pretty much put that gripe to rest and buried it six feet deep with the events that take place here.  This improvement is due in large part to the death storms that rock the world.  What I liked best about this element is that it showed just how high the stakes are for Frank and his friends.  The demons and angels are no longer just meddlesome pests that make Frank's life miserable, they are some extremely powerful beings that have the ability to wreak a whole shit-ton of havoc should they choose to and it's the lives of innocents that are affected most.

Craft improvements aside for the moment, I gotta say, it was nice to be back inside the mind of Frank Trigg.  At times Frank's mind can be a pretty strange, horny and awkward place, but most times it isn't that different than being inside my own.  Sure, he'll make you cringe with some of his naughty thoughts, the worst of which pop up at the most inopportune times, but Frank is a pretty lovable guy, with a big heart, and after some of the events that unfold in At the Gates I'm very interested to see where his character arc goes from here on out.

There are times when I've worried that this series might get a bit formulaic: world ending threat, Frank and to some extent, his pals deal with threat, mix in some great dialog, funny jokes, some metal references and Frank trying and failing to get laid and boom, you've got yourself a Demon Squad book.

Sure, there is a familiar feel to At the Gates and all those elements, (which for me have become hallmarks of the series), make an appearance here as well, this is the first time that I've felt the series was moving towards something bigger.  Marquitz doesn't go as far as the big reveal, but he does craftily deliver some tasty morsels that seem to hint at a much grander scheme than I anticipated for this series. Marquitz added a nice layer of history and put in the foundations for greater depth to the story that hint at playing out as the story and series progress.  Let me just say that I am very pleased with these developments.  The layers that  Marquitz added to his characters and to his world all point towards even more greatness for the series.

If you haven't had the pleasure of reading either of the two previous Demon Squad novels, Armageddon Bound and Resurrection, do so because these be some good readin'. At the Gates is easily the best of the Demon Squad books thus far.  Every aspect of the previous book is improved upon and Marquitz delivers yet another tantalizing cliff-hanger ending that has me yearning for the next installment.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sweet Tooth Coming to an End

I received a piece of sad news yesterday when I discovered that one of my most favorite comic series is coming to an end in only 7 short issues.  

From it's earliest issues, I have been a big fan of Sweet Tooth and for the past couple of years it has been a mainstay on my year-end best comic series lists.  Simply put, there's never been a bad issue of Sweet Tooth and pretty much every issue writer/artist Jeff Lemire has created has been excellent. 

When I read the headline at The Beat, I instantly wondered if the decision to wrap up Sweet Tooth has something to do with Lemire's increased workload on DC titles. I've personally wondedered if Lemire's increased workload led to less time for Sweet Tooth?

In my mind there's been a few shreds of evidence: There was a three issie arc where Lemire didn't do the art, and when he has done the art, sometimes, on a few occasions, panels and pages have looked a bit rushed.  But my own paranoid wonderings aside, the quality has still been better than most, and the overall story has never suffered. In fact, the Taxidermist story arc where Matt Kindt did the art for three issues was some of the best Sweet Tooth stuff yet. Also, if you read the whole article, or the orignal at the Vertigo site, you'll see that I'm probably just suffering from an over active case of paranoia. 

Here's what Lemire had to say about the series coming to an end:

"So why end it now? I want to make one thing really clear…Sweet Tooth is not being cancelled. The decision to end it at #40 is entirely my choice. Truth is, I always knew what the ending of Sweet Tooth would be. It was one of the first ideas I came up with when writing the pitch for the book. The beginning and the end of this story were always pretty much written in stone, it was the middle bit that was fluid, and grew and changed as I went along. So, for me it’s incredibly gratifying to finally get to the end of the journey with Gus and Jepperd. Everything I’ve done with the series so far, everything I’ve built month after month, has all been about this, the final story.
I suppose I could have stretched it out a bit longer. I could have had a few more obstacles pop up along the way to Alaska to lengthen the journey (and the series), but it just felt like it was time. Gus wanted to get to Alaska now…and who am I to argue? I’ll miss my little antlered friend. But I owe it to him to finish his story properly. To “leave it all on the ice” as they like to say up here in Canada. And that means not prolonging the series just because I can.
But don’t give up on me. I really feel the best is still to come. The final arc, THE WILD KINGDOM, will be full of everything you’ve loved about Sweet Tooth as well asmany new surprises, new characters and new revelations. And it all builds to one final double sized, fully painted final issue with #40 this December."
It'll be pretty sad to see this one go, but hopefully the ending will do justice to what has been a truly wonderful and powerful comic. My fingers are crossed that Lemire has some more creator-owned ideas up his sleeve and that he wont just become a full-time DC writer. 

Each of the remaining seven issues will likely be bitter-sweet reads for me...but I can't wait to see how this one ends!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Free Comic Book Day Goodies

After missing out on the festivities last year, I was bound and determined to make my way over to the local comic shop for Free Comic Book Day.  Of course I didn't drag my ass out of bed until mid-morning though so by the time I reached the shop (noon) I missed out on some of the more coveted titles, but I did manage to get my paws on a couple of hot items.

I'm always a little bit astounded by how many people come out of the woodwork anytime you put the word "Free" in front of something, and that was the case here too.  I don't think I've ever seen my beloved comic shop so packed, and the best part was, most of them were buying other things while there as well.

So here's the free shit I snagged:

Atomic Robo is one of those comics that I always hear good things about but it has never seemed like my cup of tea.  In fact I overheard someone in the shop say: "This is like the single best comic book of all time!" in reference of Atomic Robo.  Hyperbole or truth?  That remains to be seen.  This free comic will be a good way to test that statement.

The last time I hit up a free comic book day Oni Press released the first issue of one of my favorite comics, The Sixth Gun.  This year, Oni Press has another first issue offering, Bad Medicine.  I'm not sure what this one is all about but there's a headless dude on the cover, and it's published by Oni, and it was free, so yeah, I'll check it out.

Since everything was free, I decided to take a chance on my third free comic and go with one outside my usual reading zone.  So....I picked up a Spider-man comic.  Yup.  Ok, this isn't a total wild card pick because it is written by Cullen Bunn of, wait for it, The Sixth Gun fame.  Chances are I wont love it, but it'll make for some entertaining bathroom reading.

I also picked up a few items that I had to pay for.  The most awesome of which is a hard cover Rocketeer collection.  It is almost sacrilegious that I don't already own this, but I own it now.  It was time.   Expect to see a review of The Rocketeer here before too long.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: The Last Days of American Crime

I didn't really know what to expect quality-wise going into this one. Call it an on-the-whim read if you will. The Last Days of American Crime is penned by Rick Remender, a comic writer I've heard good things about, but have never gotten around to checking out.  His Fear Agent series is supposedly quite good, but I don't know much about his other works.  The opportunity to find out for myself popped up during my most recent finals week.

During said finals week, I found myself in need of distractions that were easy come, easy go.  That need manifested itself in a week filled with comics reading.  After an entertaining brush with Transmetropolitan which yielded some great reading material, I decided I was in the mood for a crime story, and I had The Last Days of American Crime, fresh from a clearance rack purchase, just sitting there, so I dove in.

The Last Days of American Crime takes place in the near future where the US government has created the final solution to terrorism and crime.  The Government plans to broadcast a top secret signal that will make it impossible for anyone to commit a crime.  To distract the population from finding out about their crazy mind-control plot, the government has also created a new currency system that uses digital charge cards and data boxes that refill the cards.  The problem is that with one week until the signal is broadcast, and the new currency goes live, the secret about the mind control signal has gotten out and the country has erupted into a lawless orgy of crime.

That's where things stand when Graham Brick, our hero is introduced.  Graham is a life long loser, and has had his fair share of run-ins with the law. With the signal only a week away, he has a plan in mind to nab one of the data boxes and make off with an endless supply of funds.  All he needs to do is enlist the help of a couple other criminals he can trust.  Trust however, is hard to come by in the last days of American crime.

Overall, I found this hard boiled crime story to be decent with maybe too much emphasis on the "hard" aspect. By "hard" I mean sex.  This one tried pretty hard to be a sexy crime story, and maybe it is sexy to some people, but I found it to be just waaaay too much sex for the sake of sex. (Maybe I should have figured that out from the cover...)  I don't get why comic creators think people read comics to get off...they do know there's a thing called the internet right?  The only female character other than Graham's mom, is the overly sexed up Shelby, who is in the story almost exclusively as a source of T&A.  She is part of Graham's last-great-heist team too, but really, she's just there for eye candy.

If you eliminated all the unnecessary sexiness from the story, there's a pretty decent crime story at the center of it all.  With the whole country erupting into crime-fest, Graham's path to achieving his plan is one fraught with peril and his odds of making it all happen seem to get worse as the seconds tick by.  However, that interesting bit of plot gets pushed into the passenger seat as Remender elected to include lots of balls to the walls action, shoot outs, car chases and explosions in the story that are sorta interesting the first couple of times, but these elements were so overdone they  felt pretty tiresome and pedestrian by the end.

There seemed to be a concerted effort to make this story incredibly sexy and action packed, but for my tastes, it didn't work out.  I felt like I was reading the script to a shitty summer blockbuster. I couldn't care less about shitty summer blockbusters.

The art here is by Greg Tocchini, an artist I am completely unfamiliar with.  I wasn't a very big fan of his work either.  The pages and panels were all far too busy for my tastes, but the biggest drawback for me was the coloring. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what I didn't like, but I think it comes down to too many different shades and hues on the same page.  My eyes were constantly bombarded by a lot of bright spots of light on the characters which I think was meant to give that noir atmosphere, but instead all it did was make it hard to focus on what was going on.  Page after page of this got pretty old after a while.

With a plot that got overlooked in favor of sex and 'splosions and art that was nothing special, I can't recommend The Last Days of American Crime.  What few good qualities this one had were far overshadowed by too many negatives.

Grade: D