Tuesday, March 20, 2018

All Star Batman Vol. 3: The First Ally by Scott Snyder - Book Review

From the publisher: #1 New York Times best-selling BATMAN author Scott Snyder's ALL-STAR BATMAN continues with a new volume featuring new stories drawn by some of the top artists in all of comics!

In the third volume of Scott Snyder's best-selling ALL-STAR BATMAN, a rotating team of all-star artists join the Bat-scribe to tell tales featuring some of Batman's most deadly foes! For more than 75 years, Batman has been one of the most widely recognized and revered superheroes in all of comics. But what would the Dark Knight be without an equally iconic roster of villains to keep him fighting all these years? 

When the Dark Knight is taken down by a new enemy whose attacks he cannot counter, he uncovers a plot spanning generations...whose mastermind might be one of his closest allies! But who is the First Ally?

In ALL-STAR BATMAN VOL. 3, Scott Snyder is joined by Rafael Albuquerque and other superstar artists to pit Batman against his darkest enemies. Collects issues #10-14.

Scott Snyder delivers with All-Star Batman Vol. 3: The First Ally. One of my favorite things about Snyder's Batman stories is how he is able to new ideas and characters to Batman's past while making it seem like they'd been there all along. That is what he's done with The First Ally, only in this case, he's added to Alfred Pennyworth's past.

Batman tracks Hush to Miami to try and acquire the Genesis Engine before Hush, Penguin, Black Mask, and Great White can get there hands on it. As Batman nears his goal in a confrontation with the descendants of actual pirates, he encounters an unexpected new foe: a Black Knight, or Nemesis, and his handler, a man named Briar. While Nemesis is new to Batman, he is familiar to Alfred, who at one point in his life was on the path to be a Nemesis Black Knight. As the struggle for the Genesis Engine heats up, Alfred will revisit a part of his past he thought was over.

There was a lot to like about the First Ally storyline. I really liked the focus on Alfred, who narrated the entire story. Snyder alternates between Alfred's past as an SAS agent and his present as Bruce Wayne's ally. We are given a very open, and interesting, look into Alfred's relationship with his father and some unresolved feelings that led him to join the military. The confrontation between Batman and Briar and his Black Knight dovetails with Alfred's training in the Nemesis program. Additionally, the modern pirates tie in with Alfred's story, as well, which ends up bringing The First Ally full circle. All of these things made for a rich, deep story, one which was really enjoyable. I've found that often times my favorite Batman stories are the ones that deepen the characters that surround Batman, rather than just focus on Batman himself. This is what Snyder did with The First Ally, and it paid off.

Along with The First Ally arc, there was a back-up story arc called Killers-in-Law that focused on Bruce Wayne going undercover in Russia as a part of a Russian crime family known as the Myasniks. Batman wants to stop a shipment of weapons from making their way to Gotham for the Russian crime families there to start a war with the Falcone family. While in Russia, Bruce makes the acquaintance of Vik Myasnik, who will become known as Killer Queen. Snyder makes this an interesting story with Batman out of his normal element, and also finds a way to tie it into his main First Ally story arc.

Overall, I found All-Star Batman Vol. 3: The First Ally by Scott Snyder to an excellent read. I highly recommend this story of fathers and sons, especially to Batman fans who like their supporting cast to be rounded out with depth of character.

I received a preview copy of this book from DC Comics and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

WILDSTORM: MICHAEL CRAY #6 by Bryan Hill - Book Review

From the publisher: The hunt for Arthur Curry continues, but Cray’s decisions and plans are beginning to push his teammates to the brink of abandoning him. And when Cray’s tumor begins to act in ways that it hasn’t before, his underwater brawl may end with Cray floating up to the surface as a dead man. 

Michael Cray #6 is more of the same from Bryan Hill, but this time he drops some hints as to a larger picture going on. In this issue, Cray's conflict with Arthur Curry (Aquaman) comes to a head. In the midst of this battle, Cray has an epiphany of sorts about his condition. And by condition, I mean the alien presence that his body is hosting. Along with the main story arc, Hill is setting up the next warped version of a DC character Cray may have to face off against. I'll not name who it is, so as to avoid spoilers, but for the first time, Hill introduces Cray's new adversary in several cut-scenes interspersed throughout the issue.

While it's been mentioned that Cray is dying and has an alien life-form living inside him, this is really the first time Hill has touched on it in more than a passing manner. Much of this issue is dialogue between Cray and the alien, and it seems to turn Cray in a new direction, one that might disrupt his relationship with IO. It also sets the stage for some big changes that may happen to Cray. My response is: finally! It seemed that the series was devolving into a "bad guy of the week" format, and this latest issue suggests the pattern may be changing.

I recommend Wildstorm: Michael Cray #6 by Bryan Hill. In fact, for the first time since issue #1, I really recommend this book. I headed into this issue thinking I might be done with the story, but with this new turn and the next potential target revealed, I might just stick around a while longer.

I received a preview copy of this book from DC Comics in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Volleyball Champs!

This past weekend, Cami's volleyball team won their tournament. They finished 1st in their pool, then won a crossover match against the winner of the other pool (the other team from our school). It was pretty cool. Cami had her best day of volleyball so far. She had several big serves (including for the second to last point when the final was tied 14-14; she also got her next serve in but they didn't get the point). She had a lot better arm position and control on her bumps, sets, and returns. She is also really improving on her reaction time. Her team has one final tournament this coming weekend.

In other news, track practice continues with an eye to competing after spring break.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

BATMAN: WHITE KNIGHT #6 by Sean Murphy - Book Review

From the publisher: Gotham City’s strongest alliance comes to an end when Gordon’s trust in Batman reaches its limit. On the verge of resignation, the commissioner attempts a final act of public service, but an unlikely intervention allows the Dark Knight to fight another day. Meanwhile, Jack’s mission takes a hit when his pills lose effect—and under cover of all this chaos, Neo Joker is positioned to take the city hostage.

Batman: White Knight #6 by Sean Murphy ramps up the action in this series. Nightwing and Gordon put a plan into motion to capture Batman, who is now seen as the biggest threat to Gotham. Meanwhile, Batgirl visits Victor Fries (Mr. Freeze) and discovers some interesting facts about the relationship between Fries and Thomas Wayne. Jack Napier begins to show some cracks, setting the stage for the final confrontation between Batman, Neo Joker, and Jack.

Murphy did a good job of ratcheting up the tension as the Batman/Napier situation is reaching the tipping point. While there has been some nice character development in earlier issues, this book was a little light on that, other than with Fries. But that's okay, because the action was great. Nightwing and Gordon's plan to take down Batman was very cool and inspired. Plus, Jack and Batman have a very interesting confrontation.

With only two issues left, White Knight #6 throws the plot into high gear. Murphy is building towards a climatic confrontation, and since this is not a regular Batman book, I'm not really sure how this one is going to go. I highly recommend this issue, and believe Murphy is doing a fantastic job of telling a different kind of Batman story.

I received a preview copy of this book from DC Comics in exchange for an honest review.

THE WILD STORM #12 by Warren Ellis - Book Review

From the publisher: Angela Spica, retooling her drysuit in Marlowe’s hidden lab, has made many discoveries. But she’s still her, which means she’s also stolen stuff. Is she going to lose the only safe haven she has? The Wild CAT is in jeopardy, IO and Skywatch are inches from a hot war, and somebody, somewhere, has noticed that Jackie King has been doing things she shouldn’t have. The stakes in the world of The Wild Storm have never been higher—and Project Thunderbook is going to make things much, much worse.

And here we go again. The Wild Storm #12 appears to be the half way point in the series (at least as marked on the covers of the books) and Warren Ellis has us in the middle of a wild and wacky story. Once again, this issue is just a small, incomplete piece of a much greater story.

A quick summary: IO begins their hack of Skywatch. Bendix and Skywatch want to relatiate. Cole Cash and his wild C.A.T. group attack a secret IO base and do some damage. Throw in lots of action and spying, and we have a full issue of The Wild Storm. Oh yeah, we are introduced to the concept of Operation Thunderbook (and was that the name Majestic I saw; maybe a tie-in to another old Wildstorm book?).

I really like this book. I also have very little idea of the overarching plan that Ellis is developing. Also, I'm okay with that. I like the characters, but as of right now there isn't a lot of depth being added. Hopefully that will happen in future issues, or maybe in some spin-offs. There are a ton of moving pieces and storylines that I'm hopeful will converge in a logical way, and having read plenty of Ellis books in the past, I'm confident his endgame will have been worth it.

In the meantime, I highly recommend The Wild Storm #12 by Warren Ellis. It's a cinematic blowout of an issue that pushes the plot (at least part of it) forward.

I received a preview copy of this book from DC Comics in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Pierce Brown’s Red Rising: Sons of Ares by Pierce Brown - Book Review

From the publisher: From the world of the best-selling YA series Red Rising comes a story of love and loss and rage! In the future, when mankind has spread across the stars, the hierarchy of man is dictated by the color of one's caste. The Golds rule all, but what will happen when one falls for a lowly Red? See how a forbidden love will set the course of events for the future and lead to the formation of the formidable Sons of Ares!

Written by author Pierce Brown (The Red Rising Trilogy) and Rik Hoskin (Heroes of Skyrealm, Brandon Sanderson's White Sand), with art by Eli Powell (Yakuza Demon Killers, The 13th Artifact), comes the in-continuity story of revolution and Red Rising!

A couple of years ago, I was clued in to Pierce Brown's novel Red Rising. I flew through it, and then read the sequels when they were released. Brown has succeeded in creating interesting characters, a fantastic political system, and a believable expansive universe. So, I was excited to see that there would be a prequel of sorts, only as a comic book. When the opportunity came to read and review Red Rising: Sons of Ares, I jumped at the chance.

In the original Red Rising trilogy, society is based on a caste system that is represented by colors; red is the bottom (manual laborers, etc.) while gold was at the top (political and physical elite). A rebel group (or terrorist group, depending on your point of view) known as the Sons of Ares was in conflict with the ruling classes. They did not like the oppression of the various groups of "low colors". It is this group that recruits Darrow, the hero of the original trilogy. In this Sons of Ares graphic novel, the origin of the group and how their leader becomes Ares is revealed. For the sake of readers new to Red Rising, I won't reveal Ares's real name, but his story is really interesting.

Ares is a gold who is never considered quite good enough. Think of "old money" families not accepting "new money". However, he is relentless and loyal to a fault, until his best friend turns away from him. Out of spite, Ares signs on with another family, which leads him to meet his true love; the only problem is she is a red. Ares's story shows how he very delicately maneuvers the rigid political system while trying to keep his family a secret. When he is betrayed again, things get personal, and the Sons of Ares are born.

I really enjoyed this book. The characters are fascinating, especially Ares. And while I knew who he was already, having his story told and his motivation for rebelling revealed was really satisfying. Brown has done such a wonderful job of creating three dimensional characters; their actions, decisions, loves, and consequences all ring true, and their is a depth to them that just adds to the overall engagement with, and enjoyment of, the story. Rather than an afterthought or an add-on, Sons of Ares just feels like more of the Red Rising trilogy. The tone and mood are seamless, and this book just adds to the mythology and history Brown has already established.

I highly recommend Red Rising: Sons of Ares by Pierce Brown. If you're a fan of the original trilogy, this is a must. If the premise sounds intriguing to you, then this is a fine place to start; although, starting with Sons of Ares will spoil one of Brown's reveals in the trilogy. Anyway you slice it, Sons of Ares is a great book.

I  received a preview copy of this book from Dynamite Entertainment and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Basketball Season(s) Comes to an End

Cami's team had two games this week. The won one and lost one (on a shot with under 30 seconds left). Cami scored a basket in each game. She played good defense, made good passes, grabbed a few rebounds, and had some steals. She is a little stat stuffer. She grew and improved a bunch during her various seasons this year, and I'm excited to see how things go for her next year. I also really enjoyed watching her team play because of the joy and excitement they always played with. Cami also has volleyball practice as the team is a couple weeks away from their next tournament.

Lexi's season also came to an end with two sets of games (the won both in the first set, lost both in the second set) and a pair of tournament games (also both losses). Lexi scored a couple of baskets and also made a free throw this week. She had a few rebounds (including a put back attempt that resulted in the free throw). She also had a nice steal that led to a fastbreak and another shot (it was blocked). Additionally, she tied up several loose balls that resulted in jump balls. I'm really proud of her growth this year. Several times, her coach from last year commented that she made some plays this season that she would not have been able to make last year. Her confidence also grew.

Next up for us is track, which all three kids will be doing together. Practice starts this week.