Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Royals: Masters of War by Rob Williams - Book Review

From the publisher: The year is 1940. As the Blitz destroys London and kills thousands, the Royal Family looks on. But in this world, the only people with special abilities are Royalty, and the purer the bloodline, the greater their abilities. So why don't they stop the carnage with their powers? A truce between the Earth's nobles has kept them out of our wars--until now. When England's Prince Henry can take no more and intervenes, will it stop the planet's suffering or take it to another level?

Writer Rob Williams (Judge Dredd: Trifecta, Low Life, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN and Daken) and artist Simon Coleby (The Authority, Judge Dredd: Year One and Trifecta) team up to bring you this epic of World War proportions. History will be transformed in a way you've never seen before.


The Royals: Masters of War, by Rob Williams, has an astounding concept: The royal families around the world are all gifted with powers or abilities, the strength and type of which vary depending on nationality and purity of blood.  Throw in the setting, mainly England during the early part of World War II (although the time and theater of war does change some) and you've got the ingredients for a very cool new mini-series from DC's Vertigo imprint.

When England's Prince Henry decides to stop the Blitz over Britain, he breaks an old pact between the varying Royal families of the world: Let the commoners fight their wars, while we stay out of it.  Henry's actions have the result of drawing other Royals into the war, especially Japan, which leads to the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Pity the U.S.A.  We have no Royal family, therefore we are left to create our own heroes from our best athletes, to little or no effect.  As the WWII spins on, Henry's actions continue to play a large role.  Meanwhile, his family is falling apart, as their dirty secrets continue to cause friction between them.  As the Hitler's victory nears, the prince is left with a critical decision, one which will have far reaching consequences.

I really liked this story.  Williams does a great job fleshing out Prince Henry, and creates several other intriguing characters in Prince Arthur and Princess Rose.  Even the foreign Royals take on rather unique traits, as evidenced by Emperor Jimmu of Japan and the former Tsar of Russia.  Henry's heroic character arc is worth reading, and the examination of some of the royal family stereotypes played out in those with powers grounds the story in a measure of reality.

Royals: Masters of War is a good read.  I recommend it, especially to those who like a little "alternate" with their history.

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

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Basketball Games, Christmas, and a Birthday

Its been a busy few weeks.  Lexi finished her season with a win and a loss (in the tournament).  She scored her first basket on a nice drive to the hoop off a screen.  She also was able to grab several rebounds and play good defense.  All in all, she had a good year, getting better each and every week.

Cami played three more games (losing all three).  She took a couple of shots (they didn't fall), brought the ball up the floor, played Cami-style defense, and had a good time.  Games resume in two weeks.

Griffin played two more games and the team is still undefeated (one game was 24-2).  He scored once, took some shots, and hustled all over the place.  He is a beast on defense, very aggressive.

We had a good Christmas, going to church Christmas Eve, and hanging with Nana and Poppy all day on Christmas.  Lots of gifts were given and received.  We also did the traditional after-Christmas shopping, and all found some good deals.  It's interesting watching the kids debate over what to spend their money on.  Many agonizing decisions.

Finally, we celebrated Trisha's birthday by hanging out, shopping, and eating at the Mellow Mushroom.  With the end of the year in sight, 2014 appears to have been a good one for the Knights, while 2015 looms with lots of exciting events ahead.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Superman Unchained: The Deluxe Edition by Scott Snyder and Jim Lee - Book Review

From the publisher: Comics' biggest writer! Comics' biggest artist! Comics' greatest hero! Unchained at last!

From the skies above Metropolis to the four corners of the globe to the star-streaked spaceways beyond, one man is synonymous with the word "hero." Since his arrival marked the dawn of the superhero age, Superman has waged a never-ending battle for truth and justice, no matter when or where.

But before the dawn came the darkness. When another with incredible power, far more than that of mortal man, fell to the Earth. One who could spell the end for the Man of Steel.

From the mind of superstar writer Scott Snyder (BATMAN: ZERO YEAR) and legendary artist Jim Lee (JUSTICE LEAGUE) comes SUPERMAN UNCHAINED—a widescreen, cutting-edge take on the hero who started it all! Collects SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #1-9 and material from SUPERMAN UNCHAINED DIRECTORS CUT #1.

I haven't been the biggest fan of the individual Superman books in DC's New 52 continuity.  However, I really enjoy Scott Snyder's writing (particularly on the Batman titles) and Jim Lee's art, so I decided to give Superman Unchained a chance.  I wasn't disappointed.  Synder and Lee told a story worthy of the mini-series format, free from entanglements with ongoing storylines.

Superman discovers that he is not the first alien to fall to Earth.  The new character Wraith, with a similar arrival on Earth as Superman's, has been hiding in the shadows, saving the U.S. as a "soldier" for the U.S. military, in a secret organization being run by General Lane.  Upon meeting Superman face to face, the two beings do the typical fight-then-become-allies dance.  Meanwhile, a group of cyber-terrorists known as Ascension are attempting to send humanity back to the dark ages, like some extreme group of Luddites.  Lois Lane gets a hot tip and finds herself in the middle of Ascension's plans.  And in and amongst all this, Lex Luthor begins to unveil his master plan, with Jimmy Olson caught in the middle.  As the various plot lines converge, Superman once again shows how his flaws and heroic nature demonstrate the best of what makes us human.

This was a fun book, with a lot going on at all times.  I often found myself wondering how the various storylines would relate to each other, but Snyder once again drew everything together seamlessly.  Wraith proved an interesting character, and Ascension was a nice new threat.  Luthor is portrayed as a genius who wants to both save mankind and end Superman, with a bit of an edge (he reminded me of a Batman-type villain).  The climatic events were big enough to truly fit the story, without seeming too over-the-top.

The art by Jim Lee was terrific.  He is one of my favorites, particularly when he is drawing Superman and Batman.  The full page layouts were great and very cinematic.

I highly recommend this book to Superman fans, and to those who want a good story without all the backstory necessary in so many of the ongoing series.

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Nightwing Vol. 5: Setting Son by Kyle Higgins - Book Review

From the publisher: Even though Nightwing has relocated to Chicago, the ghosts of Gotham City won't let him be. An old friend, the Mad Hatter visits his new found home, forcing Nightwing into an uneasy alliance with the mysterious Marionette. With Nightwing trying to establish a new life in Chicago, his sins from his past will come back to haunt him unless he can make peace with his old life.

Collects NIGHTWING #25-29 and NIGHTWING Annual #1.

Kyle Higgins's Nightwing Vol. 5: Setting Son is the last volume of the Nightwing series in its current form.  It collects several stories detailing Dick Grayson's life in Chicago and some of the adventures he has there involving Mad Hatter and the killer Zsasz.  In addition, there is a story from the Zero Year event, before Dick became Robin/Nightwing.  This is an interesting look at a young man who was very full of himself and ego driven, a far cry from the man he would become.  There is also a nice story involving Dick's last days in Gotham, and a wrap-up of his relationship will they/won't they with Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl.  The heart of all these tales is in the daily life and relationships that Dick Grayson has.  The Nightwing series has always been about more than just crime fighting, and Higgins does a fantastic job in capturing that spirit.

Nightwing has also been about change and growing up, and the final story in this collection reflects that perfectly.  During the Forever Evil story, Nightwing was captured by the Crime Syndicate and unmasked as Dick Grayson for everyone to see.  He was then killed and brought back, but as far as the world at large (and everyone but Batman and a select few others) is concerned, Dick Grayson is dead.  In his touching, but vicious, way, Batman pushes Dick and gives him a new challenge: Let the world keep thinking you are dead, and fight the fights no one else can.  This story acts as a springboard into the next iteration of Dick Grayson/Nightwing's life, and transitions into the new series Grayson.

I have always enjoyed Nightwing and highly recommend this collection, particularly to fans who have read the previous four volumes.

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

C.O.W.L. Volume 1: Principles of Power by Kyle Higgins - Book Review

From the publisher: Welcome to the “Chicago Organized Workers League”- the world's first Super-Hero Labor Union!

While C.O.W.L. once stood as a beacon of hope against an epidemic of organized crime and an unbeatable “brotherhood” of Super-Villains, the union now faces its fiercest foe yet-a disillusioned public.

In targeting the last of the great villains, C.O.W.L. attempts to prove its value to the world and to each other, while staving off villainy from both outside and inside its offices.

I really enjoyed C.O.W.L. Vol. 1: Principles of Power by Kyle Higgins.  It was interesting and different from the norm.  C.O.W.L. is the story of the Chicago Organized Workers League, a labor union for superheroes.  It is set during 1962 and concerns C.O.W.L.'s attempt to negotiate a new contract with Mayor Daley and the city of Chicago, now that the Chicago Six are all out of action.  Along the way, a cover-up or conspiracy is discovered by one member of C.O.W.L.  Additionally, the history of the union is briefly shown, as well as the lives of a core group of heroes, warts included.  There are a number of characters, a few whom are hard to tell apart.  Not much time is spent with any one character, but the seeds are laid for future character growth.

Much like Watchmen is a story that uses superheroes to comment on society, C.O.W.L. appears to be doing something similar.  Looking at labor unrest, the changing society, racial inequality, and sexism are all touched on in this opening chapter to the C.O.W.L. story.  I'm very interested to see how the story progresses in future volumes, and highly recommend it to readers looking for a different type of superhero story.  One word of caution: the language can be a bit salty and there are several situations that are very much intended for adults.  This is not a book for children or young teens.

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

Saturday, December 6, 2014

I can't believe we did it all

Today, Cami had her first basketball game.  She was all smiles, prancing her way around the court.  She even had the ball a couple of times. I'm not even sure she realized she lost the game.

We immediately went to Lexi's game, where she continued to display her growing skills.  She played beautiful defense, made a terrific entry pass into the post, ran point (quite a bit in the 2nd half), was more aggressive to the ball, and even made her "man" go in to the back court once. The team won by a wide margin.

That was followed by Lexi's first piano recital.  She played Joy to the World and Away in a Manger.  She also received a trophy for earning the 2nd most extra points for practicing.  It was cool to watch and listen to her play. She looked beautiful, too.

We wrapped up the kids' activities by watching Griffin's first game of the season.  He was all over the place, playing good defense, stealing the ball, grabbing rebounds, hitting the floor, and driving to the hoop (his shots didn't drop, unfortunately). My favorite play was Griffin's block on a kid 4-5 inches taller than him. I don't think Griffin knew what he had done, but I started laughing out loud.  His team won a tight game, to start the season off on a good note.

The family time ended at Mozzi's for pizza with Nana and Poppy.  It was a good, full, fun day.  I'm truly blessed.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The One Year Devotions for Active Boys by Jesse Florea and Karen Whiting - Book Review

From the publisher: This fun devotional includes 365 upbeat devotions, each with a special twist or dose of humor to keep active boys engaged. The devotions combine Scripture and a spiritual message with jokes, riddles, puzzles, and hands-on activities to engage tween boys. The devotions help boys find how real people interacted with God and help them discover solutions to contemporary issues. Each devotion will help guide a young man in developing a lifetime habit of learning from the Bible. Themes include how to navigate the Bible, make good choices, discern God’s will, use good and uplifiting language, avoid temptation, choose good friends, trust God, etc.

The One Year Devotions for Active Boys is another in the One Year series, several of which I have already read and used.  It is directed at boys from late elementary school age to early high school.  While it can be read by older boys, the language and style really suits someone younger than their late teens.

Each devotion is a page long, and contains several parts.  There is the anecdote/story part, focusing on a particular attitude or lesson from the Bible.  There is a "fun" part that engages the mind in a different way; there are several different approaches in this part, including Plexer (word puzzle), Weird Facts, Puzzle It Out, Wacky Laughs, Lift-off List, Quiz, etc.  These are designed to hit the topic in an engaging way.  The final part of each devotion has a prayer suggestion and a passage of scripture that highlights the topic.

I highly recommend this for active (or inactive) boys.  The devotions are written in an easy to understand way, and are short enough that they shouldn't be intimidating by length or time.  It is a great devotional book to encourage a daily time with God.

I received a review copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Weekend

Thanksgiving weekend brought food, family, parade-watching, bargain shopping, fighting crowds, Chick-Fil-A Holiday Peppermint shakes, and basketball.

Lexi's team won their game on Saturday.  Lexi handled the ball several times, even taking a rebound all the way up court and getting a shot off (1 of 2 she took on the day).  She got a few rebounds, set some good screens, and guarded the other team's point guard for a while.  It was cool to see the improvements continue.

The twins play their first games next Saturday, and Lexi has a game and her first piano recital.  It promises to be a busy and fun December.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Teen Titans: Earth One Vol. 1 by Jeff Lemire - Book Review

From the publisher: A new original graphic novel in DC's popular "Earth One" series, TEEN TITANS: EARTH ONE follows in the tradition of SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE and BATMAN: EARTH ONE, both of which were #1 New York Times bestsellers.

The Teen Titans never felt like normal kids... but they had no idea how right they were. Their seemingly idyllic Oregon upbringing hides a secret -- one that will bring killers, shamans, and extraterrestrials down on their heads, and force them into an alliance that could shake the planet to its foundations!

Superstars Jeff Lemire (ANIMAL MAN, GREEN ARROW) and Terry Dodson (WONDER WOMAN) reinvent DC's youngest heroes, with an all-new mythos in an all-new world!

Jeff Lemire’s Teen Titans: Earth One is the latest book in the Earth One series of original graphic novels from DC.  The great idea behind this series is to reimagine the DC heroes in a modern world and to leave behind all previous continuity and baggage.  Also, because this is separate from the main line of comics, the writers are allowed to change the characters, their origins, and even create circumstances that are lasting, such as the death of a character.

With that said, Lemire does a nice job reimagining the Teen Titans.  Rather than a group of sidekicks who form their own team (as is traditional), these kids all come from the same community.  Their “parents” are part of Starlabs, and the kids are the result of an experiment that was conducted on them.  When a mysterious ship crashed on Earth, a group of scientists, headed by a an as-yet-unnamed man, collected the only survivor, an infant named Starfire.  Fast forward 16 years, and Victor, Tara, Garfield, and Joey all begin displaying weird signs of having powers.  As they attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery, they come in to contact with Deathstroke, Raven, and Starfire.

This is nice opening to the story of the Teen Titans.  Familiar heroes (Cyborg, Terra, Beast Boy, and Jericho) are all introduced and a sparse origin is told.  This volume sets the stage for future stories as the group of teen heroes comes together and begins to discover the mystery of their pasts and how they acquired their abilities.

Teen Titans: Earth One is an entertaining book and does its job well: introduce the readers to the characters and set the stage for future adventures. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy a new take on familiar characters.

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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Basketball and Spell Bowl

Lexi had a very busy week.  First, she was an alternate on the Elementary School Spell Bowl team, as they had their yearly competition. The team won their division at the site they were at, finished second overall at the site, and tied for 11th in the state in their division.

Then, she had a basketball double-header.  Unfortunately, her team lost both games in tough fashion, getting down early, then fighting back just to fall a bit short.  It was one of those days where the shots just didn't fall.  Lexi made terrific improvements from last week, handling the ball, grabbing a couple of rebounds, and being more aggressive to loose balls and on defense.  She also received her first foul, cutting off the ball on a fastbreak.  She was in position to take a charge, but I think she got a little nervous because she put out her hands, shuffled back and closed her eyes.  However, I was really proud how she got in position and was involved in several loose ball tie-ups.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Batman/Superman Vol. 2: Game Over by Greg Pak, Brett Booth - Book Review

From the publisher: The Dark Knight and the Man of Steel uncover a plot by the Toymaster to use a secret, potentially deadly element in his new video game, the characters created by players manifest in real life. The ultimate fighting game results--and a world-wide network of players must team up to create the most powerful, skilled Super Heroes imaginable with one goal: To kill Batman.

When Batman and Superman are corned by the Toymaster and Mongul, they are pitted against on another in a battle to the death, with their only hope being the The Worlds' Finest.

Collects Batman/Superman #5-9, Batman/Superman Annual #1, Worlds' Finest #20-21.

Batman/Superman Vol. 2: Game Over is the latest collection of the two heroes' team-ups.  Principal writing for the majority of the stories in the collection is by Greg Pak, and the gorgeous artwork is done by Jae Lee, with a couple of other artists on the other issues.

There are three stories in Game Over.  The first deals with Toymaster's attempt at a virtual reality game where the players attempt to kill Batman.  When Mongul reveals himself, things quickly spin out of control.  The second story deals with the fallout of the battle with Mongul, as his son, Jochi, challenges Batman, Superman, and several of their associates to battle for the control of WarWorld.  This arc guest stars Supergirl, Steel, Red Hood, Batgirl, and Krypto.  The final story is a crossover with World's Finest, and brings Huntress and Power Girl in to contact with Batman and Superman.  This is an interesting moment, as both heroines are the daughters of these two heroes in an alternate universe.  As Power Girl's powers go out of control, it seems the only solution is opening a doorway back to Earth 2, the alternate universe that is home to Huntress and Power Girl.  This arc ties in loosely to the events going on in the Earth 2 comic.

Overall, Game Over was an entertaining book.  It's always intriguing to see the contrast between Batman and Superman played out in such close quarters.  Additionally, the appearance of fellow heroes and heroines makes for the opportunity to tell interesting and new stories.

I would recommend Batman/Superman Vol. 2: Game Over to fans of either or both of these heroes.  It is a worthy follow-up to the first volume.

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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

KnightsCenter Update

Lexi had another basketball game yesterday, and her team won easily.  It was 16-0 at the end of the 3rd quarter, so no worries this week.  Lexi had fun, grabbing a rebound, learning how to switch on defense, and being the passer on inbound plays.  Its cool to see her awareness and skills growing with each game.

Griffin and Cami had their first practices last week, with games starting in December.  Griffin has the tallest kid in the league on his team. He is at least a foot taller than Griffin.  That should bode well for success.  Cami is learning all the various parts of the game, and according to Trisha, she plays defense with jazz hands.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks by Bruce Feldman - Book Review

From the publisher: With unparalleled access to Heisman Trophy-winning phenom Johnny Manziel, Bruce Feldman has written a modern-day tale about the making of the next superstars in football's most important position: the quarterback.

In the world of modern football, with NFL teams worth more than a billion dollars, no position defines a franchise like the quarterback. The QB is the story of a year in the making of those star players, and of the most significant year in QB development in sport’s history… with the meteoric rise of various quarterback gurus finally coming to light. George Whitfield, profiled in the New Yorker and called the “Quarterback Whisperer,” gets a regular spot on ESPN’s College GameDay, Trent Dilfer, former Super Bowl quarterback, starts his own qb business, Steve Clarkson, another qb maker, gets profiled on 60 minutes, among many others. It is also the year 5’10” Russell Wilson wins the Super Bowl and for the first time in over 60 years a sub-6-foot QB, Johnny Manziel, gets drafted in the first round, forcing NFL power brokers to re-examine how they look at the position—and the game.

Being a former player and coach, not to mention a fan, I was fascinated by The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks by Bruce Feldman.  This is not a book about how to play quarterback, nor is it really being a quarterback.  It is a revealing look at the process that is growing rapidly around training young men to be professional quarterbacks.

While Feldman pulls back the curtain on QB development, he focuses on a couple of key individuals: Trent Dilfer, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, current analyst, and the heart and soul of the Elite 11 QB competition/reality show; and Johnny Manziel, the polarizing Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who was a first round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns.  While focusing on these two men, Feldman brings in a wide variety of people, including current and former Elite 11 high school campers, several "QB gurus", and a litany of NFL and college coaches and talent evaluators.

My favorite parts of this book are when Feldman discussed the variety of "QB gurus" and their differing approaches to refining and coaching quarterbacks.  These include George Whitfield, Jr., Steve Clarkson (who does not come off well, in my opinion), Tom House (who made a name as a pitching coach), and Jordan Palmer, among others.  Additionally, I really enjoyed the section about brain typing, an idea Jon Niednagel refined based on the Myers-Briggs personality scale.

My one complaint with the book is that Feldman constantly repeated information when he spoke about his subjects.  It made the book seem more like a collection of articles that was put together.  This is a picky complaint, but when you binge read this book, you keep getting hit with the same stuff.

Overall, I highly recommend The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks by Bruce Feldman.  If you have any interest in the quarterback position, you will be fascinated by Feldman's book.  While he doesn't try to present any one way of training as "the way", he does present to the reader an inside look at the varied ways young men are being trained, and the men who are trying to unlock the secret to finding the next great QB.

I received a review copy of this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

More Basketball News

Lexi's team lost for the first time today.  They lost by 4, in a hard-fought, back-and-forth game.  She made several good passes, played pretty good "D", and actually forced a couple of turnovers on the press.  She was smiling after the game and is still having fun.

Griffin and Cami start practice this week, with games starting in December, when I think we'll be living at the school on Saturdays.  Griffin is a Knick and Cami is a Badger.

More to come next week.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Unwritten Vol. 10: War Stories by Mike Carey - Book Review

From the publisher: The tenth volume of the critically-acclaimed new series from the Eisner-nominated creative team, Mike Carey and Peter Gross is the perfect jumping on point, as Tom Taylor is stranded at the beginning of all creation!

Lost in the unwritten scenes of all the world's stories, Tom Taylor is headed back to reality -- and all the gods and beasts and monsters ever imagined can't stop him. But there's a toll on the road that may be too high for him or anyone to pay...


The Unwritten Vol. 10: War Stories, by Mike Carey, is a transitional story. As the penultimate collection, War Stories begins bringing back together the main characters in order to put the pieces in position for the endgame.  So, Tommy Taylor has to journey back to his world, where he discovers that the end is near.  Meanwhile (in a storyline concurrent to Tommy's quest for home), Savoy and Lizzie meet up with Wilson Taylor and begin readying to fight/defend the world from the apocalypse.  And, in a third story strand, Pauly Bruckner is faced with his future and his past; he makes a decision that could affect the lives of everyone.  The collection ends with the strands converging, setting up what should be an outstanding end to a very thought-provoking series.

Carey continues to write a wonderful, meta-fictional story.  However, this collection is not the best of the story arcs, probably because of its function: it is nearly all set-up for the following (and final) volume.

I recommend The Unwritten: War Stories to those who've read the rest of The Unwritten, but would not encourage new readers to start with this collection.  For new readers, go back to the beginning; for those who have been here all along: hang on for the finale, it should be amazing.

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

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Basketball Update

Lexi's team won a highly contested game yesterday.  She didn't score any points, but was able to shoot a couple of times.  She had a few nice rebounds and played pretty good defense.  She is still learning how to transition quickly from one end of the court to the other, and with each game she gets a little better at recognizing situations.

The twins start practice this week (we think) and we're a few short weeks from having triple, and at least one quadruple, headers.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Make Comics Like the Pros by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente - Book Review

From the publisher: A step-by-step guide to all aspects of comic book creation--from conceptualization to early drafts to marketing and promotion--written by two of the industry's most seasoned and successful pros.

Discover the Secrets of Your Favorite Comic Book Creators

Do you want to break into the comics industry? There are many creative roles available—writer, penciller, inker, colorist, letterer, editor, and more. Each creator serves a vital function in the production of sequential art at companies such as DC, Marvel, Image, and Valiant. In Make Comics Like the Pros, veteran comics creators Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente team up with a who’s who of the modern comic book scene to lead you step-by-step through the development of a comic. With these two fan-favorite writers as your guides, you’ll learn everything from script formatting to the importance of artistic collaboration to the best strategies for promoting and selling your own sequential art masterpiece. Pak and Van Lente even put their lessons into practice inside the pages of the book—pairing with Eisner Award–winning cartoonist Colleen Coover (Bandette) to produce the swashbuckling, adventure comic Swordmaids, and giving you front row seats to their creative process. Make Comics Like the Pros provides all the answers you’ve been seeking to take your comic book–making dreams all the way to professional-level reality. 

Make Comics Like the Pros, by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, is the latest in a recent string of books about creating comics.  Much like Brian Michael Bendis's Words for Pictures, this book is an excellent resource for the new and/or inexperienced comic creator.  Rather than focus on how to write or how to draw, though, Make Comics Like the Pros takes the reader through the process of creating and publishing a comic.  It is a very thorough examination, and appears to cover all the bases. 

The book includes chapters on writers, artists, the rest of the creative team (inkers, letterers, colorists, and editors), how to pitch your idea, getting your comic out via print or digital publishing, and finding/reaching/ keeping your audience.  Throughout the whole book, Pak and Van Lente have put examples of what they are discussing, usually from one of their own books.  Several of their colleagues also contributed advice.  Additionally, many of the sections discussed have their own list of "commandments"; for example, Commandments for Editing, or Commandments for Lettering.  Each of these commandments contain excellent and well-thought out suggestions.  Finally, Pak and Van Lente, along with artist Colleen Coover, have created a new 8 page comic called "Swordmaids" to illustrate each step of the process.  I found this to be truly helpful, as the writers were following their own advice.

I highly recommend Make Comics Like the Pros to anyone interested in the comics creation process, or anyone interested in creating their own comic. 

I received a preview copy of this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fairest Vol. 4: Of Men and Mice by Marc Andreyko - Book Review

From the publisher: Cinderella returns in an all-new epic! After an assassination attempt on Snow White, Cind is called back into service to unravel an age-old conspiracy that dates back to that fateful midnight ball! Can Cind uncover the plot and prevent a massacre in Fabletown? By critically acclaimed writer Marc Andreyko (MANHUNTER, Torso, The Lost) and legendary artist Shawn McManus (CINDERELLA, SWAMP THING), FAIREST VOL. 4: CINDERELLA - OF MEN AND MICE ties directly into FABLES!

Collects issues #21-27.

The latest Fairest collection, Of Mice and Men by Marc Andreyko, was only average as far as the Fables stories go.  It had a lot of potential and plays a role in the overall storyline running through Fables, but it was a little disappointing to me.
To summarize, Fables associated with Cinderella are being killed, so she is called back into service to track down the culprit in a mystery that goes all the way back to her origins at the fateful  ball.  As she encounters characters from her past, Cinderella also finds herself on the run from an assassin.  Meanwhile, hints at a bigger overall conspiracy that will affect all the Fables of Fabletown are sown throughout.  As Fables and Fairest near the end of their run, plot points and characters begin to converge.
I really enjoyed the concept in Of Mice and Men.  Having Cinderella, Fabletown’s resident super-spy, return to her roots provides for a fun and entertaining story.  The fairy godmother and the mice (who were transformed into men) are great supporting characters.  This look back at the legend of Cinderella adds depth to a somewhat superficial story. Additionally, there are some fun twists on the consequences of using magic.
I suppose my problem is with the "adult content" and portrayal of Cinderella and several other characters.  While Cinderella is no saint (she is a James Bond-type, after all), her promiscuity and the portrayal of it is almost over done, as is that of Marcel Champagne.  Fairest is an adult comic, but this collection seemed to have sex and language in abundance simply for the sake of having it.  It was a distraction from the storyline, rather a complement.
Overall, I liked Of Mice and Men, but I look forward to the return of a little less of the adult situations in the final collection.

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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Basketball Season Begins for the Knight Family

Lexi started off this year's basketball seasons with a win.  Her team, the Cardinals, won 22-16.  She did a nice job in her first game of school ball (as opposed to Upward).  There is a bit of a learning curve jumping leagues, but she seems to be catching on.  She had several shots that were close but didn't go in (she actually made one basket but her coach called timeout right before she shot), a couple of rebounds, some nice passes, and even brought the ball up the floor a few times.  She also played nice defense, constantly harassing her opponents.

Next game is next Saturday.  Cami and Griffin will be starting in a few short weeks.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson
From the publisher: Ten years ago, Craig Johnson wrote his first short story, the Hillerman Award–winning “Old Indian Trick.” This was one of the earliest appearances of the sheriff who would go on to star in Johnson’s bestselling, award-winning novels and the A&E hit series Longmire. Each Christmas Eve thereafter, fans rejoiced when Johnson sent out a new short story featuring an episode in Walt’s life that doesn’t appear in the novels; over the years, many have asked why they can’t buy the stories in book form.

Wait for Signs collects those beloved stories—and one entirely new story, “Petunia, Bandit Queen of the Bighorns”—for the very first time in a single volume, regular trade hardcover. With glimpses of Walt’s past from the incident in “Ministerial Aide,” when the sheriff is mistaken for a deity, to the hilarious “Messenger,” where the majority of the action takes place in a Port-A-Potty, Wait for Signs is a necessary addition to any Longmire fan’s shelf and a wonderful way to introduce new readers to the fictional world of Absaroka County, Wyoming.

Wait for Signs, by Craig Johnson, is an excellent introduction to Sheriff Walt Longmire and the cast of characters living in Absaroka County, Wyoming.  Each of these twelve short stories, all but one originally written as a Christmas treat for Johnson's email list, is told from Walt's point of view, and gives a little glimpse into the man who is the law in Absaroka County.

The best parts of a Longmire story are the characterization and the setting.  Fictional Absaroka County is a vastly different place than the big city settings of many popular mystery series; this doesn't make it better or worse, just different.  It's a refreshing change to read about the wide-open spaces, small towns, and Indian reservations.  As for the characters, Walt Longmire is a complicated man with a very deeply held level of integrity. Walt always does what is right, but often does it in his own unique way.  Walt's best friend, Henry Standing Bear, is the perfect foil, while Longmire's daughter, Cady, also makes several appearances.  Sprinkled throughout the stories are other members of Longmire's cast of characters.  They combine to form a fine group, always interesting and each distinct in their own right.

While the mysteries in Wait for Signs are generally non-existent, the stories do serve as excellent slice-of-life pieces that fill in the blanks between the various Longmire novels.  Do yourself a favor and read this series; then check out the tv version, Longmire, and enjoy the visit to Absaroka County.

I received a preview copy of this book from Penguin Books First to Read program in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Earth 2 Vol. 4: The Dark Age by Tom Taylor - Book Review

From the publisher: Once thought dead, Superman now returns to Earth to do the destructive bidding of Darkseid!

The Wonders of Earth 2 have struggled to keep the forces of Brutal and Darkseid at bay. But now with the return of Superman, they can no longer stand up to the wake of destruction he brings. But now, with the emergence of a new and mysterious Batman, comes the hope that he may know how to defeat the rogue Man of Steel before Earth 2 is destroyed completely.

Collects Earth 2 #17-20 and Earth 2 Annual #2.

Tom Taylor's Earth 2 is a fun and action-packed book.  The Dark Age collection is no different.  As the Earth is dealing with multiple fire pits (purpose unknown), a hostile takeover in a Middle Eastern country, massive destruction all over the world (especially Gotham), and the death or absence of all the major superheroes, a surprise is revealed: Superman is not dead, and has returned.  Unfortunately, Superman is now serving the ruthless Darkseid.  As the remaining heroes look for a way to defeat him, Batman returns with a vengeance, but its not the Batman we all remember.

The Dark Age deals with the war with Superman ably.  It is almost like an action movie in comic book form.  Over the course of the four parts of the story, the heroes are forced into new alliances and have to deal with disaster on a grand scale.  In my opinion, the best parts of the story are focused on the return of Lois Lane (in an unexpected form) and the new Batman, who is infinitely more vicious than Bruce Wayne.  There really isn't any closure at the end of this book, but the storyline functions as a transition into the next big event to hit Earth 2.

My favorite part of this collection is Earth 2 Annual #2, which details the origin of the new Batman.  The story is terrific and puts a whole new spin on the Batman mythos.  The reveal of who the new Batman is leaves some interesting stories to be told in the future.

One of the great things about Earth 2 is that the writers (in this case, Tom Taylor) are able to take familiar characters and put them through trials that would never be accepted in the regular books. This means changing the secret identity of characters and sometimes even having them die.  This adds a newness and unpredictability to the stories.

I really enjoy Earth 2, and liked The Dark Age.  Its a fun, loud, and interesting book.  I recommend it highly.

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

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Batman Vol. 5: Zero Year - Dark City by Scott Snyder - Book Review

From the publisher: Before the Batcave and Robin, the Joker and the Batmobile ... there was ZERO YEAR.

The Riddler has plunged Gotham City into darkness. How will a young Dark Knight bring his beloved hometown from the brink of chaos and madness and back into the light? From the critically acclaimed, New York Times #1 best-selling creative team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, BATMAN VOL. 5: ZERO YEAR--DARK CITY is the concluding volume to Batman's origin story, as you've never seen it before.

Collects Batman #25-27, 29-33.

Scott Snyder's Batman: Zero Year - Dark City is another awesome entry in his Batman series.  Following on the heels of Zero Year - Secret City, this current volume continues the story of Bruce Wayne's first year as Batman.

In the first story arc, Batman encounters a new villain known as Dr. Death.  Dr. Death has a connection to Bruce Wayne, and Bruce is determined to find and catch him.  Meanwhile, Commissioner Loeb and Det. Corrigan are determined to arrest Batman and take him off the street. This story is interesting, but it's biggest impact is as the set-up for the final arc.

The second arc is outstanding.  Riddler has taken control of Gotham; no one is allowed in or out of the city.  Bruce Wayne wakes up in strange surroundings after being out of action for some time and has to catch up with what Riddler is doing.  He and Gordon, with an assist from Lucius Fox (making his first appearance in the Batman's new history), must find Riddler and restore power to Gotham before time runs out.

The final part of the story has a nice coda, as Alfred imagines what life would be like for Bruce Wayne were he to stop being Batman.  It is a quiet tale, mixing hope and melancholy, and works as a brief pause in Batman's constant battle with darkness.

Synder is cementing himself as one of the legendary Batman writers, and Dark City is just further proof of his talent.  This was a great book, entertaining and suspenseful.  It also serves nicely to fill in gaps from Bruce Wayne's early time as Batman.  The characters of Riddler, Lt. Gordon, and Lucius Fox are fleshed out even more, helping to establish them as vital parts of the book.  In fact, I really liked Snyder's take on Riddler, who is too often played as a joke.  His intelligence and ruthlessness are brought to the forefront, making him a worthy opponent for Batman.

Once again, I highly recommend Batman Vol. 5: Zero City - Dark City.  This is a book worth reading, and Snyder continues his terrific storytelling.

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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Season's End

The football season came to an end tonight.  The boys played hard, but were unable to overcome a more aggressive opponent.  The team finished 5-3, a four win improvement over last year.  Griffin carried the ball 3 times for around 30 yards, including one spectacular cutback that nearly scored (he was held until they could pull his flag, but I'm not bitter).  He pulled one flag and played with integrity, despite being held and tackled most of the night while on defense (along with the rest of his team, but again, I'm not bitter).  I'm proud of my boy, and had a blast watching him have some offensive success to go along with the defensive ability. 

By virtue of the loss, Cami's cheer season ended as well.  Next up for the Knights is basketball.  Stay tuned.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Promises for God's Princesses by Katrina Cassel - Book Review

From the publisher: This gift book for young girls is the perfect next step in the Tyndale princess line. As young girls grow and leave behind some of the fully illustrated picture books, they still want to feel special, and they still need to know they are loved as God’s daughters. This is the book to share with them. This devotional book is full of Scriptures about God’s love, protection, and promises. The book’s 100 devotions tie in the Scriptures to help young girls apply them to their lives. This diary-style book will attract the growing girl while still making her feel like a princess, a special child of God.

Promises for God's Princesses, by Katrina Cassel, is a nice little devotional book for young girls.  There are 100 different devotions, each two pages long.  The devotion contains a focus Bible verse (or verses), a short anecdote that is then related to the message of the verse(s), and a practical application of the lesson or message of the verse. 

Topics covered include such things as Making a Difference, A Journey with God, Jesus is the Lighthouse, Put God First, and many other.  All of the topics are perfect for mid-elementary age girls up through pre-teens.  They might be a little simplistic for teenagers, but they would make an ideal short, quick read to start off the day before school.

I highly recommend this for young girls.  It is a great devotional book, and I'm looking forward to giving it to my own daughters.

I received a review copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.
This gift book for young girls is the perfect next step in the Tyndale princess line. As young girls grow and leave behind some of the fully illustrated picture books, they still want to feel special, and they still need to know they are loved as God’s daughters. This is the book to share with them. This devotional book is full of Scriptures about God’s love, protection, and promises. The book’s 100 devotions tie in the Scriptures to help young girls apply them to their lives. This diary-style book will attract the growing girl while still making her feel like a princess, a special child of God. - See more at: http://www.tyndaleblognetwork.com/1_title/product-details.php?isbn=9781414396606#sthash.J5RGfZZh.dpuf
This gift book for young girls is the perfect next step in the Tyndale princess line. As young girls grow and leave behind some of the fully illustrated picture books, they still want to feel special, and they still need to know they are loved as God’s daughters. This is the book to share with them. This devotional book is full of Scriptures about God’s love, protection, and promises. The book’s 100 devotions tie in the Scriptures to help young girls apply them to their lives. This diary-style book will attract the growing girl while still making her feel like a princess, a special child of God. - See more at: http://www.tyndaleblognetwork.com/1_title/product-details.php?isbn=9781414396606#sthash.J5RGfZZh.dpuf
This gift book for young girls is the perfect next step in the Tyndale princess line. As young girls grow and leave behind some of the fully illustrated picture books, they still want to feel special, and they still need to know they are loved as God’s daughters. This is the book to share with them. This devotional book is full of Scriptures about God’s love, protection, and promises. The book’s 100 devotions tie in the Scriptures to help young girls apply them to their lives. This diary-style book will attract the growing girl while still making her feel like a princess, a special child of God. - See more at: http://www.tyndaleblognetwork.com/1_title/product-details.php?isbn=9781414396606#sthash.J5RGfZZh.dpuf

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Football and a Special Day

Today is Griffin and Cami's 8th birthday.  It's hard to believe.  We had a fun family celebration; the party with their friends will be over Fall Break.  I'm tired just thinking about it.

In football action, Griffin's team won their first playoff game.  Griffin had 2 carries for about 40 yards.  He also pulled a flag for a 1 yard loss.  It was a good game.  The next game is on Tuesday.

Lexi's team lost, so their season is over.  Both Cami and Lexi have their cheerleader awards/celebration on Monday.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

You Herd Me! I'll Say It If Nobody Else Will by Colin Cowherd

From the publisher: In this age of billion dollar athletic marketing campaigns, “feel good” philosophy with no connection to reality, and a Sports Media echo chamber that’s all too eager swallow whatever idiotic notion happens to be in vogue at the moment, it’s tough to find people who aren’t afraid to say what they’re really thinking.
But that’s where Colin Cowherd comes in. As his millions of fans on ESPN Radio and ESPNU already know, Colin is the rare sports analyst who’s brave (or crazy) enough to speak his mind—even if it pisses some people off. Of course, it helps that a lot of what Colin has to say is simply hilarious. Lots of writers can tell you about Boston’s storied sports history. But how many can tell you why the city of Boston is America’s five year old? Lots of writers will brag about the stuff they got right, but how many will happily list all the calls they got completely and utterly wrong? Whether he’s pointing out the stupidity of conspiracy theories, explaining why media bias isn’t nearly as big a deal as many assume, or calling out those who prize short term wins over sustainability, Colin is smart, thought-provoking, and laugh-out-loud funny.
Unapologetically entertaining and packed with behind-the-scenes insights you won’t get anywhere else, You Herd Me! is unlike any other sports book ever written.

Reading You Herd Me!, by Colin Cowherd, is the equivalent of listening to his radio show.  What I mean by that is that every chapter is a short essay on a single topic, much like a segment of his show would be.  Cowherd takes a topic, such as Jerry Tarkanian (ex-UNLV basketball coach) and riffs on it.  Often, the topic is discussed in the context of societal issues; conversely, Cowherd will approach a societal topic and couch it in sports terms (the impact of two-parent families; the success and stability of quarterback and point guard success is the example to prove the point).

Cowherd seems to be the type of talk show host that people either love or hate.  He has very strong opinions (not all of which I agree with) and tends to go on about them.  However, his arguments are usually grounded in solid facts and generally start from a logical premise.  I generally enjoy listening to his show, and find most of his opinions informative.  For me, You Herd Me! was more of the same.  It was informative, enjoyable, and quick.

As I mentioned, the book is composed of short essays, riffing on a single topic.  In addition, interspersed throughout the book are somewhat humorous and/or provocative quotes from Cowherd.  Finally, there are also some brief takes on sports subjects that don't really merit a deeper examination.  Because of the format, this is a very easy book to pick up and read, and then put down again.  Cowherd's voice comes through in the writing style. It's very easy to imagine him speaking about the varying topics as part of his show, in his trademark semi-sarcastic way.

I enjoyed reading You Herd Me! and would recommend it to sports fans.  If you are a fan of Cowherd's show, In The Herd, then I would highly recommend this book.

I received a review of this book from Three Rivers Press and the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Power Couple by Charles Soule Book Review

From the publisher: Beginning a bold new series that details the relationship between The Man of Steel and the Warrior Princess as writer Charles Soule (Swamp Thing) is joined by artist Tony S. Daniel (Batman) to tell the tale of a romance that will shake the stars themselves. These two super-beings love each other, but not everyone shares their joy. Some fear it, some test it--and some will try to kill for it. Some say love is a battlefield, but where Superman and Wonder Woman are concerned it spells Doomsday!

Collects Issues #1-7 of Superman/Wonder Woman.

Much like the Batman/Superman series, Charles Soule's Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Power Couple puts it's main focus on the relationship between the heroes, rather than latest villain or threat.  And it works to great effect.  Instead of the typical superhero story, the reader is treated to an exploration of a romantic relationship between to very powerful, yet different, people.

The collection begins with a "date" between Superman and Wonder Woman, and rolls through the introduction of Doomsday, Zod, and Faora into the New 52 universe.  In addition, many of Wonder Woman's half-siblings, aka "gods", make an appearance as well.  In the midst of everything, the love affair between Wonder Woman and Superman becomes public knowledge.  There is some fighting, some vanquishing of evil, and several splash pages, but the heart of this story is in the relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman.

One aspect of this that Soule brings across very well is how Clark Kent (Superman) and Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) were raised very differently.  Clark strives to be normal in his everyday life, keeping his identity as Superman secret.  Consequently, he wants to keep their relationship very hush, hush.  Diana, on the other hand, was raised as an Amazon and taught to be open and proud of who she is.  There is no hiding of anything with her, particularly when she can use the lasso of truth.  She very much wants the relationship out in the open, for all to see.  As they work through their issues over the course of several battles and encounters with gods, they come to a realization that should provide numerous opportunities for stories in the coming issues of the series.

This is a highly entertaining book.  I enjoyed the fresh take on the heroes, and the artwork is spectacular as well.  This is a must read for fans of Superman and Wonder Woman, and I'd recommend it to people looking for a different approach to superhero books, too.

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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Justice League Vol. 5: Forever Heroes by Geoff Johns - Book Review

From the publisher: As the Crime Syndicate hunts down the few heroes left foolish enough to challenge them--including Batman's protege, Dick Grayson. But Owlman has other plans for Nightwing...and Owlman's teammate: the most deadly being on the planet: Ultraman! Also, Cyborg is one of the lone Justice League members left to fight against the villains that have taken over. How can he possibly find a way to defeat them? Who can he turn to? Two words: Metal Men!

New York Times best-selling writer Geoff Johns (GREEN LANTERN, BATMAN: EARTH ONE) continues the Forever Evil event, as the Justice League must find a way to defeat their deadly mirror images--the Crime Syndicate!

Collects JUSTICE LEAGUE #24-29

As a supplemental group of stories to the Forever Evil event, Geoff Johns's Justice League Vol. 5: Forever Heroes works wonderfully.  The individual issues work on their own and dovetail superbly into the greater tale being told in Forever Evil.

The first several issues spend a lot of time focusing on the Crime Syndicate, looking at their backgrounds on Earth-2 either individually or in groups.  This serves to add depth to the characters, and provides some motivations for their actions.  I particularly enjoyed the issue detailing Owlman's origin.  The origin of Grid is also detailed, and I found this helpful because that character just seemed to spring to life with no thought or purpose.  Finding out about his creation filled in some missing holes.  The final issue dealt with Cyborg's reconstruction after Grid split from him, and served to provide an upgrade to the character as well as cap off on of the major sub-plot points of the Forever Evil event.

However, my favorite story was the background of the Metal Men.  Detailing the creation of the Metal Men, this issue was particularly moving, providing some emotional depth to the characters as they receive their first real action in DC's New 52.  There is a lot of potential in these characters, and I look forward to reading future stories about them.

Johns has proven time and again that he can write sprawling stories, and in this collection he shows his skill with the smaller, support pieces.  Forever Heroes is a great book, and does it's job as a tie-in very well; in fact, it is better than most of these types of books, which often seem forced or only distantly related.

I highly recommend Forever Heroes.

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Football Saturday

Last Saturday, Griffin and Cami had their last regular season game.  Griffin's team won, beating a pretty good team by 6 points.  Griffin had the first touchdown of the game, going for 40 yards down the sideline on the game's second play.  He had to make a couple of moves and then raced past the last kids.  It was really cool.  He finished with 2 carries for 40ish yards.  No flags pulled this time, but he did a nice job on defense.

Lexi cheered wildly for her team.  They have one regular season game left.  Playoffs for all the kids start next week.

Finally, we traveled to Bourbonnais to take in the ONU football game.  It was a beautiful evening, and the game was very competitive.  Unfortunately, the Tigers lost by a point, but we were able to see friends and family.  I also got to stand on the sideline with the team and enjoy the new turf surface that was installed this summer.  I know I would have been half a step faster if it had been there when I played.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Justice League of America Vol. 2: Survivors of Evil by Matt Kindt - Book Review

From the publisher: As the smoke clears from the Trinity War, one thing looks disturbingly clear , the members of the Justice League of America are dead, betrayed by one of their own.

But as with the Trinity War, all is not what it seems. Martian Manhunter and Star Girl have lived to fight another day and find themselves trapped on an alien world that is under the control of a group of super-villains. The key to their survival may lie in the hands of the super-villain Despero, but will these heros be able to find it within themselves to trust soemone who is supposed to be their mortal enemy?

This volume collects issues #8-14.

Matt Kindt's Justice League of America: Survivors of Evil shows some of the fallout from the Trinity War event, in particular what happened to several heroes, including Superman, a Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman, Firestorm, and Aquaman.  But the interesting part of the storyline is the relationship that is developing between Stargirl and Martian Manhunter.

As Manhunter and Stargirl enter a mysterious prison looking to free the trapped heroes, they are forced to face their own deep secrets and fears.  They also have only each other to rely on.  As a result of events during the rescue attempt, Manhunter's mind is fused with Stargirl's, giving him insight into the young hero as they both confront Despero.

What I really liked about this book was Kindt's examination of Stargirl, particularly how and why she became a hero.  Like many heroes, she has a tragic backstory, but as the past is revealed and she is confronted with her fear, she begins the process of moving on.  Stargirl moves beyond being merely the tentative teenage hero and develops true leadership skills.  It's a good character arc for Stargirl and should lead to some interesting stories.

The last issue in this book deals with the dissolution of the Justice League of America as it was known.  It also sets up the formation of a new team, as Kindt checks in on the various members and their current activities.

I recommend Survivors of Evil to Justice League fans, particularly fans of Stargirl.  It was a good book, revealing more about how a young hero grows into the role.

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

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Forever Evil by Geoff Johns - Book Review

From the publisher: The Justice League is DEAD! And the villains shall INHERIT the Earth! In a flash of light, the world's most powerful heroes vanish as the Crime Syndicate arrives from Earth-3! As this evil version of the Justice League takes over the DC Universe, no one stands in the way of them and complete domination ... no one except for Lex Luthor.

By New York Times #1 best-selling creators Geoff Johns and David Finch, FOREVER EVIL is the first universe-wide crossover of The New 52. Collects FOREVER EVIL #1-7.

Geoff Johns is the mastermind behind Forever Evil, a story that harkens back to storylines and big events from the late 80's.  Leading out of the events of the Trinity War, Forever Evil picks up with the Justice League missing, the Crime Syndicate (an evil version of the Justice League from an alternate universe) in the midst of conquering Earth, and Lex Luthor leading a rag-tag group of leftover heroes and villains in an effort to reclaim the Earth and defeat the Crime Syndicate.

I enjoyed this story a lot.  It was a nice change to get the majority of the story from Lex's viewpoint, and the dynamic between Luthor and Batman was great.  In addition, Batman's dedication to rescuing Nightwing is a nice development that has spun out of recent events in the Batman books.  There is also a fun supporting cast, in Black Adam, Bizarro, Captain Cold, Catwoman, and a couple of others.  The storytelling is top-notch, with very few problems.

While this collection contains all issues of Forever Evil, there are some major events happening in the regular comics for these characters.  This causes some issues where the story gets a little choppy, or characters show up as a result of major events happening in another book.  This isn't a huge issue, but it can cause a break in the reading.

Having read the (in)famous Crisis on Infinte Earths series when it was first released, I enjoyed this more modern take on many of the situations that occured in the story.  I also like how there are multiple threads left to spin into the future.  And as seems to be the case, the resolution of Forever Evil seems to lead right into DC's next major event.

I recommend Forever Evil to DC fans, and to readers who read the original Crisis mini-series.

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

Monday, September 8, 2014

Monday Night (Flag) Football Update

For the first time in forever, Cami's cheer squad got to cheer in front of the fans, rather than near the end zone.  This usually doesn't happen, because jerky parents complain that the cheerleaders are in their way.

Also, Griffin's team won, 14-12.  Their record stands at 3-2, with one regular season game left to play (this coming Saturday).  Griffin carried the ball 3 times, for nine yards, a 2-point conversion, and a fumbled exchange, which is a dead ball.  His conversion was the difference in the game, and he crossed the line as his flag was pulled.  He also pulled 2 flags, one stopping a 2-point conversion, and one for a huge loss on 4th down.  It was a fun and tense (for flag football) game.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Saturday Morning Football Update

Griffin and Cami had another game this morning.  Griffin lost a shoot-out to one of the best teams, but the boys played well. Griffin had 3 carries for about 16 yards and a 2-point conversion.  He also had a huge fourth down stop, pulling a flag to keep the team in striking distance.  As an aside, the boys play on a 45 yard field.  One boy on Griffin's team scored 4 touchdowns, all going for the entire 45 yards.  It was pretty impressive.

Next game is Monday night.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A New Dawn: Star Wars by John Jackson Miller - Book Review

From the publisher: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .

“The war is over. The Separatists have been defeated, and the Jedi rebellion has been foiled. We stand on the threshold of a new beginning.”—Emperor Palpatine

For a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights brought peace and order to the Galactic Republic, aided by their connection to the mystical energy field known as the Force. But they were betrayed—and the entire galaxy has paid the price. It is the Age of the Empire.

Now Emperor Palpatine, once Chancellor of the Republic and secretly a Sith follower of the dark side of the Force, has brought his own peace and order to the galaxy. Peace through brutal repression, and order through increasing control of his subjects’ lives.

But even as the Emperor tightens his iron grip, others have begun to question his means and motives. And still others, whose lives were destroyed by Palpatine’s machinations, lay scattered about the galaxy like unexploded bombs, waiting to go off. . . .

The first Star Wars novel created in collaboration with the Lucasfilm Story Group, Star Wars: A New Dawn is set during the legendary “Dark Times” between Episodes III and IV and tells the story of how two of the lead characters from the animated series Star Wars Rebels first came to cross paths. Featuring a foreword by Dave Filoni.

A New Dawn, by John Jackson Miller, is the first Star Wars novel to be written and published since Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm, and the creation of the Lucasfilm Story Group.  As such, it's the first non-movie adaptation to be considered "canon" in the Star Wars universe.  Finally, A New Dawn also functions as a prequel of sorts to the upcoming animated series Star Wars: Rebels.  It was with all this in mind that I eagerly, yet cautiously, began reading A New Dawn.

My reaction?  It was mixed.  I enjoyed getting a glimpse at several of the new characters, and liked the idea that this book will "count", that it's contents will matter in the grand scheme of things. However, I wasn't particularly taken in with any of the new characters, and the villain(s) seem to be the same-old, same-old.

Kanan is a trying to fly below the radar, keeping his head down as he delivers explosives for a mining company.  Meanwhile, Count Vidian, Captain Sloane, and the crew of a Star Destroyer arrive to create more efficiency for the Empire's important mining interests on the planet Gorse, and it's moon, Cynda.  When an unstable explosives expert, and conspiracy theorist, named Skelly sets off an explosion, nearly killing Count Vidian, the wrath of the Empire is brought to bear on Gorse.  Enter Hera, a mysterious woman looking for information on Vidian and for people who are unhappy with the way the Emperor is running things.  Stir in several mysterious pasts, and you have the ingredients for Star Wars: A New Dawn.

Kanan and Hera seem to be the characters who will be a key part of the Rebels storyline. They have the potential to be very interesting, but there isn't a whole lot revealed about them in this book, especially Hera.  It's a good set-up for Rebels, but not the greatest for a novel.  I found that I wasn't really invested in them, because I didn't know anything about them.  I kept pressing forward in the hopes more would be revealed, but was not rewarded.

I think this "Dark Times" setting has a ton of potential.  There is so much that can be covered between the formation of the Empire and the slaughter of the Jedi, and the opening of the original Star Wars: A New Hope.  Again, though, this book served only as an intro to Rebels, so it is tightly focused on its one corner of the galaxy.

Finally, the villains weren't really anything new.  Captain Sloane came off as just another Empire/Emperor toady.  Count Vidian was the biggest disappointment of the book for me, though.  He is just too similar to other bad guys in the official Star Wars universe.  He is greedy, selfish, manipulative, and imposing.  He is also part man and part machine.  He isn't as cool or menacing as Darth Vader, but reminded me a lot of General Grievous, from Attack of the Clones and the Clone Wars series.

My final verdict is that while there is a lot of room for growth, improvement, and cool stories, Star Wars: A New Dawn is just average, not adding a whole lot.  If you read it like a prequel to Rebels, it functions okay, but it isn't really that entertaining as a standalone novel.

I received a preview copy of this book from Lucas Books and Del Rey Spectra in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wednesday Night Football Update

Griffin and Cami's postponed game from last week was played tonight.  Griffin's team won 30-26, scoring every time they had the ball.  He had 3 carries for 25 yards and a 2 point conversion.  He also pulled a flag.  Cami and the girls were so loud that I actually had to turn several of the boys back around when they were on defense.  A successful night for everybody.  Next game is Saturday.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fables Vol. 20 Camelot by Bill Willingham - Book Review

From the publisher: Rose Red finally and formally takes on the mantle of Paladin of Hope to heroically rally the Fables in the tragic aftermath of "Snow White." A new dark age calls for a new Round Table, with modern knights willing to take on a sacred quest to reassemble the shattered pieces of Fabletown.

Collects issues #130-140 of this 14-time Eisner-Award-winning series.

With Fables Vol. 20: Camelot, Bill Willingham continues the excellence that is the Fables story.  Characters and events continue to intertwine as decisions and actions from previous storylines echo throughout this volume.

The main story in Camelot involves Rose Red's acceptance of her role of Paladin of Hope and her idea to form a new Camelot and Knights of the Round Table, focusing on second chances.  This seems to be a lot of set-up for the final Fables story, and Rose makes an interesting decision regarding Prince Brandish.

Running concurrent with Rose's quest, the witches and wizards of Fabletown attempt to reassemble the glass form that was once Bigby Wolf.  They are hopeful that doing so will allow them to retrieve Bigby's soul and he will return to life.  While this is happening, Snow White and her surviving cubs (kids) are circling the wagons, preparing for a conflict with Rose Red and her crew.  Again, there is a lot of set-up here, but Snow and the kids have long been some of my favorite characters.

There are four additional tales in this collection.  My favorite, and the best part of this book, centers on Bigby Wolf and Boy Blue.  It is a touching look at the afterlife, and two warriors who gave their all for Fabletown.  This is a moving story, and the art is very spare and complementary. Mark Buckingham's art is  the perfect touch, once again.  Gepetto and Junebug also get single issues stories, with hints towards future happenings.  The fourth tale involves the Blue Boy Band and an adventure they go on in the Homelands.  The crux of this tale is a question that (I've read) will drive the final story arc of Fables.

Fables continues to be a remarkable book and an excellent piece of storytelling.  Camelot is no exception, and the pieces are all being moved into position for one final arc (the series is ending with issue 150).  Don't miss out on this penultimate piece of a wonderful story.  I highly recommend it.

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

Monday, September 1, 2014

Foundations in Comic Book Art by John Paul Lowe - Book Review

From the publisher: A comprehensive guide to creating and developing comic book and graphic novel art, from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), one of the world's leaders in sequential arts instruction.

Artists seeking a way to break into the exciting world of sequential art first need to master the tools, techniques, and habits used by their favorite pencillers, inkers, and digital artists for creating dynamic, exciting comic artwork. In Foundations for Comic Book Art, the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)—a leading force in art and design education—enlists one of its top instructors, John Paul Lowe, to provide aspiring comic book makers with a thorough primer for creative comics, featuring must-know concepts like contour drawing, mastering perspective, using photo-reference, and adding digital patterns. Examples from the works of SCAD faculty, alumni, and students are paired with Lowe’s easy-to-follow, step-by-step lessons and exercises for readers, demonstrating the vital processes all would-be sequential artists have to know before joining the ranks of the comic book–making elite.

As someone who can't draw, but admires those who can, I was particularly interested in reading through Foundations in Comic Book Art.  John Paul Lowe, a comic artist and instructor at the Savannah School of Art and Design, does a fine job focusing on which skills an artist needs to create a comic and how to apply them.

Rather being a how-to book on drawing, Lowe's book places an emphasis on drawing comics.  There are a lot of helpful illustrations demonstrating the techniques he discusses.  There are also pictures or screen-captures of computer programs, when those are discussed.  Finally, Lowe uses comic art from himself and others as examples and demonstration pieces.

Chapters in this book include: Learning to See; Perspective Basics; The Figure; Visual Problem Solving; Inking; Advanced Inking Techniques; and Software Applications in Comic Book Art.  This last chapter seems to be particularly appropriate to today's artist, as it shows ways to use technology to create drawings, and help in other areas.

If I wanted to learn to draw, I don't think this book would be helpful.  However, if I was already skilled in that area and wanted to specialize comic books, this Lowe's book would be a great help.  Foundations in Comic Book Art also functions like Lowe's textbook, and would make a great companion piece to Brian Michael Bendis's Words for Pictures.

This book is recommend to artists looking to create a career, or hobby, out of drawing comic books.

I received a review copy of this book from Crown Publishing and the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Football for the Knight Family

After a bye week, Griffin's team was back at it on Saturday.  It wasn't his team's best game, as lost they without scoring a touchdown. However, he had some individual highlights: 3 carries for somewhere between 15-20 yards, a series at quarterback, and one great tackle where he totally squared up the runner to pull his flags, then wrapped him up when the kid moved.  It was a nice move.  Additionally, commenting on the heat and humidity, Griffin said, "This humanity is terrible!"

Cami and Lexi both cheered ably and enthusiastically for the weather conditions. 

This week, the twins have a Tuesday night game, due to the upcoming Labor Day weekend.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Flash Vol. 4: Reverse by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato - Book Review

From the publisher: The fourth volume of Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul's New 52 breakout hit - The Flash!

A mysterious and powerful Speed-Force killer has left a trail of bodies in his wake and only Barry has the power to stop him. But when the killer stays one step ahead of him, Barry finds himself face to face with the Teen Titans and Kid Flash for the first time. All this will lead to a confrontation with the Flash's most deadly foe, The Reverse Flash!

Collects THE FLASH #20-25, and #23.3: REVERSE FLASH.

I've enjoyed the New 52 take on the Flash, and Vol. 4: Reverse is no exception.  It's a fun and enjoyable story.  Barry Allen, aka the Flash, is moving on from his trip into the Speed Force to rescue Iris West and several others, all who were gifted with some sort of power from their time there.  His girlfriend, Patty Spivot, has moved in and things seem to be getting back to normal.  Then Barry discovers the new heroes are being killed by someone stealing the Speed Force and sporting a symbol that is the reverse of the Flash's.  Yes, that's right, it's the first appearance of Reverse-Flash in the New 52. Throw in an appearance by Kid Flash and it's a return to the Flash Family-type story of old.

Buccellato and Manapul do a nice job telling this story.  There are several nice reveals, and they add in the first meeting between Flash and Kid Flash.  The romance between Patty Spivot and Barry Allen is interesting, as long-time readers remember the marriage between Barry and Iris West, who is also a major character in this story.  The writers also do a good job of allowing Barry Allen's positivity show through.  Flash has always been an upbeat hero, a sort of counter-point to the brooding and darkness of Batman, and this characteristic is constantly on display in Reverse.

The New 52 affected many characters a lot, and Barry Allen/Flash is one of those.  I really liked the idea of the Flash Family, including Barry and Iris.  I also enjoyed the Reverse-Flash/Professor Zoom character; however, that is not the version of Reverse-Flash in this story.  If I had a gripe about this book, it is this: The New 52 removed much of the deep history surrounding the Flash, not necessarily for the better in my opinion.  This is not the fault of the writers, who have been doing a fine job with the editorial decision.

Reverse is a fun and entertaining story.  It's worth reading for fans of the Flash.

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

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Words for Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis - Book Review

From the publisher: One of the most popular writers in modern comics, Brian Michael Bendis reveals the tools and techniques he and other top creators use to create some of the most popular comic book and graphic novel stories of all time. Words for Pictures shows readers the creative methods of a writer at the very top of his field. Bendis guides aspiring creators through each step of the comics-making process—from idea to script to finished sequential art—for fan favorite comics like The Avengers, Ultimate Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, and more. Along the way, tips and insights from other working writers, artists, and editors provide a rare, extensive look behind the creative curtain of the comics industry. With script samples, a glossary of must-know business terms for writers, and interactive comics-writing exercises, Words for Pictures provides the complete toolbox needed to jump start the next comics-writing success story.

Brian Michael Bendis writes some of the best, and most popular, comics currently going and in the recent past.  When I discovered he had written a book on writing comics, I jumped at the chance to read it.  I looked forward to seeing his process and ideas on story in general, and comic books in particular.  The book, Words for Pictures, was not disappointing at all.

Bendis teaches a course in graphic novel writing at the University of Oregon, and this book reads like a syllabus or highlights from his class.  It is divided into seven chapters: 1) Why?; 2) The Modern Comic Book Script; 3) Writing for Artists; 4) The Editor's Roundtable; 5) The Writers' FAQs; 6) The Business of Comics Writing; and 7) Writing Exercises.  Each chapter focuses on one aspect of the writing part of comic creation, with a brief look at how to run your career as a successful business (an interview with his wife, who runs his business).  Most chapters contain multiple examples of what Bendis is discussing, including art, book pitches, script pages, etc. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 also have special sections at the end that highlight Bendis's writer, artist, and editor friends views on the same subject.

One of the great parts of Words for Pictures is how Bendis recruits his colleagues to give their perspective on multiple aspects of the writer's job, including multiple artists addressing how they interact with writers and their scripts, and multiple editors talking about what they look for in a writer.

The art is gorgeous, as it is from actual comic books, and the script pages are helpful guides.

I thought Words for Pictures was a fantastic book and a great help for aspiring comic book writers, and writers in general.  Bendis is very helpful and provides many ideas and examples, but he never crosses the line into an ego trip.  He is always careful to point out what works for him, and how there are other successful writers who do things differently.  However, Bendis always focuses on what the common traits of the successful writer are.

This book is highly recommended, particularly for writers.  I can see it becoming a well-used guidebook or reference text, as it is full of useful information.

I received a review copy of this book from Crown Publishing Group and the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Opening Week of Football

Saturday was the opening day for youth league football (and cheerleading).  Griffin's team played the other team from school.  It was a good game, and Griffin won.  The boys (who only won once last year) are now the "big" kids and showed it.  The highlight of the game for me was when Griffin took the ball 40 yards for a touchdown, his first one ever!   He accomplished that goal 13 years faster than me.  After scoring, he came running back to me with a big grin on his face.  It was a pretty special moment.  He also pulled multiple flags, and had an all-around good game.

The girls had fun cheering, and Trisha is helping coach both of their squads.  It's shaping up to be a fun season.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Star Wars: Jedi Academy, Return of the Padawan by Jeffrey Brown - Book Review

From the publisher: Author/illustrator Jeffrey Brown returns in the highly anticipated sequel to the NY Times Bestseller Star Wars: Jedi Academy!

It's time to return to middle school in a galaxy far, far away. . . .

After surviving his first year at Jedi Academy, Roan Novachez thought his second year would be a breeze. He couldn't have been more wrong. Roan feels like he's drifting apart from his friends, and it's only made worse when Roan discovers he's not the amazing pilot he thought he'd be. When the school bullies take him under their wing, he decides they aren't so bad after all--or are they?

This year, Roan will have to face alien poetry tests, menacing robots, food fights, flight simulation class, online bullies, more lightsaber duels, and worst of all . . . a girl who is mad at him.

This incredible, original story captures all of the humor, awkwardness, fun, and frustrations of middle school--all told through one boy's comics, journal entries, letters, sketches, e-mails, and more.

Jeffrey Brown's newest Jedi Academy book, Return of the Padawan, picks up where the previous one left off.  Roan Novachez is about to begin his second year at the academy and is excited about seeing his friends and training to be a starfighter pilot.  But things don't go exactly as planned, as Roan runs into girl trouble, friend trouble, bully trouble, and teacher trouble.

Roan continues to learn about the Force, trains as a pilot, goes on field trips to other planets, and keeps drawing his comic strip, Ewok Pilot.  Along the way, he learns what happens when you begin to venture down the path of the Dark Side and what it means to truly be a friend.

Brown perfectly captures the essence of his characters, both with words and with pictures.
With all the laughs, smiles, and awkwardness of the first book, Return of the Padawan shows the trials and tribulations of a middle school boy, although one who has the power of the Force.  This book is a must read for young boys, or anyone who loves Star Wars and remembers what middle school was like.

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

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Summer Vacation 2014

So, school started this week, so our summer break is officially over.  It was a fun and exciting summer, with lots of cool things, highlighted by our trip to California with Grandma and Pa.  We visited San Francisco, Monterey, Los Angeles, San Diego, along with Disneyland, Disney's California Adventure, SeaWorld, and Legoland.  We also saw Hearst Castle, the Oregon Vortex, Crater Lake, and Huntington Beach.  The trip started with a visit with family in Boise.

Elsewhere in the summer, we went swimming, watched family fireworks (courtesy of uncles Dan and David), had a trip to the Air Force Museum in Dayton with Nana, Poppy and extended family, and a mini-family reunion at Old Spaghetti Factory.  There were also special events at Barnes and Noble (Batman Day, Frozen Day, etc.), and Trisha and I saw Switchfoot in concert.  We packed a ton into 8ish weeks.

Enjoy some pictures of the Knight family vacation.

Knight cousins (minus one)
Pirates in San Francisco
Our Disney Welcome

The Girls' Disney Welcome

Captain America

Starting California Screamin' roller coaster

Radiator Springs

Matterhorn Mountain selfie
Meeting Thor

The Family with Kenny Gray
Crater Lake (yes, that's snow)

Lighthouse in Crescent City, CA
Trees of Mystery in the Redwoods

Redwood so big you can drive through it
San Francisco Cable Car

Olvera St. in Los Angeles (where the city began)

Huntington Beach (the water was cold)
Miss Jan's House (our LA base of operations)
4th of July sparklers
Dufek family cousins
Me and Jon Foreman from Switchfoot

SR-71 (my favorite plane)
Frozen Day (building Olaf)

Marvel Superhero Day