Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Unwritten Vol. 9: The Unwritten Fables by Mike Carey and Bill Willingham - Book Review

From the publisher: The worlds of FABLES and THE UNWRITTEN collide in the epic comic event by Mike Carey and Bill Willingham!

Tommy Taylor is thrust into the world of Vertigo's hit series Fables! But a dark and terrible foe has seized the fairy-tale homelands and our world. In desperation, the witches of Fabletown gather to summon the greatest mage the worlds have ever seen. But they are in for an unpleasant surprise.

Collects #50-55 of The Unwritten

The Unwritten Vol. 9 collection takes two of the most popular and best written (in my opinion) comics that Vertigo is putting out and combines the story being told into one epic crossover.  Mike Carey (The Unwritten) and Bill Willingham (Fables) do a masterful job telling the tale of Tom Taylor's meeting and adventure with the Fables.

The story concerns Frau Totenkinder, Gepetto, Ozma, Prince Ambrose, and the rest of the surviving Fables trying to hold off and defeat Mister Dark, the personification of Fear.  They have lost many of their "big guns" and are left to cast a summoning spell for the greatest, most powerful wizard there is.  Enter Tom Taylor, regular guy, as opposed to Tommy Taylor, Boy Wizard.  What ensues is a great battle with the death of many characters.  It's also a meditation on "story" and how it influences our lives, as much of The Unwritten is.

I was curious how these two stories about "story" would interact, since I read Fables and wasn't aware of any lingering storylines concerning Mister Dark, the villain of this tale.  It appears that these versions of the Fables are from an alternate timeline, where they were unsuccessful in their bid to defeat Mister Dark and his minions.  This allows for several characters to play different roles than they typically do (particularly the family of Snow White and Bigby Wolf), and there are real many characters that experience very real peril that would otherwise not be in those situations.  Tom Taylor's quest was also moved forward (not as much as I had hoped) and it will be interesting to see where it progresses from here in light of what he learned.

I really enjoy both of these series, so it was cool to read a story with the characters interacting.  I highly recommend The Unwritten, and if the Fables appeal to you, jump into their story as well.

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lyric of the Day - Switchfoot "Where I Belong"

One of the most poignant songs I've heard in awhile.  Switchfoot's "Where I Belong".

Feeling like a refugee
Like it don't belong to me
The colors flash across the sky

This air feels strange to me
Feeling like a tragedy
I take a deep breath and close my eyes
One last time
One last time

Storms on the wasteland
Dark clouds on the plains again
We were born into the fight

But I'm not sentimental
This skin and bones is a rental
And no one makes it out alive


Until I die I'll sing these songs
On the shores of Babylon
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong

Where the weak are finally strong
Where the righteous right the wrongs
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong


Feels like we're just waiting, waiting
While are hearts are just breaking, breaking
Feels like we've been fighting against the tide

I wanna see the earth start shaking
I wanna see a generation
Finally waking up inside


Until I die I'll sing these songs
On the shores of Babylon
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong

Where the weak are finally strong
Where the righteous right the wrongs
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong

A world where I belong

This body's not my own
This world is not my own
But I still can hear the sound
Of my heart beating out
So let's go boys, sing it loud

And on the final day I die
I want to hold my head up high
I want to tell You that I tried
To live it like a song

And when I reach the other side
I want to look You in the eye
And know that I've arrived
In a world where I belong

In a world where I belong
In a world where I belong
Where I belong
Where I belong

Where I belong
Where I belong

I still believe we can live forever
You and I we begin forever now
Forever now
I still believe in us together
You and I we're here together now
Together now
Forever now
Forever now
Forever now


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Damian: Son of Batman Deluxe Edition by Andy Kubert, Grant Morrison - Book Review

From the publisher: Damian Wayne, the son of Batman, has adopted the cape and cowl as his own...but what horrific events set this troubled hero on the path of his dark destiny? It’s a possible future that may never be in this epic written and drawn by Andy Kubert! Plus, in a tale written by Grant Morrison, Damian Wayne is the Batman of Tomorrow in a story set 15 years from now in a nightmarish future Gotham!

Collects DAMIAN, SON OF BATMAN #1-4 and BATMAN #666.

Damian, Son of Batman is an interesting collection.  First of all, the stories are a sort of Elsewhere collection.  The mini-series, by Adam Kubert, takes place in a future where Damian Wayne is still living and playing the role of Robin, Bruce Wayne has retired as the Batman, and Dick Grayson is the current Batman.  It's sort of a Dark Knight Returns vibe.  While tracking the Joker, who is missing, Grayson is killed.  Damian reacts by killing villians in an attempt at revenge and atonement.  He eventually puts on the cowl and assumes the role of Batman. Several familiar faces make appearances, not all in familiar places.

The Batman #666 issue, by Grant Morrison, seems to follow up the mini-series, following the further adventures of Damian as Batman.  In this particular story, Damian is trying to capture a Batman imposter who made a deal with the devil.  Morrison threw in a few creative concepts, but this wasn't his best Batman story.

It was nice to spend a little more time with Damian, due to his recent death in the New 52 continuity.  It was also interesting to see what the future of the DC universe might look like.  I enjoyed seeing Damian becoming Batman and beginning to find out how he would differ from Bruce and Dick. However, these particular stories weren't really anything spectacular.  There were many cool ideas that would serve being expanded upon, but the length of the mini-series and the single-issue story didn't really allow that.

All in all, this was a story for the Batman completest or fans of Damian Wayne. It's a decent collection, but don't expect the Wow factor.

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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows by Tim Siedell - Book Review

From the publisher: After he is left for dead during the Clone Wars, a single trooper comes to hate the Jedi who abandoned him. Years later, he hears of a great and powerful warrior--the hand of the new Galactic Empire, Darth Vader! Seeking to serve the Dark Lord, this man, Hock, becomes a stormtrooper and works to gain the respect of Vader. During a mission against a group of remnant Separatists, Hock finds himself fighting side by side with Darth Vader, and the bitterness that had grown inside him is brought to rest.

Tim Siedell's Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows is the latest Darth Vader story from Dark Horse Comics.  It follows several previous volumes that were well done, and Cry of Shadows is no exception.  Siedell uses a new character to shed light on the character of Darth Vader, and he does a fine job.

Cry of Shadows is narrated by Hock, a former clone trooper who hates the Jedi, due to the fact they left him for dead during a battle.  As Hock hears rumors and stories about Darth Vader, he decides that Vader is a man deserving of his loyalty and commitment.  He joins the Imperial Stormtroopers and begins to act in such a way as to draw Vader's attention and earn his respect.  This mission culminates during an Imperial attack on a Separatist group located on an out-of-the-way planet.  What occurs is wiped from the Imperial record, and changes Hock's view.

I enjoyed Siedell's spare tale of a man in conflict, looking for a cause worth fighting for.  Hock's background is interesting, and this tale not only provides insight into Vader, but into the life of a clone as well.  It is a nice character study, and serves to further flesh out the picture of Darth Vader as he transitions from Revenge of the Sith to the ruthless leader we meet in Star Wars: A New Hope. It is also interesting to see how the Empire simply alters history to fit what it wants people to know.

I recommend Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows, particularly to Star Wars fans.  It's a quick and fun read.

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

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nightwing Vol. 4: Second City by Kyle Higgins - Book Review

From the publisher: Kyle Higgins sends Nightwing to the Windy City to track down his parent's killer!

After the Joker's attack on the Bat-family, Nightwing finds himself in a new setting with an unlikely ally, The Prankster. Together they are being hunted by the mysterious Mask Killer while Dick tries to find the man who killed his parents, Tony Zullo. Twists and surprises are at every turn in this exciting new chapter of Nightwing!

This volume collects Nightwing #19-24

I really like the story being told in the pages of Nightwing.  In the latest volume, Second City, Kyle Higgins has taken Dick Grayson to Chicago after he received some infomation that Tony Zucco, the man who killed his parents, was there.  What follows is Grayson's search to finally confront and take down Zucco, thereby avenging his parents' deaths.  Along the way, Grayson runs into the Prankster, a vicious villain (or is he) who wants to destroy the mayor of Chicago.

Unlike the other cities in the DC Universe, Chicago is a real place.  What this means is that many landmarks make an appearance, including the Hancock Tower, Navy Pier, Millenium Park, and the El train.  This serves to ground Nightwing in reality much more than some of the other heroes.  It also adds a dimension of fun for people familiar with the city.

Another bonus from having Grayson move to Chicago is the new cast of characters he is surrounded with, including two roommates.  Grayson has lost his fortune, and due to his current relationship with Bruce Wayne, he really doesn't have any access to money.  This puts him in a new position, with the potential to explore new facets of his life.

Storywise, Second City is strong.  Grayson's search for Zucco comes to fruition in an unlikely manner.  Additionally, his run-ins with the Prankster form a solid plot (although a little reminiscent of the movie The Dark Knight) for Higgins to begin Nightwing's career in a new city.

I think my favorite part of this collection, though, are all the hints about what happened to Chicago's masked heroes.  Sometime in the near past, someone killed all, or nearly all, of the masked vigilantes working in Chicago.  Who and why are mysteries definitely worth exploring; I'm also curious about the heroes mentioned, like Slipshift, Ghostwalker, and Aether.  This story clearly demands to be told.

Like the previous volumes in this series, I highly recommend Nightwing Vol. 4: Second City.  A fun and entertaining read.

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

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

MindWar by Andrew Klavan - Book Review

From the publisher:
When Rick lost the ability to run, he came one step closer to becoming a hero.
New High Score! New Record Time!

Rick nodded with grim satisfaction. He laid the game controller aside on the sofa and reached for his crutches.

Rick Dial was the best quarterback Putnam Hills High School had ever seen. Unflappable. Unstoppable. Number 12. But when a car accident left him crippled, Rick’s life as he knew it ended. He disavowed his triumphant past. He ignored his girlfriend. He disappeared into his bedroom—and into the glowing video screen.

But Rick’s uncanny gaming skills have attracted attention. Dangerous attention. Government agents have uncovered a potentially devastating cyber-threat: a Russian genius has created a digital reality called the Realm, from which he can enter, control, and disrupt American computer systems . . . from transportation to defense. The agents want Rick, quick-thinking quarterback and gaming master, to enter the Realm and stop the madman—before he sends America into chaos.

Entering the Realm will give Rick what he thought he’d never have again: a body as strong and fast as it was before the accident. But this is no game, there are no extra lives, and what happens to Rick in the Realm happens to Rick’s body in reality.

Even after Rick agrees to help, he can’t shake the sense that he’s being kept in the dark. Why would a government agency act so aggressively? Can anyone inside the Realm be trusted? How many others have entered before him . . . and failed to return?

In the tradition of Ender’s Game and The Matrix, MindWar is a complex thriller about a seemingly ordinary teenager who discovers a hidden gift—a gift that could make him a hero . . . or cost him everything.

Andrew Klavan has become one of the top authors in the Young Adult genre.  His Homelanders series is a hit, particularly with middle school boys. Klavan also does a nice job of dropping faith-based themes into his stories without being heavy-handed about it.  Knowing all this, I really wanted to love this book (and the series as a whole).  Unfortunately, I don't.  However, I don't dislike it either.  In fact, it's really hard to put my finger on how I feel about it, so I'm going to discuss pros and cons.

The Realm - the virtual setting is pretty cool and the potential for awesomeness is tremendous.  MindWar barely scratches the surface of what it is and what can be done.
Rick Dial - the main character, Rick is a flawed hero, an athlete, and a teenager.  He has the potential to be a great character, and to be a favorite of teenage boys.
Flavian and Mariel - two mysterious characters in the Realm, with a lot of room to grow.

Character Development - There is very little character development in MindWar.  In fact, other than Rick, very little is discussed about any of the characters.
The Villains - Kurodar and Reza are arguably the two main villains. There is not much revealed about them, nor is there anything about their motivations for evil-doing.  They really don't come off as bad as they should.
The Writing Style - This book had all the hallmarks of a fast read, but for me it wasn't.  It is not poorly written, but until the climax, I never found myself "having" to read it.

Overall: MindWar is the first book in a trilogy, so I'm willing to give it a bit of a break. It's not Ender's Game or The Matrix (as the book jacket suggests), but the setting and concept are intriguing enough that I'll read the next book, trusting Klavan to delve deeper into the Realm and the characters that inhabit this book.

I received a preview copy of this book from Thomas Nelson and the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Grimm Fairy Tales: Realm Knights by Patrick Shand - Book Review

From the publisher: Sela. Robyn Hood. Red Riding Hood. Captain Hook. Neptune, God of the Sea. Van Helsing.

On their own, they are some of the most powerful beings in the Grimm Universe… but together, they are the Realm Knights!

Brought together to stop an ancient evil from regaining his all-powerful weapons, can these conflicted warriors work out their own issues in time to save the world?

In the comic world of Grimm's Fairy Tales, the characters we are so familiar with from stories are actually real.  It's a popular concept currently (see the show Once Upon a Time, and the comics Fables and Fairest for examples).  In Grimm's case, the characters take the place of superheroes and villains.

Enter Grimm Fairy Tales: Realm Knights, a story by Patrick Shand.  Several of the fairy tales have been brought together to form an Avengers-like team when the world is threatened by a Titan, the father of the Greek gods.  The group includes Snow White, Robyn Hood, Red Riding Hood, Captain Hook, Neptune, and and Van Helsing.  They join forces to defeat the Titan, laying the groundwork for future storylines in the Grimm Universe.

This was my first experience with the Grimm Universe characters and I found it to be okay.  It was an entertaining read, full of action, quips, and good vs. evil.  Several times, previous storylines were referenced, and although having read them might have added depth to the story, I had no trouble following what was going on.  While the concept of the fairy tale characters as superheroes is interesting, this particular story didn't really bring anything new to the genre.

I would recommend Realm Knights to readers who enjoy the new take on fairy tales.  It seems to be a nice jumping on point for the Grimm Universe.

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

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie - Book Review

From the publisher: “I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

Joe Abercrombie is known for his dark and gritty (grimdark) fantasy stories. With Half a King, Abercrombie brings that sensibility and style to the Young Adult market. While definitely not as vulgar and explicit as his adult novels, Half a King has all the hallmarks of an Abercrombie story but in a format suitable for teens.  This means the violence isn't as graphic and the language is toned down.  I actually found this very effective, as it much of the harshness understated, which actually made it more real to me.

Yarvi is the second son of the king, a young man with a deformed hand and a temperament more suited to studying than war and ruling.  He is planning on becoming a Minister (a type of doctor/advisor/medicine man), when he is informed that his father and brother have been killed by a neighboring barbarian king.  As he leads an armed force set on vengeance, Yarvi is spun off on a journey that will change and harden him.  He will discover that "family" doesn't always mean your blood relatives.

Half a King contains many familiar fantasy tropes, but in Abercrombie's hand they seem fresh.  He imbues his characters with a believability that causes the reader to want to find out what happens to them.  Yarvi is given depth as he moves through his journey to regain his throne, and he encounters many interesting people along the way, including Nothing, Sumael, Ralf, and Jaud, who, along with Yarvi, form an unlikely band of brothers. Abercrombie presents his characters in varying shades of grey, everyone having faults, with even the "heroes" becoming hard to root for at times. This can be a dangerous line to walk as an author, but Abercrombie does a masterful job.

The land of the Shattered Sea is explored in a general sense, with a few areas getting a little more attention than the rest, but it has a lot of potential as this series progresses.  The idea of a High King, the Ministry, and the religious ideas presented in Half a King also bear further exploring.

I found Half a King to be a very enjoyable book, one that I didn't want to put down.  The characters were engaging, the plot moved along at a brisk pace, and there were enough mysteries and surprises to keep it from becoming predictable.  In addition, the story is completely told, with no cliffhangers to keep readers waiting, but with enough set-up for the future to keep readers coming back.  I highly recommend this book and look forward to seeing how the story progresses in future books.

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