Wednesday, January 31, 2018

DARK NIGHTS: METAL #5 by Scott Snyder - Book Review

From the publisher: The Justice League faces the final extinguishing of our world, invaded on all sides by unimaginable nightmares, fueled on to the edge of oblivion only by the belief that there must be a light in the endless darkness—somewhere. But…what if there’s not?

Dark Nights: Metal, by Scott Snyder, continues with issue #5. It's pretty much more of the same: the various groups of heroes struggling against the forces of evil, trying to stop the earth from sinking into evil. Nth metal continues to be the focal point, as does Batman (with an assist from Superman). It also looks like Barbatos has revealed his endgame and the way he is going to achieve it.

Look, I like Dark Nights: Metal. I'm generally all-in on these big company-wide events. However, lately each time I read an issue of Metal, I feel like I'm missing part of the story; it feels like there are some supporting or spin-off issues that I should have read before reading the issue of Metal. My time and budget are limited, and I'm not willing to chase every tie-in comic to try and follow what should be the main storyline. The best event series keep the main story contained in the main series; any tie-ins should support the main storyline, not contain major plot points. In the case of Dark Nights: Metal #5, I was at a loss when I realized Batman and Superman were fighting some sort of deranged, evil, super version of Carter Hall/Hawkman. When did that happen? When was the Plastic Man egg found? Additionally, it feels like the other heroes are just spinning their wheels, waiting for the climax to occur.

I'll keep reading Dark Nights: Metal. I'm curious where Scott Snyder is going with all of this. However, I'm not nearly as high on it now as I was a couple of issues ago. As far as issue #5 goes, it's average. Don't start with it, but if you're reading the entire series you should pick it up. On it's own, I can't really recommend it; as far as the series as a whole is concerned, I'm going to withhold judgment until I can read the collected edition(s).

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

ASTRO CITY #50 by Kurt Busiek - Book Review

From the publisher: Our 50th issue begins a special new story: Michael Tenicek lost his wife, years ago, to a chronal cataclysm. But he’s not the only one in Astro City whose life has been upended by life among the superheroes. Today, we’ll meet others, learn their stories and see how Michael—and friends—cope with their trauma. A sequel to the Eisner-nominated “The Nearness of You,” considered by many to be ASTRO CITY’s best story ever. 

From the beginning, Astro City was a different type of superhero comic. While Kurt Busiek riffed on many of the typical superhero tropes, he generally focused on the personal lives of the people behind the masks and those ordinary citizens affected by their exploits. Astro City #1/2, "The Nearness of You", was possibly the best issue of Astro City that Busiek wrote, as it was nominated for an Eisner Award. It told the story of a universe altering conflict, but looked at it from the perspective of Michael Tenicek, a man who lost his wife when the universe changed. In fact, not only did he lose her, she had never existed. However, he was granted the ability to remember her. My summary can't do the story justice, but it was fantastic.

Astro City #50 is a sequel of sorts to "The Nearness of You". It's also the start of the final arc of Astro City, which will be ending with #52. In this issue, we get to look in on Michael Tenicek again, and find out what he has been up to. We discover that Michael has been running support groups for people affected by heroes and villains. Some of these folks lost loved ones; some were actually collateral damage from attacks (human shields, only survivors, etc.). All of them are looking for a place to go for comradeship and encouragement as they go on with their lives. When a new woman shows up at a group, things begin to get interesting.

I really like reading the various stories in Astro City. I love Busiek's approach to heroes and villains, and he does a great job telling stories with heart and emotion. I remember reading "The Nearness of You" when it first came out, and that, along with the first Confessor story arc, is what I think of when I read any Astro City story. Busiek captured something real with that story, something that resonated with readers, and I was thrilled to find out that he would be revisiting Michael Tenicek. Astro City #50 does not disappoint, and it serves to start this last story arc off on the right foot. Michael Tenicek is a sympathetic character who is easy to root for, and Busiek quickly establishes him again as a genuinely good person. Busiek also sets up the story for the next two issues, and it looks to be a fantastic ending for Astro City as a regularly produced comic book (it looks like there may be some original graphic novel stories in Astro City's future).

I highly recommend Astro City #50 by Kurt Busiek. Even if you've never read this book before, this issue (and the next two) promise to tell a wonderful story. Grab it now, and take a look at the wonder that is Kurt Busiek's Astro City series.

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

Sunday, January 28, 2018

This Week's Activities

Cami had two basketball games this week. Her team won the first game by a few points. Cami made two free throws, and contributed her usual defense and ball handling. Cami's second basketball game was postponed due to inclement weather. However, she also had a volleyball tournament, where the team came in 3rd again. She continues to improve, trying to build consistency with her hitting and serving. I think she has a couple of basketball games this week, but we have a week off from volleyball.

Griffin had two school league games. The team won the first game, and Griffin started. He played really good defense, stealing the ball and causing several turnovers. He also grabbed a rebound or two, and forced a few jump balls. He was more aggressive with his shooting, taking 4 or 5 shots, and making one (his first in the school league games). In the second game, the team also won. Griffin again started, and played like a maniac at the top of the press. His defense is pretty good, and he had a couple of steals. My favorite play was when he knocked it out of his man's hands, dribbled down the left side on a fastbreak, and put up a layup. Unfortunately, it didn't go in, but it was a nice play to get there. Next week sees a couple more games. Griffin's team lost their last two travel league games in close contests. He started both games, and played good defense. He did a nice job passing the ball on offense, and made his only shot. He excelled on the top of the press again, causing havoc and forcing turnovers. He also created several jump balls, fighting with bigger guys but refusing to let go (he reminds me of a bulldog).

Lexi's teams played two games, too. In the first match-up, the 7th grade won in a blowout and the 8th grade lost in a close game. Lexi played a ton in the 7th grade, scoring once and getting several other shots. My favorite part of her performance were the two steals she had that she turned into (attempted) left hand layups. She really focused on shooting with her left hand, and the second time she just barely missed. She didn't play as much in the 8th grade game, but held her own while she was in. In the second set of games, Lexi played mostly in the 7th grade game, and a bit in the 8th grade game. The 7th grade won; the 8th grade lost. She didn't score, but did play good defense, and even had a steal. She gets more confident with every game, and it's fun to see her improve.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

THE WILD STORM #11 by Warren Ellis - Book Review

From the publisher: The Wild CAT must reinfiltrate the Hightower site in order to prevent their own exposure—and also the roll out of a new global surveillance tool that will cement I.O.’s dominance over the planet. But if you’re a bunch of aliens and an ex-spook who faked his own death, you can probably be forgiven for thinking about your own weird skin first.  Jackie King and the I.O. analysis team could take a leaf out of their book, because they’re about to undertake a cyber-attack on Skywatch, the managers of outer space, that could easily get them killed...

So, another month, another crazy episode of Warren Ellis's The Wild Storm, in this case, issue #11. Once again, the issue reads like a small piece of a much larger puzzle. The folks at IO think they can infiltrated Skywatch. Skywatch wants a war with IO. Jenny Sparks and the Doctor want to find other humans like them, ones that "fell between the cracks" (sounds like Stormwatch/The Authority to me - fingers crossed). Cash and Voodoo chat. Angie Spica makes improvements to her weird machine-body. All of which connects previous issues to this one, without revealing anything in the nature of the big picture Ellis is building too.

However, I'm still reading and enjoying, taking in this series issue by issue, and flying through each time. These are good books, and any fans of Ellis would do well to pick them up, read them, and trust that he knows what he is doing and in where he is taking us as readers. It appears we are nearing the halfway point (at least as it stands on the cover of the book), so at some point these threads will begin to converge and then who knows what will happen. As for me, I'm already looking for to the next issue.

Highly recommended, but don't start with this one.

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

Tyrant's Throne by Sebastien de Castell - Book Review

From the publisher: After years of struggle and sacrifice, Falcio val Mond, First Cantor of the Greatcoats, is on the brink of fulfilling his dead king's dream: Aline, the king's daughter, is about to take the throne and restore the rule of law once and for all.

But for the Greatcoats, nothing is ever that simple. In the neighboring country of Avares, an enigmatic new warlord is uniting the barbarian armies that have long plagued Tristia's borders--and even worse, he is rumored to have a new ally: Trin, who's twice tried to kill Aline to claim the throne of Tristia for herself. With the armies of Avares at her back, led by a bloodthirsty warrior, she'll be unstoppable.

Falcio, Kest, and Brasti race north to stop her, but in those cold and treacherous climes they discover something altogether different, and far more dangerous: a new player is planning to take the throne of Tristia, and with a sense of dread the three friends realize that the Greatcoats, for all their skill, may not be able to stop him.

As the nobles of Tristia and even the Greatcoats themselves fight over who should rule, the Warlord of Avares threatens to invade. With so many powerful contenders vying for power, it will fall to Falcio to render the one verdict he cannot bring himself to utter, much less enforce. Should he help crown the young woman he vowed to put on the throne, or uphold the laws he swore to serve?

It took me awhile to get around to reading Tyrant's Throne by Sebastien de Castell, mostly because I had it as an ebook and I just didn't want to tackle it on my iPad. However, having just finished it, I find myself wishing I would have begun it when I first received my copy.

Tyrant's Throne is the fourth, and final, book in the Greatcoats series. Very quickly, this series is in the vein of the Three Musketeers stories by Alexandre Dumas. For example, a Greatcoat = a Musketeer. In fact, while reading the series, I often pictured the three leads, Falcio, Kest, and Brasti, as the actors who played Athos, Porthos, and Aramis in the BBC's most recent Musketeers series. And like the Three Musketeers, de Castell has filled his Greatcoats series with adventure, wit, honor, betrayal, sorrow, joy, tragedy, and friendship. All told, this made a perfect recipe for a series to read and enjoy.

In Tyrant's Throne, Falcio (the First Cantor, or leader) of the Greatcoats has finally achieved the mission his late King left for him: put his daughter Aline on the throne and restore the rule of Law in the country of Tristia. However, as in the case of all the books in the series, nothing is ever that simple, nor is it easily accomplished. Falcio and his friends are betrayed by numerous parties, they face the tragedy of death, they fight battles and wars, and deal with their inner demons. In the course of this tale, the reader meets several more Greatcoats. We explore more nooks and crannies of Tristia. We discover more of the secret history of Tristia, involving the Trattari, the Bardatti, the Honoroi, the Dashini, the Rangieri, and others. We see Falcio fly by the seat of his pants, Kest stand in against all odds, and Brasti display his lovable arrogance.

I could go on and on about the plot, but I really don't want to give anything away as far as details go. But, I would like to point out some things I really enjoyed about this book, and the series as a whole. De Castell's Greatcoats are wonderful characters, and I would rather like to read short stories involving some of the lesser known Greatcoats. Throughout Tyrant's Throne, and the series, there was a balance of joy and sorrow, triumph and despair, and de Castell did a spectacular job of conveying all of this. I was constantly surprised by the turns the story took, in a good way. They weren't predicatable, the specter of death was very real for all the characters, and the characters' personalities jumped off the page, particularly that of Falcio. A three-dimensional character, Falcio (the first person narrator of all four books) was equal parts idealistic hero, despairing friend and father figure, clever and sarcastic leader, and absolutely loyal in all areas. His interactions and relationship with Kest and Brasti formed the spine of the stories and I enjoyed the interactions and obvious brotherly love between the three of them.

I also want to compliment de Castell. Having read a number of series that maybe didn't end satisfactorily, I can only imagine how hard de Castell had to work to finish off the Greatcoats series on the right note. Let me tell you, he succeeded. The ending felt honest and true to the story he began in book one, Traitor's Blade. Nearly every thread was brought to some type of conclusion, and the quest to fulfill the King's dream was seen to its end. De Castell also took the time to spend a couple of chapters after the climax showing us what the characters were planning on doing next. This allowed us to spend a little more time with Falcio, Kest, Brasti, and the rest. It was as perfect an ending as I could have hoped for after reading all four books.

Finally, I highly recommend the Tyrant's Throne by Sebastien de Castell, and the entire Greatcoats series. It's not often that I come to the end of a book or series and find myself wishing I could spend more time with the characters (Lonsome Dove and The Time-Traveler's Wife come to mind right off the bat), but that's where I found myself when I finished the last page. Fortunately, de Castell has said that the Greatcoats will return sometime in the future. All I can say is "Bravo" and go grab a copy of the books and get started.

I received a preview/review copy of this book from Quercus/Jo Fletcher Books in exchange for an honest review.

NIGHTWING: NEW ORDER #6 by Kyle Higgins - Book Review

From the publisher: It all ends here! As Lex Luthor feverishly attempts to repower Superman, the Crusaders are closing in on the Resistance, aiming to shut them down for good! Meanwhile, Nightwing makes a deal with the devil in an attempt to save his son’s life…and it may cost him everything. 

Kyle Higgins wraps up the Nightwing: New Order series with issue #6. He does a nice job with it. Dick Grayson and his son Jake's story is wrapped up, as it the conflict between the Crusaders and the rebellious former heroes and villains, led by Superman and Lex Luthor.

Higgins has focused on Dick Grayson's choice to remove powers from the world after a tragedy many years ago, and how Dick deals with the realization that his son now has powers. This tug-of-war is the backbone of the New Order story, and the conflict between two choices that both appear to be about doing what's right. Issue #6 brings this conflict full circle, with Dick having to make one final choice in the midst of a major Crusader/Rebels battle. And while the outcome isn't totally unexpected, the post-script to the story provides a nice ending.

I rather enjoyed Nightwing: The New Order by Kyle Higgins. It was a fun and interesting read, and was a cool alternative take on Nightwing, one of my favorite characters and someone who has been the moral compass of the Bat-family (and for other heroes as well) since his introduction. I liked seeing Dick Grayson put in some moral conflict. I also liked Higgins's take on many other heroes and villains.

I would recommend this series to fans of Nightwing and the Elseworlds series of graphic novels.

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

DOOMSDAY CLOCK #3 by Geoff Johns - Book Review

From the publisher: The story takes a turn in the third chapter of this 12-issue series you never thought you’d see, from writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank.

Geoff Johns continues the epic series Doomsday Clock with issue #3. There are a bunch of things happening in this issue that really added to the story. Batman and Rorschach are working together to find Dr. Manhattan; Adrian Veidt and the Comedian have a confrontation that also sheds some light on the Watchmen series; and Mime and Marionette stop for a drink in the wrong bar, and discover the owner may not care for them.

All three of these storylines add to the overall story Johns is telling. The interaction between Batman and Rorschach in particular seems to final start pushing the mainstream DC characters into the main hunt for the person who messed with their pasts. Marionette and Mime also run afoul of a big-time DC character, and the potential there is enormous, and it could go one of two ways, either of which I'm excited to read about.

Interwoven between the three main arcs is the story of Johnny Thunder, who is desperately trying to find and reunite with his "Thunderbolt". Unfortunately, Johnny is an old man who may or may not have dementia, and nobody believes what he is trying to tell them. In the background of his scenes, two senior citizens are watching, and arguing about, an old noir movie about a PI named Nathaniel Dusk. The actor who played Dusk also happened to be killed in an unsolved murder. I'm not sure what exactly this has to do with the search for Dr. Manhattan, but Alan Moore had seemingly unrelated things like this running throughout Watchmen, and they all pointed to or tied in with the main themes of the book, so I'm expecting Johns to do something similar. What, exactly, remains to be seen.

I liked Doomsday Clock #3 better than the first two issues. I felt like the story moved forward, and as I mentioned earlier, there are a couple of story threads that I'm really looking forward to seeing continue. Geoff Johns is doing a super job with this series, and I highly recommend it.

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

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Lot Going On

This week, Cami had her first two school team basketball games. She was super excited, and loved that she has a warm-up shirt with her name on it. Her team won both their games, playing 6th grade "B" teams, much like Griffin's team has done. Cami had 2 of the teams 10 points in the first game, and 4 of the 11 in the second game. She does a good job handling the ball, rebounding, and getting steals. She plays tough defense and smiles throughout the games. More basketball games next week.

Cami also had her first club volleyball tournament of the year. Her team finished 2nd in the pool (they only lost one match, and it went to the third game - 16-14), and won a match to finish 3rd overall in their division. It was an exciting day. Cami served overhand and open palm, which was something she was nervous about. She did a fine job, even getting one ace. She also hit the ball well multiple times, sometimes saving her team on their last hit. She had fun and gets to do it again next week.

Lexi's team had a game canceled due to weather, but were able to play their second game. She played in both 7th and 8th grade games again. The 7th grade lost, and the 8th grade won. She continues to improve each week. She played good defense, and had an excellent block out for a rebound and put back shot that just rolled out. She had several other rebounds, as well. She is still working on her confidence on the offensive end, making good passes and being confident with the ball. She has more games next week.

Griffin also had a school team game canceled, but was able to play a second game. He did not play a bunch, but did hustle and play good defense when he was in. The team won in overtime (an opposing player hit a shot from behind half court to send it in to overtime). He also had a tournament in the travel league. Unfortunately, the team lost a heartbreaker in the first round. They fought hard to tie it up with 30 seconds left, but gave up a free throw, and then had to foul. Griffin did a great job. He took a few shots, making one on a nice fast break layup. He grabbed a few rebounds, too, and made some good passes. However, he best play came on defense, where he created havoc on the top of the press, and he created several turnovers. He also picked his man's pocket in the half court, but had the ball knocked out of bounds when he tried to shoot. One more week of travel, with some consolation games.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Basketball Update

All the kids were scheduled to have games this week, and two of the three did. Unfortunately, Cami's game was canceled because the team they were to play kicked some girls off the team and no longer had enough to play. However, she has a game or two next week. Cami also has volleyball practice, and her first tournament next weekend.

Griffin had one school game, and what we are discovering is that his team is playing 6th grade "B" teams a lot. That just makes winning, which they did, sweeter. Griffin did a terrific job, playing awesome defense, getting a steal or two, grabbing some rebounds, and creating several jump balls. He also had a nice drive to the basket and got fouled, but one ref (who did a poor job throughout the game) called him on the floor rather than in the act of shooting. His team lost both of their travel league games. Griffin had several shots and took two free throws, but nothing fell for him. He played good "D", getting several rebounds, a steal or two, creating jump balls, and forcing some turnovers. He has two school league games and a travel league tournament next week.

Lexi had one game (she played with both 7th and 8th grade teams, which is how the rest of the season will go). Both teams won in huge blowouts. Lexi did a nice job, scoring 6 points altogether, including stealing the ball and driving the length of the court for a jump shot. She had 3-4 rebounds, made a really nice assist, and played with confidence. She also was able to cheer at a game, but missed another because she was playing. She has 2 more games next week.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

MICHAEL CRAY #4 by Bryan Hill and Warren Ellis - Book Review

From the publisher: With a plan in place, Michael Cray and his team have made an attempt to befriend the psychotic Barry Allen in order to bring him down and bring his murders to an end. But with a paranoid conspiracy theorist like Barry Allen, does Cray have the upper hand, or is he walking into a trap?

Michael Cray #4 continues the craziness that Bryan Hill keeps writing. Cray is tasked with taking out Barry Allen (aka The Flash) before he kills more scientists creating AI (artificial intelligence). Along the way, Cray is forced to continue dealing with the alien-ish creature that is in him/a part of him.

I really don't know how to evaluate this series, other than as a big, loud, sci-fi, action story. Hill keeps peeling back layers of Michael Cray, who's alien condition seems to be the biggest mystery. There is also Cray, with his interesting set of morals and integrity, working as an assassin for IO, a fairly domineering and corrupt worldwide security force. Throw in a bad guy of the month (so far a warped version of traditional DC heroes), and this book is very episodic with an underlying mystery. This is not meant as a critique, just an observation; I can totally imagine Michael Cray as series on cable or a streaming video service.

Cray is an interesting and engaging protagonist. While he works with a team, maybe in name only, his interactions with them aren't really that exciting. It's his approach to tracking the "bad" guys and his self-reflection that are worth the read.

I'm not sure what Hill's endgame for Michael Cray is; that is, I'm not exactly sure what the story is building towards. That said, Michael Cray #4 was a fun read, with lots of action. I recommend this series to fans of The Wild Storm and Warren Ellis's vision for these characters.

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

Monday, January 8, 2018

Resume Play Now

With all three kids getting back to practicing last week, Griffin actually got us started with two games on Sunday. His team split a pair of games, winning big and losing a close one. He played well overall, scoring a basket, shooting two free throws, getting several rebounds, and making a nice steal and drive up court. Griffin did a nice job taking the ball to the basket when necessary. He has a school league game this week. Cami has her first game this week as well, plus she's started club volleyball. Lexi has both cheer and a basketball game.

Yep, Christmas break was quiet, but now we get to cheer on the kids.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Batman: White Knight #4 by Sean Murphy - Book Review

From the publisher: NOW AN EIGHT-ISSUE MINISERIES! Jim Gordon and the GCPD are thrown into disarray when Jack Napier leads a show stopping campaign to become councilman of the politically abandoned neighborhood of Backport. Civic backlash brews as Mayor Hill struggles to find creative ways of criminalizing Napier’s democratic aspirations, and Batman’s interference blooms into a liability for the GCPD’s public image. Through it all, the new Joker plots to derail everything—and new secrets about Harley’s past are revealed.

With Batman: White Knight #4 by Sean Murphy, we finally see some of Jack Napier's (aka Joker) plans. He intends to run as City Councilman for the borough of Backport, and wants to create the GTO: the Gotham Terrorist Oppression Unit. The GTO will combine the Gotham Police with various vigilantes (like Batman and friends) with an incredible budget and access to Batman's technology. What could go wrong? Additionally, the fake Harley Quinn makes her move, and we learn her backstory.

I've got to say that White Knight is becoming more and more interesting as Murphy moves the plot along. Its nice to see what Napier intends, and his good ideas to help Gotham and Backport make him an even more interesting character. Do we trust that he's reformed, or is he still the Joker deep down, with an endgame no one can see yet? Batman is thrust into a similar position and it's one he's very uncomfortable with. Murphy also creates conflict by putting Commissioner Gordon, Nightwing, and Batgirl in agreement with Napier's plans.

The best part of issue #4, though, is the insight into the fake Harley Quinn. When Murphy revealed that there were two Harleys (which explains her varying looks and personality changes), he just moved on without really going into detail. Here, however, he rectifies that. And he has created a realistic and believable (maybe bordering on tragic) origin for the fake Harley. I don't want to give anything away, but I definitely wouldn't be disappointed if this character didn't make a transition into the mainstream Bat-books.

I really liked Batman: White Knight #4 by Sean Murphy. It's my favorite issue of the series to this point. I'm also enjoying the story Murphy is telling and I'm very curious to see how it will play out. I recommend this book (and series) to Batman fans looking for a self-contained story outside of the main continuity of DC.

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