Saturday, April 28, 2018

Track Update

The kids had one meet this week, and it was pretty successful. Because they competed in a 4-way meet, the opportunities for the twins were a little scarce this time. Cami ran the 800m and finished 5th out of around 15-16 girls. She would have placed but she was the fourth girl from our school, and each team was only allowed to place two kids. Griffin won his 200m heat (and received some compliments on his form from the high school girls' coach) and he long jumped. Lexi was a part of the 2nd place 4x400m relay team and she was the winner of the long jump, with her best jump of the season so far.

There are two scheduled meets this week, weather permitting.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel - Book Review

From the publisher: In her childhood, Rose Franklin accidentally discovered a giant metal hand buried beneath the ground outside Deadwood, South Dakota. As an adult, Dr. Rose Franklin led the team that uncovered the rest of the body parts which together form Themis: a powerful robot of mysterious alien origin. She, along with linguist Vincent, pilot Kara, and the unnamed Interviewer, protected the Earth from geopolitical conflict and alien invasion alike. Now, after nearly ten years on another world, Rose returns to find her old alliances forfeit and the planet in shambles. And she must pick up the pieces of the Earth Defense Corps as her own friends turn against each other.

Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel is the final book in the Themis Files trilogy, which includes Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods. Neuvel is tasked with wrapping up the story of Vincent Couture, his daughter Eva, and his former boss-turned-friend Rose Franklin as they find themselves transported to Esat Ekt, the home planet of Themis, the giant robot Rose discovered as a child. Neuvel accomplishes this using a storytelling style that relies on interviews, emails, and radio (or some sort of similar communication) conversations.

Sleeping Giants introduced Dr. Rose Franklin, Kara, Vincent, the Earth Defense Corps, and Themis (a giant robot left by an alien race). Waking Gods then tracked varying countries trying to take control of Themis. Only Human picks up ten years after the end of Waking Gods, and tells the story of the race that created Themis and what happens when our heroes want to return home.

It's really hard to summarize much Only Human, because I don't want to accidentally spoil anything. Neuvel uses his epistolary style to show what Rose, Vincent, Eva, and the General have been up to on Esat Ekt, which is where they were taken at the (cliffhanger) end of Waking Gods. The story is told with flashbacks interspersed with current events to create a full picture of the previous ten years. Suddenly, Vincent is finds he wants to try to return to Earth so his teenage daughter Eva can have a "normal" life. This idea sets off a series of events that brings the story of Themis to a fulfilling conclusion and quite capably brings the Themis Files to an end.

Over the course of three books, Neuvel has done a great job creating well-rounded and interesting characters, which to me is all the more impressive considering the style he chose to tell the story. Vincent and Rose had already been given terrific characterization, and in Only Human, Eva is given the same treatment. This characters feel very real, which is a testament to Neuvel's skill. Additionally, in Only Human, our characters find themselves on an alien world living in a culture that's a little similar to ours, but also has some fundamental differences. He does a wonderful job of fleshing out this alien world.

Of course, a giant robot story wouldn't be complete without some giant robot fights, and Only Human does not let the reader down. There are several of these conflicts (just like in the previous books) and the action and conspiracies keep the story flowing quickly.

My only real complaint (and it is minor) is that at times the moralizing seemed a little heavy-handed, something that did not really stand out in the two previous books. However, that did not prevent me from enjoying the book.

I highly recommend Only Human, the final book in the Themis Files trilogy, by Sylvain Neuvel. It is a fun and exciting conclusion to the story begun in Sleeping Giants. While the story can be read without reading the previous books, I definitely wouldn't recommend it, as readers may find themselves lacking some of the prior knowledge that would make Only Human much more enjoyable.

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

James Bond: Kill Chain by Andy Diggle - Book Review

From the publisher: When a counterespionage operation in Rotterdam goes catastrophically wrong, James Bond finds himself in the crosshairs of a plot to smash NATO. Someone is assassinating allied agents, and 007 is the next target in the kill chain. Having kept the peace for decades, the old alliance is collapsing, pitting MI6 against its former ally - the CIA!

Dynamite Entertainment proudly presents the return of writer Andy Diggle (James Bond: Hammerhead, The Losers, Green Arrow: Year One) and artist Luca Casalanguida (James Bond: Hammerhead) as they plot the return of James Bond's oldest and deadliest foe: SMERSH!

James Bond: Kill Chain by Andy Diggle is another in the excellent run of original James Bond comics from Dynamite. Diggle follows up his previous effort, Hammerhead, with Kill Chain, which seems to be less of the “megalomaniac world-conquering villain” type story and more of a return to the spycraft Bond was known for in many of Ian Fleming’s novels.

Kill Chain focuses on James Bond’s quest to track down a rogue MI6 agent named Rika Van De Havik, who appears to be working with the CIA. However, when a CIA agent and Van De Havik are killed and Bond is framed, things go sideways. Bond discovers a plot to tear down NATO from the inside, and realizes it’s the work of his old enemies in SMERSH. An appearance by Felix Leiter, Bond’s sometimes ally in the CIA, adds both clarity and a new level of difficulty to his mission: stop SMERSH from destroying NATO.

I enjoy Diggle’s take on Bond. He hits all the usual Bond ingredients: some gadgets from Q division, a nice car, a beautiful femme fatale, a deadly foe, clever dialogue, and lots of action. Along with this, he writes a realistic James Bond, one who makes mistakes and is not an unstoppable super-spy. I like my James Bond more human than some of the movies portray him, and Diggle does a great job with that. I think that it can be tough to come up with new villians and situations for James Bond, due to the sheer number of stories about him, but Kill Chain seems like a fresh and timely conflict. It’s also nice to see Bond dealing with contemporary world issues, and Kill Chain does that, as do most of Dynamite’s Bond graphic novels. And while Diggle wraps of the Kill Chain storyline, he does lay some ground work for a potential sequel or sequels. It looks like SMERSH might be back to stay.

I highly recommend James Bond: Kill Chain by Andy Diggle. It is a fun, entertaining James Bond story that captures much of what makes James Bond so iconic. Diggle did a super job with Hammerhead and has continued his run with Kill Chain.

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

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Another week of track

The kids had one meet this week, as the other scheduled meet was cancelled due to weather. Only Griffin and Lexi competed this time because Cami rolled her ankle during the school day. Griffin ran the 100m and 200m, winning his 100 heat and coming in 2nd in his 200 heat. He also long jumped and ran in the 4x100m relay. Lexi ran the 400m, finishing 4th. However, the big news was that she won the long jump and her 4x400 relay team won that event as well. Both the girls and boys teams won the meet.

Only one meet is scheduled for this week, so hopefully the weather cooperates.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

ACTION COMICS #1000 by a Variety of Writers and Artists - Book Review

From the publisher: Celebrate 1000 issues of Action Comics with an all-star lineup of top talent as they pay tribute to the comic that started it all! From today’s explosive action to a previously unpublished tale illustrated by the legendary Curt Swan to the Man of Tomorrow’s future—this very special, oversized issue presents the best of the best in Superman stories!

Action Comics #1000 is a special issue, as its the first comic (that I'm aware of) to hit 1000 issues. To celebrate, DC had a number of writers and artists create stories about the Man of Steel. This issue also contains the first story by new Superman writer Brian Michael Bendis.

The first story in this book focuses on Metropolis celebrating Superman Day. Clark Kent/Superman doesn't want to attend (he doesn't do it for the publicity) but ends up there anyway. Its a nice tribute to Superman's character and how he has affected so many in the DC universe.

The second story finds Superman trapped in a hypertime loop by Vandal Savage. To escape, Superman must remember who he is and why he fights. This was a cool trip down Superman's history.

The story continue on like that, a handful of pages with small character moments revolving around Superman and a supporting character or two. All are heartfelt and cut right to the center of what makes Superman great - his humanity. An ironic characteristic coming from an alien, but Superman's humanity is what sets him apart from all other heroes. He is the best of them, and an example to both young and old, good and bad. And that's what Action Comics #1000 is all about: Celebrating 80 years of Superman and the lessons he has taught us. In this turbulent time we live in, its worth remembering that we can all aspire to something greater than ourselves. So enjoy Action Comics #1000.

I recommend Action Comics #1000, particularly to Superman fans both old and new. It's a fun read celebrating 80 years of the Man of Steel.

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

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Track Meets Get Underway

This week, the kids had two track meets (Lexi only competed in one, due to an 8th grade field trip - however, that benefited the twins, as they got to compete more). The boys' team won both of their meets, while the girls did not.

Individually, Lexi competed in long jump, 400m, and 4x400m relay. She finished 3rd in the 400m and she did a nice job with her leg of the relay. She also did okay in long jump. Cami ran the 800 twice, long jumped, ran the 4x400m relay, and the 400m during the field trip meet. She finished 3rd in her 400m race (earning a ribbon for the first time), and did a nice job in her other events. Griffin ran the 100m and 200m, the 4x100m relay, and long jumped (all twice). He is running in the second heat of the sprints. In the first meet, he ran well, losing to a 7th grader and an 8th grader, but beating the kids his age. In the second meet, he finished 1st in his heat in the 100m, and second in the 200m (by a small margin, according to Cami). He is still working on long jump, and he did fine with his leg of the relay.

It was a great start to the season. Two more meets this week.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 5: A Lonely Place of Living by James Tynion IV - Book Review

From the publisher: The Dark Knight's team of Gotham City vigilantes--including Batwoman, Clayface and Azrael--continue to protect their home in BATMAN: DETECTIVE COMICS VOL. 5!

Having exiled herself from Batman's world, former ally Spoiler has nearly destroyed herself trying to expose the corruption of Gotham City's vigilantes. Fortunately for her, help has arrived...but unfortunately for the city, it's in the form of the mysterious Anarky! Is he truly on the side of the people, or is he a dangerous lunatic?

From writer James Tynion IV (BATMAN/TMNT) and the spectacular art team including Alvaro Martinez (BATMAN ETERNAL) comes the newest volume of DETECTIVE COMICS! Collects DETECTIVE COMICS #963-968 and DETECTIVE COMICS ANNUAL #1.

Batman: Detective Comics Vol.5: A Lonely Place of Living by James Tynion IV is the book that brings Tim Drake back into the DC Universe. The title of the main story arc is a play off of the (in)famous A Lonely Place of Dying storyline line from the late 80's in which readers were to call in and decide whether or not the second Robin, Jason Todd, was killed by the Joker. Long story short, Todd didn't make it. So with a Robin-centric story, Tynion continues his run on Detective Comics featuring the Bat-team of heroes, including Batwoman, Clayface, Orphan, and Azrael, a team that was put in place by Tim Drake before his "death". In the wake of Tim's death, Batman resolves to search for Tim, believing him to still be alive, or at least able to be resurrected (Batman had an interesting experience along this line with his son Damien, the current Robin).

The main story has Tim confronted by a mysterious figure, who may or may not be responsible for taking him away. He eventually runs into a future version of himself who has become Batman in his timeline. The older Tim wants to change time to keep himself from becoming this more vicious version of Batman, while the younger Tim (Red Robin) wants to do what is right. Red Robin and Tim/Batman escape to Red Robin's time, where Red Robin teams up with the Bat-family, who he refers to as the Gotham Knights, in order to stop Tim/Batman. Looming over all of this is who or what abducted Tim in the first place.

A follow-up story focuses on Stephanie Brown, aka Spoiler, Tim's former girlfriend and former Gotham Knight. She has been approached by Anarky, who has created a utopia of sorts in Monstertown. Clayface also has a story, as he struggles with both how he looks and who he used to be, and whether he has any hope for redemption.

Both of these stories were okay. Tim's battle with the future Tim wasn't really that captivating to me, and there wasn't a lot of characterization. I'm not totally sure where Tynion is taking us, although its nice to have Tim back. There are also some seeds for future stories that hint at problems with some of the Bat-family of characters. Spoiler's story had a bit more characterization, but was really uneventful, all told. It will be interesting to see how Tim's return affects the personal journey she has been on since he "died", and hopefully will see that in the next volume. The most impactful story was Clayface's, as he searches for both a cure to his condition, and absolution for his past actions. Basil Karlo is a man in need of redemption, both physically and spiritually. His conversation with Mudface, a former movie colleague (and possible love interest), is especially telling and may have long term repercussions for Clayface in Detective Comics. This is a story line that I think could use some focus in upcoming issues.

I thought Detective Comics Vol. 5: A Lonely Place of Living by James Tynion IV was just okay. It brought Tim back and possibly set up some future events, but it wasn't really that engaging, especially compared to recent outings. I would recommend this volume to fans of Tim Drake or Batman completists, but its not the best standalone story to jump in with.

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

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

ASTRO CITY #51 by Kurt Busiek - Book Review

From the publisher: Our three-part look into the lives of Astro City “survivors” continues. A woman coping with a devastating loss joins the support group Michael Tenicek has been running for years. But will Michael help her, or will she tear the group apart? For those damaged by life in Astro City, hope and wonder are elusive things. Featuring Honor Guard, the Hanged Man and more. 

Kurt Busiek gives us the penultimate issue of Astro City with issue #51. This is the 2nd part (of 3) that act as a sequel to the award winning story "The Nearness of You". In issue #50, we learned that Michael Tenicek (from "The Nearness of You") has started a support group of "survivors" for those who have been affected by both heroes and villains in Astro City. We learned that his bills are taken care of and the mysterious Hanged Man checks in on him occasionally.

This new issue picks up with a new member of the support group telling her story. As the days pass, she never quite settles in, and eventually confronts Michael about telling the truth of his past (it is recapped for those who haven't read "The Nearness of You" - you should really read this!). What Michael reveals threatens to tear apart what he has created.

With this issue, Busiek definitely moves the story along, but as its a middle story in a trilogy, it is more of a bridge. The overarching threat (if there is one) isn't revealed, but Michael Tenicek and his good work is thrown into a crisis. I don't really know where Busiek is taking this story, but I have some guesses. I also trust him, as I have over around 20 years of reading Astro City. The poignant, emotion-filled stories Busiek has been telling have earned him the benefit of the doubt. And as the series is ending, I fully expect a final issue that is teeming with awesomeness and a fitting conclusion to Michael Tenicek's story.

I highly recommend Astro City #51 by Kurt Busiek, as I do all of his Astro City stories. If you are a long-time fan, you owe yourself to finish the series with Busiek; if you haven't read Astro City, go find a collected edition or three right away.

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

BATMAN: WHITE KNIGHT #7 by Sean Murphy - Book Review

From the publisher: This issue, it’s Jack versus the Joker! Napier’s identity crisis spins out of control and compromises his grand plans for Gotham City—but not before he strikes a fateful bargain with Neo Joker. A browbeaten Batman accepts a peace offering from Batgirl, and some unexpected advice from Alfred sets the tone for the GTO’s new mission to redeem the city.

Batman: White Knight #7 by Sean Murphy is the second to last issue of this excellent series. Murphy does a great job putting all the pieces in place for the final showdown between Batman, Jack Napier/Joker, and Neo-Joker.

In this issue, Jack is forced to make a decision: to make Neo-Joker stop, he must become the Joker again. With Harley's encouragement, he decides to join forces with the unexpected. Meanwhile, Batman is discovering that much of what Napier has been saying about Batman and his methods are true. There is also an excellent conversation between Batman and Jack Napier, where several secrets are revealed, including what exactly happened to Jason Todd, the former Robin. As all the players move into position, Murphy is setting up what should be a spectacular finale.

I've enjoyed this alternate take on Batman, the Joker, and the rest. Murphy has done a good job with the characterization, and all his characters ring true. The world he has created is also pretty deep, with the feeling that there is plenty left to explore should Murphy choose to do so.

I highly recommend Batman: White Knight #7 by Sean Murphy. This is a great story with a different spin on Batman. If you are a Batman fan looking for something different from the norm, this is the series for you.

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