Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Flash Annual #2 by Joshua Williamson - Comic Book Review

From the publisher: A HEROES IN CRISIS tie-in! In Barry’s grief and guilt following Wally West’s death at Sanctuary, he refuses to divulge the heartbreaking news to the rest of the Flash family until he’s searched every corner of the globe for his former partner— including inside the Speed Force itself. But his journey into the heart of all speedster powers inadvertently triggers the release of his long-lost ally Godspeed! And when Godspeed immediately races off to attack Kid Flash Wallace West, Barry must hunt his former friend and check in on his fellow speedsters. What is Godspeed planning and what does he want with the rest of the Flash Family? Can Barry protect everyone after he couldn’t save Wally? With a heart-wrenching appearance from Wally’s former sidekick, the recently returned Bart Allen, this annual is an absolute can’t-miss for all Flash fans!

I haven't really been keeping up with the latest happenings in The Flash since the first Rebirth collection. In fact, the only reason I wanted to read The Flash Annual #2 by Joshua Williamson was because of it's connection to the Heroes in Crisis series. So, my review will mostly be focused on that aspect, or at least should be viewed through that lens.

This issue featured a number of characters and events in several intertwining plots. The first story thread follows Barry Allen/The Flash as he tries to deal with his grief and the fallout of Wally West's/Kid Flash/The Flash death in the first issue of Heroes in Crisis. In his grief, Barry decides that Wally can't really be dead, but must have gone in to the Speed Force. So, he decides to look for him there. This brings him into contact with another speedster, Godspeed (who I'm unfamiliar with). Godspeed has some plan where he is trying to touch other speedsters to sample/steal/remove their speed and connection to the Speed Force. Meanwhile, Wallace West and Avery visit Meena (not sure who they are, but they are speedsters) in jail. Godspeed and Barry show up, which brings those threads together. Also, Barry tells them about Wally's death. Finally, Bart Allen/Impulse escapes/leaves the Speed Force after an extremely long time (I think he died a number of years ago). He is looking for Barry and Wally. Eventually, Godspeed goes to meet his "master" and the issue ends with the set up for what seems to be the next major arc in the regular The Flash comic.

To my dismay, Wally's death and Barry's involvement in finding out who the murderer is wasn't really dealt with in The Flash Annual #2. Barry's grief is what sets him on a path to encounter Godspeed, and later Barry has to give Iris West (his girlfriend and Wally's aunt) the bad news. Other than these two parts, Wally's death isn't really a factor. And, even then, the grief of Barry Allen seems hollow. Now, that might just be because Tom King is doing such a great job with the depth of emotions of the various heroes and villains in Heroes in Crisis. Either way, I wasn't really impressed with this story, and felt myself wanting more when I had finished it.

I can't really recommend The Flash Annual #2 by Joshua Williamson to any one other than Flash fans and regular readers. For those looking for a strong connection to Heroes in Crisis, I would suggest looking elsewhere.

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Heroes in Crisis #5 by Tom King - Comic Book Review

From the publisher: The secrets of the DC Universe are hacked! Sanctuary wasn’t supposed to keep records, but now that the A.I. is compromised, superhero secrets are leaking all over the ’Net. Booster and Harley set aside their differences to focus on who they believe is the real killer (assuming one of them isn’t lying, that is). Meanwhile, Batman and the Flash continue to investigate the mysterious murderer. The answer can be found in Sanctuary…but is it safe to go digging in the crime scene?

Heroes in Crisis #5 by Tom King is the halfway point in this mini-series, and things are ramping up. In this issue, Superman and Wonder Woman make a public statement about Sanctuary and the tragedy that happened there. It is a deep and heartfelt explanation of the trauma heroes can and do go through, and how they can get help. Booster and Blue Beetle come up with a plan to find out who the "real" killer is, in a fashion only they can. Finally, Batgirl gets a crack at finding out what Skeets remembers, and has a surprise companion in the endeavor.

So, I really like this series. The mystery is engaging and is unlike anything I've read (at least from the major publishers). It reminds me of Brad Meltzer's run on Justice League, when Sue Dibney is murdered, and as the investigation goes on, some morally questionable actions from heroes come out. Like that Justice League story, Heroes in Crisis has put some iconic characters in a more real-life type situation, where punching, teamwork, and clever quips aren't the answer. It's a different view of these characters, and King adds another layer with his examination of PTSD and the affects of trauma on superheroes. Superman and Wonder Woman display an openness and honesty about trauma that you wouldn't expect in a traditional comic.

As they have been since the first issue, the scenes with the "confessions" of the heroes during their stays at Sanctuary are a highlight for me. Spotlighting a variety of characters and struggles, these pages can be heartbreaking if you take the time to really understand what the characters are saying and feeling. I also think King may be placing some clues in them; I guess that remains to be seen.

Overall, I continue to think highly of Heroes in Crisis, and issue #5 does nothing to change that. This is definitely the type of book that would appeal to readers who don't normally read comics, and to fans of superhero comics in general. However, it is not always a lighthearted and easy read, so be prepared.

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Better Together: Life Is Best with a Friend Like You By Warren Photographic - Book Review

From the publisher: Wouldn't life be boring if we were all exactly the same? And although each of us is unique, we're really not so different after all. And it's our differences that truly make us Better Together.

Better Together combines adorable photos of unlikely animal pairs alongside poignant quotes on topics for friends of all stripes on subjects such as love, respect, and compassion. Memorable, wise words alongside sweet photography beautifully and humorously communicate the truth about and magic of friendship—that although we may not be exactly the same, we're really not so different after all.

Quotes from George Washington to Bono focus on friendship, unity, strength, and on harmony between people with diverse viewpoints, lifestyles, or beliefs and include inspiring quotes such as:

"Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?" -Abraham Lincoln
"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'" -C. S. Lewis
"'Stay' is a charming word in a friend's vocabulary." -Louisa May Alcott
 "I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than walk alone in the light." -Helen Keller

Better Together is full of reminders of the very best things about friendship and is the perfect way to tell someone you love: "Life is best with a friend like you."

After what the publisher put out about Better Together, there isn't a whole lot left to say. This is a cute little hardback gift book, full of sweet pictures and encouraging quotes. It's easily read in one sitting, but is meant to picked up multiple times, particularly when one is in need of a friendly pick-me-up.

The book is divided into seven sections based on the theme of the quotes chosen. However, each section focuses on togetherness and putting aside differences (something that is much needed in the world today). There is a wide range of people who authored the quotes, Bono to Billy Graham, former President Barack Obama to Benjamin Franklin, and Mother Theresa to Mattie Stepanek (look him up if you are unfamiliar with him, it's worth it). The sayings are full of wisdom and deep, thoughtful ideas. Each quote is accompanied by an adorable picture of animals that supports the idea behind the quote. Kittens, puppies, bunnies, deer, hedgehogs, and more are pictured interacting in cute ways.

Better Together is the kind of book you put on a coffee or end table for a guest to pick up and browse. It's little bits of wisdom can be easily digested in small bites, and it really isn't intended to be read in one sitting. Pick this up as a gift for the animal lover in your life, or a friend or family member who needs to kind words.

I received a review copy of this book from the BookLook Bloggers program of Zonderman in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Cover #5 by Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack - Comic Book Review

From the publisher: Comics creator Max Field has been recruited to be a spy—and now it’s beginning to affect his work. The lines of fantasy and reality are beginning to blur, and the world of comics may never be the same. A valentine to all that comics can be, COVER is a genre-bending series Comic Watch called “a masterful book” by the award-winning team of Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack.

I love this book. It's cool, and it's deep, and it's meta, and a bunch of other things all at once. David Mack's art and panel arrangements are like no one else's, and they drive the story as much as Brian Michael Bendis's narrative and characters. The colors are muted, and faded, and resemble watercolors, except when they don't. The book is funny and lighthearted, until it becomes deeply philosophical. Bendis uses the story-within-a-story technique (sometimes multiple stories) and he somehow uses a fictional comic (Ninja Sword Odyssey - man, I want to read a real compilation of this) to echo and mirror and supplement an actual based-on-real-life (maybe? sort of? a little bit?) comic about him, or David Mack, or both of them, and a bunch of their comic book friends (I think).

Oh yeah, in Cover #5, Max and Owen (and their family and friends) get invited to a con in Brazil. Guess who's there? Julia (the CIA handler) and Essad Sinns (a comic book artist/spy who tortured Max at a previous con).

I find myself flying through the current issue of Cover each month, and then waiting (sort of patiently) for the next one. This book is slow, in a good way, taking it's time to spin out it's story. I really should wait until it's collected, but it's so good I want to read each chapter as soon as I can.

Go pick up Cover, by Bendis and Mack. Don't start with this issue. Go buy the previous four, along with this one; sit down, and read them through. Then start counting the days until #6 brings this arc to a close (probably).

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

The Wild Storm #19 by Warren Ellis - Comic Book Review

From the publisher: Beginning the fourth story arc of THE WILD STORM. Jenny Mei Sparks has been around for over a century. She’s seen a lot of things. Enough bad stuff that she took 20 years off to get drunk. And now she’s back, and she has a plan. The problem is that other people have plans, too, and one of them is about reducing the population of Earth by around 90 percent.

The Wild Storm #19 is definitely the start of a story arc. Warren Ellis uses this issue to set up what is going to happen over the final 5 issues of this book. So, we get an interesting conversation between Jenny Sparks and her crew. We get a glimpse of what IO may be up to. Apollo and the Midnighter make an appearance and indicate they might get involved. And the new Doctor meets with her predecessors, where the backstory of the Kherans and Daemons is finally laid out. It's an issue heavy on exposition, but very important nonetheless.

This wasn't might favorite issue of The Wild Storm, but I'm appreciative to Ellis for finally providing some background. I'm also viewing this issue as the calm before the storm, because for this story to wrap up adequately, things are going to have to really get moving very soon. Ellis has a lot of balls in the air, and a boatload of characters who's arc have been heading towards these final issues. I'm extremely curious as to how he is going to tie everything up. But, as I've stated in other reviews of this series, I'm trusting that Ellis knows what he is doing, and I'm committed to riding along with him.

I recommend The Wild Storm #19 by Warren Ellis. At this point, you've either been here all along and want to see how it ends, or you've chosen a very complicated part of the story to jump in to. Either way, this book is heading full speed towards an exciting conclusion.

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

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

THE DREAMING #5 by Simon Spurrier - Comic Book Review

From the publisher: In the garden of Destiny, eyes that do not see run across paper that was never a tree. The oldest of the Endless is reading about a librarian losing his mind. About a monstress losing her soul. About a kingdom losing its king. The Dreaming is bleeding color. The grim judge tightens his grip. And in the realm of Destruction, endings are spun into beginnings...

Simon Spurrier keeps things in high gear with The Dreaming #5. This issue focuses most of its time on Lucien and Dora, who have gone to the abandoned realm of Destruction looking for help in their quest to find Dream, stabilize the Dreaming, and defeat Judge Gallows. The other part of the issue deals with the major Arcana dreams of the Dreaming attacking Judge Gallows, who has set up his seat of power in Dream's castle.

I'm finding myself more and more interested in Dora, both who she is and who she was (and maybe who she is becoming?). Spurrier has set her up as the main character, and I believe when Dora recovers her memory (she took a step in that direction in this issue), then we will know what is happening in the Dreaming, and possible where Dream is and why he is there. There is also a major event happening with Lucien that seems like it will also play a major part in the story. I'm sorry for such a vague summary, but I really don't want to give anything away.

As far as Judge Gallows and his battle with the residents of the Dreaming, I'm just kind of waiting for it to end. It hasn't engaged me that much, and it feels like it's starting to be drawn out. Hopefully, the final confrontation with Judge Gallows is coming soon, and then the story can move on to other things.

I have two observations about Spurrier's writing. First, I think he is capturing, not necessarily Neil Gaiman's voice, but Gaiman's themes as The Dreaming progresses. I had my doubts early on, but these last couple of issues just feel more like what I expect from a Sandman comic. Second, Spurrier is adding tremendous depth to the characters of Lucien and Dora. Each issue adds more layers, and this is serving to make them better characters, and definitely more sympathetic characters. My only fear is that Spurrier will completely erase/upend Gaiman's foundation. There were some events in issue #5 that may be pointing towards a repeat of things from the original Sandman series; I don't want that, I want something new that builds on the original ideas. I also don't want a "fresh re-imagining" of the Sandman universe. I doesn't need nor warrant a reboot. Please don't head in that direction.

At this point, I'm fully hooked in the story Simon Spurrier is telling in The Dreaming, and I highly recommend issue #5. Grab it now, and then hold your breath waiting for issue #6 to come out.

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

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas By Ace Collins - Book Review

From the publisher: The fascinating stories and origins behind Christmas traditions such as the colors of red and green, the Christmas tree, caroling, nativity scenes, the Yule log, gift-giving, stockings, advent wreaths, mistletoe, and holly.

The cheer of a crackling hearth fire. Colorful cards from friends and loved ones. An evergreen tree festooned with ornaments. The golden traditions of Christmas—gifts, wreaths, stockings, carols, mistletoe, and more—infuse our celebration of the season with meaning and glowing memories. And, in ways you may not realize, they point us to the birth of Christ. Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas reveals the people, places, and events that shaped the best-loved customs of this merriest of holidays. Here are spiritual insights, true-life tales, and captivating legends to intrigue you and your family and bring new luster and depth to your celebration of Jesus’ birth. Discover how

  • after eighteen centuries of all but ignoring the event, churches began to open the door for believers to commemorate Jesus’ incarnation.
  • the evergreen tree, once a central theme in the worship practices of pagan cultures, came to represent the everlasting love of God.
  • the magi’s three gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—are filled with spiritual symbolism.

The traditions of Christmas lend beauty, awe, and hope to the holiday, causing people all over the world to anticipate it with joy. The stories in this book will warm your heart as you rediscover the true and eternal significance of Christmas.

Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas (this is new edition of a book previously published) by Ace Collins is less a history book and more a collection of essay-type writings. There are 26 different chapters, which are all self-contained. Each chapter focuses on one "tradition" (I use the word loosely, as they are Christmas-related but I wouldn't call each a tradition). Collins details the history behind the tradition, and explains how it got from where it began to where it is/how it is observed today.

Chapters include obvious topics like Angels, Advent, Gifts, Holly, and Mistletoe, but have other more unusual topics like Birthday Cake for Jesus, Christmas Seals, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Boxing Day, and Xmas. I decided to read a few chapters sort of at random, picking topics that sounded interesting to me. So, I read Advent, Movies of Christmas, and Santa Claus (as well as skimming through Xmas).

What I found was that there was some really in depth information with interesting facts about each topic. Each chapter was very readable, but my interest level varied depending on the topic. The chapter on Advent was rather dry for my tastes, but very informative, particularly for someone who grew up in a church that observed advent. I'm a huge fan of Christmas movies, so discovering the history of several popular movies really engaged me. I also found the chapter on Santa Claus full of fascinating facts. I thought I was pretty well informed on the man in red, but there is a lot more to his story than I realized. In fact, I found out that Coca-Cola advertisements had a large role in how we picture Santa today!

Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas is a fairly short book that can be read in multiple sittings. Its easy to pick it up, read a couple of chapters (each between 6-10 pages, basically), and then set it down again for another time. Ace Collins's book would make a nice gift to anyone who is interested in Christmas or who just loves celebrating the season. I would recommend it to Christmas fans.

I received a review copy of this book from Zondervan's Book Look Bloggers program.

Heroes in Crisis #4 by Tom King - Comic Book Review (Updated review)

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this review misidentified the author of Heroes in Crisis #4 as Geoff Johns. Tom King is actually the author. Sorry for any confusion.

From the publisher: Wonder Woman versus…Booster Gold?! Diana finds out the hard way that Booster can be a formidable opponent when his back’s against the wall. Of course, being the prime suspect in a superhero massacre and exposing a secret trauma hospital for metahumans will do just that. Meanwhile, Batman and the Flash combine their detective skills to investigate what went awry at Sanctuary and uncover a serious glitch in the system—not to mention an explosive, spoiler-ific secret!

Heroes in Crisis #4 by Tom King continues an excellent story. Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman continue to investigate the murders of quite a few heroes and villains at Sanctuary. Meanwhile, Booster Gold and Harley Quinn encounter friends/confidantes who come along side them to help figure out what happened at Sanctuary.

King continues to spin a very engaging and intriguing story. I'm fully hooked on finding out what happened and who was responsible. Johns also does a great job of jumping from one narrative focus to another. This issue gives us a couple of pages of Booster and Blue Beetle, Harley Quinn and Batgirl, Superman and Lois Lane, and the trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Each little episode is terrific, giving pieces of the puzzle. However, each piece alone, or even several pieces together, still doesn't provide the answers we all want. There are also more of the "confessional" type videos, which I really enjoy (I wonder how much they are setting the stage for Sanctuary, or if they are part of the puzzle?). The issue closes with a huge development that promises to play a major role in the series going forward.

Heroes in Crisis is very much a murder mystery, and because of the story structure, the readers don't spend much time in each issue with just one or two characters. You would think that might hinder the character development, but Johns has found a way to deepen each character in just a few pages in each outing. He has already changed the way I perceive Booster Gold, who is normally played for laughs. There is a gravitas to the character now, and the jokey aspect seems sad, rather than goofy. King is also adding some emotional depth to a bunch of characters through the use of the "confessional" videos. I'm curious to see if this carries over to the series and regular stories that feature these characters.

I highly recommend Heroes in Crisis #4. Tom King has gotten me hooked, and while I'd love to read all the issues in one sitting and take in the story as a whole, I don't think I could wait until they are published in a collected volume. I'm already eagerly awaiting issue #5.

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

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Books of Magic #3 by Kat Howard - Comic Book Review

From the publisher: The body of Tim’s teacher, Mr. Brisby, has been discovered, and the scene is grisly—could his killing have been a ritualistic act? Tim tries to comfort his classmates, but finds himself in need of his own protector.

Books of Magic #3 by Kat Howard continues the story of Tim Hunter and his quest to become the greatest wizard in the world. In the previous issue, Tim was forced to use magic to kill some guys who tried to kill him; also, one of his teachers was brutally murdered. This issue picks up those story lines.

Tim is having trouble sleeping due to nightmares that are a result of his actions in the last issue. Unfortunately, Tim needs rest to improve his focus, so he can continue to develop his magic skills. Tim also discovers one of his favorite teachers has been killed, and both he and his classmates have to deal with that tragedy. Meanwhile, Dr. Rose is still being very vague with Tim about his magic skills and what he needs to do to reach the point where he is powerful enough to find his mother. Also, Dr. Rose may know more than she is letting on in regards to who is after Tim.

After all of that, I've got to say that at this point, I don't really care what happens to Tim, good or bad. I've given this story three issues to grab my attention, and Howard's writing hasn't done it. I just don't care about the characters or the events going on. I don't know why that is exactly. The plot is slow moving; that is one cause. Tim is sort of whiny and unlikable; that's another cause. Throw in everything else, and nothing has caught my attention. I don't find myself wanting to read this book when I have a chance.

I don't really recommend Books of Magic #3 by Kat Howard. It's just not working for me. This is my last issue (I may try the book again when it is farther into the story and some collected editions are published). It might be your cup of tea, but for me it was a disappointment.

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