Comics Briefly: American Vampire #30, Batman Inc. #3, Captain Marvel #3, Star Trek/Doctor Who #4, Superman Family Adventures #4, Wolverine and the X-Men #15, X-Treme X-Men #2

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Batman Inc. was the lone book from last week, all the rest were new in stores on 8/29/12

Decent bunch, overall. Especially strong: American Vampire #30, Wolverine and the X-Men #15

American Vampire #30 (The Blacklist, Part Three)
Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Rafael Albuquerque, Colors: Dave McCaig

Ugh. That hits like a kick in the gut. I mean, in a good way, but still: oof. Skinner and Pearl are both in top form in this issue, in all their complicated history, ambiguous morality, and asskickery. The panels are gorgeous, and the writing ticks briskly along to its inevitable-feeling, heart-twisting climax. Wow.

Batman Inc. #3
Writer: Grant Morrison, Artist: Chris Burnham, Color: Nathan Fairbairn

Another fairly solid installment of Batman Inc. I really liked all the Matches scenes, thought they were quite well written. Dick is silly, Damian is petulant, what else is new? I am highly amused that the web of connections drawn on the Batcomputer does include both Kathy Kane (original Batwoman) and a tiny panel from a long-ago comic featuring the very silly Batmen of All Nations.

Captain Marvel #3
Writer: Kelly Sue Deconnick, Artist: Dexter Soy, Additional Artists: Rich Elson, Will Quintana, Karl Kesel, Javier Rodriguez

Our accidentally time-jumping heroine’s tale continues in this issue, which I could wish had a smidge more plot movement, but was overall quite good. Carol and the Banshees tear up the terrain in battle, and the mystery of what exactly is going on gets more intriguing. There’s even a nice little side-note recapping her origin. Well written, well plotted, good issue.

Star Trek/Doctor Who #4
Written by Scott and David Tipton, with Tony Lee, Pencils by Gordon Purcell, Colors by J. K. Woodward

The art team has shifted slightly with this issue, and I think the book suffers for it. In some panels it works, and in others, it just looks amateur. Not a lot happens in this issue, and overall the art holds it back from being great. It starts strong, with Guinan, but the rest is a bit weak.

Superman Family Adventures #4
by Art Baltazar and Franco

First off, I love the cover. Monkey attack! Everyone is crazy, and there’s Lois in the window calmly taking notes. Nice. The inside is pretty fantastic, too. Beppo the SUPERMONKEY. And he has a Secret Identity. HA! Such a cute book.

Wolverine and the X-Men #15 (AvsX tie-in)
Writer: Jason Aaron, Penciler: Jorge Molina, Inker: Norman Lee, Colorist: Morry Hollowell

OH MY. That was wonderful! I laughed, I got choked up, I got excited. The issue is a series of vignettes focusing on the characters preparing for the final showdown with the Phoenix. It’s almost enough to get me interested in Avengers Vs. X-Men again. Not quite, though. Little amazing moments make me pretty excited for what’s coming after the end of the cross-over, though. Everyone is adorable in this issue. Broo and Iron Man! Wolverine and Iceman! Kid Gladiator! It closes with a simply lovely scene between Beast and Xavier. Just a great issue.

X-Treme X-Men #2
Script: Greg Pak, Pencils: Stephen Segovia, Inks: Dennis Crisotomo, Walden Wong, Jason Paz, Colors: Jessica Kholinne and Sotocolor

Not quite as much fun as the first issue, partially because I kept being distracted by some cheesecakey costume choices. Overall not bad, though. I enjoy the zaniness of trying to keep straight which version of which character’s on which side. There’s already indications that the quest plot: “Kill the ten evil [spoiler]” isn’t going to be as straightforward as it sounded.

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, Book Two)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Catching Fire
Suzanne Collins, 2009

Premise: Sequel to The Hunger Games. Katniss and Peeta may be done with the Games, but the imapct of their win is still reverberating throughout Panem. Katniss is faced with very real consequences for her family unless she toes the line through their “victory tour”. Of course, nothing goes as planned, and there may be no way to stop the wave once it's started.

I read this one just as quickly as the first book, although it took me a while to pick it up, and then took a while for me to do this write-up. That isn't because I didn't like the book, but I do feel like I have a little less to say about this one, except for explaining how it compares to the first.

I think that Catching Fire does a much better job of making the Capitol a real place where real (privileged) people live. The banquet scene was awesome. Also the other districts make more sense with more context. Not complete sense, there's still the matter of where the endless supply of faceless stormtroopers comes from, who trains them and where, but overall the setting is fleshed out nicely.

I sympathized with Katniss in a different way here. She was much less of a character you would look up to, and more of a human being swept up in events she barely understood. In fact, she was a little bit of a screw-up. And that's okay.

A lot of the new characters are pretty awesome, and most of the returning characters are still great. I still don't care about the romance angle, but I appreciated that it was shoved into the background as things got more serious.

About the “twist” that brings the plot back to the Hunger Games: I liked that much more than I expected to. Although, the whole thing only highlights what a stupid, stupid evil government this is. It really shouldn't be hard to take these guys down in Book Three.

4 Stars – A Very Good Book

Check out Catching Fire on

The Wanderer

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Wanderer
Fritz Leiber, 1964

Hugo Winner 1965

Premise: When it appears in the sky, many don't believe it. Many deny what it is. But the Wanderer is a planet, real, alien, and catastrophic for many of the people of Earth.

It took me a long time to get into this book. And it's not a very long book. Much of it is structured in a way that reminds me of the beginning of The Stand: it jumps between many different groups of people to show how they are affected by the crisis. In The Stand, I think this is brilliant. The problem with it here is that most of the groups are either uninteresting, awkwardly dated in description, or just unsympathetic. I don't really care what happens to the spoiled young people who take refuge in a penthouse or the Brazilian terrorists that you never get any names for.

The descriptions of how and why the planet-ship affects the tides and causes earthquakes is interesting enough, but it goes on a bit long. Frankly, I'd rather more time had been spent making me care about characters affected by said tides, etc.

Once the narrative settles mostly onto one main group of characters on the California coast, it gets more interesting because these characters are given at least a little development. Once we start to learn more about the great planet-ship: its inhabitants and its purpose, it becomes more intriguing still. Of course, we never really know anything about them; they come in, cause chaos, give their account of events, and are gone.

The Wanderer has a problem similar to Stranger in a Strange Land, although not as bad. It takes place at some time forward enough from the time of its writing to have a small base on Mars, but from the characters' attitudes and behavior, they clearly live in, say, 1967. It also suffers for me by not really having much in the way of interesting female characters.

I thought the ending of Margo's plot line was annoying, and I was overall pretty disappointed with this book.

2 Stars - An Okay Book.

List of Hugo Winners

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise, Part Two

Monday, August 20, 2012

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise, Part Two
Script: Gene Luen Yang, Art: Gurihiru, 2012

Premise: Sequel to The Promise, Part One, and AvatarThe Last Airbender
Tensions rise between The Fire Nation and The Earth Kingdom over the fate of the disputed colonies. Zuko seeks advice from an untrustworthy source, Katara struggles with being the girlfriend of the now-famous Avatar, and Sokka and Toph try to knock some sense into Toph's students.

This is a really strong second chapter. At this point, fans know what is eventually going to happen with the colonies. Legend of Korra has finished its first season, and since it takes place further into the future of that world, we know the founding of Republic City is going to be the eventual solution to the political problem. Seeing how they get there, though, is a story I'm still very excited to read.

More important than that larger story, of course, are the stories of the characters. They're dealing with more complicated problems, problems that don't have easy answers. The emotion is strong in every scene, and the dialogue continues to be wonderful. Sokka and Toph's adventures at her school are lighter in tone than the other plots, but humor has always been an important part of Avatar. Toph is particularly awesome here, she gets some nice character growth and most of the funniest lines. Aang and Katara meeting with Aang's fans takes a sharp turn towards poignant when I least expected it. Zuko's plot-line, of course, is full of rocky paths and misspoke words, and some very moving moments.

I absolutely loved this, and if I loved it slightly less than Part One, it is only because it continues the tone perfectly, but doesn't quite top the first one. However, I rather expect Part Three to bring all our characters back together, and be amazing.

The cliffhanger on this one certainly gave me chills.

5 Stars – An Awesome Book

Check out Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise, Part 2 on

Law of the Broken Earth (The Griffin Mage: Book Three)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Law of the Broken Earth (The Griffin Mage: Book Three)
Rachel Neumeier, 2010

Premise: Sequel to Lord of the Changing Winds, Land of the Burning Sands. Mienthe came to live with her cousin Bertaud after her parents died. She's a little shy and unsure of herself, but she finds herself drawn to the mysterious spy, Tan, who returns to Feierabiand with more than he intended. Agents from the neighboring kingdom are coming in search of Tan, but Bertaud has gone north to try to head off a looming war between humans and griffins. On Mienthe's actions may soon hang the fate of three nations and two species.

This was a solid ending for an enjoyable series. I didn't fall as hard for the new characters in this volume, but I really enjoyed the storyline. This book also did a nice job bringing back all the characters from all three books by the end. (Kes is back! And awesome-scary now!)

I also give this book major kudos for redeeming the only part I didn't like in the first book, simply by showing that things didn't turn out the way the first book implied.

The climax of the plot is a little bit hokey, but I liked it. The whole plot of this one hinged on characters' instincts, both mystical and otherwise, as they tried to see a peaceful way forward. So the ending was simple: instinctual in a way. By the end, there is a real sense of closure to the whole trilogy.

I liked the way Mienthe's instincts were described throughout, including her own self-doubt and later shyness about her own abilities.

There were more viewpoint characters in this volume, although I think the complexity of events required it. I thought the construction was actually pretty neat: there were the two new main characters for this one, plus one important character from each of the previous books, neither of whom had been viewpoint characters before.

And Kairaithin, the Griffin Mage himself, never got to be a viewpoint character, so he stays a bit of a mystery. He does still get a good deal of character development, and some closure to his arc. In some ways, he's the main character behind the main characters, the one who can most affect the plot, and he is wonderful here.

This trilogy isn't mind-blowingly brilliant, but it's solid fantasy that leaves me feeling really satisfied.

4 Stars – A Very Good Book

Check out Law of the Broken Earth on

Comics Briefly: American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #3, Captain Marvel #2, Mouse Guard: The Black Axe #5, Saga #6

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Two week round-up today. (I literally just moved across the country, so things are a bit hectic here, but comics must be purchased!)

American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #3
Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Dustin Nguyen

A decent issue, but not a lot happens. Some nice atmospheric art underlays a good deal of expositional dialogue between Felicia and Hobbes, but I wish more space had been spent exploring the new characters introduced near the end of this issue.

Captain Marvel #2
Writer: Kelly Sue Deconnick, Art: Dexter Soy

Not bad, not bad. I am still loving Carol’s new look and attitude. The plot is cute, and the art has come together a bit more for me. There are some really great moments in this book, although like most big two ongoings, I wish it had a couple more pages for my money.

Mouse Guard: The Black Axe #5
By David Petersen

A lot of this issue is a montage of sorts, but it’s wonderful. I absolutely loved following Celanwe and Conrad’s voyage across the sea. The art, as usual, is gorgeous and delightful.

Saga #6
Writer: Brian K. Vaughn, Art: Fiona Staples

Oh, that was fascinating and lovely. Just lovely. Delightful art, exciting developments, complex plot twists, beautiful dialogue. The one and only downside to this issue is it ends the first arc, and there’s going to be a delay before there’s more. On the other hand, if you’ve been holding off, you’re in luck, the first collection (issues 1-6) of this wild and wonderful series will land in October.

Locke and Key Volume 2: Head Games

Monday, August 13, 2012

Locke and Key Volume 2: Head Games
Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodiguez, 2009

Premise: Sequel to Welcome to Lovecraft. The Locke family kids try to adapt to their new life and make friends at their new school, with mixed success. Zack aka Lucas aka Dodge is distracted from his plans by the need to tie up loose ends. His methods continue to be pretty violent. And Bode, the youngest Locke sibling, finds a new key, this one a key to the strangest realm of all: the human mind.

While I liked this volume more than the first, it still isn't a favorite of mine. The plot continues to move forward, but the slow burn means that we're still in the part of the horror movie when I'm yelling at characters: don't go in there! Don't do that! While Tyler and Kinsey's more foolish decisions are believable for teenagers, they still frustrate me a little.

There's a little less gore and a little more creepiness in the volume, which I liked. Some of the art was really nice, especially once they start using the Head Key to see into people's minds. The relationship between symbolism and memory was well expressed, I thought.

I am intrigued about where the story goes from here. I especially want to see the fallout from Kinsey's rather frightening use of the Head Key.

There's a bunch of interesting back story for Dodge, and his relationship with the late Mr. Locke. The collection also has some supplemental material in the back that alludes to the origin of the magic keys, and has some intriguing implications for Dodge's origin.

To sum-up: this is a strong series that doesn't quite gel for me. I still think it's good, though.

3 Stars – A Good Book

Check out Locke & Key, Vol. 2: Head Games on

Land of the Burning Sands (The Griffin Mage: Book Two)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Land of the Burning Sands (The Griffin Mage: Book Two)
Rachel Neumeier, 2010

Premise: Sequel to Lord of the Changing Winds. Gereint Enseichen has been a magically bound servant in the Kingdom of Casmantium for a long time now. By treaty, griffins are taking the city his master lives in, and he's taking the opportunity to try to find freedom. But instead of escaping across the desert, Gereint is drawn back into the affairs of the kingdom as the griffins encroach further into man's holdings than agreed.

I had doubts about this sequel, when I saw that this book wasn't the further adventures of Kes, the main character from the first book. However, it turns out this is even better. This book delves much further into Casmantium, which was the 'enemy' kingdom for all of the first book. Their relationship with the griffins goes back further and has more old hatred on both sides.

The main characters, Gereint and Lady Tehre, are simply fantastic. They are both makers, people who have a sense for building things, who can make stone stronger, fabric waterproof, buildings steadier, etc., but they use a similar skill in completely different ways. Neumeier seems to have a flair for characters who are antisocial in a way that feels true to me. Tehre is an absent-minded academic type that I found utterly charming, but never cutesy. I really liked Gereint; I sympathized with his troubles and I was compelled by his struggles, but I instantly bonded with Tehre the same way I did with Kes, although they're utterly different characters.

Lord Bertaud is a minor character in this volume, and both Kairaithin and Kes are involved in the plot without being onstage much. It was interesting to get a clearer perspective on Casmantium and the cold mages there, people who are much more inherently opposed to the griffins than the natives of Feierabiand who populated the first book.

Incidentally, I learned to recognize all these long tongue-twisting names pretty easily, and it was simpler in this book with fewer griffin titles to deal with.

I'm certainly going to track down the third book, and I expect it to further illuminate the breath of this world.

4 Stars – A Very Good Book

Land of the Burning Sands is available on

Kushiel's Dart

Monday, August 6, 2012

Kushiel's Dart
Jacqueline Carey, 2001

Premise: Phedre is born to the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers, although the irregularity of her eyes means that she will have no place in the structured courtesan Houses. Instead she will make her own way, as a patron-supported courtesan seeking both information and pleasure, but finding danger in the intrigues of politics in the capital and elsewhere.

I ended up with very... mixed feelings about this book. I'm not entirely sure how I want to review it, and I've put off doing so for a while.

Overall I liked: the plot of the second half of the book, most of the characters, learning about the religion and history of the (alternate-historical-ish) countries. The book takes place in alt-France, called Terre d'Ange, supposedly once the home of angels on Earth. The people are a little, well, French. The religion is neat, I liked the mash-up angels-as-pantheon-of-gods thing they have going on.

Overall I didn't like: the style of the narration, how long the book was, how slow the plot moved, all of the sex scenes, the structure of the society of Terre d'Ange. I couldn't follow the politics in the first half; there were too many names and everything was vague. I know it was on purpose because the main character didn't understand what was going on, but I got bored. Especially early on, the narrator (Phedre) kept saying things along the lines of “oh, but if I'd known then how horribly so-and-so would betray us...” This happened a LOT. I found it melodramatic and thought it sucked all the tension out of the plot, because it meant I expected every twist before it happened.

I think the author is a bit too free with the fake-medieval verbiage. Cutting half the instances of “mayhaps” and “somewhat” would have really tightened the pace. There is way too much telling  things without showing, or without any credible reason I should believe what the character is asserting.

Now, once the pace picked up in the second half, I did really start to enjoy the book. I liked the action, I liked most of the supporting characters, especially those living in alt-Britain. I kind of wished the whole book was set there.

I suppose my main problems with the book were: 1) I wasn't in the mood for a 900-page doorstopper, and 2) I just didn't find the sex... sexy, and I didn't like the circumstances.

I mean, CHILDREN ARE BEING SOLD INTO INDENTURED SERVITUDE AND GROOMED AS PROSTITUES. I don't really care how much hand-waving is going on about how they have to choose to serve Namaah and it's some sort of spiritual whatever, I couldn't quite get over my revulsion about that premise.

Also, Phedre is magically the only “true” masochist in this world. Half the time she's at the mercy of her feelings (which seems like a bad idea for a courtesan/spy) and the other half it's about how no one can resist bedding her. Because she's the one true masochist. I... just don't get it. The whole society and morality of alt-France seemed to me to be designed around making the author's kink (having people pay Phedre for the opportunity to hit her with things) be the most awesome, accepted thing in the world. Plus there's no pregnancy or STDs. That's, frankly, not an interesting story to me.

There's no real exploration of why Phedre feels the way she does, it's just god-touched magic. Okay.

I'm not against reading about BDSM, but I didn't feel that this book provided an illuminating perspective. Also, personally, I'd rather read about it in the context of a relationship. That part's just my taste.

Again, ALL that said, I still became invested in the plot (once there was a real plot) and the secondary characters.

If I were just reviewing the second half, it might get 3 or 4 stars, but considering my low opinion of the society, the premise and the whole first half....I'm going to have to go with:

2 Stars- An Okay Book, just not up my alley.

Lord of the Changing Winds (The Griffin Mage: Book One)

Friday, August 3, 2012

Lord of the Changing Winds (The Griffin Mage: Book One)
Rachel Neumeier, 2010

Premise: Kes knows she's different from her sister, from her neighbors. She assumes that she'll always be a bit different, with her quiet ways and her interest in the hills. She assumes that she'll use her herb knowledge to help her sister's horses indefinitely. Then she saw the griffins, and her world was forever changed.

This book had simply gorgeous prose. I adored the way the poetry in the language seemed to echo Kes's thoughts: straightforward on the surface, deep and complex at heart. I especially just loved the first chapter. I loved the specific details about Kes's discomfort around others, and I loved the griffins.

These are not creatures of flesh and blood, but beings of fire and spirit, dangerous and alien. I really liked how the inherent conflict between the fire nature of the griffins and the earth nature of humans played out over the book.

The griffins Kes meets have fabulous personalities: each different, but all fundamentally inhuman.

There is a second plot-line about Bertaud, advisor to the local king, and his attempts to deal with the sudden appearance of the griffins. It took a bit longer to win me over, and I never loved it as much as Kes's plot, even though it is well done.

I mostly just loved the griffins.

The plot was overall strong, and resolved well, but I do feel that one aspect at the very end of the denouement was a thematic misstep. It just made me sad because it was so obvious to me what should happen and it seemed awkward that it played out differently. It could have been much worse, but it left me less than fully satisfied.

Overall, though, I'd call this a wonderful fantasy tale, full of great ideas and great characters, with a unique meditative tone.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Lord of the Changing Winds is available on
Also the trilogy is available in one volume.