Comics Briefly: American Vampire #32, Batman: Li’l Gotham #1, Captain Marvel #5, Wolverine and the X-Men #19

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Books new (in stores and/or online) on 10/31/12. Happy Halloween, everyone!

American Vampire #32
Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Rafael Albuquerque

Despite the beginning being a bit of flashback for those who missed the early plotlines, this issue fits in a lot of action, twists and plot developments. Hattie reveals her plan and her allies (little bit of monologuing there), and Pearl struggles to counter her. A strong installment, and I’m eager for the resolution of this arc.

Batman: Li’l Gotham #1
Written by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs, Art by Dustin Nguyen

Hey, look, a digital comic. Fancy. And AWWWWWW. It’s so CUTE! It’s half-size, like most digital-only books, but it’s a super-cute little story about Bruce teaching Damian the meaning of Halloween. Really. And the art is awesome. You’ve got 99 cents burning a hole in your pocket? Give it a shot!

Captain Marvel #5
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick, Artist: Emma Rios, Colorist: Jordie Bellaire

Closing out the first arc with a bang! Awesome art, wonderful writing. I LOVE THIS BOOK. Carol revisits her beginning, in more than one way, and her mentor Helen’s along to challenge her at every step!

Wolverine and the X-Men #19
Writer: Jason Aaron, Penciler: Nick Bradshaw Inker: Walden Wong, Colorist: Laura Martin

That’s more like it! Beast consults with the brains of the Marvel U to try to save a student, Logan and Rachel are on the track of the Hellfire kids, Angel gets some help getting his family company back, and Kitty’s interviewing prospective faculty. Hilarity definitely ensues. I loved all the cameos in this one! I giggled constantly, though I think I only downright cackled at the first one. Everyone gets a word in edgewise; I loved that the issue managed to tell several short stories and check in with every major character. It really felt like it was tying the title back together now that the big crossover is done.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Robert A. Heinlein, 1966

Hugo Winner – 1967

Premise: Manuel “Manny” O'Kelly lives on the moon. A lot of people do, in fact. However, the moon is still being run like the prison colony it started out as, and there is talk, especially among people who were born there, about governing themselves. Manny doesn't intend to get involved in politics, but it turns out that he has the lynchpin necessary to make an idea of revolution a reality.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I mean, on the plot level, it was an interesting little piece about a moon-based revolution and a computer with a sense of humor. It heavily explores the idea that we'll re-play all our previous frontier problems in space. The lunar civilization bears more than a passing resemblance to early Australian colonies crossed with stories of the Wild West. The 'loonies' look after themselves and sometimes each other and have no problems enforcing brutal frontier justice to keep their home 'safe'.

On the other hand, Heinlein still can't write characters, in my opinion. The problem might be that I've read all four of his Hugo winners within a year. Certain male character types recur in his writing: the blue-collar pragmatist, the personal-freedoms intellectual with convenient buckets of cash, the inhuman learning to be human. I didn't find anything new or particularly compelling about any of the versions in this book. They are less annoying than the main characters in Stranger in a Strange Land, but that's more a matter of plot. His women are affable blanks; friendly, shallow creatures with interchangeable looks.

Even with that, I didn't hate this book. It wasn't unpleasant to read. The highly stylized language is interesting, the particulars of the plot sort of neat.

I understand, I think, why many people enjoy this book. It's got some neat parts, and like most of his work, I'm sure it inspired other writers who took some of the concepts much further. I do feel bad that I finished it and thought: “Yes! That's the last Hugo winner by Heinlein! DONE!”

His first winner, Double Star, I really enjoyed. But I guess his longer stuff just isn't for me.

3 Stars – A Good Book.

List of Hugo Winners

Dog Wizard (The Windrose Chronicles, Volume Three)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Dog Wizard (The Windrose Chronicles, Volume Three)
Barbara Hambly, 1993

Premise: Sequel to The Silent Tower and Silicon Mage. Joanna again returns to Antryg’s home dimension, but not willingly this time. Antryg follows in search of her, but he finds his former colleagues are less concerned with the fact that he’d escaped his death sentence than with who or what is causing severe disturbances in the Void. Disturbances that threaten to unhinge the world of magic, and trap both Antryg and Joanna between dimensions.

This is a tremendously misleading
cover, just FYI.
This book is set about 6 months after Silicon Mage, but the publication dates are five years apart. As such, Dog Wizard is less “Part Three” and more “the continuing adventures of.” Some characters recur, but the tone and the emphasis is a bit different, and the plot is relatively unconnected to the previous books.

It was a pretty fun book, though. This book spent much more time with Antryg, getting into his head, where the previous ones mostly focused on Joanna. There was a lot more about magicians and their private culture and interactions. They hold themselves somewhat separate from the world, but are always actually interacting with locals and in danger from authorities. It felt a lot like the community in some liberal arts colleges I know, both for good and for ill.

I was surprised to see the return of one character in particular, but happy. The multiverse implied by this series doesn’t get a lot of play, otherwise.

The solution to the mystery was satisfying and sad, and while I saw one of the final twists coming, I still enjoyed it when it landed. It does rather beg for another sequel, but other than a stand-alone book in the same world and a handful of priced-just-too-high-for-a-short-story offerings on the author’s website, this is the end of the story for now.

Similar to the other offerings by Open Road Media, this book had terrible OCR translation. It wasn’t unreadable by any means, and it didn’t have the section break problem that plagued Silicon Mage, but it confuses “the” and “me” a lot. So. My advice: only buy the Kindle/Nook/etc. version on a very cheap sale, or if you’ve got room, check it out in paperback.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Dog Wizard is available on

October Comics Briefly Catch-up: Batman Incorporated #4, Captain Marvel #5, Star Trek/Doctor Who #6, Sword of Sorcery (Amethyst) #1, Uncanny Avengers #1, Wolverine and the X-Men #18

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Been super busy the past few weeks and I’m re-evaluating the sustainability of my budget for comic issues, but I do have several weeks worth of new comics to talk about:

To sum up:
The Best: Sword of Sorcery
The Good: Captain Marvel, Batman Inc.
The In-between: Wolverine and the X-Men
The Bad: Star Trek/Doctor Who, Uncanny Avengers

Batman Incorporated #4
Writer: Grant Morrison, Artist: Chris Burnham

I don’t really understand the last few pages, but other than that this was a strong action-oriented issue in which the (male, un-rebooted) members of Batman Inc. go up against the League of Assassins. Pretty fun stuff, although the characters I actually like were under-used in favor of the D-listers.

Captain Marvel #5
Writer: Kelly Sue Deconnick, Artist: Emma Rios, Colorist: Jordie Bellaire

A lot of great moments in this issue. I might not be completely on board with the “jumping through time” plotline yet, but there’s a lot of good stuff to be had. Carol trying to interact with Helen, who she knew/will know at a very different time is interesting, and the way they spark off each other is fun.

Star Trek/Doctor Who #6
Written by Scott & David Tipton, Pencils by Gordon Purcell, Art by J. K. Woodward

The plot picks up a little, but this story is really dragging on too long, and the art continues to be rather slapdash and terrible. If there were more than two issues left, I would quit this series right now.

Sword of Sorcery (Amethyst) #1
Writer: Christy Marx, Art: Aaron Lopresti, Colors: Hi-Fi

Yay Amethyst! This picks up right from the end of Issue #0, and I’m really enjoying this so far! I love how Amy’s training kicks in, while her reaction to the horror of actual battle feels real. I love that the book is layering in some complexity to Amy’s wicked aunt. She’s a prototypical wicked queen in many ways, but she’s still a person with feelings and doubts. So far I like the looks of the different clans quite a bit, too. The Beowulf back-up is still completely uninteresting.

Uncanny Avengers #1
Writer: Rick Remender, Artist: John Cassaday, Color: Laura Martin

I’m intrigued by a lot of the titles coming up with ‘Marvel Now!’ Writers who I have liked are taking on Sif, Iron Man, and Thor, and a lot of the previews I’ve read are kind of neat. I should have listened to my instincts and stayed away from this one, though. It picks up in the aftermath of AvX and deals with the repercussions... sort of. I mean, if “let’s dudes talk about form a new team while the ladies have a cat fight” can really be called dealing with anything. There are neat things about it, and some moments I liked, especially around Wolverine. Someone online pointed out that the ending is fantastically camp, looked at a certain way, and maybe I could get behind that, but it really threw me, as is, and didn’t make me interested in picking up the next issue.

Wolverine and the X-Men #18
Writer: Jason Aaron, Penciler: Jorge Molina, Inker: Norman Lee

This issue has a decent sum-up of the end of AvX, and an assortment of good character moments. That doesn’t quite make up for the upsetting ending. Seriously, if this book wants to kill/wreck my favorite characters and doesn’t want to be my fun-feel-good Marvel book anymore, I’m dropping it for Young Avengers.

JLA: The Greatest Stories Ever Told

Friday, October 19, 2012

JLA: The Greatest Stories Ever Told
Various, 2006

Premise: A collection of iconic Justice League stories from throughout the history of comics.

I picked this up at the library on a whim, because I like the Justice League, and I like zany classic comics. Some of these were a little corny and boring even for me, though. Some, on the other hand, were pretty great.

The first story is “The Super Exiles of Earth”, in which the Justice League has to reveal their secret identities to each other to defeat a bunch of evil duplicates. It’s a little zany, with stilted dialogue and a really silly, forced resolution. The second story is the one where Snapper Carr betrays the League in the name of “normal” people. It has some nice Batman stuff, but a really silly ending as well.

There’s another one based on secret identities, where each Leaguer thinks he’s actually one of the others. This is a neat idea, but the plot involves Doctor Light setting traps for them based on their mixed-up memories. So, for example, Green Arrow falls into a trap in Ray Palmer’s lab that the actual Atom could have escaped from. Which sort of begs the question: why not just set that trap somewhere Oliver Queen would go? The end effect is rather silly. It’s better once it gets into the big fight scene, though.

The one where the JLA body-swap with a bunch of villains was rather fun, with lot of interesting character moments and plot twists. That’s followed by the story of the formation of a later incarnation of the League, which since it includes Guy Gardner, Black Canary, Dr. Fate, Mister Miracle and Batman, is full of rather hilarious bickering. The plan to beat the bad guys in this one was pretty neat, too.

Finally there are two modern era stories: Star Seed, from Grant Morrison’s run, and a one-shot issue called Two Minute Warning. I really liked both of these, especially the latter. Two Minute Warning is a great exploration of the League, jumping back and forth between a big battle and vignettes about what each member was doing before the alarm went off. Also, there’s some really excellent interactions between Batman and Wonder Woman that make me quite happy. It does have Plastic Man, though.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this compilation, although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone who isn’t already a fan.

3 Stars - A Good Book

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, Book Three)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Suzanne Collins, 2010

Premise: Final book of The Hunger Games. (Book One, Book Two) The revolution is finally at hand, as the Districts try to bring down the government of Panem. Can Katniss become the symbol that the rebel leaders want her to be? If she does, what will happen to her friends still in captivity?

I've had a surprisingly hard time sitting down to write this review. It's not that I'm unsure how I feel about the book: I loved it. It's rather that it was such an experience to read that I'm not sure I'm up to articulating my response.

Mockingjay had some of the same world-building weaknesses that have characterized this series. However, since this one was more limited in scope (focused mostly on District Thirteen and very specific sequences in other areas) and concentrated on what the characters didn't know, the world didn't bother me as much.

I liked the expanded/combined cast of characters building off of the second book. I thought the plot twists were well done. This is not, overall, a happy book. Katniss is in a very dark, broken place, and her narration reflects that.

I loved the end, although I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it yet. I'll just say that I liked the way it resonated thematically with the whole series.

I loved the way Katniss' opinions and plans shifted constantly. I loved the return of the theme of music. You should really find some melancholy folk music to listen to while you read this.

I actually re-read this one, which I hadn't done with the first two. It makes my heart feel heavy in a cleansing sort of way, if that makes any sense.

5 Stars - An Awesome book

Check out Mockingjay on

This Immortal

Monday, October 8, 2012

This Immortal
Roger Zelazny, 1966

Hugo Co-Winner – 1966

Premise: Conrad Nomikos is a rather secretive fellow, when you get down to it. How he became Commissioner of Arts, Monuments and Archives for Earth is just one of many things he doesn't discuss. Neither does he discuss his feelings about the Vegans, an alien race who is “helping” the shattered remains of humanity, maybe. When he is called upon to escort a Vegan representative on a tour of historical sites, he grumbles about it, but he doesn't realize that the mission could change the fate of the entire planet.

Wow! This was easily one of my favorite Hugo-winners to date. I really enjoyed the style, the story, the characters, the mystery and more.

This Immortal is set in a future when the Earth is at a particularly low point. After some sort of catastrophic incident, several space colonies were cut off from Earth and by now the planet itself is mostly inhabited by mutants, gangs, clusters of survivors, and an administrative staff. The relationship between the human colonies, the human population of Earth and the Vegans is complex, realistic, and totally fascinating.

It's told in the first person, and I absolutely loved the style. Conrad's dark humor shines throughout, and I loved the way he wove little ironic references to various poems, songs, etc. into his narration. A quote on the back cover of my copy described this book as “...If you've ever asked yourself what would have happened if Philip Marlowe had been Odysseus...”(-New Worlds) The delightful prose certainly justifies that comparison in my opinion.

The plot is interesting to follow, there are plenty of twists and turns, and a few times I laughed aloud at certain developments. The goals of each character on the expedition are revealed slowly, and there are so many layers that it's hard to say when characters are telling the truth.

While the plot and the immediate concerns are resolved in the end, many questions raised by the book are left intentionally vague. What the Three Days devastation was, why many 'mutant' creatures are similar to things of myth or legend, and especially who or what Conrad actually is, beyond fantastically long-lived, are all left somewhat up to the readers interpretation, and I think it works best that way.

I really just flat-out enjoyed this book, and I highly recommend it for its unique characters and setting, and for its wonderful style.

4 Stars – A Very Good Book (but very close to 5)

List of Hugo Winners

Locke & Key: Volume 3: Crown of Shadows

Friday, October 5, 2012

Locke & Key: Volume 3: Crown of Shadows
Writer: Joe Hill, Artist: Gabriel Rodriguez, 2011

Premise: Sequel to Welcome to Lovecraft and Head Games. Dodge begins to move more directly against the Locke siblings, and he seeks out the Shadow Key to help him do so. Kinsey discovers some of the pros and cons of taking things out of one's own head, and Tyler and Bode find yet another Key, this one nearly 3 feet long. Meanwhile their mother, while oblivious to the magic going on under her nose, is not blind to the other problems in her family and her life, but is having trouble dealing with them.

Now this is more like it. There is much more supernatural stuff going on in this volume, much more action, much more plot movement. I do appreciate that the lengthy set-up does help the story feel fully realized, but it was lengthy.

The artist gets to completely go nuts in this issue, creating tons of awesome shadow creatures. One issue is almost entirely gorgeous action splash pages.

At this point I am starting to enjoy the slow burn on a lot of the plot elements: Kinsey and the Head Key, the mystery around who/what Dodge is, Tyler taking responsibility, Bode, who started out pretty excited by the magic, starting to get nervous, the history of when their father was a teen, and more. The epilogue issue in this volume is really fantastic and supremely creepy.

Really my only problem with this series is with the pace, and I wouldn't even mind that much if I could have the entire story at one gulp. Also I should add, in the interest of full disclosure, I am getting these volumes from the library, as I feel that they are a bit expensive. I might be interested in a full collection once the series is done, though. That should be at the end of the sixth arc, if all goes as planned.

So for a series which I thought started slow (and gory), it's really ramped up into the kind of paranormal horror/action that I can sink my teeth into.

4 Stars – A Very Good Book

Check out Locke & Key, Vol. 3: Crown of Shadows on

Comics Briefly: Action Comics #13, AvX: Versus #6

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

This week: Two great books that taste great together!

Action Comics #13
Writer: Grant Morrison, Artist: Travel Foreman, Colorist: Brad Anderson

What fabulous craziness is Morrison up to this month? Why, just The Phantom Zone and officially bringing in a great classic supporting character, that’s all! WOO! Also the Phantom Stranger is there, but whatever. The important thing is (spoiler, highlight to read) KRYPTO! Who’s a good doggie?  YAY and Awwwww! I also just really liked the style of this issue: the evocative captions and the gorgeous art.

AvX: Versus #6
Writing and Art by just about everyone, including Kieron Gillen, Jim Cheung, and many more.

HA HA HA HA HA. I bought this because I’d read bits of it online. It’s fabulous silliness. Hope and Wanda have a beat-down! Cap and Cyclops have a fight consisting of nothing but smack-talk! Snarky editorial captions! Pixie and Squirrel Girl reveal the dark secret of AvX! (so to speak) All the science dudes fight all the other science dudes! It was awesome.

Elric: To Rescue Tanelorn (Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melniboné: Volume 2)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Elric: To Rescue Tanelorn (Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melniboné: Volume 2)
Michael Moorcock, 2008

Premise: This is the second collected volume of stories, following Elric: The Stealer of Souls. These stories include several more Elric tales, a few other stories set in that world, and more stories on the theme of the Eternal Champion.

I am beginning to think maybe some other reviewers had the right idea when they criticized these collections. I loved the first one, and I love the idea of reading the stories in publication order. There was a set of volumes that tried to arrange the stories in a in-world order of continuity, and that made little sense to me for a character who was written over so many stories and so many years. (I have a Annotated Sherlock Holmes that I have never read most of, because the idea of putting those stories in “continuity” order rather than publication order seems incredibly foolish to me.)

Well, I'm second guessing myself now.

This isn't a bad volume, but I really question the inclusion of some of these stories. Maybe I don't understand Moorcock's Eternal Champion thing completely, or maybe I just don't like it, but the further away from Elric the story gets, the less interested I am. Some of these stories get pretty darn far away.

Let me break it down a bit more. I loved The Eternal Champion, the longest piece, about a Champion called from beyond the grave to play a part in a devastating war between Men and the Eldren. I loved To Rescue Tanelorn, in which Rackhir the Red Archer seeks aid for the besieged, beloved city. I liked The Last Enchantment, in which Elric contests the Lords of Chaos in a battle of wits.

The Greater Conqueror, about dark cults during the reign of Alexander the Great, felt meandering and dull to me. However, Master of Chaos, about a man on the edge of reality, was really intriguing.

I hated Phase 1, a modern-day-ish story about an insane heist gone wrong. It isn't terrible on its own, but I just don't like the conceit of telling the same exact adventures with different Eternal Champions.

I really liked The Singing Citadel, (finally, page 235 and we're only on the second story actually about Elric), and The Jade Man's Eyes was pretty decent. Both of these are 'Elric travels to a new place and does battle' stories.

There is a three page story with a punch line, which was okay, and then Elric at the End of Time, which was kind of cool, but really surreal. The next piece, The Black Blade's Song, was pretty great. There were two short stories about Elric-ish characters on Earth, and I guess they were sort of intriguing, although I was a little sad about how little actual Elric was in this volume by that point. The book closed with another tale of Rackhir, called The Roaming Forest: pretty good, not as good as the first one.

I would say I really liked about half the stories in this book. Those stories, I really really liked, 4 or 5 stars for those. However, the number of off-topic or boring stories (1 or 2 stars) kept me from really connecting with this book overall. I never knew whether I would like the next piece, and I started putting down the book for stretches of time.

In summary, I found this collection wildly uneven. The good ones were really good, but not quite enough to make up for the middling and downright annoying. I didn't really hate much of it, though, so it gets a middle-of-the-road sort of score.

3 Stars – A Good Book.

Check out Elric: To Rescue Tanelorn on