Thursday, November 20, 2014

Curse of the Bane (The Last Apprentice / Wardstone Chronicles, Book 2) by Joseph Delaney, Christopher Evan Welch (Narrator)

Curse of the Bane (The Last Apprentice / Wardstone Chronicles, Book 2)Curse of the Bane by Joseph Delaney
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I started this series years ago, and I was impressed that this is genuinely scary horror fiction for younger readers. Finally, I was able to pick this series up with the second book. I actually own this in Kindle and Paperback, but I wanted a scary book to listen to on audio for Halloween. Needless to say, I didn't finish it until November.

So I guess I should talk about my thoughts on the book. Frankly, I didn't like this as much as Book One. I guess I liked the evil witch villain more than I liked the Bane (and the weak humans he manipulated and used to do his evil).

The storyline touches in uncomfortable ways how the church may have done more harm than good in the fight against evil. Witches are being persecuted and burned (and many aren't even witches) in the name of God. Yeah, that can definitely lead to trouble when you use God as an excuse to hurt others or to manipulate things to your advantage over others. That doesn't speak to God's character at all, but many who don't know God can sometimes believe in the evil acts of people more than they believe in who God really is. The truth is that God is represented through a believer's actions than anything else.

The book shows that sometimes the worse evil is human evil. That's not to say that there is not an obvious supernatural component to this book. But frankly, if the Bane was not able to find humans to use and manipulate, he probably wouldn't have done as much harm in this book as he did.

One thing I can say about Delaney is that he taps into the complexity of human nature. Alice is a young woman who is on the edge. She tiptoes into the dark in the name of doing what is right, and young Thomas feels sympathy and loyalty for her that conflicts with his loyalty to his master, the Spook, John Gregory. Even though he knows and fears the worst about Alice, he can't abandon her without trying to help her. Ultimately, it turns out that his instincts are right in many ways, and he has to stand by them even when things look most dire.

I really liked the backstory on Thomas' parents. That was very, very cool. Another look at the complexity of good and evil in this context of this story. But Delaney also stresses that it involves the choices that we make. If you're going to be a good person, you have to choose to do what is right, and if you take the step in the other direction, it's because of choices you make. Even in the contest of Christian belief, while we believe in salvation through faith, a person still has to choose to believe and to live a life that reflects that belief with the help of God's spirit living in them.

The Bane was a scary bad guy, and the story has some genuine chills and thrills. However, I didn't find it as magnetic as the first book. I think the Bane was too one-dimensional as a villain. Having said that, I still enjoy this series and I'm eager to see what the next book has to offer this reader.

I definitely wouldn't recommend this to any readers younger than a mature twelve. It's scary and it shows some really dark aspects of human nature. As far as parental oversight, reading this book would have some very important discussion points about what faith really represents and how the church has a responsibility to the community and others. This book does not show the church in a positive light at all.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Fables, Volume 11: War and Pieces by by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham (Illustrator), Steve Leialoha (Illustrator), Niko Henrichon (Illustrator), Andrew Pepoy (Illustrator)

Fables, Vol. 11: War and Pieces (Fables, #11)Fables, Vol. 11: War and Pieces by Bill Willingham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have mad love for this series. I tried to stay away, take a long break, but it pulled me back. I'm a fairy tale addict and Willingham gets fairy tales and how to take them and give them a modern update without destroying the essence of what makes fairy tales so appealing.

I like that while Bigby and Snow are much loved and favored characters in this series, they take a back seat and we see the heroism and the complexity of other Fables. I love how the backstories of the characters come into play through their actions in this book. It's a happy surprise to see which ones come to the forefront as heroes. Boy Blue is a standout character, and that's a very nice development in the story. Cinderella, though not even close to being my favorite fairy tale, is rocking the spy thing. I like it very much. Even Prince Charming shows that he does have some hero down deep.

Fundamentally, this book is about war and its cost. The author handles this subject with the integrity it deserves, and shows that fairy tales are fundamentally moral and allegorical tales that teach the reader something about humanity. So Fables as a series stays very true to the heart of fairy tales, and I love that about this series.

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Catwoman, Vol. 1: The GameCatwoman, Vol. 1: The Game by Judd Winick
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I'm working my way through my library's graphic novel collection and availing myself of the New 52 titles. I would be remiss if I didn't check out Catwoman. I did start reading an earlier run (single issues) with Ed Brubaker several moons ago (still have a stack I never got around to reading). I thought, why not try this?

Catwoman isn't always my favorite. On one level, I like that she's morally ambiguous, sometimes on the good side, sometimes on the bad side. I like strong women who can fight and hold their own, but her selfishness and how it leads to others being hurt is hard to handle. I couldn't stand her in the last Nolan Batman movie. I didn't like her with Bruce/Bats, but I did like them together in this book. I can see why some ship Batwoman and Catwoman so avidly. I think they understand each other, even though they are on the opposite side of the line more than not.

I didn't like the artwork. Catwoman looks harsh and rather scary. Her features don't have the catlike beauty or appeal that I would associate with her. The colors were too washed out for my tastes as well.

I like Judd Winick's writing. I didn't find that much fault with the storytelling in this one. He shows Catwoman as a morally conflicted person who has made poor choices out of a damaged psyche. I can get that about her.

Overall, this was pretty good. The biggest issue for me was the artwork. Otherwise, I'll keep reading this title. Batman showing up drove my rating up a lot (I can't even lie). My library also has Brubaker's run, so I may grab those to read next year (which is only two months away now).

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Batman: The Night of the Owls by Scott Snyder, Judd Winick, Justin Gray, David Finch, Peter J. Tomasi, Pat Gleason, Tony S. Daniel, Scott Lobdell , Duane Swierczynski, J.H. Williams III, Jimmy Palmiotti

Batman: The Night of the OwlsBatman: The Night of the Owls by Scott Snyder
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This graphic novel gives you your money's worth and then some. It takes the Court of the Owls/Talon storyline to the razor edge. You see how profound the war of the Owls is on those who oppose their agenda for Gotham.

Batman and his family of crimefighters and their associates all find themselves in mortal danger and taking on these formidable and superhuman warriors that serve the the Court of Owls, the Talons. I liked how the story crosses generations in the telling. I finished reading all the All Star Westerns my library has and I was pining for more, but I got a bit of that when the story goes back to Jonah Hex and his comrades dealing with the Talon. Also, we get to see how Dick Grayson's family became intertwined in the history of the Talon.

There are some excellent cameos by Red Hood, Arsenal (Red Arrow), Starfire, Batwoman, Young Robin (Damien Wayne), Nightwing, Catwoman, and many others. We even see how Alfred's own father ran afoul of the Court of Owls.

To me, this is a really excellent graphic novel collection. The artwork is beautiful and the storytelling is compelling. Batman is the king of awesome, but he's against a force that makes him the dark horse in this race (not something you see that often). This took me a while to read, but it's one that you want to spend a lot of time with, because the content is truly good stuff.

Definitely recommend this to fans of Batman and his associates!

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Superman, Vol. 1: What Price Tomorrow? by George Pérez, Jesús Merino (Illustrations)

Superman, Vol. 1: What Price Tomorrow?Superman, Vol. 1: What Price Tomorrow? by George Pérez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one is barely three stars from me. I didn't like the storyline and I thought it was confusing the way it was written. The explanation of what was going on barely made sense. Also, Superman and Clark Kent just don't have any standout character. The tendency is to see Supes as a boring Boy Scout. I admit I did feel a bit like that about him, compared to Batman, who I totally adore (faults and all). However, when Superman's character is explored with the depth and the insight that he deserves, you can see why he is such an enduring icon of comic books and superherodom. This book doesn't add to the story of Superman for me at all. His inner life is not delved into, and one merely sees him going from calamity to calamity and not what his instincts, head and heart tell him about those experiences. What drives him to do what he does, as apposed to lip service to "Truth, Justice, and The American Way." The artwork is okay. It's not profound, but neither is it poorly drawn and inked.

I'm not a huge fan of Lois Lane, and I certainly didn't like her in this either. At this point, if I wasn't shipping Batman and Wonder Woman so hard, I'd totally want Superman to get with Wonder Woman based on this book.

I feel like I am bashing this pretty hard. I think it's disappointment. I had finally worked myself up to reading a Superman title and to find myself wanting more is a crushing experience. Will I keep trying? I think so, but right now, I'm not a big fan of the New 52 Superman run thus far.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Justice League: Cry for Justice by James Robinson, Sterling Gates, Len Wein, Mark Waid, Mauro Cascioli (Illustrator), Scott Clark (Illustrator), Federico Dallocchio (Illustrator), Mark Bagley (Illustrator) , Don Kramer (Illustrator), Ardian Syaf (Illustrator), Scott McDaniel (Illustrator)

Justice League: Cry for JusticeJustice League: Cry for Justice by James Robinson
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This was nearly a four star read for me on the strength of the story with Roy Harper and the Justice League and the truly despicable villain Prometheus. He is not only a formidable supervillain but he is also maliciously psychopathic but in a very methodical way. The Justice League underestimated him to their detriment, and he wreaks serious havoc as a result. I read Justice League: Rise and Fall first, so I'm glad I ended up finding this and getting some background on the events in "Rise and Fall." I'm really surprised that Prometheus doesn't get more buzz in the comic book world. He's like a dark Batman and he's super, duper evil. Yet I hadn't even heard of the guy until I read about him on DC Wikia a few months ago.

The reason why I couldn't give this four stars right out is because some parts are a bit hokey and confusing. I didn't like how each person who experiences personal loss due to Prometheus ( and some that are having some misgivings about how non-lethal the Justice League's approach to villains is) issue a 'cry for justice', well it just seemed a bit cheesy to me. Also, Congorilla? What a strange superhero. I was thinking, are you for real? Your mileage may vary.

I have a huge crush on Green Arrow (definitely top five favorite comic book characters), and he's in this a lot, so yay. He shows a lot of loyalty to his friend and co-Leaguer Hal Jordan (Green Lantern), based on their very strong friendship. In the end, he also becomes even more pivotal to this story because of what happens with Prometheus and Roy Harper (his sidekick Red Arrow aka Arsenal aka Speedy).

I also admit to having some confusion about some aspects of the story. I went to my trusty DC Wikia to get some clarification, and that definitely helps.

One of the things I really liked about this book was the artwork. I felt the characters were excellently rendered, and the colors were beautiful. Graphic Novels are inherently visual, and that is such a crucial component that I definitely grade hard on the art. The art in this one stands up very well overall.

Ultimately, this is one of those books that ends up with a half star review, due to the positives and negatives. 3.5/5.0 stars is my rating for "Cry for Justice."

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Thursday, November 06, 2014

Teen Titans, Vol. 3: Beast Boys and Girls by Geoff Johns, Ben Raab, Justiniano (Illustrator), Chris Ivy (Illustrator), Tom Grummett (Illustrator), Lary Stucker (Illustrator)

Teen Titans, Vol. 3: Beast Boys and Girls Teen Titans, Vol. 3: Beast Boys and Girls by Geoff Johns
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I will confess that I have gotten into watching Teen Titans Go! on Cartoon Network, and I really like the character of Beast Boy. I decided to give these graphic novels a spin and this is the first one I grabbed.

My Observations:

Beast Boy on the cartoon is a lot more wacky than in the book. He looks more childish as well and is of diminutive height. In the books, he's movie star handsome. While not tragic, you can see that he has suffered a lot. Part of Beast Boy's story is one of loss--his birth parents initially and later his adopted family, the Doom Patrol. Ultimately he triumphs over his circumstances and tragedy and manages to maintain sense of good humor and a joy of life. That's infectious.

I wasn't that drawn into the storyline, honestly. It was more mildly interesting than unputdownable. I enjoyed seeing the Teen Titans dynamic on paper, and there is a bit of a crossover with some of the characters of the Young Justice tv show. I've done some research into Teen Titans on the DC Wikia and apparently the teams did sort of blend together throughout the history of the groups. It made me want for the 2nd Season of Young Justice to make it to Netflix (hint, hint). Anyway, I went off on a tangent.

Overall, this is pretty good. More of a cool adjunct to my tv explorations of Teen Titans.

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Swamp Thing, Vol. 3: Rotworld: The Green Kingdom by Scott Snyder (Goodreads Author), Jeff Lemire, Yanick Paquette (Illustrations)

This book was a very intense close to an arc in this series. Man, the imagery is really disturbing. This storyline really gets under my skin in the aspect of decay being a force of evil. One of the good things is I got to see Animal Man with a different artist. I really didn't like the art in the New 52 Animal Man volume I read. The storyline is inherently disturbing, so creepy, squiggly artwork made it worse for me. With this, that barrier wasn't there. There is a hanging thread with the Animal Man story, but I don't know if I will keep reading those. We'll see. As far as this book. It was really epic. It features a very dark future that's enough to give one nightmares, especially if zombies and animated, rotten dead things makes one feel icky. Definitely yes for me. I really liked that they delve into the starcrossed love affair between Alec/Swamp Thing and Abigail, who has a secret legacy to the Rot. Things have a real bittersweet feel, but it's also satisfying. I was having a lot of wincey feelings when I read this, but it's a four star read, because it's well-written and the artwork is both nightmarish and grotesque but very artistic at the same time.