Review: The Unknown

Posted May 19, 2010 by geekylibrarian
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The Unknown is the start of another high concept mystery series by editor-in-chief Mark Waid.  And much like Potter’s Field, which I reviewed last week, it’s a great idea for a series, that’s just in need of a slightly greater case to make it work, hopefully in the inevitable volume 2.

The Unknown focusing on Cat Allingham, a Sherlock Holmes by way of Warren Ellis figure with an insatiable need to prove how the world functions.  Only problem is she has an inoperable brain tumor that will kill her within six months, and which is tormenting her with constant hallucination, making her deductive skills useless.  Thus she is forced to rely on James Doyle, an ex-bouncer with a knack for picking up on the tells of those around him.

This book chronicles their first case together, as well as the start of Cat’s obsession with investigating the possibility of an afterlife.  The object of their case is a scale developed by a pair of quantum physicists that may be precise enough to measure the existence of the soul.

The story doesn’t really provide any answers however, which shouldn’t really be surprising given the title.  This proves to be a mystery story about mysteries and not about solving them, which is an approach I like a great deal.  All in all a decent start to this series and I expect great things in the future.


Review: Captain Alatriste

Posted May 17, 2010 by geekylibrarian
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Arturo Perez-Reverte’s Captain Alatriste is a pretty clear-cut throwback to the classic stories of Dumas.  The Captain (who doesn’t actually hold that rank) is a former solider turned mercenary with some suspect morality but honor to spare.

And it’s that internal conflict which quickly leads him into trouble after taking a job to scare (or possibly murder depending on which boss he obeys) two Englishmen passing through Madrid.  His actions lead him on an adventure that pits him against both law in Madrid, and the power of the Spanish Inquisition.

This is exactly the sort of swashbuckler tale that hasn’t been written since Errol Flynn’s heyday.  Maybe not the most original story, but still the sort of grand adventure that no one else writes anymore but no one should have let go out of style.  And Perez-Reverte tells it in an artful style that only the most gifted of storytellers can achieve.

Review: The Bronx Kill

Posted May 13, 2010 by geekylibrarian
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The Bronx Kill is Peter Milligan’s best comic in years, as well as being one of his most atypical.  He’s done some truly phenomenal books in the past (The Extremist, X-Statix, Shade the Changing Man) and has been writing a pretty good Hellblazer run for the past year, but generally he’s fallen flat every time he’s attempted a slightly more mainstream story (such as his runs on X-Men and Elektra).

So now we have a fairly low key missing wife story this is absolutely brilliant.  Martin Keane is an author whose sophomore novel was just released to scathing reviews.  But he has a new one in the works that has absolutely nothing to do with the family of policemen he comes from, or his grandmother that walked out on the family, or his great-grandfather who was murdered in the Bronx Kill for that matter.  He has spent his whole life trying to distance himself from his family’s legacy, and now he finds that its become his main source of inspiration despite his attempts to combat it.  Then when Martin’s wife vanishes one night he gets pulled into his family history even further, especially once he becomes the chief suspect.

Milligan here has created the first book that really justifies Vertigo’s new line of crime comics.  It’s also one of the best pieces of modern noir I’ve encountered.

Review: Potter’s Field

Posted May 11, 2010 by geekylibrarian
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Potter’s Field is the coolest idea for a crime story I’ve come across in a while.  The title refers to the cemetery in New York used for unidentified bodies, and it fills up with around 125 corpses a week according to the intro.  Enter John Doe, a vigilante detective whose determined to give each grave its proper name, and more often than not resolve a few loose ends from their lives.

It’s the best thing I’ve seen from Mark Waid in ages, and it’s really nice to return to the mystery genre, which he hasn’t really touched on since his days at Crossgen (unless you count his Elongated Man bits from 52).  And being a big ideas sort of writer, Waid writes fairly unique crime stories that focus squarely on those ideas.  

Potter’s Field works well for that, but Waid does lay it on a bit thick at time.  Besides having a protagonist named John Doe, there are also cases here involving identical twins and identity thieves.  I’m hoping as he tells more stories with this character he’ll stop adhering to his theme so strongly.  But either way, this is a very promising start.

Review: Rex Mundi: Gate of God

Posted May 11, 2010 by geekylibrarian
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The final volume of Arvid Nelson’s epic grail quest, Rex Mundi, is a huge improvement over the previous book, but still lacks the appeal of the first half of the series.  In an earlier review I called the series the Da Vinci Code done right.  The two works are really similar (of note, Rex Mundi started first), dealing with conspiracy theories involving the lineage of Christ and tons of research into Church history, although in the case of Rex Mundi this is taking place in an alternate history with a bit of magic.

And when the story focused on the alternate history it was fascinating, particularly France’s march to war in which they essentially recreate WWII (the villain here finally makes the jump to clearly being a stand-in for Hitler), and the magic worked best when it was used as a small background element where most people can’t do more than use it to light cigarettes.  However, the conclusion is the perfect opposite of what I liked about the series.  The conspiracies have been revealed, the war has been removed to the text back matter of each issue, and the conclusion is a full on battle between two rival wizards, complete with an army of Ray Harryhausen skeletons.

It’s a well done fight, and it’s not like I don’t enjoy that sort of thing, it’s just not what I was reading Rex Mundi for.  Although it is a great showcase for artist Juan Ferreyra who is much better at drawing this sort of thing than he was at the talking heads of the previous volumes.  So the big finale is pretty great, but it feels like its occurring in the wrong book.

Review: Savage Season

Posted May 10, 2010 by geekylibrarian
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Two months back I read my first Hap and Leonard novel by Joe R. Lansdale, Mucho Mojo, mistakenly thinking at the time that it was the first book in the series.  Now I’ve fixed that mistake and tracked down the actual first book, Savage Season.  And I enjoyed it a great deal, but it turns out I didn’t miss anything by having skipped it originally.

In this adventure Hap and Leonard are lured into a get rich quick scheme by Hap’s ex-wife, who abandoned him while he was in prison for refusing to serve in ‘Nam.  Her latest conquest, who has just returned from his own stint in jail, has learned of a stash of money from a bank robbery hidden in the swamps, and Hap is just the person who can locate it.   

But to do so he must ally with a group of former 60’s radicals that force him to confront the idealism that left him after his time in prison.  The plot’s a bit slight, but it makes for an excellent introduction to Hap, although his co-star Leonard doesn’t get to do much of anything in this tale, which is really a shame.  At least the next book makes up for that.

Besides that, a bit forgettable, but it’s still very much a Joe Lansdale story so it just reads like he’s in the room telling the story directly to you.  The man can write, possibly on instinct alone.  He’s done better however.

Review: Audition

Posted May 7, 2010 by geekylibrarian
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I’ve been waiting years for an English translation of Ryu Murakami’s Audition to be released.  I became familiar with it through the Takashi Miike film, which has picked up the reputation of being one of the greatest horror movies ever.  That’s pretty well deserved too.

So I came into the book with certain expectations, and found it to be a bit less terrifying, but a better example of horror.  Now this is a book that can’t really be described without a spoiler, but its one that is pretty obvious based solely on the book jacket so I’m going to go for it.  

The story is told from the perspective of Aoyama, a widowed single father who has just decided that he is ready to remarry.  In order to find a wife he joins forces with a friend at a video production company to hold an audition for a film that will likely never be made.  That way he can come in to the casting sessions as a producer and hopefully find the woman of his dreams amongst the runners-up.  The plan works, and he becomes hopelessly infatuated with Yamasaki Asami, a former ballerina with an unknown past.

All of Aoyama’s friends warn him away from her throughout the book, but he remains blinded by her, and as this book is told in the first person, so is the reader.  It’s a nice approach to take for the story, which makes the famed torture scene at the end of the book all the more horrifying.  But unlike the film which gets its terror from the unexpected story twist, the book relies on the Aoyama’s inability to comprehend the situation to achieve its horror.  And this works admirably!  Murakami takes love, which lets face it, can be pretty incomprehensible at times, and twists that into the sort of horror usually found in a Lovecraft story.  Well done.