Posted tagged ‘review’

Review: The Unknown

May 19, 2010

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

May 17, 2010

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: Cat’s Cradle

September 18, 2009

Cat’s Cradle is the latest in my list of required reading that I never quite managed to get around to before now.  It’s Kurt Vonnegut’s second most well known book (after Slaughterhouse-Five) and its notoriety is well deserved (although I still want to know why people tend to ignore Player Piano).  Vonnegut is a masterful writer, and is possibly the only person in the American canon besides Twain who has managed to write novels that are considered as high art while still being both accessible and incredibly fun.

And yes this is a fun book, about the end of the world and nonsensicalness of humanity.  The story is about a writer whose working on a book about the end of the world and inadvertently becomes a part of the sequence of events that actually brings about the end.  But before that comes to pass he becomes involved with the politics of a small island nation that no one wants and the unique religion founded on lies (whose leader claims to never do anything he preaches) that is based there.  This is great and unique material to work with, and Vonnegut makes the most of it, creating one of the few enduring classics of the last 50 years.

Review: Busted Flush

April 10, 2009

Busted Flush is the 19th Wild Card novel, and thus as you might imagine it is not very new reader friendly.  Now I’ve read the entire series up to this point and I still felt lost for the first 100 pages or so, which is probably not a good sign for anyone else coming to this book.

Part of this lack of clarity is due to the nature of the Wild Cards project.  With a few exceptions each book is composed of a series of short stories edited together by George R.R. Martin and Melinda M. Snodgrass.  Sometimes this works very well, and other times not so much.  This book leans towards the later.  The book has nine writers, just as many lead protagonists, four A plots, and a ton of B plots (that largely lay unresolved by novel’s end).  And to make things worse, there’s no real effort to reintroduce any of the characters from prior books.  You have to get through half the book before you can match names to codenames and powers (this is a superhero story after all).

On the other hand this is the rare book that ends better than it begins.  The individual character arcs are pretty strong and they fit together into a whole quite well, and the last third of the book actually starts to recapture some of the feel of the series’ earlier volumes.  And then it stops with a fairly blatant lead in to the next book, which might actually be pretty promising in that it seems likely to resolve a plot that can be traced back to the very first Wild Cards novel.  And that’s enough to keep my interest, although just barely, but I can’t really recommend this to anyone else.

Review: Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol.2

April 5, 2009

I never really understood the appeal of the Legion of Super-Heroes.  That might be because I grew up as a Marvel junkie, so by the time I got around to catching up on what DC had to offer the backstory was a little too daunting.  The 30th centry teenage super-heroes with the inane code-names number in the dozens and they always seemed to be a bit interchanageable.  Furthermore the three continuity reboots don’t exactly make them easier to follow.

But I am enjoying Geoff Johns Legion of 3 Worlds series (when an issue actually comes out) so I figured it was time to try picking up some of the older comics again, and I think I’m starting to get it now.  For a silver age comic an awful lot happens during the course of this volume.  There is no reset button present in these stories.  Legionnaires actually have to pay the consequences for their actions routinely, and that alone gives the stories much more weight than most of DC’s other output at the time.

The stories are often pretty clever too, which they have to be to take advantage of characters like Matter-Eater Lad and the Legion of Substitute Heroes (the less said about the Legion of Super-Pets the better).  The last three issues collected here are particularly good, featuring the first work by writer Jim Shooter (who was 14 at the time), and which introduce Karate Kid, Ferro Lad, and Princess Projectra (clearly maintaining the standard for stupid names).

I think I’m actually becoming a fan now, or the Pre-Crisis Legion at least.

Review: Madman Atomic Comics Vol.2

March 29, 2009

Mike Allred continues his artistic evolution in the second volume of Madman Atomic Comics.  There’s not another artist in comics willing to push himself in the way that Allred does in this series.  In the first volume he began using a new pencil shading technique, took his writing in a metaphisical direction, and spent an entire issue highlighting his influences.

I’m ecstatic to see that Allred was not content to rest with that.  This time around he’s begun to play with cel shading.  And in one of his biggest experiements he attempts a comic with a single panel (the pages can be lined up end to end to form a single image).  The story’s pretty good too, mainly focusing on my one grievance from the last volume, which is handled in a truly unique and unexpected way.

Review: Bellwether

March 23, 2009

I haven’t picked up anything by Connie Willis in quite some time, which is really a shame.  She’s won more Hugos (ten as of now) than any other writer, not to mention six Nebulas.  I’ve read most of those and she deserves all the praise she has received.  Willis is simply a natural writer, equally adept at drama and comedy, not to mention a writer with a real gift for research.

All of her strengths are clearly on display in Bellwether, a light hearted musing on the modern scientific process (complete with middle managers and grant applications).  The protagonist is Sandra Foster, a statistician researching the causes and transmission of fads.  Her work soon puts her in contact with a chaos theorist and a small flock of particularly stupid sheep.  Together they have to survive the horrors of company-wide inspirational meetings, incompetent interdepartmental assistants, and of course trendy coffee bars.

There’s nothing in the course of the story that an experienced reader won’t see coming after about five pages, but that doesn’t mater.  Willis tells the story with enough wit and charm to compensate.  All in all a very fun book, definitely recommended.

Review: The Ten-Cent Plague

March 14, 2009

The Ten-Cent Plague is David Hajdu’s amazingly comprehensive early history of comics.  The book traces the medium’s development from its first days when it simply reprinted newspaper strips to its near death under the heel of the comics code authority.

The main focus of the work is on the anti-comics hysteria raised by Frederick Wertham, Estes Kefauver, and various community organizations across America.  Hajdu’s approach to the subject is fairly one sided, which is mostly appropriate.  But I have seen slightly more impartial portrayals of Wertham, ones where he was at least shown to believe in his own cause.  Hajdu on the other hand just seems to view him as an unrepentant glory hound.

But that aside the book is brilliant.  I knew a lot of this history going in and this book still taught me an incredible amount.  Besides the comic-book scare Hajdu goes into the history of EC (publisher of MAD and Tales from the Crypt), the birth of crime, romance, and underground comics, and the scary amount of public book burnings that swept America all too soon after WWII.

This history is a must for anyone interested in comics, censorship, or American life in the 40’s and 50’s.

Review: Farthing

March 13, 2009

Jo Walton’s Farthing is a book I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while, and I finally picked it up after seeing Walton at this year’s Boskone.  I’m truly sorry I waited this long, it’s an amazing book.

The best description of it probably comes from Walton’s introduction in the Boskone program guide, it’s a dark cozy.  At first glance the novel reads as a very typical British, upper class, mystery.  A member of the house of lords is killed on his family’s estate following a dinner party and the scene is staged to implicate one of the house guests.  

The twist is the setting.  The book is an alternate history (which I don’t normally enjoy this much) in which Brittain signs a peace treaty with Nazi Germany, which then succeeds in overrunning Europe up to the Russian border.  The murdered man is one of those who helped bring about the treaty, and the man implicated in the crime is the jewish husband of the black sheep in the family.

The mystery might be at the fore of the novel, but it’s not the driving force of the story.  Instead Walton has written a tour de force showing how easily an entire nation can abandon its freedoms and its morals.  The book is devastating and relevant, while still maintaining its appeal to a more casual mystery reader.  Well done.

Review: The Night Witches

March 9, 2009

Garth Ennis has always been at his best when writing war comics, a genre he’s spent some time away from recently (with the exception of an occasional flashback in the Punisher).  Fortunately he’s returned with a major project, a series of mini-series entitled Battlefields.  In scope this is very similar to his two runs of War Stories that were published by Vertigo a few years back (The D-Day Dodgers from that ranks in my top ten for best single issues), and actually he’s using many of the same artists this time out.

The first of the Battlefields books is the Night Witches.  The story focuses on the Russian front in WWII where the German infantry is on a collision course with Russia’s newly formed female bomber squadron (who give the book it’s title).  Ennis does a decent job of showing both sides of the conflict, although the Germans only have a single sympathetic character.  It’s not his best work, but Ennis does not now how to tell a bad story and this one is no exception.

The art on this comes from Russ Braun, who I’m only familiar with as the back up artist on Jack of Fables.  He does a wonderful job here, reminding me a lot of Darrick Robertson’s work at times.  From what’s on display here he deserves to have a much higher profile.

So, all in all the Night Witches is a welcome return to form for Ennis and it’s definitely whetted my appetite for the next Battlefields series.