Month: October 2011

Magic in the Blood

Magic in the Blood

Magic in the Blood

Magic in the Blood by Devon Monk is the second in the Allie Beckstrom series. Having read and enjoyed the first book in the series, I was happy to read this second novel. The title of the book relates to the plot in that much blood magic is being tossed around by a whole pile of villains.

Working as a Hound – tracing illegal spells back to their casters – has taken its toll on Allison Beckstrom. But even though magic has given her migraines and stolen her recent memory, Allie isn’t about to quit. Then the police’s magic enforcement division asks her to consult on a missing persons case. But what seems to be a straightforward job turns out to be anything but, as Allie finds herself drawn into the underworld of criminals, ghosts, and blood magic.

The story continues, more or less, where the previous novel had finished. Characters from the first book, such as Zayvion, Violet, and Kevin feature in this book as well. One of the things that I liked about the previous novel was the concept of magic that Monk created. Magic is a really common element in urban fantasy, so if an author wants to keep my interest, they had better come up with an interesting take on it.  I liked how it is something akin to a municipal utility.  Some of that seems to change in this book, as we meet several characters who are able to operate using magic without it acting in the typical municipal utility sort of way.

Ghosts appear in this book. They are not actually ghosts, though – which I found to be a relief. The last thing urban fantasy needs is some hackneyed, silly ghosts running around.  However, what Monk really does well in this book is to write the parts involving Allie’s father.  The scenes involving him are really creepy.  Again, at the end – was Mr. Beckstrom a good guy or a bad guy? I’m okay with the developments of this plotline.  By that I mean, we learn that Mr. Beckstrom was a member of the secret, powerful society called the Authority and Allie finds out that her father’s widowed girlfriend is pregnant.

Overall, I was satisfied with the book. There are times when Allie gets repetitive, though. I mean, I know it’s important for the reader to recall key details – but the reader does not even get the chance to forget. I think Monk needs to relax a little bit – readers are not complete idiots – we can handle remembering a few key points for a few chapters. Also, I really hate how Allie just swoons and gets ridiculous whenever Zayvion is in the room. I dunno if women really act like that or not, but it does serve to reinforce the notion that women are silly, emotive airheads.  On a positive note, I absolutely love Allie’s addiction to coffee!

3 stars

Action Comics #2

Action Comics 2

Action Comics #2 cover

 One of the most popular pulls from the DC New 52 titles is the Action Comics series.  There are several main reasons for this, the most significant being the renumbering and rebooting of Action Comics.  1938 – 2011 saw 904 issues of the absurdly famous DC title that features Superman. It’s a shame that we probably will not get to see a 1000th issue of this title, but I do understand that after 900 issues, it may be time to reboot and re-examine. Of course, on such an epic reboot DC wanted to place a really big name writer. They chose Grant Morrison.

For several years, Morrison has been one of several writers to be credited with expanding, renewing, and repopularizing comic books. I’ve read several of his storyarcs and they are indeed different than the standard comic book fare.  Many readers love his work, many dislike it – I think that in general, the best thing Morrison has done has been to bring comic book storytelling into the 2000’s with fresh ideas, intriguing writing styles, and a whole lot of attitude.  I have not fallen in love with his writing, but I do recognize that his efforts are powerful within the industry. I feel he’s a bit of a showman, so I was hesitant to get too excited about him writing Action Comics.

The first issue was okay. We are introduced to a young Superman and a world which is just beginning to recognize him. He’s a bit brash and wild, he wears jeans and boots with his cape, and his powers have been trimmed down from the God-like status that the DC Universe seemed to grant him after the 1980s. However, I was still wary and unsure as to how I felt about all these “changes.”  I was very hesitant to jump on the bandwagon with this title.

Issue #2 starts off where #1 left off.  The first page is the young Superman strapped into a chair. There are all sorts of restraints and wires attached to him.  His muscles look tense, his teeth are clenched, his eyes are glowing red. We discover that Lex Luthor has captured Superman and is torturing him. Doctor Luthor, Doctor Irons, and General Lane (of the US Army), are all in a nearby room watching as Superman is shocked with electricity. There are people attempting to take a blood sample. In a room nearby, similar “tests” are being run on the apparently indestructible cape.

I was unsure as to what to expect before and after reading issue #1.  I was leery and wary. However, this issue starts immediately by presenting a scene, developing the roles of the characters in that scene, and giving the scene tension and purpose. So far, yes, Morrison is doing a good job writing. Things are a bit new and unfamiliar in the New 52 universe, so I am not certain where all the characters stand.  The Doctor Irons from the old continuity was John Henry Irons – also known as Steel. In that continuity, Doctor John Henry Irons was a brilliant weapons engineer for AmerTek Industries, who eventually became disgusted when an energy cannon he had designed fell into the wrong hands and was used to kill innocent people. The company would have coerced him to retain his services, so John faked his death and eventually came to Metropolis. John Henry Irons has no superhuman abilities; however, he is an exceptional inventor and engineer, and wears a suit of powered armor which grants him flight, enhanced strength, and endurance. Obviously, the creators of Doctor Irons pulled many characteristics from the American folklore hero John Henry.  In this new Action Comics, we meet a Doctor Irons dressed in shirt and tie. Irons becomes very upset by Luthor’s torturing of Superman. Irons condemns Luthor’s actions and storms out of the facility. I am rather excited to see more of Irons because I think he’s always been a great character and I am hoping he has a strong role in the new Action Comics.

Luthor is very Luthor in this issue. I know in the old continuity, almost every possible iteration of Luthor seemed to have been worked through.  But this Luthor that Morrison is writing is very classic Luthor.  He appears dispassionate and completely in control. He is clearly calculating and arrogant. The artist, Rags Morales, draws Luthor with an expert understanding the character. When Irons leaves, Luthor makes a snarky comment as if Irons was a mere annoying insect. Morales nails the facial expressions.  Again, this is a young Luthor and it’s actually nice to see Luthor without his creased forehead and crow’s feet. Luthor stubbornly refuses to address Superman as anything but “it” or “the alien,” thus dehumanizing this young fellow who many in Metropolis have begun to see as a hero – particularly, Lois Lane.

Superman breaks out of his restraints and tears up a lot of the facility, but Superman is just as clueless as everyone else, because he seems unclear as to his own origins.  Still, this Superman is brash, active, and a bit unseasoned – which comes through nicely in both writing and art. I realized, I am liking this new take on Superman. I like this slightly wild, slightly impulsive dude wearing jeans and a cape. This is a good Superman for 2011 and I am ready to be a fan of Action Comics for good.

The ending scenes show us that Morrison has some definite plans for the storyarc and he is not just freewheeling.  Some readers speculate that we Luthor is being helped by the entity Brainiac. It’s really cool to watch as the threads that tie Superman, Luthor, Brainiac, and Lois together are being pulled together. It’s exciting to visit these “youthful” times of Superman and Morrison is doing what the New 52 is supposed to be doing – breathing life into a character that has been around since 1938.

Also, this issue is $3.99 because of several pages of sketches and quotations from Morrison and Morales. The quotations describe what and why the changes and ideas are in the new Action Comics. Some readers were grousing about having to pay for these pages – I was thrilled to have them. I found them interesting and helped me get comfortable in the New 52.  I think I am starting to trust what Morrison and Morales are doing with this major character. And I like it.

5 stars

Fatal Voyage

Fatal Voyage

Fatal Voyage

Fatal Voyage was published in 2001 and is the fourth novel in the Temperance Brennan series. The main plot of the novel involves Brennan dealing with an airplane crash in Western North Carolina. Immediately, I could not help but be reminded of the incidents occurring on September 11, 2001. I believe this novel was published before those events, but in my paperback edition, the author added an afterword in which she briefly discusses the NYC incident at the World Trade Center. Reichs herself was a member of the recovery response team. In some sense, I felt “bad” for her because I am sure she was a little disturbed about having written about a plane crash earlier in the year. It must have been a bit unnerving.  Fatal Voyage takes place in October.

In any case, the story starts off with Dr. Brennan entering the crash site where emergency teams are gathering among the refuse and damage. Rather quickly we meet a major character, the Sherriff Lucy Crowe. Normally, I do not really pay attention to descriptions of what the characters look like. I generally pay enough attention to get a vague image and then forget all the details. Crowe, however, was interesting enough that I found myself picturing her throughout the story.  She’s described as being very tall. Crowe has frizzy, carrot red hair and eyes the color of Coke bottles (which Reichs will remind us of plenty of times throughout the rest of the novel.) Upon first meeting Crowe, Brennan estimates Crowe’s age at around forty years old.

It was somewhat difficult for me to figure out just where the crash site was. Crowe is the Sherriff of Swain County. But there’s a lot of talk in the novel about Bryson City. Basically, I just put the crash in some area of the Smokey Mountains that is more rural than anything. Having driven through most of Western North Carolina, Eastern Tennessee, and NorthEastern South Carolina, I pictured these little-driven roads, small townships, and lush green forests that are way too muggy in the summertime and drafty in the wintertime.

After the multitude of official recovery/investigation teams arrive (each bearing their own three-letter acronym), Brennan begins her first day by assisting her colleagues in tagging, photographing, and packaging remains.  After a long day, she is told by her boss to take a break. Instead of milling around the hectic command center, Brennan heads outdoors to the forest. It’s here that she happens upon the situation that entirely changes the storyline.  In the underbrush, she is encircled by a small pack of coyotes (she mistakes them, at first, for wolves.) Fearing for her life, she also notices that the animals are protecting and trying to abscond with a human foot. Obviously, Brennan thinks this foot is connected to the plane crash. She makes several attempts to wrest the foot from the coyotes. At this point, who should show up but none other than Andrew Ryan – the detective she works with (and is sweet on) at her job in Canada. Ryan and Brennan rescue the foot and chase off the pack of coyotes.

I think the cover of the book (my purple edition, anyway) is supposed to be a picture of a skeletal foot representing the foot that Brennan found. However, I don’t know many people who have toes that are so even in their size. Heck, most of the people I know have third toes that are as long as their big toe.

From this point onward, the story changes, Brennan does not really deal with the plane crash. Instead, she ends up in a lot of hot water with her superiors over the mysterious foot and is booted from working with the crash site. She remains in the area, however, because she wants to clear her professional reputation. Also, she discovers that the foot is not actually from the crash, so she begins her investigation.  The foot actually involves a whole series of killings that occurred since the 1940s. Most of Brennan’s troubles come from people in high places impeding her investigation because they will be implicated or guilty of whatever she is investigating.  Andrew Ryan is there, we learn, because his partner Bertrand was on the plane that crashed. Bertrand was escorting a criminal to Canada for arrest/trial.  The coincidence of all of this is a little bit hard to swallow – but it’s fiction and it’s fun, so I just read onward.  Of course, there are plenty of red herrings that Reichs puts us through so that we are as lost as Brennan.

There are a lot of names in this novel. Names of people investigating, names of people on the plane, names of local persons who are being investigated. There are a lot of characters to keep track of. Reichs does a surprisingly good job of keeping everyone pretty clear and even, but sometimes it gets a little difficult if the reader isn’t paying attention. While there is “science” in the novel, I feel Dr. Brennan is less the forensic specialist and more the investigating detective. This is okay, because it works for the novel. But I do hope future novels do not turn Brennan into a detective and lose the coolness of her laboratory expertise. For most of the novel, the only people who are Brennan’s allies are her dog, Boyd, and Sherriff Crowe – who is about as unflappable a character as there ever was.

At one point Brennan goes to Charlotte. I found her descriptions of the city to be very keen. Obviously Reichs has spent much time there and is familiar with the difficulty with navigating the city. In chapter 23 Brennan describes the city streets, truer words were rarely spoken about Charlotte and its streets:

“Charlotte’s street names reflect its schizoid personality.  On the one hand the street-naming approach was simple:  They found a winner and stuck with it. The city has Queens Road, Queen’s Road West, and Queen’s Road East, Sharon Road, Sharon Lane, Sharon Amity, Sharon View, and Sharon Avenue.  I’ve sat at the intersection of Rea Road and Rea Road, Park Road and Park Road.”

Reichs also deals with the local natives in the rural areas of North Carolina with precision and tact.  Yes, there are some hillbilly religious folk. And there are some stubborn, insular folk. But there are also simple, well-meaning folk too. I think most of this comes across in Reichs’ writing. I think this is the first novel wherein Brennan spends the majority of it in North Carolina and not Canada. Overall, I think the book was probably difficult to write. It is a large novel with a wide-open plot. There’s lots of characters to hang on to and lots of plotlines to be careful with. I think Reichs succeeds with her story. The novel is creepy, tense, and amusing all at different points. It works. I don’t like reading about planes crashing, but I appreciate a good detective story. Especially one with two pets (yes, Birdie has his cameos!)

3 stars

Infernal Devices

Infernal DevicesInfernal Devices was written by K. W. Jeter and first published in 1987. It went out of print and was finally picked up and republished in 2011 by Angry Robot Books.  The cover artist for the 2011 edition was John Coulthart.  Coulthart has done a number of pieces in the science fiction/fantasy genre as well as some work related to H. P. Lovecraft’s stories.   I absolutely love the cover art for this Infernal Devices edition. (There are a couple typos in this Angry Robots edition… punctuation randomly placed, lack of capitalization in a few places, some spelling typos. An editor was needed. But I can forgive all because of the pretty cover).

It is said that this novel is one of the first books to be classified as “steampunk,” and some have suggested that Jeter is the one who coined the term.  I feel like dealing with “steampunk” is something like dealing with the word “logos.”  Those who know what it is, know what it is, but cannot really explain it the same way twice. And even if it gets explained, it still feels like there’s something missing.  I can try to explain it – but I am far from an expert; I’m just a novice.  First, some examples.  Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker are all well known examples of the genre.  The TV show Warehouse 13 has many elements of steampunk.  Some characteristics of the genre are a heavy reliance on the Victorian era.  Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art.  Speaking broadly, steampunk is often set in an alternate version of the Victorian era – the differences being the inclusion of science fiction/fantasy elements.

Infernal Devices is an easy-reading novel.  One sentence leads to another, one page turns after another, and before you know it, you’re three-quarters of the way through the book.  The prose has many hints of the diction and pacing of what one might expect from the Victorian era, so it takes a little to get used to, but once the reader is through the first few chapters, the book just breezes by.  The story itself is told by the main character who is, presumably, writing his remembrances of the events of the story.  The main character, George Dower, is the son of a very skilled watchmaker.  The father, we learn, also developed any number of complex inventions such as automatons, robots, and other mechanisms – all of which leave the son clueless and frustrated. One of the father’s celebrated machines is an “automaton” that looks and acts similarly to his very son. Many of the father’s inventions involve the concept of harmonics and vibrations.

One of the things that I like about the book is the writing style (some have compared it to H. P. Lovecraft.) I like the way that Jeter, without boring us with extraneous text, is able to paint the setting and background.  Rainy London, dark alleyways, creepy characters, etc. are all very easily imagined by the reader. Some complaint has been made by other readers that the main character is unlikeable. He is a bit passive and dim-witted at times. However, I do not think it is fair to say he is unlikeable. In fact, he seems ridiculously resilient – he undergoes a non-stop series of adventures that would wear out someone in peak mental and physical condition.  He’s a bit naïve.  I do not know that the reader necessarily cares about Dower as much as follows Dower around. Dower, on occasion, has some interesting lines that develop from his reflection on his adventures.

“I was too exhausted to sort the real from the false; sanity often consists of knowing what not to think about.” – chapter 7

The biggest problem with the book is that it contains way too much.  Most of the time it seems like Jeter tried to cram every idea he had into this one text.  I feel like Jeter wrote a couple of chapters, hit upon a new idea, and then ran off chasing that idea. A few chapters later, he had a new idea and likewise ran off following that one.  The end result is a story that has way more threads than tidy seams.  There are characters that appear to be villainous and move the story along, but their motivations are thin, they play their role, and then we run along to the next idea.  There is one character in particular, Mr. Charlies Wroth, that really changes his role in the story about four times. It’s too much and at the end, I felt a bit angry at the author – he was cheating the reader by changing the characters at the last minute.

There is too much in the story. The many characters, the many “big ideas” (which move from a device that destroys the earth, to fish-people, to future-seeing criminals, to a money forger, to a weird inventor-father, to being a captive on a ship, to automatons that are violinists, etc. It’s just one big idea after another without fleshing any of them out or giving the reader any sort of detail. Like Dower, we race into one “big idea” to another. Sure, it’s creative, but it’s superficial and needed to be parsed out.  One novel cannot contain so much “stuff” without seeming really discordant and random. The whole book is a mad chase.

2 stars

Criminal Minds: Season 3

Criminal Minds season 3

Criminal Minds season 3 DVD

I finished Criminal Minds season three the other day.  For most of the season, I would watch an episode and comment: “That wasn’t a very good episode….”   Basically, by the third disc, I had decided that I would give this season merely 2 stars.  After having watched the last disc, however, I was tempted to give the season 3 stars. But no! I shall not change my mind! Even if the last disc was markedly better than the previous ones, it still took great stamina and patience to get through the previous episodes.

The season begins where the previous season left off – in terms of the BAU characters’ situations. Gideon missing, Hotch and Prentiss off of the team.  Does anyone really care? I did not. I watched anyway. Finally in episode 6 “About Face,” we get our “Gideon replacement” in the character of David Rossi.  Rossi is played by Joe Mantegna, who has been in a whole pile of movies and TV shows.  Also, he is the parent of an autistic child.  Anyway, immediately I took a dislike to the character Rossi. He is grating and has a chip on his shoulder.

Penelope is still the most interesting character. In the episodes “Lucky” and “Penelope” she is shot by a new boyfriend. (The boyfriend is also one of the stars from the TV show Saving Grace.)  Then she meets and dates another FBI analyst, Kevin Lynch.  Penelope’s character is developed further (in case you had not already noticed that she is a geek) when she recognizes comic book artists, references California alternate lifestyles, and talks jargon with Lynch.

Emily Prentiss still over-plays all her lines. Derek Morgan still exists solely to kick down doors and tackle bad guys. It has actually become really amusing to call out when Morgan is about to kick a door in.

One of the particularly poor episodes was “Birthright,” which I think was completely unbelievable and really too bizarre.  The last three episodes of the season: “The Crossing,” “Tabula Rasa,” and “Lo Fi” are actually decent episodes and worth watching. Unfortunately, you have to suffer through the previous episodes to get to these. And I cannot ignore all the bad writing that came before just because the last three episodes were up to par.

Unfortunately, the last episode leaves off on a cliffhanger – an explosion, nonetheless. So, of course, now I want to see season 4. It’s not because of any great merit of the series, in general, but rather a curiosity that I have based on a couple of episodes. Again, I am still surprised that this show has so many seasons…. this season really seemed to be downright ridiculous in certain episodes. How long can I care about this team and their weirdo cases? I guess, I wish we got to learn more about the BAU and less about the grisly and extremely wacko killings.

2 stars

Death by Darjeeling

Death by DarjeelingThis is the first in the “Tea Shop Mystery” series written by Laura Childs. It was published in 2001.

Charleston’s Indigo Tea Shop is an oasis of calm.  But when tea shop owner, Theodosia Browning, caters the annual Lamplighter Tour of historic homes, one of the patrons turns up dead.  Never mind that it’s Hughes Barron, a slightly scurrilous real estate developer.  Theodosia’s reputation is suddenly on the line.  Aided by her friends and fellow tea shop entrepreneurs, Theo sets about to unravel the mystery of the deadly Darjeeling and encounters a number of likely suspects.

This is a light mystery, good for beach reading, bedtime, and those spare moments throughout the day.  Also, it is good for reading when you cannot possibly expend the energy, time, and stamina to muscle through a Neal Stephenson book. The story takes place in Historical downtown Charleston, South Carolina – the peninsula, if you will.  But it is not quite as realistic as readers may wish it to be.  Sure, there are plenty of wealthy socialites in the area and there are quaint shops that cater to both locals and tourists. However, in my many visits to Chas, no one talks or acts very much like the characters in this book.  I feel that the author attempted to mix the “image” of the South with a modern feeling. And this is all okay, I suppose, as long as the reader is expecting a light mystery.

Some problems include the “girls” in the book who work at the tea shop. Haley and Bethany. Both are in their twenties but yet the author portrays them as very immature – flighty and air-headed. So, even though I believe Bethany is twenty-seven years old, she acts like she’s nineteen. It’s a bit difficult to get used to this. Also, the author overdoes the way the characters speak. They are frequently “instantly concerned” or “ashamed” or whatever. Also, the diction of the South is not accurate. I guess the author could have chosen to write in the dialect, but instead chose to write in the way that the rest of the world thinks the dialect is. So “I do declare” and “kindly restrain yourself,” make appearances, but not one “y’all” or “lord, ha’ mercy!”

I figured out the killer halfway through the book. I do not really know how I figured it out, but I did. The main character, Theodosia, was hunting down suspects left and right, but for some reason, I feel her suspects were too easy. I am not entirely sure that the actual killer had motive….. they just seemed nuts.  The last two chapters involve Theodosia confronting the killer, who definitely seems to have lost their grasp on sanity. Just enough to be creepy.

Overall, it is a cute concept. I neither loved nor hated the characters, but it was a quick, light read. Some of the faux-Southernisms were overbearing, but probably fit right into most readers expectations. It isn’t a bad novel, there’s just not much in it to make me care. Eventually, I’ll probably continue in the series – likely when I am between books or not willing to invest effort in a heavier novel.

2 stars

Avengers #10 – 12

Avengers 10

Avengers #10

Continuing onward in the storyline that started in issue #7, the Avengers seek to chase after the Infinity Gems – racing Parker Robbins to acquire them.  The Avengers (and X-Men) have divided into three teams.  One team has followed Professor X to the site of the old X-Men school. Another, larger, group has gone to Area 51. Finally, three very powerful heroes (Namor, Red Hulk, and Thor) are traveling deep underwater to obtain the gem that Namor had been in charge of.

Several interesting things occur in the issue that help to make it seem not just one big pile of heroes running around.  Underwater, once Namor retrieves the gem, the three heroes hover around. Red Hulk has his hand out to take it, but Namor gives it to Thor. I found this a neat subtle way of showing that the Avengers do not trust Red Hulk yet, and that Namor seems to have more faith in Thor than he does in himself – a rare moment of humility for Namor.

Another interesting tidbit involves the Avengers learning that Tony Stark owns Area 51.  They comment that they thought that he was impoverished.  Tony replies:  “My broke is not the same as your broke,” which I think is a classic line for Tony. It demonstrates his arrogance and the fact that he really is the richest character in the Marvel universe.  I got quite a chuckle out of this line, which stuck with me awhile after reading it.

Avengers 11

Avengers #11

Issue #11 starts off with a full page frame of Uatu.  If you know anything about Marvel comics, you know that when this dude is present, things are serious.  Parker Robbins appears as the three heroes emerge from the water. Robbins possesses the purple, red, and yellow gems already (space, power, and reality respectively).  After a tussle, the Red Hulk gains the red gem (power), but Robbins transports them all back to Area 51.  Unfortunately, Robbins escapes, even after the Avengers attack. It’s at this point that Spider-Man notices Uatu. “Anyone else happen to notice The Watcher is here… you know, watching!”

Robbins has zipped off to meet the Avengers & X-Men team at Xavier’s school. A battle ensues between Xavier and Robbins – which the former loses. I was surprised. The Avengers are not doing well in these issues. Robbins collects the mind gem and heads off to the astral plane to find the gem that was given to Dr. Strange. The art on in this issue is colorful as all get out.  The Astral plane is full of yellows and pinks and lights and spheres. It’s really quite a sensory bombardment. Dean White is the colorist and I have to give him a lot of credit because these seem to be some of the most colorful issues in comics in the last year or so. I think the writing is about what one should expect to find in an Avengers comic book.  The art is hit or miss, I feel. Some frames are great, others are not so pleasant to look at. It ends up being a bit discordant. Nevertheless, the colorist does a good job making the art look as bold and bright as possible.

Avengers 12

Avengers #12

I really like the cover of issue 12 because the artist dropped the title font to the center of the page and put a bold Iron Man in the center of the image.  Frankly, since issue #7, I fell hook-line-and-sinker for the setup that Tony Stark had fallen prey to his arrogance and greed. When I saw the cover, I did not think that the Avengers had saved the day, but rather that Stark had somehow managed to get his paws on all of the gems and was wielding them similarly to how Robbins would have.

The Avengers defeat Robbins. Iron Man does manage to get his hands on all of the infinity gems. And in front of the assembled heroes, he uses the gems to “wish them out of existence.”  He appears remorseful and solemn and the Avengers seem satisfied with his actions.  Steve Rogers welcomes Red Hulk to the Avengers officially because he says that Red Hulk acted both selflessly and smart.  I have to say that in this frame, Steve is pretty ugly.  This is certainly not some athletic and handsome movie star.  Steve’s face and hair is just drawn ugly. In the same frame, Red Hulk looks a bit like a Elvis. The pencils for these issues are done by John Romita, JR.  I still dislike his art and I feel that without the skills of the colorist and the inker, this art would be quite awful.  I admit the covers are bright and wild, but the interior art is sometimes downright ugly. It’s easy to see what’s happening in each frame and it matches the storyline, however, the art is not to my liking.

Yeah, I was sad to see the infinity gems/gauntlet be “wished out of existence” just like that – poof!  They have been such a driving force in the Marvel cosmic universe that I was disappointed that that was all the story we get.  I should have known better (and I bet most readers suspected more).  Apparently, Dr. Strange was surprised too, so I don’t feel so bad. The last pages of the issue show the Illuminati, once again dividing up the gems. This time, however, there is one more member among them who grasps the orange gem:  Steve Rogers. (Of course, it’s one of the ugliest Steve Rogers in comics yet…..)

Overall, I liked this arc. I like the infinity gems. I like Thor and Namor and Iron Man. However, I do feel this was an “all-ages” book, since there wasn’t the depth that I am used to reading in comics of late. But perhaps this is not a bad thing at all – the arc was fun, colorful, and let the writer play with the infinity gems. There is an awful lot for the writer/artist to juggle in this storyarc:  dozens of characters, a whole mess of gems, etc.  In some places, the story moves a little too fast, I think. In the end, the rift between Tony and Steve is somewhat better and the villain was defeated. This is well worth reading, but is probably not going to be one of the greatest Avengers arcs ever written.

4 stars

Batman #1 (2011)

Batman 1

Batman #1 (2011)

The first month of the “New DC 52” is over. These are the titles that I subscribed to and read:

  • Action Comics
  • Batman
  • Batman & Robin
  • Blue Beetle
  • Detective Comics
  • Green Lantern
  • Green Lantern Corps
  • Justice League
  • Mr Terrific
  • Nightwing
  • OMAC
  • Red Lanterns
  • Superman
  • Wonder Woman

There were no “wretched” issues, thankfully.  Some issues were not as good as others, some were surprisingly good, and some were excellent.  In particular, I really liked Red Lanterns and OMAC.  Overall, the most exciting issue (that, yes, I feel did live up to the hype) was Justice League.  However, as far as the best issue (especially in terms of storyline) that came out, that I read, – I must say it was Batman #1.  It was written by Scott Snyder and pencilled by Greg Capullo.

The cover does not appeal to me very much. It’s not a terrible cover, I guess, but I think I wanted something better for the new number one issue of Batman. I wanted something absolutely outstanding.  This cover is not what I wanted to see for this title. And because I was somewhat unimpressed by the cover, I read the issue the last of all the issues I got that week.  I sure did judge it by its cover!

However, the writing is excellent. I cannot understand how Grant Morrison’s Action Comics and Tony Daniel’s Detective Comics stole the praise away from this issue.  That’s not to say that those issues were bad – they weren’t. This issue of Batman was awesome.  The issue begins with scenes from a dark and dismal Gotham City while Batman muses in dialogue boxes.  We learn that every Saturday in the newspaper, there is a small section wherein citizens are asked to complete the sentence: “Gotham is…..”   This is really fun because from the very first page, I was thinking about this in the back of my head; how would I respond to the question?  Gotham is…. dark. Gothic. Scary. Overrun. Crawling. Insipid. Ominous. Relentless. Decrepit. I loved thinking about how I would finish the phrase.

As Batman ponders the phrase, he’s also punching and kicking his way through bad guys at Arkham.  Until he gets to a room with the Joker and the unthinkable happens… they team up! Joker even says “Aw, always so serious!”  I must say that the Capullo drew the hell out of the Joker in these frames. So, at this point, I’m invested in the story – what’s going on?!  After the battle, Batman meets up with Commissioner Gordon and explains (in his evasive manner) what happened that evening.  Then we are in for a treat – a full spread bird’s-eye view of the Batcave.  I spent several minutes absorbing this shot – its really exciting and fun. I admit it, I am envious of Bruce’s cave. Anyway, surprise! Turns out Dick was actually posing as the Joker! I have no idea if I was relieved or thrilled about this. It was really cool, though, and I enjoyed being fooled. Apparently, Dick was posing as the Joker in Arkham.

Upstairs in the Manor, Bruce meets Dick, Damian, and Tim – all wearing black tie formal wear and looking like a real Bat-family.  Bruce has a party going on whereat he gives a long speech in an endeavor to get investors to join him in creating a newer, better Gotham City.  The point of his speech (and perhaps the Batman title) is that the investors should move beyond what Gotham was and is and focus on what Gotham will be. While this may seem somewhat “uninteresting” to readers who simply want action scenes, I think this section has great potential for the title.

Bruce has to duck out of the party, though, because the police have found a gruesome crime scene.  A John Doe has been killed by someone who used professional, antique throwing knives. However, the victim seemed to know he was going to die because he left a message behind:  “Bruce Wayne will die tomorrow.”  Batman scans the DNA beneath the dead guy’s nails and the last page of the issue confirms that the DNA is a match with none other than Dick Grayson – the fellow who had been helping Batman by posing as the Joker!  The last dialogue box of the issue has Batman finishing the newspaper phrase: “Because above everything, Gotham is… a mystery.

I love the balance between Batman and Bruce Wayne. I love the surprises and supporting role of Dick Grayson. I like the technology and detective skills of Batman. I like that this issue has a deep “Gotham” feel to it – like getting back to Batman’s roots in a solid, classic but also fun way.  This is amazing writing and the surprise mystery ending really makes the reader pine for the next issue.  This issue was certainly the strongest writing of the month and I am really looking forward to see how this storyline develops. I think, at the end of the day, I have to agree with Scott Snyder and Batman….. Gotham is a mysterious mystery.

Finally, one of the debates raised about many of the “new 52” issues was whether they were truly “jumping-on” points for new readers. Were these new number 1’s truly accessible or were they just repackagings?  I have to say that this number one is perfect for new readers who are expecting a great story with classic Batman content.

5 stars