Month: November 2011

Reed Gunther #1

Reed Gunther

Reed Gunther #1 cover (Image Comics)

I spend way too much money on comics. But I love comics. Addiction. Now, with those personal revelations out of the way. . . . . November 11th, I picked up the first issue to a comic that I heard about online and decided that if my store had it on the back issue shelves, I’d try it out.  I think the series is currently on issue #5, but don’t quote me on that.  Reed Gunther is an all ages comic book.  This is very significant, especially for all those people who assumed comic books were all for the youth.

First, the facts:  the creators, brothers Shane and Chris Houghton, were making Reed Gunther comics for awhile, marketing them as true independent artist comic books. There’s a whole “thang” in the industry (because it’s become an industry…) about “independent” comics/artists, etc.   Frankly, there are plenty of blogs to discuss those sometimes less than fun topics.  Needless to say, in the summer of 2011, Image Comics (and man, is there a backstory to this publisher! Talk about having a history!) picked up the Houghton’s Reed Gunther and published the first issue. In color. Coolness. Price? $2.99

Second facts, this is one of a few “all ages” comic books.  My point (and the point that USA Today and a few other media monsters also highlighted), is that when comics are marketed as “all ages,” people assume that this means that the comics are specifically meant for kids.  In other words, made for and enjoyed by kids. And for the most part, this is true.  After all, there are all sorts of distinctions in comic books now, all ages, parental advisory, and the really R-rated stuff by Vertigo/ Max/ et al.   But what is meant by Shane and Chris’ “all ages,” I think is more important and necessary for the “industry” than all of those other distinctions.  It is an all ages book – not a young ages book.  The subtle point here is that people of all ages, from 7 – 77, can read and enjoy the book – safely, without anything untoward.  All ages should mean just that:  a book free from smut and foul, but enjoyable by kids and adults for its fun, interesting, witty, well-drawn storyline.  All ages. Everyone. Not just one specialized segment (of an already small segment of the population – comic readers.)

So far, two “hoorays!” One for independent creators and one for a true all ages comic book.  The next kudos is because the story is (more or less) a Western.  Westerns have lost so much of their once massive popularity. The year is 2011 and sure, in the 1950s, youths thought the Old West was the best.  Nowadays, I think kids think the 1950s were the years of the Old West. Yet, the Old West still has all the same aspects that made it appealing previously. In Reed Gunther, the star character is a cowboy.  From the official website we get a small biography about Reed Gunther:

[He is] a goofy bear-riding cowboy . . . an eccentric, curious, adventurous fellow whose home is everywhere he and his best pal (and mode of transportation) Sterling end up. Together they roam the West looking for ways to make a quick buck, save a damsel in distress, or just have a fun time.

Did you see the part where he doesn’t ride a horse? He rides a bear!  Named Sterling!

The first issue is entitled “Reed Gunther and the Steak Snacking Snake!”   As Gunther and Sterling make their way across the prairie, they come upon a situation in which a cowgirl/rancher named Starla is having trouble with a snake trying to eat her cows.  Starla is a stubborn, forthright woman who is handy with a knife, gun, etc.  And she has no patience for Gunther’s antics.  Still, she needs help from someone to save her cows.  Of course, the bear and the cows seem to be brighter than Gunther, but Gunther has a big heart and lots of determination.  He is also unlucky and quirky.  The reader will love Starla and Sterling as they “help” Gunther save the day.

The art is clean and bold. It is presented in large standard rectangle and square frames on each page.  The storyline is easy to follow and it is easy on the eyes. I cannot see children having any difficulty following along and old people should have no trouble with confusion either.  The dialogue is minimal, but fun. I liked the break from the capes. I liked the break from the oddly-positioned angles and frames. I liked the break from seriously long-winded dialogue from self-important superheroes.  I liked the way the good guys win and everyone lives to have more adventures. And I liked the cows and the bear.

4 stars

The Punisher #2

The Punisher 2

The Punisher #2 (2011)

  The new Punisher series that started in late 2011 is something that I have been picking up from the shelves. I have read the first two issues, so far, and am really impressed.  The biggest reason for my love of these issues has been the art – both the cover art and the interior art. I gave the first issue a “cover of the month” award already, but issue two has many of the elements that made me love the first issue’s cover.   Both are very bold, very colorful, and full of action.  I really love the art on the covers done by Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary, and Paul Mounts.

The interior art is also excellent – it’s been done by Marco Checchetto and Matt Hollingsworth.  I think I really like the work that these two artists create because I recognized their work immediately.  I had seen it before and loved it; they did some of the Daredevil/Shadowland stuff that I really enjoyed.  Some of the reasons I enjoyed that work is present in this Punisher series.  I love the art because its full of action – from a variety of angles that are not confusing or cramped – and the coloring and inking is phenomenal.  It’s really bold and colorful art, that cannot be emphasized enough.

The reason I am dwelling so much on the artwork is because I think most artists draw Punisher in a very dark and noir sort of way – or, at least, as they interpret dark and “noir.”  I can understand that and most of the time that is a successful method.  However, this colorful Punisher is awesome. Another difference is that Castle seems to be young-looking in this series. I like that because all of the other interpretations of Castle seem to make him edgy and grizzled. It’s a welcome difference to the character that I am appreciating.

In issue two, there are two pages in particular that I want to mention as being really good.  They are in the South Bronx at a criminal hang out and the Punisher is making an entrance. The color scheme is blacks and reds/pinks. This is quite fitting because it’s nighttime and it gives that bloody, seedy sense to all of the frames. There is a frame on the lower left page that shows Castle firing his sidearm and the fiery blast from the shot is excellent – I feel like I am right there in the scene.

The issues are being written by Greg Rucka, and while he is a famous writer, I really do not have much to say about him in general, besides name recognition.  So far in the Punisher series, I am liking the storyline.  I was slightly confused about the names of the people in the first issue, but now I am on board.  The second issue was well-written. I like how the Frank Castle is not speaking much and is just doing – and, of course, we know what he does.

The last page is a two-page spread of the Vulture surprising Castle. Again, the artwork has lots of movement and definitely makes the reader want to find out what happens next. Vulture looks scary in this shot, not goofy or silly. So, I do want to read the next issue.

4 stars

Black Blade Blues

Black Blade Blues

Black Blade Blues

This novel was published in 2010 and is the first novel by J. A. Pitts (John A. Pitts).  I have been trying to read up on genres that I usually paid no attention to such as urban fantasy, westerns, and so forth.  So I got this book on  lark because I liked that it was going to include some Norse stuff. Also, the main character is a blacksmith, which is definitely unique.

However, I did not like the main character at all.  She’s hardly believable.  But also, she’s just not a character I want to read about.  At all.  Sarah Beauhall is the daughter of really hyper-Christian parents.  She went to college for a degree in English (not unlike the author) and then somehow got involved in becoming a blacksmith.  She also works as an apprentice for another female blacksmith.  This was one of many things that irked me.  How many blacksmiths does the author think exist?  And of that number, how many, really, are female?   Beauhall is also in a SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) guild called Black Briar.  Anyway, Sarah is a bit too wild and rambunctious and she mangles all the friendships that she has.  She also gets fired from her two jobs (one as the apprentice blacksmith, two as the props manager for a movie group).  In the end, however, she’s the heroine that saves everyone and all is repaired in her relationships.

The plot is really quite predictable.  I really like the concept of utilizing Norse mythology in an urban fantasy setting.  I really do not like the way Pitts uses it.  I like the concept of dragons and Odin and witches.  I dislike using these concepts in a way in which all of the characters are somewhat petty, make dumb mistakes, and have obvious tragic flaws.  Also, the amount of relationship/romance fluff in the book is just downright obnoxious.  I guess Pitts wanted to focus on the characters in this manner, but honestly, I disliked all of it.  However, even supposing there was a reader who was all very interested in the relationship stuff, I think that by the middle of the book that reader, too, would find the incessant whining and acting-out of the characters to be tedious and tired.

Pitts does have a few interesting characters, like Qindra, but for the most part the characters are over-emotive and obvious.  The main character does have some snarky wit here and there, but it hardly makes up for her miserable whining.  Frankly, Beauhall is not a likeable character.  The dragons seem simply beastly, but though they have lived an exceedingly long time, they still make stupid mistakes and act over-emotionally.  (How does a DRAGON act over-emotively?!)  Overall, the book is not the worst book I have ever read. I could easily give it one star, but I do appreciate the overall general idea of the Norse mythology.  For that, Pitts is begrudgingly given a second star.

2 stars

Diving into the Wreck

Diving into the Wreck
Diving into the Wreck

Diving into the Wreck is the first in the “diving” series authored by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.  It was published in 2009, but (like many novels) originally the concepts were presented in short stories and novellas.  So far, the books in the series have been published by Pyr publishing in Amherst, NY.

Boss loves to dive historical ships, derelict spacecraft found adrift in the blackness between the stars. Sometimes she salvages for money, but mostly she’s an active historian. Once she’s dived the ship, she’ll either leave it for others to find or file a claim so that she can bring tourists to dive it as well. It’s a good life for a tough loner, with more interest in artifacts than people. Then one day, Boss finds the claim of a lifetime: an enormous spacecraft, incredibly old, and apparently Earth-made. It’s impossible for something so old, built in the days before Faster Than Light travel, to have journeyed this far from Earth.  She hires a group of divers to explore the wreck with her, the best team she can assemble. But some secrets are best kept hidden, and the past won t give up its treasures without exacting a price in blood.

 

The novel is broken into several parts:

  • Part one:   Diving Into The Wreck
  • Part two:   The Room of Lost Souls
  • Part three:   The Heart of the Machine

To be honest, I did not know this and when I finished the first part and started the second, it was a jarring experience.  A lot of time expired without any warning between the end of the first part and the start of the second.  In fact, it took several chapters for me to realize the storyline was actually continuing from the first part.  Finally, I began to see the connections and plotlines and I was happily reading along again.  Still, the train wreck between part one and two could probably have been smoothed a little bit.

This is not a “hard science-fiction” novel.  By that I mean, a novel which contains strict physics, chemistry, and biology and utilizes the science as much, if not more, than the fiction parts.  There are concepts that are definitely science-fiction in this book – particularly stealth technology.   The author does not involve herself in detailing and explaining the scientific aspects of the book.  In fact, the main character says several times that she is not a scientist and knows only what is necessary to fly her ship, dive the wrecks, or maneuver through the system.  I had no problem with this situation, although I know some readers focus more on the science.

I enjoyed the first part of the book. I liked how the main character (Boss) comes upon a mysterious ancient wreck and gets a team together to dive it.  I liked the (somewhat) slow pacing of the diving.  The reader can really tell that the author really thought through the concept of “diving” wrecks in space.   The whole story is supposed to be about “space diving,” so if this concept had not been so thorough, I doubt it would  have been a good novel.   The novel is, in climactic points in each part, suspenseful and gripping.  Diving a wreck in space, while at first seeming boring, actually is something I could read a lot more about.  It’s intense and fun.

I feel like I wanted more out of the Room of Lost Souls.  It is written about in a way that builds suspense.  It is a creepy and spooky sort of room.  Sure, as the main character learns more information, some of the “spooky” disappears as it is replaced by greedy human motivations and military science projects, but I wanted more out of the room.  I guess that though it is sufficiently written, these parts could have been awesome.  Nevertheless, the stealth technology becomes the main point and though we really do not learn much about The Room, we learn enough to wonder what will happen next.

The main character is a bit difficult to like.  She is a loner who takes her privacy very seriously – her ship is named Nobody’s Business.  She also tries to be a good judge of character when picking her dive teams.  Her inner monologue is not whining or vague, but usually to the point and on topic.  The dialogue is much the same way in the book.  Characters do not go on long-winded rants and raves.  They do not share with us inane things that are irrelevant to the story.  It’s actually quite nice to read a novel in which the dialogue is not the author’s big focus. Other characters are tolerable.  I know that we are supposed to really like the character Karl, but I just felt ambivalent towards most of the characters.  The character named “Squishy” is someone the reader will want to punch.

4 stars

Roman Blood

Roman Blood

Roman Blood

Roman Blood is the first novel in Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series.  It was released in 1991.  The novel takes place in Rome in the year 80 B.C.   The main character is Gordianus the Finder who is something of a detective, but honestly, he’s quite a bit more like a busybody.  He has earned a bit of a reputation for helping “lawyers” dig out the truth in criminal cases.  In this novel, Gordianus is hired by the character Cicero, who represents the actual historical character.  Cicero is defending Sextus Roscius who is accused of patricide.  Real life Cicero wrote about this case.

In ancient Rome, there was a lot of sex, violence, and greed. There was also a love of civic pride and posturing. And there was an unofficial/official caste system – so there were slaves. If any of this is disturbing, you probably should not read this book.  Saylor obviously knows his history and is a good writer.  The more “ribald” sections were not necessarily graphic and detailed, but the reader is not kept in ignorant bliss, either.  There is a scene early on, where Gordianus comes upon a slave having sex with the daughter of Sextus Roscius.  And the daughter has been the subject of incest.  (Thankfully, we are spared details of that.) However, this is a story about criminals in ancient Rome… this stuff happened. So man up and read onward or toss the novel aside.  Ultimately, this book is hardly more graphic and disturbing than anything on TV currently, so the majority of readers should not feign shock.

The storyline is pretty long.  There are a number of mystery novel misdirects, but usually it just seems that Gordianus is not very good at his job.  In fact, while Gordianus does a lot of footwork in the employ of Cicero, he does not really get to the truth of the matter any sooner than anyone else.  Nevertheless, it’s amusing and interesting to tag along with Gordianus as he interviews country folk, citizens, politicians, whores, and lawyers.

Cicero is supposed to be THE Cicero.  But I disliked the Cicero in this book immensely.  He’s really not what I, after all of my history studies, want him to be.  So I just pretend that this is some other Cicero in Rome.  As a reader, once I could do that, novel-Cicero did not bug me as much at all.  Readers who are devotees of Cicero and fancy him a hero might not want to read a book that does not present Cicero as an awesome guy.

The reader meets Sulla and Cicero and a whole cast of people that make up most of the facets of Rome’s populace.  Sometimes it seems that Saylor just wants to run us around the city meeting people and introducing us to Roman life.  While the plot struggles a little, due to sluggishness, it’s worth the effort because Saylor makes the characters we meet interesting and fairly representative of Rome.  Overall, I was pleased with the book and am going to continue onward in the series.

4 stars