Month: February 2012

False Gods

False Gods

False Gods by Graham McNeill; Black Library

After having read and completely loved the first book in The Horus Heresy series (Horus Rising), I was really excited to get into the second book.  Horus Rising was fantastic and in this blog I gave it five stars. I do not give out five stars for novels very often.  Horus Rising was written by Dan Abnett, whom I am starting to really love. This book, False Gods, was written by Graham McNeill. So, even though I was anxious to dive into this book, I had all the usual concerns one would have:  oh, sequels are not as good, and oh, it’s a different author and he won’t be able to write as well, etc.

False Gods was released not too long after Horus Rising. I think they were probably published at the same time and just released a bit apart on purpose.  False Gods was released in June of 2006.  The third book was released in October 2006.  Obviously, these first releases were kept close as a sort of beginning trilogy.

At first, I felt okay with McNeill’s efforts. Then, I got a little nervous as I felt that the novel was wandering and sputtering slightly – so, of course, I panicked. But, as I read on, all the little threads started to tie together. The meandering tributaries joined up and we hopped into a roaring river.  Rest assured, McNeill is as capable and skilled as he needs to be to have written this novel.  Dan Abnett’s novel was excellent and so is this novel.

Even though I am a Warhammer/40k fan, I can truthfully state that anyone unfamiliar with that universe can hop right in to the Horus Heresy novels. They can and they should – this is science fiction war-drama that is probably the best ever written. I honestly cannot think of a reason why a reader would avoid or hesitate to read this series. This is a mighty recommendation I am giving and I, myself, cannot wait to get my paws on the third book.  The cover for False Gods was done by Philip Sibbering.

False Gods continues where Horus Rising left off, more or less. There are several points in the novel where I had to stop, close the book, and just worry and fret about the characters. Or sometimes sniff my nose at some of the sad or touching parts. When Horus hollers at Maloghurst, I felt the intensity. When Horus honors Maggard, I felt his pride and joy. As Loken despaired when Horus fell, I felt the panic and confusion. Finally, when Angron tore through the planet – I felt how horrific and terrible he is. So, judging by reader reaction, I am quite certain this book deserves high marks.  As far as the storyline, I was pleased. We have been following the exploits, in the main, of Loken and this seems to work well. Finally, things come to a head regarding the purpose and utility of remembrancers. The results of Erebus’ actions are continued from the previous novel and they form the backbone of the story in this novel.

But Horus. What can be said about Horus? And what can be said about the Emperor? I don’t know who’s side to be on. I can’t believe Horus! But then, how am I so certain about the Emperor, when I have never met him and know nothing about him, save what Erebus has said?   Like I said, it is imperative to get book three as fast as possible. If you buy book one, you should probably get the next two so you can keep right on reading along. The reader gets their money’s worth and the paperbacks are handsome enough to be on a shelf decently and properly. The font, used in most texts from Black Library, is easy to read and clear.

5 stars

The Defenders #1 (2012)


The Defenders #1; Marvel Comics

The Defenders is (yet another) team-up group in the Marvel Universe.  This relaunch of this group is a spin-off of some of the Fear Itself (awful 2011 event) storylines.  Anyway, this is the first issue in this new volume and it is written by Matt Fraction, penciled by Terry Dodson, inked by Rachel Dodson, and colored by Sonia Oback.  I really disliked Fear Itself (written by Fraction)  – even though I really wanted to like it.  I am enjoying the Invincible Iron Man volume which is also written by Fraction. So, here I was testing out this title.  I like the characters involved, even though I really don’t like the cover or the writer.

The cover has the Defenders posed in front of the enemy that they have assembled to battle.  Honestly, I really dislike the cover because the characters on the cover look like paper cut-outs that were just stuck on the pale-colored monster.  Namor in particular looks horrible – look at his right hand, it’s a fish hand!  Really, this is not a nice cover at all and it kind of hurts me to look at it. I really should not speak further on the matter.

Overall, the entire issue has a rather vintage feel to it. This is definitely something I think Fraction planned, because it’s too obvious not to be the case. When I say “vintage,” I mean the yellow boxes, the page guides in the bottom margin, the character title boxes, etc. There’s a lot here that really reads like a late 1980s or early 1990s comic book.  That’s not a bad thing; in fact, I rather enjoyed this aspect. It’s a bit “refreshing” to have a bit of a return to those issues.

Page 2 is all about the big bad monster. Page 3 introduces Doctor Strange – and I really hate this introduction.  Ugh. It’s a “morning after scene” with the Doctor sprawled in a pink bed in a messy room while the chick from last night informs him “This was a mistake.” Ugh. Bleechhh. I hate that this is how Fraction introduces Strange because it’s not classy at all, and I think Strange is classier than this. I hate how Dodson draws the scene, it’s not really how I would picture this scene – if I was forced to do so. Luckily, the story moves right along and Hulk busts into Strange’s room.  It’s a funny entrance:  Wong apologizing for not halting Hulk! Enter Namor into story. Enter Silver Surfer. But, then we get She-Hulk (red She-Hulk these days, folks!) and her entrance is really priceless. In fact, the frame that brings her into the story is what is responsible for my giving this comic more than one star.

Red She-Hulk Chasing Bulls

Red She-Hulk Chasing Bulls

This is not Jen Walters, this is Betty Ross. I think I prefer Jen Walters, but this is really my first time seeing any Red She-Hulk. (She was created in 2009 by Jeph Loeb.)  I just really got a kick out of She-Hulk in Pamplona – chasing the bulls and screaming “Come back and chase me, you cowards!”  That’s funny; a little silly and stupid, but funny nonetheless.

Ultimately, the story is absent. Hulk says some stuff about where the monster came from and why its a threat, but the reader does not get much by way of Hulk’s words. And then, the entrances of all of the characters except She-Hulk are obnoxious. These are not heroes, they are obnoxious jerks and this issue is about getting them all in one place and on the same quest – whatever that may be.  On the last page, the group seems to meet yet another character – who has them cornered. Overall, the story is pretty much what one expects from Matt Fraction.  The art, too, is somewhat weak. I like the effort to make the issue seem “vintage.” I like She-Hulk’s entrance. Other than that? Not too much here to really like.

2 stars

Green Lantern Corps #6 (2011)

GL Corps 6
Green Lantern Corps #6; DC Comics

I like science fiction, particularly kosmic space science fiction. Naturally, since I love comics and Green Lantern, I am fond of the Green Lantern Corps.   However, I have not really read many GL Corps books. In fact, I think this 2011 reboot of the New 52 is the first time I’ve read six issues in a row – and that may also be the most I’ve read of the GL Corps.

The cover for issue #6 was done by Andy Kubert and Alex Sinclair. I think the dark red background is done quite well. I like the basic layout here.  However, and this has been said on other websites, the oversized “artillery” on the cover is a bit much. I also do not like the “smoking” gun stuff. I think this is a good basic cover, but ultimately, it will never be a pinup anywhere.

The issue was written by Peter J. Tomasi and drawn by Fernando Pasarin. This is the “climactic” issue of the first six-issue storyarc for this title.  This issue is entitled “Fearsome” and continues where the previous issue left off.  In other words, these are not stand-alone issues, you gotta start at the beginning for any of this to make sense.

Page four has two long frames on it – and both are really cool. I think Pasarin did a great job here and this is the kind of creepy, futuristic science-fiction stuff that I really want to see in a title like Green Lantern Corps.  Page four’s artwork definitely is a keeper. However, the big fight scene in the middle of the issue (full-page spread) is a piece I don’t really like. At first, I thought this was nicely done. However, after looking at it again and again, and then re-reading the story, I am not really fond of this particular spread. Frankly, it just looks messy. Now, I know battle on faraway planets with ring constructs and aliens is bound to be chaotic and messy. Yet, I still feel that I have seen my share of full-page spreads covered in battle that were done a lot better. I really just don’t like this “centerfold.”

There is another page that needs to be discussed:  the full-left-page that shows John Stewart killing Kirrt. The art is well done here, nothing tremendous, but definitely well done. I was surprised to see this turn in the story. It happens rather suddenly, I feel, and I was a bit “shocked” when I came across it.  Stewart, though a soldier through-and-through always seemed to be the moral core of the the Earth Green Lanterns. Even though he thinks like a soldier – he always seemed to remain the most calm and look for a way to minimize death. So, this was surprising. After all, this is what I would expect from Guy Gardner.

The Green Lantern Corps wins the day by using a “fear bomb,” which may seem a bit hack to some readers – but I enjoyed it. I liked this using things at-hand instead of using some complicated newly-created idea. I like Gardner’s wide open approach and I like that it worked as it was expected to. Sometimes, I get a little tired of heroes who cannot even complete the simplest task. It was nice to see a plan that was effective.  Now, I assume Tomasi is going to continue with the Stewart hook – he showed regret at having killed Kirrt, so I would think this was not simply a two-frame deal for him.

So I think this first arc was a success. There were some questionable points, but there was also some good writing/art. I think that this is a solid start for this title and I am interested to see this kosmic storyline develop.

3 stars

Invincible Iron Man #511

Invincible Iron Man

Invincible Iron Man #511; Marvel Comics

I have been reading Invincible Iron Man for several years now, I think since the Extremis armor storyline.  The numbering of this particular title has, of course, changed but this is actually the 46th issue in this volume (2008).  For the most part, this volume has been above average, but nothing has been really awesome amazing.  In other words, this is a solid Marvel title with one of the classic characters.

I am not a big fan of writer Matt Fraction; in fact, I am not really a fan at all, but I am trying to be kind. Last year, Fraction’s event Fear Itself was a bloody mess and aggravated a lot of Marvel readers. Fraction’s been writing this volume since issue #1, however, and has done a decent job.  Every issue that I read is good – but the writing is not the strong part, the art is. Salvador Larroca’s artwork is phenomenal and perfect. I love it. Every issue I look at I find myself saying things like: “Hey, that’s a really good frame” or “This art is really quite good.”  So, ultimately, I am not sure where this title would be without Larroca.

The above holds true for issue #511.  The storyline is good enough, albeit a little tired. I feel after 46 issues, we are still in the same exact arc as issue #1.  Now, I know that Iron Man has his particular villains that he constantly battles and that contained storylines are something of a rarity in today’s comic industry. However, I feel like we are having some sort of groundhog day stuck-age where we are moving forward and moving forward, but just not going anywhere. The thing is, it’s interesting (fighting Ezekial Stane and the Mandarin), but we have been doing it for 40 issues. Looking at the whole volume, it’s easy to see developments and progression, but at the same time, I feel there is this lack of anything happening. It’s a very odd read – which is why I was complaining about Fraction.

However, as long as Larroca keeps drawing, I am going to keep reading. His artwork is fantastic and, honestly, not enough readers/critics are talking about it. It really ought to be praised more than it is. Maybe after all these issues, everyone has started to take it for granted. I haven’t though, because reading this issue I was still impressed with the art.

Pepper Potts by Larroca

angry Pepper Potts by S. Larroca

Here are two of my favorite frames from this issue. The first is of Pepper Potts. Potts is angry and frustrated. Maybe even a little hurt. And Larroca is able to display all of these emotions on her face in such a way that it doesn’t make Pepper look silly, constipated, or blah.  You can look at this frame and almost empathize with Pepper.  It may seem like a “simple” facial drawing, but it actually conveys Fraction’s storyline better than Fraction’s words.

Sasha Hammer by Larroca

Sasha Hammer by S. Larroca

Another frame that really, really caught my eye was of Sasha Hammer. She’s standing in front of the Detroit Steel tech and the media, with dozens of cameras, is eating the scene up. I was trying to imagine a shiny piece of armor as a backdrop for a saavy, catty chick like Sasha. I then imagined all the camera’s flashing and the media crowded around her while she basks in the attention.  When I stopped imagining, I found that Larroca had been in my brain had had drawn precisely the image that I had imagined. Really. I mean, I love how her hair looks, I love the incline of her head, I love the sunglasses. Of course, Larroca’s art here is perfectly completed by colorist Frank D’Armata. The “blurry” colorful background with the flashbulb reflections in the sunglasses is awesome. Really. I mean, you feel like you are right there in the scene at Hammer Industries’ Hanger with the arrogant Sasha Hammer.

4 stars

Thief of Thieves #1

Thief of Thieves 1Awhile ago, on some previews listing (I don’t even remember if it was online or print?), I saw that Image Comics is celebrating their 20 years (1992 – 2012).  Also, Image was pushing their products for this big year. I’m ambivalent toward stuff that Image puts out – although lately, they’ve had some stuff that has pulled me in.  For example, I am really fond of Moriarty. I also have seen things I like in Lil Depressed Boy.  I read one issue of The Last of the Greats, and while it was very different from everything else I read, I was not certain that it was a good read. I ought to try another issue of that. Another series I approve of is Reed Gunther. So, in the past year I feel that Image has really upped their game, so to speak.  One of the previews that I saw for 2012 Image titles was this Thief of Thieves series.

This is being plotted by the famous Robert Kirkman, written by Nick Spencer, and drawn by Shawn Martinborough.  I know that a lot of reader appeal is due to the name-recognition of Kirkman on any title. However, what drew me in was actually the cover and the solicitation:

Conrad Paulson lives a secret double life as master thief Redmond. There is nothing he can’t steal, nothing he can’t have… except for the life he left behind. Now, with a grown son he hardly knows, and an ex-wife he never stopped loving, Conrad must try to piece together what’s left of his life, before the FBI finally catch up to him… but it appears they are the least of his worries.

I want to first mention the last page of the issue, which is a letter from Robert Kirkman regarding comics and this particular title. The novelty of this series is two-fold. First, it is a non-superhero story. Second, it is a story being almost written for TV via comics. I quote the Kirkman letter:

This book brings to the comics medium the same kind of story you’d get in a movie, novel or a TV show, but we’re utilizing the strengths of what our medium has to offer in order to tell the story.

Of course, my instantaneous response was a mental demand for Kirkman to enunciate just what those “strengths” of the comics medium are. Anyway, I like the positivity I feel from Kirkman and I admit, I am really okay with a comic book that does not involve superheroes.  Now, of course, there have been plenty of comic books that do not involve super-powered aliens wearing capes. However, let’s face it, few of them have been great. Some have been passable. Many have been mopey and drama-ridden. So I am really ready for Kirkman to write a solid book.

Overall, I liked the layout of the story in this issue. I also was rather impressed with the artwork. It’s nice artwork that is different from the usual fare – but not so different that it’s uncomfortable or odd. I liked the shadowing and the framing a lot. The dialogue is a little sparse in places, I understand that that is for effect, but I could have used a little more explanation.  The story needed a little more meat and potatoes to it, but it’s not terrible at all. And the last frame has the hook that definitely will have readers buying issue #2.

I often write that I have high expectations for first issues.  Because of that and because this issue needed a bit more substance, I think I’ll have to give it only three stars.  However, I am more than willing to read on in the series and see what happens. I do feel this title has immense potential.

3 stars

Red Cavalry and Other Stories

Red Cavalry

“Red Cavalry and Other Stories” – I. Babel; Penguin Classics

I am not as familiar with Eastern European and Russian literature as I am with the usual Western European classics.  This ignorance seems to be common.  We, in America, are spoonfed Charles Dickens, amused by Cervantes and Dumas, badgered by Jane Austen, and bored by Thomas Hardy.  No one ever introduces us to Pushkin or Babel.  If you’re especially lucky, you might meet a drama by Chekov or one of Dostoyevsky’s works briefly.  Needless to say, I knew Isaac Babel was a Russian-Jew who liked being mysterious and was executed by “The State.”  So, I read Babel’s “Autobiographical,” “Odessa,” and “Red Cavalry” stories.

I did not take away, so to speak, a whole lot more than I started with.  The stories (which blur the line between historical fact and fictionalized history) are all in media res, confusing, and abrupt.  The “characters” are impoverished and sometimes immoral.  Their dialogue is nearly incomprehensible at times.  Overall, the tone of all the stories is dark, miserable, and mad.  I feel that much of what Babel wrote would make a lot more sense if the reader was a Russian-Jew living in, say, 1915.

The first story I read was “Old Shloyme.”   It is a very “Jewish” story. But more important, it’s the most morbid, dismal, miserable, and unhappy story ever written.  It’s not even “tragic,” it’s just depressing to the core.  I describe the characters as despondent, desperate, and utterly bereft of joy.  Strangely, nestled in the core of the story:  the indefatigable Russian spirit full of determination and willpower.  Tucked inside the awful impoverished reality is this kernel of the absurd.  The word that I want to use is “supra-sane.”  Supra-sane is that misty area that occurs after the all-too-sane devolves into madness and the insanity is so thoroughgoing that it becomes sane, or normal, again.  It’s the yin/yang concept.  This is one of the greatest short stories ever written because it is so miserable and abrupt, but also contains the trademark Russian stubbornness and willfulness. The character Shloyme is both mad and completely sane, but moreso, he’s Russian.

“Red Cavalry” continues with the same feeling of bordering on insanity.  By this I mean situations that are so strenuous and chaotic that the only response that helps survival is a response of equal madness.  I suspect the Polish-Russian war was like this for Babel. Call Joseph Heller up and tell him to cite Babel as a reference for Catch-22. Babel had been assigned to the first cavalry, under the marshal Semyon M. Budyonny.  Budyonny actually has quite a history in the Red Army, with Stalin, and with horses.  I can also see why he took issue with Babel’s depictions in “Red Cavalry.”  But, if reading these pieces by Babel inspired anything in me, it was to learn more about Budyonny.  So, of course, I want to read Budyonny’s The Path of Valor, which, as I understand it, is a five-volume memoir.  I doubt it’s as colorful and unique as Babel’s “Red Cavalry.”

Maybe Babel is not writing supra-sane stories.  Looking at “Red Cavalry,” I wonder if Babel did not witness one or two “people/events” and then spent his time working and re-working what he witnessed into a narrative.  Babel cannot tell us the exact truth, but he also cannot lie.  The stories are historical narratives from the Babel-filtered ink.  No wonder Babel seemed mysterious.

The most famous piece of “Red Cavalry” is the story “Salt.”  I feel I would be remiss not to mention it.  It is both startling and muscular.  If anything, the story really typifies Babel’s writing.  What does it mean to be a member of the Second Platoon? Who/what are they fighting for?  Who suffers justly and who suffers unjustly? These are the questions the reader will be confronted with in this piece. Also, there is the very Russian concept, or Zeitgeist, of labor/toiling/work.  In my reading, I felt there was an undertone of salvation through work. I do not know if that is accurate, but it is my reader-response. It is not surprising that “Salt” is so famous. The wartime noir-feeling heavily resonates throughout the story.

3 stars

Horus Rising

Horus RisingI have begun reading the Warhammer40k novels, and I started not with this one, but with another written by Dan Abnett.  This is, therefore, the second novel in the Warhammer40k library that I have read.  This novel is the first in the Horus Heresy series.  Horus Rising was first published in 2006 and there are (as of the time of this blog post) 18 total novels in the series. This book begins as somewhat of “pre-history,” that is, it takes place in the 31st millennium. It’s a good place to gain entry into the Warhammer40k universe.

According to Wikipedia:

Horus Rising details the rise to power of Horus Lupercal, Primarch of the Luna Wolves, after the Emperor of Mankind appoints him Warmaster, overall commander of the Imperial military and in charge of the Great Crusade. Much of the focus is on the Captain of the Luna Wolves’ 10th Company, Garviel Loken, as he becomes a member of the Mournival (an advisory body to Horus), and his involvement in campaigns against non-Imperials and aliens at the close of the Great Crusade.

The main character is Captain Garviel Loken, who the reader follows in both present-time and flashback stories. The major characters of this story are not simply military soldiers – but genetically advanced, high-tech armored warriors. These legions of warriors are called Astartes. They are governed by a simple chain of command:  Sergeants, Captains, Primarchs, Warmaster, and Emperor.  These huge legions of “men” are on the Great Crusade, which is basically an aggressive military march across the universe to subdue and conquer any world, species, race that is not man. When this is accomplished on a world, it is called bringing the world into “compliance.”  Compliance basically means being entirely subjugated to the Imperium of Man – recognizing the Emperor and his will.

Dan Abnett writes good books.  I know because of the fact that this novel is science fiction and involves space warriors in the future that immediately no one feels the need to consider it literature. All science fiction is treated as somehow “other” and even classics (e.g. Asimov’s Foundation) are only given begrudging acceptance by the “literate reader.”  I won’t go so far as to say that Horus Rising is great literature, but I do insist that it will be overlooked simply for the fact that it is science fiction.  What I love about Dan Abnett’s Warhammer40k novels (so far), is that they manage to bring out the best elements of The Iliad and drop them into the 31st millennium.

There are, at least, a dozen well-written military science fiction novels and series that would be good to read. These include the Honor Harrington, Kris Longknife, and Starfist novels. However, unlike those, Dan Abnett’s Warhammer40k novels seem to make the warfare and the characters a lot less artificial and a lot more significant. Also, there are zero instances of sex, bad language, or foulness in Abnett’s novels. I like that. I like that to tell us a gripping tale of politico-military adventure, strife, and crusading, the author does not feel the need to include some off-beat, random sexual interlude.  And even though the reader is dropped directly onto the vicious and grueling battlefield, the reader is not subjected to ridiculous dialogue, drawn-out gory scenes, or silly sound effects.

I whipped through the pages of this book. As an aside, the font is easy to read and doesn’t strain the eyes at all. However, there were times that I had to put the book down – I did not “want to see what was coming.”  You know those moments in books wherein the tension is high and you can see some of the threads of the storyline culminating – and you have befriended the characters so much that you don’t want anything bad to happen to them? Yeah, I was there several times during this book.

Lastly, one of the best things Abnett is able to do, is educate the reader on future war tactics, chains of command, army structures, planetary alignments, high-tech weapons, etc. – but without actually detailing out in multiple paragraphs the encyclopedic information.  The reader, at first, is a little off-kilter, but everything gradually begins to work it’s way out, until the reader is completely comfortable concerning bolters, lasguns, Warmasters, and iterators. The storytelling here is excellent, the characters are interesting and can bond with the reader, and the writing style is fun and entertaining. These are good books.

5 stars