Lando by Charles Soule and Alex Maleev – A Book Review

This is the Lando book you never knew you wanted.  Trust me.  I like Lando.  You like Lando.  Everyone likes Lando.  The only problem is, most of us don’t have much exposure to Lando beyond the two Star Wars movies he’s in.  Well, this book changes all of that.  This graphic novel features our favorite space pirate doing what he does best: stealing, charming, plotting, and fighting.

In all seriousness, Lando proved a breath of fresh air as it breaks from many of the Star Wars graphic novels and books in that it does not feature a main character saving a world, a village, or a child.  I love those other books, but they seem fairly formulaic in that regard.  This is a heist book, through and through.  Who’s Lando trying to loot?  None other than the Emperor himself, though Lando doesn’t know that.

Taking place well before The Empire Stirkes Back and at only five collected issues, the author, Charles Soule, manages to deliver a lot of story, back story, and characterization in only a brief amount of time.  Remember Lobot?  He’s in Lando, and I’m positive his character will surprise you.  We’ve also got an Ugnaught — you know, the little pig creatures.  Furthermore, there are Royal Guards, a new bounty hunter, two new assassins, and an Imperial governor who makes a short, yet potent, appearance.  Oh, there are also a few Sith relics that will prove quite interesting to you.

Lando really is a page-turner.  It’s fun.  It’s got an interesting plot that doesn’t take itself too seriously yet has actual ramifications.  Lando is a swindler, no doubt, but this book also shows us he has a heart of gold.  It cuts to the absolute core of his being.  It’s easy to believe that the Lando in this book will one day become a general in the Rebellion and beloved hero.

I’d also like to mention Alex Maleev, the artist.  Maleev won me over long ago with his seminal work on Daredevil.  I wondered how the understated artist would transition from the streets of Hell’s Kitchen to the world of space fantasy.  Not to worry, Maleev is top-notch and he can pretty much draw anything and make it look great.  Make no mistake, the art in this book is distinctly Maleev — his style is unmistakable.  Yet, even with his realistic depictions and moody tone, this absolutely looks like Star Wars.

Lando is due for a major resurgence with Donald Glover playing the famous character in the new Han Solo movie, and if Glover interprets him anything like the Lando in this book, I know he will reclaim his previous glory.

Like I said,  this is the book you didn’t know you wanted.  If you love Star Wars, you will love Lando.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Mighty Thor: Thunder In Her Veins by Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman – A Book Review

This new approach to Thor is both refreshing and inspired.  As you can see from the cover, Thor is no longer the Thor with whom you’ve grown familiar.  Thor is now, well, a woman.  A masked woman, in fact.  By the time this volume rolls around, it’s already established that the new Thor is actually Jane Foster, a long time supporting character in the Marvel Universe and one-time love interest to the previous Thunder God.

There are several reasons the Jane Foster Thor has completely won me over.  The first reason is that the entire Marvel version of Norse mythology is being reintroduced to the reader as she gets to know it on a very personal level.  As Thor, she’s more exposed to the gods than ever before, and it’s fun to see each Norse deity broken down to his or her most basic, and potent, element.  Consequently, I recently read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, and Jason Aaron, author of Mighty Thor, is actually staying true to quite a bit of the source material.  Marvel has never claimed to exactly represent the Norse gods as they appeared in legend, if they did Thor would have been a lot different indeed, but Jason Aaron does accurately reference some rather significant moments from the myths of old.

Another reason I’m captivated by Jane Foster as Thor is that she is always the underdog.  She’s always having to prove herself, whether it be in debate, strategy, or battle.  I imagine this could be considered representative of women in virtually all aspects of life, but in the case of this comic book, it’s a captivating recurring plot device.  We are accustomed to the old Thor handling everything that comes his way.  We know basically how he’s going to prove victorious and how he’s going to sound doing it.  With Jane, though, everything old is literally new again.

Finally, Aaron has upped the stakes significantly by killing Jane Foster every time she transforms into Thor.  Jane is fighting cancer, but the cosmic power of Thor counteracts her chemotherapy which results in Jane getting worse and worse every time she wields Mjolnir.  Foster is the epitome of valor as she chooses to help others while killing herself in doing so.  This contradiction is fascinating, especially because Jane Foster is a charismatic character.  I want her to be Thor, yet I also want her to survive.  This dichotomy is incredibly captivating.

Obviously, I love Jason Aaron’s writing.  Not only does he seamlessly blend authentic Norse mythology into his Thor stories, but he also understands what makes dynamic characters, pacing, and plot.  Best of all, he writes fluid, believable dialogue.  In the comic book industry, it’s rare for a writer to do all of these things well.

Also, Russell Dauterman, the artist, is fantastic.  Like Aaron, he utilizes an amazing ability to make the Norse gods look like the gods of myth, yet he’s also made them modern and even, in most cases, futuristic.  It’s a beautiful combination of myth, fantasy, and science fiction.  Most importantly, though, he creates dynamic panels that push both the reader and the action forward.  His drawings are detailed, well proportioned, well arranged, and his Thor is somehow the perfect combination of power and femininity.  On that same note, he also manages to make Jane Foster physically frail while still retaining a power and fire within her eyes and body language.

Honestly, I typically try to find something to critique in my reviews in order to offer some sort of objectivity, but with Mighty Thor I have no complaints.  For me, this is a perfect volume, through and through.  I can’t wait to read the next installment.

Image result for mighty thor

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Briggs Land by Brian Wood & Mack Chater – A Book Review

I’ve never been disappointed in a Brian Wood book, so when I ran across Briggs Land: State of Grace (Volume 1), I knew I had to check it out.  I’m so glad I did.

The premise is perhaps as relevant as ever in that Briggs Land is a self-proclaimed sovereign nation within the United States.  It has existed since the Civil War, and it’s been a place anyone can go who wants to live an unfettered life.  However, that simple life grew more complex as the years passed, and Briggs Land is now a magnet for extremism, white supremacy, corruption, and domestic abusers.

The current patriarch, Jim Briggs, has been incarcerated for years, but that hasn’t stopped him from ruling Briggs Land with an iron fist.  Yet, his wife, Grace, suspects he means to betray their people, and she can’t allow that.  Grace, who married Jim as a teenager, takes control of Briggs Land, and virtually no one is happy about it.  She must contend with her murderous husband, her conniving grown sons, her treacherous daughters-in-law, her unpredictable citizens, and even the federal government.  But trust me, if anyone can bend Briggs Land to her will, it’s this woman.

Of course, as a graphic novel, I would be remiss to ignore Mack Chater’s artwork.  Chater’s talent is uniquely suited to Briggs Land.  It’s a little rough, yet incredibly detailed and well rendered.  It fits the tone of this book perfectly, as well as the characters themselves.  I’m not sure I’d like this style in a Superman book, but this is nothing like a Superman comic.  Now that I’ve experienced the first volume, I can’t imagine anyone else drawing this title.  It’s a perfect match.

This is a deeply political book featuring violent, manipulative characters.  In fact, I can’t say anyone is particularly innocent, especially the protagonist, Grace Briggs.  However, Grace does have a sense of justice deep within her, but it’s still not apparent how universal that justice is.  She is incredibly helpful to some in need, but I’m not convinced her charity is available to all.

Though the book may not sound like a must-read, believe me when I say it is a captivating story delivered with excellent pacing.  Brian Wood is a master at using story to subtly explore contemporary political and societal issues.  I quickly found myself engaged with the characters and utterly drawn into the unfolding plot.  I completely recommend Briggs Land.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters – A Book Review

If you’re looking for a book that will send your imagination into overdrive, this is the one.  The idea in Underground Airlines is that slavery did not end.  Four states — Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi — did not abolish slavery, namely because the Civil War never occurred.  The Underground Airlines is much like the Underground Railroad in that it is a network established to help slaves escape.  Just as no actual railroads were used to liberate slaves in reality, airplanes are not utilized in this book as a means of emancipation.

Set in our present day, Underground Airlines features a black man named Victor working as a bounty hunter for the government and specializing in tracking down escaped slaves.  I won’t reveal why he pursues this troubling work, but know that he has his reasons.

He soon becomes ensnared in a case that unsettles him.  Nothing about it seems normal compared to his past cases, and when he finds himself embedded with double-agent police officers, uncompromising priests, and government shadow operatives, he loses all sense of whatever self he’d managed to preserve since his horrific childhood.

Winters impressed me on several fronts with this novel, but particularly because he really thought through what the implications would be of a USA that did not do business with four major states in the South.  He created a world very recognizable, but also starkly different.  And though he didn’t go into great detail with the small deviations, it was apparent that he knew exactly the backstory behind every off-brand cigarette, every imported Middle-Eastern car, and every alternate Bill passed by Congress.  He developed a reality in which Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King met very different ends, a world terrifying to imagine.

Yet, at the same time, Winters introduced a world not quite different enough from our own.  Much of the racism and bigotry that is expressed by characters in this book are absolutely touted in our world as well.  If anything, I think this book forces us to hold a mirror up to our own society and ask ourselves if we’ve gone far enough with our Bill of Rights, our Constitution, and the long-term effects of the Emancipation Proclamation.

However, though Underground Airlines touches upon several important social issues, it does not preach, it does not lecture, it does not even necessarily seek to enlighten.  This book is a thriller, through and through.

In fact, it managed to surprise me from start to finish.  Victor proved unpredictable, the story line took several different turns which lead to places I did not anticipate, and it maintained a level of excitement throughout that is very difficult to do.

Of course, in the interest of remaining objective, I must point out a few areas that did not work well for me.  My main complaint is that there are many times when unlikely saves occur.  Just as it seemed Victor had no hope of survival or escape, something always managed to intercede on his behalf.  This is totally in keeping with the genre of the book, but for those looking to it to be something other than a thriller, these moments may be something of a jolt.

Along those lines, while Underground Airlines is quite bold in its premise and obviously intricately contemplated by the author, I would not put too much pressure on the book to be something it isn’t.  There are great societal implications for those looking to find them, but the book should not be labeled as a work aiming to progress social cause — it would not be appropriate for social justice classes, for example.  It’s not written to serve that sort of purpose.

However, if you’re looking for a smart, well-written, page-turner with a complex plot, I highly recommend Underground Airlines.

 

Image result for underground airlines book cover

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day in which Jesus revealed one of the Twelve Disciples would betray him and issued his final command.

A few weeks ago, a woman from my church contacted me and asked if I’d like to fill in for the role of Simon the Zealot during their Maundy Thursday play.  It’s a reenactment of The Last Supper.  Though the thought terrified me, it also excited me, and so I said yes.  I’ve always regretted not getting involved in high school drama, so I figured, hey, even though I’m 40, better late than never, right?

I practiced and I practiced and I practiced.  The thought of messing up in front of my family and strangers drove me to perfection.  By the time our only rehearsal rolled around, I thought I had my short paragraph perfectly memorized.  As it turned out, I did not.

Fortunately, everyone involved were extremely nice with fantastic attitudes.  They were a forgiving lot, assured me I’d get it down before the night of the performance, and laughed everything off.  It wasn’t a terrible rehearsal, mind you, but it did not go as well as I hoped.  I decided to practice even harder, even going so far as dropping by the church and getting in some private rehearsal.  Spending some extra time working with the stage, playing with the room’s acoustics, and getting a feel for my body language renewed my confidence.

Tonight we performed, and it went splendidly.  I had the shortest lines of anyone, and the guys amazed me not only by how well they knew their lines, but also by how committed they were to their roles, how much energy they projected, and how much they seemed to truly enjoy the moment.  We did two performances — one at 5:00 p.m. and one at 7:00 p.m.  Both were wonderful experiences.

After both performances, we stood in the lobby and greeted the audience.  People were so appreciative of us!  It really touched me how genuinely they seemed to enjoy the play and how gracious they were to us for performing it.  Talking with the audience definitely made me realize how powerful acting out this seminal moment is for people.  Several folks told me that seeing our expressions, hearing our voices, watching us interact — these things made The Last Supper feel all the more tangible.  It reminded them that it’s not just some story — it is truth.

Of course, it helped that we had a fantastic director.  We were also shepherded by an  amazing lead actor.  The costumes were phenomenal.  The backdrop actually looked like the backdrop from da Vinci’s famed painting.  The sound and lights were top-notch.  For a small, humble production, I think it made quite an impression.

For my part, it’s the first time I’ve ever done anything quite so public with my church, and certainly my first time acting on stage.  I honestly hope they will ask me to play Simon again.  It felt good to be on stage.  It felt good to deliver an important message.  It felt good to see my family in the front row.  It felt good to work side by side with such devoted, kind men and women.  It felt good to give back to the church.

Happy Easter to all!

LastSupper22017

LastSupper12017

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them – A Movie Review

After somehow missing it in the theaters, I’m happy to announce I finally got around to watching Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.

First of all, I’d like to say that I’m really glad they are continuing to build the Harry Potter universe.  It’s a rich universe ripe for ample storytelling, and I think they got off on the right foot with this installment.  I especially like that they decided to set it in 1926.  This gives it a unique look while providing thousands of different narrative directions for future films.  Furthermore, setting it in New York also set it apart from the Potter films, which is vital if this new franchise is to thrive on its own volition.

I also loved the cast.  Eddie Redmayne is always interesting in his movies, and his New Scamander proved just quirky enough to be a fun, unique action star.  I loved that his Scamander seemed to have an awful time looking people in the eye.  Such a subtle, interesting touch.  Yet, despite his aloofness, he always emitted bravery and a caring heart.

Dan Fogler plays a regular guy who gets ensnared in the magical world and he is delightful.  His character, Jacob Kowalski, is lovable without being a buffoon, funny without being goofy, and has more heart than anyone else in the movie.  I believe his character really makes this film go.

I also loved “Queenie,” a character played by Alison Sudol.  She played her character with such joy, such spirit, it was hard not to root for her.  I’m so glad they seem to be having a romance budding between Queenie and Kowalski.  They are both incredibly likable — even more so when together.

Finally, it’s wonderful to see Colin Farrell back in great form.  He played a character called Graves, and I won’t say much about Graves for fear of spoiling the plot.  If you enjoy Farrell in general, you’ll appreciate his Graves.  Farrell always has so much going on behind his eyes …

So, yes, there’s a lot to like about this movie.

Unfortunately, there’s also a lot I didn’t like about this movie.

First of all, the plot proved really … cumbersome.  Considering this is an original script, it seemed awfully convoluted and felt like it was derived from some other source material.  The Potter books always served their adapted films as a crutch.  Not so with this one.  We don’t know this story and so it had to be clearer for us to follow.

Along those lines, it also ran too long.  I actually got a little bored around the middle of the movie.  Why did I get bored?  Well, the plot took a while to get going, and a lot of time got invested in showing the “fantastic beasts.”  They were cool, don’t get me wrong, but the big ones looked very “special effects” to me.  This could be because I watched the film on DVD instead of Blu-Ray, but they looked out of place next to the living actors.

I also had a horrific time understanding Redmayne.  I’ve seen several of his movies and never had such difficulty making out what he said.  There were entire lines of dialogue I missed due to a very thick accent.

I’m also not exactly sure what is going on with the main villain, Gellert Grindelwald.  … Wait, just Googled him.  … Oooooh.  That’s cool.  Wish I’d refreshed myself on all that before watching this movie.  Hmm.  I’d forgotten Gellert Grindelwald played a role in The Deathly Hallows.  Be careful to avoid spoilers, but you may want to search that name and how it relates to Albus Dumbledore.

Do I recommend this movie?  Absolutely.  It’s not perfect, but it’s very good.  It’s got some charismatic actors in place that will definitely be able to prop up the franchise as it continues.  Though I had trouble understanding his accent, Redmayne delivered a character that’s easy to support and admire.  I’m especially looking forward to seeing more of Fogler and Sudol.  All in all, I’m excited to see where this series goes!

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Stories Of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang – A Book Review

As you know, I loved the film Arrival.  As is my habit after watching a great movie based on a book, I immediately acquired the source material.  It turns out that Stories Of Your Life and Others is actually a short story collection and “Story Of Your Life” is specifically the installment that served as Arrival’s source.  However, there are seven other shorts in this collection by Ted Chiang, and they are all imaginative and thought-provoking.

Chiang trained as a computer scientist, and it shows in his writing.  He is very precise, very analytical, and very scientific.  Yet he also has a great sense of character, pacing, and detail.  I especially appreciate that he seems to know the appropriate time to really delve deeply into scientific jargon, but he also knows the right time to pull back and simply let the story flow.

I would not say that all of his stories are purely science fiction, by the way.  “Tower Of Babylon,” for example, explains the science behind building a structure reaching to the heavens, but I would say it is more commentary about the human spirit than anything.  “Hell Is the Absence Of God,” a story about the physical, spiritual, and emotional consequences following sporadic visits by actual angels, is also far more about what it means to be human than anything else.

In fact, at their root, most of Chiang’s stories in this collection are investigating the plight of the human condition.  He tackles love, greed, beauty, sin, justice, obsession, honesty, and even eternal life, but he does so in extremely smart, original, and imaginative ways hidden within the genres of science fiction, steampunk, and fantasy.

If you enjoy innovative, thought-provoking stories, I highly recommend this collection.  They are all fairly complex reads, but well worth the effort.  You will like some more than others, but each is to be appreciated in its own way.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)