Batman: White Knight by Sean Murphy – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ve read a lot of Batman stories in my day, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like Batman: White Knight.

Published under the DC: Black Label imprint aimed at more mature audiences, Batman: White Knight is a stand-alone collection that exists outside of regular Batman continuity.  Because of this, anything can happen.  Even so, for a book that is disconnected to the monthly Batman stories, it is oddly beholden to them as well as to the cartoons, video games, and movies.  More on that in a moment …

White Knight embraces a simple premise — What if Joker became good and Batman turned evil?  Now, the story is not quite that simple, but that’s the central concept.  Sean Murphy dives deeply into that idea while also exploring familial bonds, corrupt politics, abusive relationships, and mental health.  Like I said, this book distinctively examines content in a way that is unrivaled.

However, even though the story kept me guessing, certain aspects struck me as obviously recognizable.  For example, White Knight pays homage to the classic animated series, all of the Batman movies, the old live-action TV show, the comic books, and even the various Batman video games.  It’s as though parts of all of that happened in this Batman’s past, but in a way that we can’t fully understand.

Make no mistake, however, Murphy’s depiction of Batman and Joker, as well as their supporting cast, is what makes this book so enticing.  This is a Batman even more unhinged than in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.  This is a Joker unusually sane.  This is a Harley Quinn gloriously empowered.  This is a Commissioner Gordon realistically compromised.  This is a Gotham City genuinely broken by its atypical combination of criminals and vigilantes.  And though the book is gritty, it’s also not afraid to be bombastic.  Murphy offers an ending that seems like something out of The Fast and the Furious — and I mean that as a compliment.

Finally, Murphy is the writer and artist on this title, so I wanted to address his line work.  His Batman is feral, intimidating, and a force of nature.  Murphy tweaked the costume just a bit, but it’s his use of shadows and shading that really makes his panels pop.  Speaking of costumes, I love the slight alterations Murphy made to everyone’s look in this book.  You’ll know who’s who, don’t worry about that.  The changes he made were simultaneously appropriate and dynamic.

If you’re a Batman fan but feel like you’ve seen it all, give White Knight a chance.  It will strike you as extraordinary.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

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Star Wars: Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray – A Book Review

Star Wars: Master & Apprentice is a new book written by Claudia Gray.  It features Qui-Gon Jinn and his relatively recently appointed Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  As you’ve probably guessed, it takes place before Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

I looked forward to reading this book for two reasons.  The first is that Qui-Gon Jinn is a fairly enigmatic figure in the Star Wars mythology.  I haven’t seen much of him in other books, graphic novels, cartoons, or movies.  I felt excited not only to learn more about him as a person, but to also examine his dynamic with Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The second reason is that I enjoy Cladia Gray’s Star Wars voice.  Her novel, Star Wars: Lost Stars, remains one of my all-time favorite Star Wars stories due not only to its unique characters but also because it connects seamlessly to major Star Wars events.  True, I didn’t find her two Princess Leia books as engaging, but I hoped Master & Apprentice would recapture the magic of Lost Stars.

Unfortunately, Master & Apprentice suffered the same fate as those other two Star Wars books featuring Princess Leia in that it gets far too bogged down in political complexities without any actual character growth or revelations occurring.

It started off on a good note.  Several references were made to Count Dooku which led us to believe he could make an appearance in this novel, especially because Dooku trained both Qui-Gon and a newly revealed Jedi named Rael Averross.  Rael is older than Qui-Gon, so it’s initially interesting to see that new side of Master Jinn.  There are also ample teases that Darth Maul could be working from the shadows.  This would make perfect sense as he’s later revealed to be the Phantom Menace.

Furthermore, early on in the book, Qui-Gon is invited to join the Jedi Council, which would mean he would have to relinquish his role as teacher to Obi-Wan.  Obi-Wan feels betrayed by this possibility, which further damages their already-strained relationship.  In this book, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon rarely see eye-to-eye on much of anything and are typically not on the same page.  I found this refreshing, though, to be honest, it is not especially innovative compared to other Master/Padawan duos that we’ve encountered.

So, as you can see, there is a great deal of rich character conflict available for exploration in Master & Apprentice.  Sadly, most of it falls by the wayside in favor of a political story pertaining to a child about to be named Queen and her connection to an intergalactic corporation hoping to gain control of a hyperspace corridor.

Frankly, I found the first two hundred pages of the novel a little uneventful.  Things started heating up for the last one hundred and thirty pages, but, in the end, nothing substantial happens to our favorite characters.  They are primed and ready for The Phantom Menace, but, other than improved communication skills, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are basically unchanged.

More often than not, this seems to be a theme in the Star Wars novels that I’ve read.  They delve far too much into political intrigue without any serious ramifications to the characters we care about.  Lost Stars proved special in that it created two brand new characters, made them important to us, mixed them in with major beats from the Star Wars movies, and then sent them through some serious character development.

Master & Apprentice had wonderful potential.  Acknowledging Dooku was really cool, but it went nowhere.  We really didn’t get that much of a better feel for Qui-Gon than we do in The Phantom Menace.  Obi-Wan is also virtually the same as he’s depicted in The Phantom Menace.  Rael seemed like an important addition, but even he remained unchanged by story’s end.  And those hints at Darth Maul?  Nothing came of them.  I hope that’s not a spoiler, but I don’t want you to be disappointed.

I really get the feeling that the authors of these books are being hamstrung by a corporate influence.  While they create complicated conflict, in the end, none of it really matters to the overall Star Wars story that we know and love.  Perhaps it’s just me, but if these books don’t somehow improve upon the characters or events that draw us to them, then what is the point of their existence?

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – A Book Review

I picked up this thin book after enjoying the Netflix series. As I’m prone to do, I wanted to experience the source material.

For those of you craving a more detailed version of the show, prepare to be disappointed. However, if you’re willing to accept The Haunting Of Hill House on its own merits, I think you’ll have a nice read.

Shirley Jackson published The Haunting Of Hill House in 1959. This, of course, predates Stephen King and the brand of horror that we now come to expect. Interestingly, though, I think you’ll find that The Haunting Of Hill House has its own unsettling moments–they are simply just far more subtle, nuanced, and psychological.

To briefly summarize the book, Dr. Montague has gathered a few people together to study Hill House. One of them is Eleanor. She is a young woman isolated from society due to a sickly mother, but very much hoping to rejoin the world now that her mom has passed. Another woman Theodora, is something of a medium, and she bonds with Eleanor immediately. Luke Sanderson is in line to one day take ownership of the home, and he is there to make sure the doctor doesn’t take any liberties with the estate. The four of them immediately hit it off. They experience some disturbing sounds, and doors have a tendency to close without aid, but the real terror of the house emanates from the home itself. To the adventurers, the house simply feels evil. Much of the book establishes the characters and their interpersonal relationships, but then, finally, near the end of the book, the home’s influence rears its true power.

I have to admit that the first three-fourths of the book perplexed me. Not much occurred in regards to a haunting; in fact, Jackson seemed most interested in depicting her four main characters as quick-witted, jovial, and entertaining people with whom to study ghosts.

When the understated horror begins, though, it is all the more potent due to the characterization. We care about these characters, as well as their ultimate fates.

If you enjoyed the Netflix show, this read is worth your time. You’ll obviously recognize some names and scenes, but the show definitely deviated into something far more intricate. Even with that being said, I found this book’s brand of horror refreshing. It didn’t try too hard to scare me, which served the story very well. There’s an old saying that less is more–The Haunting of Hill House proved this to certainly be the case.

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Acceptance (The Southern Reach Trilogy) by Jeff VanderMeer – A Book Review

I did it!  I finally finished this series!

Sorry.

That’s not very eloquent.

You’ll remember that I enjoyed the movie Annihilation, so I read the source material of the same name and found myself … less impressed.  I let a bit of time pass by and then gave the second book–Authority–a chance.  It also failed to win me over.

So you may be wondering why I bothered to read the third book called Acceptance.  I’d like to say I’m a completest, but, if I’m being honest, I just wanted some kind of answers regarding Area X and the Southern Reach.

I’ve got some good news–Acceptance proved more enjoyable than its predecessors.

Everything about Acceptance was superior to the first two installments.  I particularly found the narrative style effective.  VanderMeer elects to alternate chapters between Ghost Bird, the Director, the Lighthouse Keeper, and Control.  By doing this, we are given access to the thoughts of characters we, other than Control, haven’t really before experienced.  The fact that we were just as ignorant as the characters in the first two books regarding the events plaguing them frustrated me to no end.  With Acceptance, we finally experience revelation … sort of.  More on that in a moment.

Now, I’m the first to admit that the main reason I liked Acceptance is because it finally gave me some insight into Ghost Bird, Area X, Southern Reach, the Lighthouse Keeper, and the Director.  Trudging through the first two books should not be a prerequisite to liking the third, however, and I realize this position is a little contradictory.  By the way, the irony of the third book’s title did not escape me.

But, the truth is the truth.  If you read Annihilation and Authority, I guarantee you’ll find Acceptance worth your while.  Be prepared, though.  While it revealed enough to satisfy me, you won’t get much in the way of hard and fast answers.  VanderMeer sets the stage well enough to let your own imagination fill in the gaps, but there is no concrete conclusion to The Southern Reach Trilogy.

I fully accept that.

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Manifest Destiny: Fortis and Invisibilia by Dingess and Roberts – A Book Review

The Manifest Destiny series continues to be perfect for those who love the comic book genre but are not fans of super heroes.  Now on its sixth volume, Manifest Destiny details a fictionalized account of Lewis and Clark as they explore America’s new west.  Thomas Jefferson tasked them with this exploration, but the premise is that history has it wrong.  It wasn’t just to map the area and find a waterway to the Pacific, but also to record and eliminate any super natural creatures posing a threat to future American pioneers.

In this latest volume, Lewis and Clark, as well as their party, have built a fort in order to hunker down during the winter.  However, the men grow weary of the leadership, they grow lustful for the few women in the group, and they grow mutinous against the chain of command.  To make matters worse, the entity for whom we thought spoke only to Lewis?  It’s expanding its influence.

Manifest Destiny began as an adventure comic with touches of horror as it offered both accurate and fictionalized accounts of Lewis and Clark’s travels.  However, Chris Dingess has transitioned the book into a psychological thriller as the men are growing stir crazy in their fort, trapped by nature itself, as well as perhaps the supernatural.

Matthew Roberts continues to blend historically accurate scenery with terrifying creatures throughout.  The clothing he depicts particularly astounds me.  I’d love to know his research methods.  It all seems quite meticulous.  Furthermore, when violence occurs in this book, it is not for the squeamish.  I also appreciate that the colorist, Owen Gieni, has opted to use fairly muted colors to match the eerie tone of isolation and winter.  The book once sported vibrant greens and lush vegetation, but no longer.  It’s a subtle touch, but a deft one.

I have very much enjoyed this series so far.  I highly recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction, horror, thrillers, and fantasy.  Not to worry if you’ve never read a comic book.  No one is perfect, and you’ll figure it out quickly.  I know you will become hooked on this title.

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Authority by Jeff Vandermeer – A Book Review

You may remember that I read the first book of the Southern Reach Trilogy, called Annihilation, in anticipation of the movie.  You may also remember that I wasn’t crazy about it.  However, I eventually saw the movie and loved it.

So even though I didn’t like the first book, the general premise and the movie itself tempted me to give the second literary installment a try.

I recently finished Authority, the sequel to Annihilation, and it left me rather apathetic.  The author, Jeff Vandermeer, elected to change course from the first book and focus instead on the Southern Reach facility, the entity responsible for sending the team into Area X from the first book.  Our main character is no longer the biologist who narrated Annihilation.  Instead, Vandermeer is using a third-person narrator with the story squarely settled on “Control,” the new head of Southern Reach.  Control (John Rodriquez) moves throughout the book utterly confused.  Like the reader, he has no idea what is going on in Area X, nor does he understand the full scope and history of Southern Reach.

In the beginning of the book, I accepted Control’s chaotic immersion into Southern Reach.  I assumed that he would soon solve some of the enigmatic entity’s mysteries.  Instead, Vandermeer chose to pile even more mystery upon both Control and the reader.  Though some revelations arrive, both Control and the audience are left feeling even less informed than they did before!

I basically plodded through most of this book.  The ending intensified, but for the most part, I never fully invested in neither the story nor Control.

However, I’ve come this far, so guess what I’m reading now?  Yes, Acceptance, the third part of the Southern Reach Trilogy.  Like Control, I seemingly have to know Area X and Southern Reach’s secrets, no matter what level of discomfort occurs during the process of discovery.

I have a feeling, though, that the third book will ultimately disclose nothing.  That appears to be the pattern.  I’ll let you know.

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – A Book Review

Probably like you, I grew intensely interested in this book after watching the first season of the Hulu adaptation.  Though it’s been available since 1985, I regret to reveal that I only recently sat down and read it.

As you no doubt suspect, it absolutely lives up to its reputation.  My only disappointment lies in the fact that the Hulu series is so true to the novel that there isn’t much in the way of “surprise.”

Until the end, that is.

The last ten pages of the book absolutely riveted me.  I did not anticipate the drastic change in direction, but I found it completely appropriate and, when compared to the ambiguous nature of the exterior world surrounding Offred, satisfying.

If you are unfamiliar with general plot of the novel, it occurs in the near future.  The east coast (and maybe more) of the United States has been overrun by an ultra conservative religious group that picks and chooses Scripture to interpret literally.  Because sterility plagues the country, the commanders of this new order, and their wives, are allowed a “Handmaid,” which is a fertile woman forced into servitude.  She is there to copulate with the commander for the sole purpose of providing a child.

The story is told from Offred’s perspective, the Handmaid belonging to the commander known as Fred.  We learn snippets of her present as well as the history of her past.  The fall of our civilization as we know it, while brief and segmented in the novel, is horrifying nonetheless.

This new regime takes it upon themselves to terminate intellectuals, free thinkers, and anyone that does not adhere to their ideologies.   Women are objectified and rendered powerless, all in the name of Scripture.  Ironically, but not surprisingly, the commanders in the novel are blatant in committing “sin” without fear of reprisal.  They bask in it–in fact, they celebrate it among one another.

Most disturbing, however,  is the fact that the last ten pages gloss over all of this travesty.  Without spoiling too much, these grievous violations are looked upon as a means to an end, an uncomfortable moment in history.  All is well, and so thus we mustn’t worry too much about what happened in the past, no matter how terrible.

My fear is that this book is prophetic.  In this day and age, it certainly seems so.  It is warning us about how quickly it can all fall apart.

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