Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

Wonder Woman is nothing if not a contradiction.  She is warrior of peace, after all.  She absolutely believes in truth and justice, yet she will fight to the death in pursuit of those things.  This complexity of character, an attribute that has always accompanied Wonder Woman, came especially to the forefront during Brian Azzarello’s masterful time on the title.  Within the last six years, it came to light that she was not only the child of the Amazon queen but also of Zeus himself!  To further add depth to the icon, she eventually became the God of War!

Greg Rucka embraces all of these contradictions and uses them to create a gripping first installment to what appears to be a captivating story line.  In Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1, Wonder Woman remembers two distinct pasts, two separate lives, and she wants nothing more than the truth concerning these contradictory recollections.  She uses a unique approach to achieve this desired truth which sets her on a new path, and this new journey will seemingly put her in direct conflict with the entity Wally West is warning of in DC Universe: Rebirth #1.  I love that already Batman, Flash, and Wonder Woman know something is amiss, that they are being manipulated and watched, and it’s only a matter of time before they do something about it …

Two artists are featured within this issue.  Matthew Clark handled the Wonder Woman for whom we are familiar, and then, half way through the book, Liam Sharp takes over when Wonder Woman ditches her New 52 costume and adopts more traditional armor befitting an Amazon warrior.  Consequently, this new armor is very similar to what she wore in her big screen debut last March.

Rucka, like Azzarello, delivers a complicated, multifaceted Wonder Woman with a clear mission in mind.  He is treating her with dignity, respect, and as the capable hero she is.  Like The Flash: Rebirth #1, this issue seems integral to the overall story unfolding within the DC Universe.

I left Wonder Woman after Azzarello’s departure because I didn’t care for the way the new creators handled her, but Rucka has definitely brought me back.  I can’t wait to join Wonder Woman as she discovers her truth.

 

 

 

 

 

The Flash: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic Book) Review

You may remember I went a little goo-goo for DC Universe: Rebirth #1.  I’m very happy to say that The Flash: Rebirth #1 is a can’t-miss connection to that seminal issue.

The first several pages establish Barry Allen’s character and background in case anyone is new to the title.  But then Wally West appears exactly as it happened in DC Universe: Rebirth #1, and it prolongs that moment, makes it even more emotionally resonant, and provides direction for both Wally and Barry.  Then, unbelievably, it goes even a step further and takes Flash into the Batcave to discuss that yellow pin Batman found.  I won’t spoiler any of the actual conversation, but this issue absolutely seems pivotal to the imminent conflict I personally cannot wait to witness.

So from a plot standpoint, this issue is extremely important to where Barry, Wally, and even the DC Universe is headed.  In that regard, I deem it required reading.

I also want to note, though, that The Flash is one of my all-time favorite heroes, and I have to say I much prefer Wally over Barry because I grew up alongside Wally West.  (Again, check out my ecstatic raving …)  However, this issue features the most likable and identifiable Barry Allen I’ve seen since the New 52’s inception.  Joshua Williamson seems to have a great handle on Barry’s persona and, let’s face it, Barry is so much better with Wally by his side.  Like Superman, Barry has always struck me as a father figure, a pure hero.  He is at his best when he is caring for those closest to him, and he needs those closest to him present in order to shine.  I absolutely believe Wally and Barry can share the Flash mantel.  They’ve done it before after Barry’s initial return … they can do it again.

I enjoyed Carmine Di Giandomenico’s art, but it definitely benefited from Ivan Plascencia’s colors.   This is a supreme case of the coloring making the art standout.  They both work together to denote forward movement, fluidity, and ultimately speed.  They are a good team for this character.

Quite honestly, I think this is my favorite Flash comic since the New 52.  It’s got heart, soul, and it seems to be filled with crucial plot points.

Bats Of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson – A Book Review

I should say from the outset that this book warrants a second read.  I’ll explain why in a bit.

If you’re a book lover like me, you need to own this work.  Not because it’s a terrific story, but rather because it is so original in format.  I often discuss with my friends the next steps that book publishing should take, and productions like this may be the answer.

Bats Of the Republic takes place both in the future and in the past.  It is comprised of old letters, field journal drawings, handwritten notes accompanied by sketches, chapters from a fictional book written to exist within this book, technical schematics, as well as electronic messages.  It boasts photographs, a fold-out map, beautiful illustrations, and a very (literally) long letter you can take out of an actual envelope.

Its overall design is exquisite and it is, undoubtedly, a multifaceted work of art.

So, even with all that being said, the story itself did not satisfy.  It’s an interesting read, of that there is no doubt.  But it is somewhat repetitive, the plot seems to serve the design, the characters struck me as inexplicably motivated at times, and, frankly, there were moments when I didn’t quite follow why anything happening proved important to the overall story.

However, because there is so much to digest, because it is so visually interesting and spans so many different eras and formats, it is entirely possible that I missed an important aspect of the plot.  I plan to reread the book this summer with fresh eyes and see if I pick up on things previously missed.

Even so, if the story proves to disappoint on a second reading, I will still unabashedly recommend this work to friends on the strength of its design alone.  This is a step forward in publishing, and it’s one that needs to be experienced.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – A Book Review

When I heard Steven Spielberg planned to direct a film adaptation of this novel, I knew I had to read it first.

The premise is fascinating.  The year is 2044, and America has gone completely down the tubes.  The recession is in its third decade, there isn’t enough food, there’s not enough housing, there aren’t enough jobs – it’s bleak.

Luckily, there exists an open source virtual reality called Oasis.  In it, you can be anyone, and it’s literally a universe of possibilities.  That is where the majority of people spend their time, spend their money, and spend their lives.  It’s an escape from the every day world, a world with which less and less people care to interact.

Our protagonist, Wade Watts, is a teenager who excels in this video game world.  In the real world, well, he doesn’t have much going for him.  But in the VR world of the Oasis, he’s got great skill, even if not great means.

That is, until the Oasis creator, James Halliday, died.  He had no wife, no family, and no heirs, yet he had more money than virtually anyone on the planet.  As a lover of pop culture from his own childhood, especially the ’80s video games, Halliday left a puzzle within the Oasis, and whomever solves this puzzle first wins his entire wealth.  All of it.

Wade Watts knows he can do it.  He knows he can solve this impossible game embedded within thousands of VR worlds.  He knows he can overcome the thousands of other competitors.  The only question is, can he survive when some of these enemies come after him in the real world?  What happens when he deals with real killers?

If you grew up in the ’80s, you will love all the references in this book.  If you grew up as a gamer in the ’80s, this is probably a dream come true for you.  This is one of those rare books where I think the movie will surpass the novel because of the very visual virtual world it’s based within.  In one scene, you may have an X-Wing Fighter flying alongside the Enterprise with Voltron in the background.  It’s that insane because in this VR world of Halliday’s, there is no limit.  (Although I do have to wonder if copyrights will impede the movie at all …)

That’s not to say the book is perfect.  Even though it develops the plot both entertainingly and intricately, it ultimately falls a little flat at the end.  I won’t spoil anything, but it ends on a rather predictable note – it’s an ending we’ve seen before.  It will be perfect for Hollywood, don’t get me wrong, but for such an imaginative work to end on a bit of a cliche, well, I personally felt disappointed.

That’s not to say I don’t recommend the book – I do!  It offers an interesting glimpse into our potential future and doesn’t shy away from how people would probably use such a thing, which, in turn, is offering commentary about our obsession with technology even in the here and now.  It is generally well written, very descriptive, humorous, exciting, and fast-paced.  However, I think those inclined to ’80s pop culture and those passionate about video games will love it most.

 

 

The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins – A Book Review

I picked this book up based upon a considerable amount of buzz in my community.  I have to be honest, I nearly didn’t make it past the first chapter.  Our main character is Rachel, and in the beginning, the story is told solely from her perspective.  Because I found her so boring and, frankly, pathetic, I didn’t know for sure if I could continue.  But then It became very clear by the end of the chapter that she is a drunk, unreliable, and possibly deranged.  Though slow at first, once these characteristics arise, the book suddenly became very interesting and Rachel transformed into a figure I’ve never quite experienced in books.

In fact, I became so engrossed in the book I could hardly put it down.  Rachel is seemingly stalking her ex-husband and his new wife, has constructed a fantasy world for the people she sees in their homes as she rides the train, and is generally falling apart as she makes one awful, drunken decision after another.

A mystery begins, though, concerning some injuries she suffered during a blackout.  Plus, a very violent crime arrives, one tied to her ex-husband and a specific couple she fantasized about from the train.

The book is addictive in that it plays with timelines, revealing tidbits of information at different intervals and demands the reader put them together chronologically.  As the book progresses, it also offers other perspectives, specifically from Megan, the woman Rachel fantasizes about, and Anna, Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife.  Through these various perspectives, you learn that none of these women are completely honest, and some of them are downright dangerous.

Near the end, however, the book completely lost me.  I won’t spoil too much, but Rachel, one of the most unconventional and original female characters I’ve encountered in quite some time, becomes totally beholden to the men in the story.  In fact, the entire story line hinges upon her ex-husband and the man Rachel fantasizes about from the train.  The women suddenly serve only to propel the plot, to act as tools of the men, and that’s a real travesty considering the magnificent characterization unfolding up to that point.

Slade House by David Mitchell – A Book Review

Much of the promotion surrounding this book touts it as a haunted house story, a work of horror.  However, it readily became apparent that it is nothing of the sort – it’s an unrelenting companion piece to The Bone Clocks.  In fact, if you haven’t yet read The Bone Clocks, I wholeheartedly recommend you read Slade House first.  It serves as an excellent introduction to that book’s general plot and tone.

Like The Bone Clocks, Slade House is fairly direct storytelling from David Mitchell.  Yes, he bends genre brilliantly to suit the story’s needs, and his ideas are inventive as well as captivating, but the writing isn’t necessarily difficult to read.  In fact, I rather like the fact that Mitchell is streamlining his style a bit.  Make no mistake, though, this is still an extremely creative artist who forges worlds masterfully.

Though a quick read, Slade House forces us to dive deeply into the lives of doomed characters, characters connected from one decade to the next, characters with no hope against the monsters hunting them.  But, as you well know, monsters always have hunters of their own, and I believe the reader will be satisfied by this tale’s conclusion.

East of West: Volume 4 by Hickman and Dragotta – A Book Review

East of West continues to be one of my favorite series.  In this fourth volume, HIckman and Dragotta continue to expand their complex world, even going so far as providing maps and timelines.  This series is a little bit western, a little bit alternate history, a little bit science fiction, a little bit near-apocalyptic dystopia, a little bit social, political, and religious commentary, and a whole lot of action.

The United States is not united in this story.  The South, Texas, the Native Americans, and the Chinese all have a territory and do not get along. In fact, all-out war festers due to political and religious conflict.  To complicate matters, Death rides the plain, separated from his Horsemen because they want to destroy one of the only things he cares about – his son.

Each volume reveals new depths of story, and characters become more and more complex as the series progresses.  Though there is a multitude of characters, each is given a moment to shine, and each is fascinating.

The artwork is surprisingly simple, yet always dynamic.  Each character has a distinct body language and “look.”  Death, in particular, always jumps off the page.  The action flows from panel to panel, yet their is also a nuance to the scenes.  You’ll find little details in the most unexpected places.

This is a must-read series.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – A Book Review

A friend recommended I give We Were Liars a read, and so I promptly picked it up at my local library.  I’m unfamiliar with E. Lockhart, but the blurbs, particularly John Green’s, encouraged me.

Most of We Were Liars captivates.  Our main character and narrator, Cadence, belongs to an old old money family and she, along with her cousins, spend their summers on their own private island off the coast of Massachusetts.  Something happened to Cadence on that island, though, something that resulted in amnesia, crippling migraines, and depression.  The majority of the book sets up the mystery, providing clue after clue as it races along, and it is difficult to put down.

However, the ending fell a little flat with me.  Without giving anything away, I felt the conclusion switched direction without much precedence and that abrupt shift in tone disheartened me.

We Were Liars features young adult characters.  They are filthy rich thanks to their racist grandfather and probably too clever.  We even have a festering teenage romance between Cadence and Gat, an Indian cousin who is not really blood-related and forever falls into the category of “outsider.”

But despite some of the genre’s cliches, I must admit the sparse language, short page count, and mysterious plot kept me turning page after page.  I think some will love this book and most will like it very much.  Sure, the ending disappointed me, but the book as a whole proved satisfying.

Though, admittedly, I think John Green may have been a little too generous.

The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith – A Book Review

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, yet I chose this book solely because of just that.  I saw the cover art on First Second’s (@01FirstSecond) Twitter page and then immediately picked it up at my local library.

I didn’t know what to expect from The Alex Crow even after reading its synopsis.  It’s comprised of three seemingly unrelated stories that, as you probably guessed, ultimately merge.

The first story focuses upon Ariel, a Middle Eastern refugee trying to make sense of his tortured past and his perplexing present after a family in West Virginia adopted him.  They also have a son Ariel’s age and a reincarnated crow named Alex.  Alex is not reincarnated in the strictest sense.  Ariel’s new father works to reintroduce formerly extinct species through his scientific endeavors.  Ariel and his new brother, Max, are soon sent to camp where they are meant to bond.  Unfortunately, the camp is intended for boys addicted to gaming, and when surrounded by teenagers going through cold turkey, both Ariel and Max feel as though they’ve been dropped into an asylum.

The second string focuses upon a mad bomber named Leonard Fountain.  Leonard believes he’s trailed by an invisible drone, hears voices, and has skin that is literally falling off his body.  He drives his U-Haul around the countryside, listening to the voices help him find the perfect place to detonate.  As fate would have it, he’s connected to the Alex Division of the Merrie-Seymour Research Group, the very company where Ariel’s adopted father works.

The last plotline features a doctor in the late 1800s aboard the Alex Crow, which is a sea faring vessel attempting to reach the absolute north.  When the ship becomes trapped in ice for months on end, the doctor and his shipmates must fight for their very survival.  They eventually find something encased in the ice, something long since dead, something hellish, and the doctor knows then and there that he must somehow reincarnate it, even if it takes a century.

The Alex Crow’s genre is undefinable, which is the highest compliment I can offer any work.  Though it features young adults, this old man very much enjoyed it.  At times the book is brutally realistic, especially when revealing Ariel’s past, but it also holds nothing back in the realm of science fiction.  It is at times adventuresome, creepy, absurd, touching, unsettling, and thought provoking.  Amidst its multifaceted threads, however, it is consistently humorous.  The humor is sometimes good-natured, sometimes discomforting, and sometimes inappropriate, but it is always there.

Though I’ve discussed the major beats of The Alex Crow, this book is complex beyond description.  One must read this book truly to experience Smith’s originality, intricacy, and hilarity.  I highly recommend you do so.

Foxcatcher by Mark Schultz – A Book Review

Of course, after seeing the mesmerizing film of the same name, I had to go directly to the source material. I’m happy to report that Mark Schultz’s account of his time with John du Pont is a fascinating read that puts a lot of the movie in the proper context.

Let’s be clear, Foxcatcher the film took some artistic liberties as you would expect any movie to do.  However, according to Schultz’s nonfiction writing, most of the movie’s high notes were accurate.  Things were embellished a bit, and the timeline was condensed heavily, but it seems as though the movie truly captured du Pont’s oddity and, to be fair, even Schultz’s.

The first half of the book recounts Schultz’s early life, how he came to wrestle, his life victories, his missteps, and he seems to do so honestly and with humility.  He is the first to admit his intensity made him aloof during competition and practice, and that people often misunderstood his brooding silence.  The film really played up this aspect of the man.  Schultz practically deifies his older brother, and who can blame him?  It sounds like David was every bit as likable and charismatic as the film depicted him, and after meeting such a horrendous end, how can we speak poorly of a surviving brother praising his lost loved one?

The second half of the book is when I became acutely interested.  Of course, this is when du Pont enters the scene.  Schultz clearly hates du Pont, but even so, he did not spout only nasty things about the man.  In fact, I was actually surprised that Schultz remained far more objective concerning du Pont than I would have expected.  He confesses his own errors with du Pont, he laments putting up with as much as he did, and he regrets ever playing a role in David and du Pont meeting.  However, his role was not as great as the movie would suggest, and he certainly wasn’t quite the victim the movie made him out to be.  Schultz in fact did stand up to du Pont and left on his own terms more so than the movie stated.

If you were captivated by the film, I urge you to read the book.  It is a sobering recollection of an already disturbing story, and it offers insight into the only surviving member of the trinity, a man we really did not get to know all that well beyond the surface – Mark Schultz.