Injustice by Tom Taylor – A Book Review

I’m not a gamer, but I heard the DC series titled Injustice, which serves as an introduction to the video game, regularly impressed readers.  When I happened across it at my local library, I knew I had to give it a read.

Wow.  I’m glad I did.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the Joker manipulates Superman into killing his wife, Lois Lane.  Superman loses it, punches Joker through the chest, and then promptly establishes a new world order in which all countries must be peaceful or suffer his wrath.

But this is not a maniacal Superman.  Taylor is brilliant in that it is still largely the Superman we know and love, but it’s a Superman who, little by little, loses his famous sense of morality.  Like all the best villains, he firmly believes he is in the right, and when things go wrong, it’s never his fault.

Of course, Batman has no wavering morality issues, which puts he and Superman squarely at odds.  Batman forms a team to challenge Superman’s Justice League which is comprised of Wonder Woman, Shazam, Green Lantern, Flash, Cyborg, and others.

Anything goes in this title, and no one is ever safe.  That sort of climate makes it an exciting, unpredictable read, which is something mainstream super hero titles need.

Consequently, many of the characters are, well, out of character, particularly the Flash.  I’m glad that Taylor makes Flash the most hesitant of Superman’s acolytes, the one who questions their actions, but, in the end, I realize this book is a different take on our beloved heroes and so I’m willing to accept heroes like Wonder Woman and Cyborg acting harsher than usual.

If you’ve seen the video game, you know how radical some of the costumes are.  Batman’s works very well in this comic book, others, such as Catwoman’s, falls very flat.  Most of them are interesting variations on an already established theme, such as with Nightwing, Robin, and Green Arrow.

If you’re a DC super hero fan, I think you’ll enjoy this title.  Sure, it explores ideas already established by titles such as Kingdom Come and Red Son, but it does so more deeply and at a much more satisfying pace.  In fact, that’s how I would describe this title – very satisfying.

I cannot wait to check out the rest of this series’ installments.

Son by Lois Lowry – A Book Review

I read The Giver in high school and adored it.  I loved its abstract nature while still rooting itself mostly in reality.  I recently watched the film adaptation, and doing so inspired me to revisit the book.  Because three companion pieces came out between the time I read the original work and the movie, I felt compelled to read the entire quartet.

Gathering Blue and The Messenger proved to be a rather large departure from The Giver, happening in the same “universe” but still only loosely related.  Both of those books leaned far more into the realm of fantasy than science fiction, and I frankly had trouble connecting to the ambiguous morality tale they assumed.

Son, however, offered the best of both worlds.  It begins in The Giver’s community, but it ends in the village of the other two books.  As most will agree, Son is a direct companion piece to The Giver as it initially occurs parallel to Jonas’ story.  It follows Claire’s story, a birth-mother who doesn’t last long at her assignment.  She yearns to be with her only child, which is a rarity in the community, and takes drastic action to do so.  However, she’s beaten to the punch by Jonas, and it becomes fairly obvious rather quickly that Claire is Gabe’s mother.  It seems Gabe was destined to live as it is revealed he had two protectors all along.

Once Gabe is taken, Claire decides to do anything to be with her son.  Through a series of hardships and obstacles, and though it takes years, she eventually makes her way to The Messenger’s village where Gabe is now a hearty young man.  Claire, unfortunately, is now unrecognizable thanks to a vicious evil, an evil which Jonas declares Gabe must eradicate.

When I initially read The Giver, I related to Jonas as he was similar in age and temperament.  Interestingly enough, I now relate to Claire as I am the father of two children myself.  I understand her innate need to be with her child, to love her child, to protect her child at all costs.

Son utilizes both science fiction and fantasy as it begins heavily with the former and ends almost exclusively with the latter.  I personally found it ended more akin to a fable than anything, and I honestly felt disappointment as Claire took a backseat to Gabe when the story became his.  I cannot argue, though, that it ties the previous three books together nicely and answers some frustrating questions introduced in The Messenger.

Son is a worthy conclusion to The Giver even if it is a departure in both tone and theme.  I am so glad to know Jonas and Gabe’s fate, and Claire cemented herself as a pinnacle character in the series as well.  I have no doubt young adults will particularly relish Lowry’s tale of overcoming evil, the enduring love of family, and the call of morality we all should heed.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley – A Book Review

If you come looking for seconds on Scott Pilgrim, you won’t find them.  With that being said, though, Seconds is anything but disappointing.

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s new graphic novel features Katie, a woman nearing thirty years of age who leaves her partnership at a restaurant called “Seconds” in order to open a new one.  However, this new restaurant needs a lot of remodeling before it can open, and Katie constantly second-guesses her decision.  Furthermore, her ex-boyfriend shows up at Seconds and she begins to question her decision to leave him as well.  Why is Katie still haunting her old restaurant, you ask?  She lives above it in a little apartment, so she thinks nothing of loitering about the business, chatting up customers, and telling the new chef how to do his job.

Katie begins to see a girl that doesn’t belong around the restaurant and hanging out atop an old dresser in her apartment.  When she checks out the dresser, she finds a batch of mushrooms far back in one of the drawers.  These mushrooms come with a set of instructions that, if followed correctly, will allow the one who ingested them a second chance at just about anything.

Consequently, during her new restaurant’s renovation, the workers find an old pot behind a wall.  Katie brings it home. This pot serves as a catalyst to a supernatural upheaval, one that grows worse with each “do-over” Katie strives to achieve.

While O’Malley’s art is the same, and while some of the jokes are purposefully familiar, this book is completely different than Scott Pilgrim in that Katie’s story is grounded in realty with heavy swatches of the supernatural.  Yet, as dark as it can be, Seconds still retains a hopeful tone, even as Katie suffers through angst and indecision.

O’Malley has captured well that sense of “what-if?” we all dwell upon in our twenties when we know every decision we make will impact the rest of our lives.  In the end, O’Malley, through Katie, provides astute insight in regards to those kinds of thoughts, and while we philosophically can appreciate his message, poor Katie actually has to learn it the hard way.

Seconds is funny, thoughtful, dark, and yet irrefutably optimistic.   O’Malley has created a well-constructed tale that is clearly the result of careful plotting.  It is similar enough to Scott Pilgrim to entertain that character’s fans, yet original enough to delight solely due to its own merits.

 

Manifest Destiny: Amphibia and Insecta by Dingess, Roberts and Gieni – A Book Review

This first volume of Image Comics’ Manifest Destiny absolutely blew me away and rocketed to the top of my favorite titles.  If you’re unfamiliar with the work, it follows Lewis and Clark’s expedition into the unknown.  They have been officially charged by President Jefferson to explore and map the region.  Unofficially, however, they are to locate and exterminate any threats to American citizens, both natural and supernatural alike.

In this second volume, author Chris Dingess traps the crew in the middle of the Mississippi River.  Their ship lodged against the top of a great underwater arch, much like the giant floral arch they encountered in the previous installment.  Clark leads some men ashore to explore while Lewis stays behind to figure out how to dislodge the ship.  Unfortunately they soon realize an enormous frog monstrosity hunts these waters, and it enjoys the taste of human flesh.

Furthermore, Clark and his men must battle gigantic mosquitoes that appreciate all the human body has to offer, and it’s more than just blood.

Dingess provides an incredibly satisfying solution to both problems, though the crew suffers greatly before an escape is made.  And though this plot may sound a bit silly, I assure you, it had me figuratively on the edge of my seat.  It’s been a while since a book had me in suspense as much as this title did, especially because Lewis and Clark’s own crew members are far more malicious than the creatures they endure.

Matthew Roberts provides beautiful art.  The entire story takes place in the wilds of America, and he draws Nature untamed perfectly.  Furthermore, when it’s time for over-sized frogs and huge mosquitoes to make their appearances, he draws them as absolute terrors.  Honestly, this is not an overt “horror” title, but there are some horrifying moments, to be sure.

And, just as Roberts knows how to draw our natural world, Owen Gieni always chooses the best colors.  I’ve said this about Gieni before, but how someone can make a title full of earth tones so vivid is beyond me.  I feel colorists are always unappreciated, and so I hope you’ll take a moment to recognize Gieni’s immense talent.

Manifest Destiny has it all.  It’s packed with action, suspense, terrifying monsters, organic dialogue, riveting plots and, as the last issue of this volume proves, some potent moments of hilarity.  By far, this is the most satisfying title I’m currently reading.

Brain Power by (Not) Annie Proulx – A Book Review

I am an Annie Proulx fan.  I’ve read the majority of her books, including her nonfiction, and I plan to continue reading anything she releases.  When I saw Brain Power, released December of 2014, I assumed it must be some sort of parody project on her part.  She’s got a great sense of humor, and with the Homer Simpson cover and the fact that it’s self-published, I figured Proulx was simply having some fun and I wanted to experience it.

Let me say from the outset that this book is not by Annie Proulx.  I don’t know why her name is on the cover, but the interior pages list John Gerveso as the author.  Some quick research revealed that he’s published similar projects in the past through Amazon’s CreateSpace.

This book takes itself very seriously and seems to be a self-help book.  Why is Annie Proulx’s name on the cover?  I have no idea. Why is Homer Simpson on the cover?  No idea on that one, either.  I suspect permission was not granted on either account.

What I do know is that if you are an Annie Proulx fan, this book appears to be using her good name fraudulently and I advise you to avoid it at all cost.

I will return this book to Amazon.com immediately.

Please do inspect the pictures below as proof.

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Lazarus: Family by Greg Rucka – A Book Review

I picked up Lazarus out of curiosity because Amazon kept suggesting I read it.  I’m familiar with Greg Rucka’s work, so I thought it would be worth my time.

The first volume of Lazarus, entitled Family, did not disappoint, though I must admit that I probably won’t follow the series.

The world is now owned by the very wealthiest of people, called Family, and everyone else is simply considered Waste.  Each of these Families has a protector, and they are called the Lazarus.  Family focuses on one particular Lazarus called Forever.  She believes she is among the adult children of the family Carlye, and while she is certainly the favorite, she is not what she believes.

Forever has the ability to mend from virtually any attack, so survive almost any encounter.  She seems to be an expert warrior, well-versed in any and all weaponry, and agile beyond compare.  However, the reader must wonder if she’s intended to have the morality she’s developing, especially as it becomes even more apparent this is not a conventional human being.

Family involves a lot of action, plenty of intrigue and deception, interesting political and societal implications, and stunning art, but it didn’t capture my imagination enough to keep me invested.  However, that doesn’t make it “bad.”  I think those readers who enjoy such stories will find it captivating.

The Humans – A Book Review

A friend recommended I give The Humans a read, so I thought I’d give it a try.  Written by Matt Haig, The Humans is about a mathematician who is killed and replicated by an alien.  The alien must eradicate anyone the mathematician shared vital information with concerning a breakthrough concerning prime numbers.  The alien’s race believes this revelation will advance humanity beyond its means and lead to utter destruction.

 

What makes this interesting plot all the more so is that we are told the story from the alien’s vantage point.  Funny, endearing, revolting, and oftentimes revealing, The Humans forces us to take a good long look at ourselves and find both the horror and beauty inherent within our species.  In fact, the alien itself learns to love humanity and becomes quite entangled and invested within the life of the mathematician it killed.  I won’t spoil too much, but suffice it to say, the alien is ultimately far better at being human than the mathematician ever was.

 

Each chapter is rather short and the book is a very fast read.  I enjoyed it because of the unique narrative style, though I must admit that the point of view also proved a disservice because I never really connected to the alien.  Of course, I can only presume the author intended this to be the case – after all, how much should we connect to a creature existing in a plane of reality beyond our comprehension?

 

I would certainly recommend The Humans for fans of science fiction, math, and even philosophy.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – A Book Review

Like you, I felt excited to read The Bone Clocks because David Mitchell also wrote Cloud Atlas.  Now, I’ll be honest, I consider Cloud Atlas one of the more difficult books I’ve ever read, and, as a former English major, that’s saying something.  In fact, I really didn’t decide that I liked Cloud Atlas until after I finished reading it.  It was a labor of love, and my pride wouldn’t let me give up on it.

Having said all that, The Bone Clocks is every bit as imaginative as Cloud Atlas, and, I’m happy to share, far more accessible.  In fact, The Bone Clocks engaged my heart and mind immediately. 

The Bone Clocks is another work of interwoven plots, fateful coincidences, and miraculous occurrences.  It is also, I’d like to add, an incredible character study.  In fact, I feel that these are some of Mitchell’s most believable characters yet.  Ironically, he also includes some of his most unbelievable characters.  I don’t say that because these unbelievable characters feel fake, but rather because they are deeply ingrained within the realms of fantasy and science fiction.

Though I personally loved it, The Bone Clocks is largely written as a very realistic story of family, loss, love, resolve, and indecision; however, there are significant moments when Mitchell pulls no punches and throws you into the deep end of an otherworldly conflict that has existed for centuries.  Mitchell is a fine writer, a pleasure to read, but some readers may find the sudden travels to an alternate plane of reality too jolting, too unrealistic, and too out of context.  Except it’s not out of context.  Mitchell lays the foundation of this fantastical tale from the very beginning, and by story’s end, you realize you’ve been reading a superb work of genre from the start.

Like Michael Chabon, I love genre.  I think genre should be celebrated.  Some of our dearest works of fiction, those belonging to the classical canon, could easily be considered genre works.  Mitchell has given us the best of literature – an expertly written story that offers insight into the human soul while regaling us with a tale that enlivens the imagination.

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East of West by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta – A Book Review

I recently checked out a batch of graphic novels in search of a few must-reads.  I’m a collector by nature, and I enjoy having a series (or twelve) to follow.  East of West could be counted among the batch, but honestly, I picked it up only because it was available.  I didn’t particularly like the summary I read online, nor did Volume One’s cover particularly catch my interest.  However, I heard good things, so I thought, “Why not?”

I’m hooked.  I had zero expectations for this book, but I knew it hooked me within the first five pages.

Here’s the premise: The Four Horsemen have been reborn to ravage mankind yet again, only there’s one problem—there’s only three of them.  The fourth, Death, did not die along their side to require a rebirth, and the other three don’t like that.  Though reborn as children, they already plot Death’s decimation.

Know, though, that this is not happening in our version of reality.  In East of West, America is divided among seven nations due to events dating back to 1908. There is also a prevailing religious fervor within the population referred to as “The Message.”  The time is “now,” but “now” seems to be a mixture of the old west and the far future.

We soon meet Death, and Death seeks revenge.  He travels with two witches, the Wolf and the Crow.  The three of them are a formidable posse, and also three of the most visually interesting characters in comic books.  Why does Death seek revenge?  You’ll have to read the book to find out, but it involves his former Horsemen, a romance, and a child.

Nick Dragotta provides exceptional artwork you have to see to believe.  Let’s be honest: the graphic novel covers are rather boring.  Trust me, though, the interior artwork is exquisite.  Dragotta makes futuristic cities and barren desert landscapes equally interesting.  But it’s the sense of movement that sets Dragotta apart.  His battle scenes are clean, violent, and frenetic.  He knows just the right angles, just the right times to open the panel up or draw it in tight.  It’s a delight to look upon.

You know I’m a color guy, so we can’t leave out Frank Martin.  Death, the Wolf, and the Crow are almost entirely black or white, but even so, Martin makes them unbelievably dynamic.  In the hands of the less talented, they would look washed out or bleed into the background, but Martin knows how to make them pop.

Hickman has built a complicated world comprised of diverse mythology, cutthroat politics, maniacal religion, insane science fiction, all-out action, and some chilling horror.  Somehow he blends it all together seamlessly, and the result is that must-read I so desperately craved.

Black Science: How To Fall Forever by Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera – A Book Review

I saw this book earned a little buzz so I thought I’d check it out.  The premise is Grant McKay and his team have broken through the barrier between infinite dimensions.  The machine making this capable, The Pillar, got damaged though, so they only have a little time before they jump to another world, and if they want to make the jump, they better be near The Pillar or they will be left behind.  McKay’s two children were sucked along for the ride, as were two corporate representatives who don’t get along with McKay at all.  McKay is your narrator.  He is anti-authoritarian, smug, arrogant, cheats on his wife, and is not all that likable.

This first volume begins with McKay trying to escape some aliens and race back to The Pillar before the next jump.  Over the course of the volume, you discover why his kids are with him, why his wife is not, why the team seems so ill prepared, the identity of his mistress, and why the two corporate representatives accompany them.

The artwork is quite stunning.  Scalera creates some impressive aliens and exquisite settings.  His panels keep the story moving along wonderfully, and he delivers some dynamic, fast-paced action.  My only complaint is that because McKay’s crew wear the same uniforms, they tend to look quite a bit alike.  I appreciate the realism, because they likely would wear the same suits, but at times it’s hard to tell who is who.

Dean White does the painted art, and let me tell you, his colors alone make this book worth the price.  I have zero talent at colors, so I’ve learned to appreciate that which I cannot do.  White is a master.  Gorgeous colors.

In the end, though, while the book is very good, I can’t say I’m hooked.  I bought the first volume because I was sure I’d love it, but I didn’t.  I’ll probably check out the second volume when it comes to a local library.  I simply never connected to the characters.  McKay is an anti-hero, and that isn’t a bad thing, but I never really cared about him.  I never found any common ground.  I never necessarily rooted for him.  I can’t really say I have to know where his story goes next.

Of course, this is just my opinion.  I loved most of the art, the story proved interesting, the colors were beautiful, so there is a good chance you may very well adore it.  If the premise captured your interest, I encourage you to see for yourself.