Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig – A Book Review

Though I haven’t heard great things about this first installment of a trilogy, I thought I’d try it out myself.  Unfortunately, it did not manage to capture my interest.

My biggest issue with the novel is that there are far too many characters without enough characterization to really make them stand out.  There are also far too many plot threads.  Perhaps these numerous story lines will all reach fruition in the subsequent installments, but I can attest to becoming more than a little confused as to who was who and what was happening.

Furthermore, I never quite lost myself in Wendig’s writing style.  He’s obviously a proficient writer – Disney and LucasFilm never would have allowed him into their playhouse if he didn’t impress them.  But on a personal level, his writing left me feeling unsatisfied.  Perhaps I’m mistaken, but it seemed as though he had an outline of events he was required to touch upon without ever really finding himself invested in them. I could be totally wrong, of course, but that’s my impression.  It all felt … disconnected.

Because I didn’t recognize any of the characters, failed to relate to them, and couldn’t keep up with an exorbitant amount of interludes, vignettes, asides, and preludes, I cannot bring myself to recommend Star Wars: Aftermath.

 

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Star Wars: Darth Vader (Volume 1) by Gillen and Larroca – A Book Review

Recently released by Marvel Comics, this first collected volume of the Darth Vader comic book series is everything a Star Wars fan desires.

Focusing solely on Darth Vader following the events of A New Hope, the dark lord must learn who destroyed the Death Star even as the Emperor seemingly seeks to replace him.  Vader must build his own army separate from the Empire as a safety net, but how does a villain of even his caliber go about doing so?

This volume introduces new, interesting characters while utilizing favorites like Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt.  It references previous movies and may even offer hints to The Force Awakens.  It will satisfy even the most devout of Star Wars fans.

The art is fantastic.  Pay no attention to the fact you can’t see Vader’s face, Salvador Larroca masterfully conveys Vader’s every emotion through a tilt of the head or the power of a stance.  Salvador delivers visually the Vader we all love — regal, menacing, and powerful.

The author, Kieron Gillen, clearly understands Darth Vader, and he clearly understands why we are drawn to the villain.  Vader says little in this volume, because he doesn’t have to say much at all for both the other characters and the audience to perfectly understand his position on matters.  The story itself is captivating and important in that it informs us as to how Vader discovered Luke Skywalker’s identity.  It establishes the tension between the Emperor and Vader, and it even offers glimpses into the man trapped inside the machine.

This is the Darth Vader you’ve always wanted.  This is the Darth Vader with whom you fell in love.  This series gets everything right.

A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking

My wife and I watched The Theory of Everything film a few weeks ago, and it inspired me to read something – anything – by Stephen Hawking.  It did so because the film helped me realize that we have a living legend among us, one of history’s greatest thinkers still living in our day and age, and I hadn’t studied his work whatsoever.

Of course, I have virtually no background in physics of any sort, and so I read a few reviews and admittedly chose A Briefer History of Time because it claimed to be simpler and (obviously) briefer than most of Hawking’s other writings.

I won’t claim to understand everything in the book, but it really did educate me on matters formerly unknown.  Hawking is excellent at taking very complex ideas and simplifying them down to their barest essentials.

Based upon this book, Hawking is an excellent teacher and superb writer.  As a lifelong science fiction fan, I had heard many of the theories and principals discussed, but previously utilized no actual scientific comprehension concerning them.  I now at least have a very basic understanding thanks to his writing.

Because Hawking writes so clearly and simply, I am excited to read more by the genius.  If you’ve ever wanted to read his work but didn’t due to intimidation, I urge you to give this one a shot.  It is short, well-written, and educational.

Earth 2: The Dark Age by Tom Taylor and Nicola Scott

If you’re unfamiliar with the DC Universe, Earth 2 is a parallel Earth, one similar to our own in many respects, but different in many others.  DC has employed this parallel universe concept for decades, currently claiming that their are 52 parallel Earths within the DC multiverse.

Once upon a time, Earth 2 existed during WWII and the original incarnations of modern day heroes, such as The Flash and Green Lantern, were still very much active.  From time to time, these heroes would travel to Earth 1, for all intents and purposes, our contemporary Earth.  It proved an opportunity to keep long revered versions of characters around while still focusing on modern incarnations – and it offered some great plot possibilities.  As a kid, I loved it when Earth 2’s Justice Society of America would crossover with Earth 1’s Justice League of America.

A few years ago, DC brought the Earth 2 concept back, but instead of it existing during WWII, it is a world where Darkseid invaded and destroyed much of the planet.  Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman died protecting that world, and now new heroes have emerged, heroes such as Jay Garrick and Alan Scott.  And though these were the original men to bear the mantles of The Flash and Green Lantern in the early 1940s, they have very much been updated and have little in common with their previous versions.  They are young, they are different, and they took some getting used to, but I have grown to appreciate them.

In this forth volume, The Dark Age, new series writer Tom Taylor pushes down on the accelerator and never lets up!  I picked this volume up at the library and meant to read a few pages before bed.  Before I knew it, I’d read the whole book (and stayed up later than intended).  It’s so good, I could not put it down.

For some reason, Superman, previously thought dead, is now in service to Darkseid and destroying anything and anyone getting in his way.  A new Batman has also arisen, more violent than his predecessor, but very much against the evils of Darkseid.  Dr. Fate, the Flash, Hawkgirl, and Sandman are still fighting hard, but now we’re introduced to a new Red Tornado, a queen of Atlantis, Jimmy Olson, and an alien that may turn the tide against the evil Superman.

The beautiful thing about Earth 2 is that it is not trapped in the endless cycle of its characters’ counterparts.  On Earth 2, anything goes, and Tom Taylor has taken full advantage of that fact.  Our heroes are pummeled throughout most of this book with nonstop action, yet Taylor still builds a captivating plot and introduces new mysteries.  Truly, this is one of the most exciting super hero books I’ve read in quite a while.

As always, Nicola Scott’s pencil’s are exquisite.  She uses clean lines, dynamic angles, and fluid pacing.  Furthermore, at one point Barry Kitson helps out with the pencils, and the transition is nearly seamless.  I’ve followed Kitson’s work since the mid-1990s, and he’s never been better!

One thing that drives me away from mainstream super hero comic books, especially those by DC or Marvel, is that no matter how much things change, they will always stay the same.  It’s a necessity to the serialized business.  Parallel universes give publishers and creators the chance to really cut loose and provide unpredictable stories.  Earth 2 is a prime example of how such stories can be successfully executed, and The Dark Age is my favorite installment to date.

 

 

Revival: You’re Among Friends by Seeley and Norton – A Book Review

Don’t call this a zombie book, because it’s not.  In Revival, a relatively small number of recently deceased people in a small Wisconsin town inexplicably return to life.  They can now recover from virtually any injury, and range from remaining exactly the same as when they lived in the conventional sense to, well, odd.

Right off the bat, Tim Seeley introduces us to several characters, each with a distinct personality and role to play.  Officer Dana Cypress appears to be the main character from that bunch, but her college sister, her sheriff father, a snow mobile riding punk exorcist, a CDC biologist, and an eccentric old man all demand our attention.  Furthermore there’s a cub reporter who broke the story as well as a celebrity who, at first glance, appears to be based off of Nancy Grace.  That’s a lot of characters in such a short collection, but Seeley paces them excellently and, more importantly, inserts their stories organically.

The revived themselves are a creepy bunch, and some are obviously dangerous as they tear the throats out of their loved ones.  Other are virtually comatose, and still others function as though nothing has happened.  Seeley reveals just enough to keep us reading, to garner our interest, but he also opens up several mysteries that demand our continued readership.  He walks that fine line of giving us important information while also teasing certain plot threads.

Mike Norton’s art is crisp, understated, and laid out very well with smooth sequencing.  I also appreciated the angles he chose to employ in several of his panels.  There’s nothing outlandish, but he’s just unusual enough to keep the eye stimulated.

I think it would be a tragedy to neglect the colorist, Mark Englert. This is a dark story with flashes of the grotesque as well as little moments of morbid humor.  His colors are tame and work well with the story, but they are still interesting and enhance Norton’s art.  Considering that there is snow in virtually every outdoor picture, I believe his talent is to be commended.

To be honest, I picked this book up at the library because Amazon kept recommending it to me and I thought I’d give it a try.  I truly didn’t think I’d like it as I’m a little burnt out on anything related to zombies, yet the original storytelling, interesting characters, and hints at future plot threads absolutely made me a fan. I can’t wait to read more … especially because of that white demon wandering the woods.  I have no idea where that one is going.

Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself Illustrated by Allen Crawford – A Book Review

I firmly believe the publishing world must always adapt, evolve, and break new ground.  This book does just that.  Yes, it is Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, unaltered and unabridged.  However, Allen Crawford blended art and text to create something entirely new, all while still honoring the original poem.  Each page progresses the poem and integrates it with art.  At times, the text is virtually unreadable because it twists and turns, but it always serves a purpose, it always works in tandem with the illustration.

This book is like a riddle in that you must reposition it in order to read every page, you must study the illustration on each page to decipher its relevance to the text; in short, you must pause and ponder.  That’s not a bad thing.

If you only want a copy of Song of Myself, this book probably isn’t for you.  Like I said, it is at times virtually unreadable.  Rest assured you can find thousands of versions of the original poem in bookstores, online, or in any English textbook beginning at the seventh grade level.

But, if you appreciate Song of Myself and want to see it in a new light, this book will delight.  If you desire to see something a little different from the publishing industry, this is a superb example.  If you love art, text, and any combination of the two, this book is for you.

Or maybe you just want to see an item that exemplifies blood, sweat, and tears, and you want to reward the creator’s hard work by saying, “You did something unique, honorable, and interesting.  I want to support your efforts by purchasing the book.”

Whatever the case may be, if you fall into any of the previous categories, I truly think you’ll enjoy this book.