Black Hammer – A Book Review

The cover to this book really threw me off.  I thought it was going to be some kind of a dark magic or horror book.  And though it’s got elements of both, it’s not at all what I expected.

Black Hammer: Secret Origins is about a group of super heroes who have been transported to a small, rural community and cannot leave their immediate surroundings.  Some of them are quite okay with this, some are ambivalent, and some are flat-out angry.

The six characters–by book’s end–captured my interest and prompted me to reserve the next installment at my local library, but I still can’t go so far as to say I “like” this book (even though I am clearly invested).

My primary issue is that the six characters are obvious riffs on popular DC and Marvel icons.  Shazam, Martian Manhunter, Captain America, Adam Strange–they’ve all been cribbed.  I found this kind of thing fascinating back in the mid-80s with Watchmen … I’m less entertained by it now.

Even so, the author, Jeff Lemire, excels at dialogue and character interaction, so I couldn’t help but be drawn in by this book.

Furthermore, the artwork is moody, dark, and eye-catching.  I particularly appreciated the facial expressions throughout.

They aren’t trying to pretend that they aren’t copying other characters, by the way.  There’s no deception taking place on their part.  And by the book’s conclusion, the characters have taken on a personality of their own and found themselves in an interesting predicament.  In fact, I have to hand it to Lemire in regards to character development.  Even though these characters begin as facsimiles, they soon become dynamic and full of engaging complications.  However, after almost four decades of reading comic books, none of these obstacles are unheard of.

It’s just, on a personal level, I feel like I’ve seen it all before.  The characters’ powers, the angst, even the isolation.  It’s all expertly-executed, but not especially fresh in my view.  Perhaps the next volume will completely win me over.  The good news is that I’m committed and want to keep reading this story.

Image result for black hammer volume one

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

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Doctor Aphra: Remastered (Volume 3) – A Book Review

I still maintain that Doctor Aphra is one of the greatest additions to the Star Wars mythology in recent years, but this volume confirms my fear about the character–she cannot solely carry her own title.

This installment tries to spice things up a bit by making Doctor Aphra beholden to Triple-Zero, the murderous entity in the guise of a protocol droid.  Triple-Zero sends Aphra on a series of missions in which she must lead a group of mercenaries.  There are some interesting asides as Aphra develops a relationship with Magna Tolvan, the Imperial Officer.  Hera Syndulla also makes a substantial appearance, which was super cool to see.  But in the end, much of it felt forced to me.

The problem is that Doctor Aphra works best as a foil to, well, everyone else.  I love it when she pops into a scene, plays havoc with everyone and everything, and then leaves.  She has the luxury of being an agent of chaos.  She is naughty, hilarious, greedy, and lovable.  But in a title featuring her, she doesn’t have that advantage.  She has to carry every episode from month to month.  The writers seem obligated to reveal every little detail about her, and this is diluting the character.

In my opinion, Doctor Aphra has lost her “hook.”  She had it when she appeared in Darth Vader.  We knew just enough about her and what she was about and we (obviously) loved her.  Unfortunately, we loved her so much that they kept giving us more in the form of her own book.

I don’t know exactly how they can fix this issue, and I fully confess that this may be my issue alone.  Perhaps everyone else is loving the direction of the book and character.  I think I would like to see the book function as an ongoing gag on how Aphra swindles everyone she meets, but we never get the stories from her perspective.  Each arc would be narrated by her victims.  That would afford her the ability to maintain her mystique and “devil-may-care” persona.  It would take a great deal of creativity to constantly come up with stories where Aphra outsmarts everyone while revealing virtually nothing about herself, but I think that would maximize her potential.

Doctor Aphra does have a great deal of potential, by the way.  Clearly, she has connected with fandom.  I’m concerned that she’s being overexposed, though, and that we’re learning too much about her too quickly.  I adore this character and don’t want her to fade out of everyone’s interest.

Image result for doctor aphra remastered cover amazon

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

Saints by Gene Luen Yang – A Book Review

I recently wrote a review of Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers, and this book, Saints, is a companion piece.  In fact, it’s more than just a companion piece — it’s a conclusion.

In Boxers, there’s a moment where the main character, Bao, sees a young girl close to his own age.  He believes she looks like the devil.  Later on in the book, when they are both much older, Bao (seemingly) kills this girl in the city of Peking because she will not renounce her Christianity.

Saints is the story of that girl, from the time she is eight up until the age of fifteen.  She is simply called Four-Girl in the beginning by her family.  She is unwanted, unappreciated, and largely neglected.  It isn’t until she meets converts to Christianity that she begins to feel a sense of security.  Eventually, Four-Girl converts as well and chooses the name Vibiana.  However, throughout much of the book, and despite being visited frequently by Joan of Arc herself, Vibiana is not exactly the most devout of Christians.  She likes the food.  She likes the roof over her head.  She likes being recognized as a human being and not a waste of space.  It’s clear Jesus is not at the forefront of her mind.

When she hears of the Boxers headed to kill Christians, she is inspired to follow Joan of Arc’s lead and fight in the name of God.  But really … she just wants to fight.  After the life she’s endured, can you blame her?

She is eventually captured by Bao from Boxers, and at that moment you get to find out exactly what took place between them in that scene from the first book.

While Boxers is quite a bit longer, the ending of Saints struck me as far more poignant.  Admittedly, this could be because I consider myself a Christian as well.  Vibiana (Four-Girl) undergoes a tremendous change, one that I won’t spoil for you, but one that absolutely resonated.

As Boxers depicted Bao losing more and more of himself in his plight to save China, Saints offers a bittersweet story about Vibiana finding peace.  That tranquility, however does not arrive as one would expect.  Just the  opposite.

A noted Christian himself, I appreciated that Gene Luen Yang did not get too heavy-handed with Saints.  In fact, like with Boxers, he made a point to show the good and bad in everyone.  The Boxers consider themselves freedom fighters striving to preserve their culture, yet the Christian converts consider them monsters.  The Christians in the book believe themselves to be righteous, yet many of them are self-serving and overtly sinful.  However, in the end, Yang reminds us what it is to be truly selfless.  Some would say that’s being Christ-like.  Others would say it’s simply being compassionate.

Though the artwork is simply rendered, this is a powerful story about history, people, motive, and belief.

The epilogue of the book, by the way, shook me to my core.  Perfect.

Image result for saints gene luen yang book cover

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

Superman: American Alien by Max Landis – A Book Review

You all know I struggle with Superman.  Many writers get the “super” right, but fail to truly capture the “man.”

Max Landis absolutely put the “man” before the “super” in this collection, and Superman is all the more “super” as a result.

The premise is short and sweet: Landis depicts key moments in Clark Kent’s life that define the hero he will one day become.  As a result, we get to see what is not often addressed: failure.  We see Clark as a child fearful of his own abilities.  We see Clark as a teenager reluctant to help out for fear of hurting someone.  We see Clark take a walk on the wild side with booze, boats, and women.  We see Clark get outsmarted and embarrassed by Lex Luthor.  We see Clark, for the first time in his life, have to truly fight to survive.

I love this collection because Clark is so normal.  He’s funny; he’s a jerk; he’s fearful; he’s clever; he’s heroic; he’s full of doubt.  In a word, he’s all of us at some point in our lives.

Landis also addresses some nagging issues about Clark’s childhood such as how in the world did he avoid doctors?  The answer may surprise you.  Also, with the way  kids talk, could he ever really keep his abilities a secret while in Smallville?  That answer may surprise you as well.

Furthermore, Landis does not shy away from the fact that Clark Kent lives in the DC Universe.  While this is not necessarily the mainstream Superman we enjoy from month to month, this world still offers us a glimpse at Oliver Queen, Batman, Dick Grayson, Hawkman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and many others.   The brief appearance by Batman is especially relevant to this Superman’s mythology.

Each installment of this collection is a must-read in part because of the story line but also because Landis works with a different artist for each chapter.  I want to say that each artist perfectly embodies the tone of that specific issue, but each of these artists are so talented that they make everything look good.  You could assign any of them any of the installments and they would make it shine.

Next to All-Star Superman, this is my favorite Superman story ever.  I would love to read more of Landis’ take on the DC Universe.

Image result for superman american alien amazon book cover

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

The Wild Storm: Volume I by Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt – A Book Review

The Wild Storm is a title that appears to be taking classic WildStorm characters, especially those from WildC.A.Ts, and rebooting them in a modern day, sophisticated world.

WildStorm was under the umbrella of Image Comics back in the 1990s when Jim Lee and other industry luminaries decided to start their own publishing house.  Jim Lee’s characters were cool, but rather shallow and derivatives of DC and Marvel’s icons.  Clearly, though, they had great potential as famed writers like Alan Moore and James Robinson took a crack at them.

In The Wild Storm, Warren Ellis, one of the absolute BEST science fiction writers alive today, takes the most charismatic elements of characters like Void, Voodoo, Grifter, Deathblow, Zealot, and Engineer and strips away all of the excess.  All of these characters now exist within one book, one story line, and are under the control of one vision, who happens to be visionary.

I’m all in on this book.  It is remarkably familiar yet utterly fresh.  I know the characters, I know the names, but I don’t know what’s going to happen next.  Ellis is always completely unpredictable and it’s obvious he’s building a comprehensive world in this title, not a super team.

Jon Davis-Hunt creates cinematic, dynamic panels in this book.  Most of the characters are wearing regular clothes in normal environments, but he makes all of it look GREAT.  He adds all of these little touches that strike the reader subconsciously but may not be obvious at first glance.  Things like shells flying though the air, glass shattering, hair blowing in the wind, or debris falling — these minor things connote movement and lead the reader sequentially from one panel to the next.  The art is so smooth and fluid.  Perfect.

The Wild Storm is full of intrigue, action, violence, heroism, originality, and just enough nostalgia to charm.  It’s obvious there is a sprawling, epic tale unfolding, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

I haven’t been this excited about a title in quite some time.

Image result for the wild storm volume 1 cover

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

Batman: The Dark Knight–Master Race by Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, and Andy Kubert – A Book Review

Redemption.

That’s the word I would use to describe Batman: The Dark Knight–Master Race.

I mean this both literally and thematically.

From a literal standpoint, Master Race undoes the travesty of Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again.  Of course, these are both sequels to the seminal Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

Master Race is the first Batman book I’ve read in quite a while that kept me turning the pages.  When I had to put it down, I couldn’t wait to pick it back up.

Some say that The Dark Knight Returns helped to usher in the Dark Age of comics.  It played a role in taking Batman back to his dark roots, establishing a general psychosis to the character, and promoting the idea that Batman and Superman would be anything but super friends.  It’s impact can be felt even to this day.

The Dark Knight Strikes Again was just a hot mess.  I haven’t read it in a long time, but I remember feeling that it had nothing in common with its predecessor and seemed intent on being as crazy as possible even at the sacrifice of plot, character, good taste, and logic.

Master Race takes the best aspects of both books, blends them together, and churns out an incredibly satisfying read.  Carrie Kelley, the young girl who took on Robin’s mantle back in The Dark Knight Returns, is front and center in this book.  The Dark Knight Strikes Again brought Superman’s daughter Lara into the fold, as well as Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkboy and Hawkgirl, Atom–all of whom reappear in Master Race.  This time, though, they are treated with depth and care.  In fact, some would say they are all actually redeemed.

There’s that word again.

Master Race redeems every single character in its pages.  They each go through a personal journey, and they each come out better for it.  I don’t want to get into the particulars due to revealing too much plot, but this book made me look at these characters as heroes again.  Redemption strikes me as a theme of the book.

Which is probably the most ironic thing ever.

Master Race also, in my eyes, redeems Frank Miller.  Frank Miller is a gifted writer and artist–he proved that on books like The Dark Knight Returns, Daredevil, Batman: Year One, and the first Wolverine miniseries.  Unfortunately, his work on The Dark Knight Strikes Again made me question both his talent and character.  That book seemed like a total cash grab.  It almost acted like it wanted to make a point to the reader–that the comic fan will buy anything if there’s enough hype surrounding it.  It definitely turned me off from Miller for a while.

So why did I return for Master Race?  Brian Azzarello.  I’ll read anything that man writes.  I knew that if he played a hand in Master Race, it would be worth my time to check it out.  I’m so glad I did.  I have no idea as to the politics of Azzarello teaming up with Miller, but if DC made it happen to ease fan apprehension, it worked like a charm on me.

It’s so ironic that two men who are known for grim and gritty, hard-boiled writing provided one of the most inspiring Batman stories that I’ve ever read.  As much as The Dark Knight Returns created a Dark Age, I could see Master Race igniting a Heroic Age.  It truly counteracted all of the negativity surrounding our society at the moment.

Maybe you’ll agree with me, maybe you won’t, but I definitely recommend you read Batman: The Dark Knight–Master Race and see for yourself.

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

Read “Super Power” – My Short Story Love Letter To Toys, the Human Spirit, and Mister Miracle

SUPER POWER COVER

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In this short story, a man at a comic book shop discovers a box full of his favorite childhood superhero toys. As he rummages through them, he meets a stranger with a real super power. Although brief, this tale will inspire you, tickle you, and remind you that real heroes surround us every minute of the day.  (Humor/Inspirational/Family Life)