Star Wars: Shattered Empire by Rucka – A Book Review

This graphic novel collection is better than you’ve heard.  The cover is very misleading – the book actually features Shara Bey, a rebel pilot present at the destruction of the second Death Star.  She and her husband, Kes Dameron, serve in separate divisions, rarely getting to spend any time together.  Yes, these are the parents of Poe Dameron, the spunky pilot from The Force Awakens.

The book picks up during the celebration on Endor, but Shara soon finds herself completing missions with Han Solo, Leia Organa, and even Luke Skywalker.  The aftermath of the Skywalker mission proves particularly interesting and I have to wonder if its ending will play a significant role in the current movies.

So, to be clear, Shara is the star of this series, but don’t let that keep you from giving it a shot.  She’s a very likable character and you still get lots of time with your old favorites.  Greg Rucka is a very good writer – you can trust him to execute his craft well.

I also found the art dynamic and detailed as it progressed the fast pace of the plot.

I had no issues with this collection and enjoyed it very much.  Do be aware, however, that it includes the first issue of Princess Leia, as well as the very first issue of Star Wars from 1977.

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.

 

Trillium by Jeff Lemire – A Book Review

All the accolades celebrating this book are accurate – it is a very special work.

To briefly summarize, Trillium is a story that takes place in both 1921 and 3797.  William Pike is a soldier trying to find himself again after the Great War, and Nika Tensmith is a scientist trying to use the plant called Trillium to develop a vaccine against a sentient virus that has eradicated humanity throughout the universe.  Both are examining a temple, though time and space separates them.  Through a cosmic convergence, they are united, torn apart, replaced, and united yet again all while trying to stave off the deadly approaching virus.

I’ve heard some call Trillium a love story, and that is as good a label as any, I suppose.  But Trillium is so much more than that.  Trillium certainly celebrates the “love at first sight” aspect of these characters, but it also renews our faith in the tenacious human spirit, our capability to stand together and overcome insurmountable obstacles, and our willingness to sacrifice for the good of others.  It speaks to the beauty of bonding with one another, the despair of abandonment, and the desire to become something “more.”

This book truly moved me in all of the ways I’ve mentioned, but it also impressed me through a purely technical aspect.  Trillium is, plainly stated, a perfectly constructed, paced, and executed book.  The panels’ layouts are brilliant and the structure is astounding.  Lemire plays with order and sequence in a fresh, innovative way that both challenges and delights the reader.

Furthermore, Lemire defies genre at every opportunity.  It features trench warfare.  It has futuristic vehicles.  It offers Peruvian natives.  It uses an alien species.  It even tosses in a little steampunk at one point.  The book consists of many elements, many different kinds of story, yet it all blends together to deliver a unique, provocative, engrossing tale.

Trillium really is unlike any other.  Students of the medium will gain much from studying this work, and lovers of story will be utterly satisfied.

In the Shadows by White and Di Bartolo – A Book Review

Believe it or not, I saw In the Shadows in a Scholastic book order and thought that it both looked and sounded very cool.  Several of my high school students did, too.  A few ordered it and I got a copy for my classroom, and we’re all very pleased with the read!

In the Shadows is unique in that it alternates between a prose chapter and then a wordless sequential art chapter.  Though the alternating story lines are clearly interconnected, it isn’t until the end of the book that the reader realizes exactly how so.

I’m a fairly well-read individual, and I must admit that the ending actually surprised me.  I wasn’t totally clear on the chronological ordering of the alternating chapters, but by the end of the book it all made sense.

Kiersten White handled the prose, which is about two brothers, one of whom is dying, that come to a little Maine town to get away from the city life.  Little do they know their father has actually set them up for sacrifice while there to a demonic cult.  At their boarding house, the daughters of the owner befriends the brothers, and they have their own history with a local witch.  The daughters have a guardian, Arthur, who may be their brother, perhaps a cousin, or maybe he isn’t related to them at all.  He watches over them, though, and when the brothers and sisters get themselves into trouble, Arthur must decide how far he’s willing to go to protect them.

The sequential art chapters are handled by Jim Di Bartolo, and they feature a young man with a scar under his eye both chasing and being hunted by what we presume is the same demonic cult.  We learn he is not just any man, though, as he displays characteristics resembling the very villains he pursues.  The art is edgy, dynamic, and does an excellent job clearly progressing the story.  And while it’s not immediately evident how it connects to the Maine story, it becomes more and more obvious the deeper you get into the book.

Though a fast read, In the Shadows is incredibly satisfying.  Furthermore, I wouldn’t say it presents a story that is entirely fresh, but even so, it struck me as both unique and imaginative – thanks in large part to the wordless sequential art.

Aimed at young adults, I think book lovers of any age would find In the Shadows an interesting read, especially if interested in horror, graphic novels, or the supernatural.

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.

Zero: An Emergency by Ales Kot – A Book Review

Zero has gained a lot of buzz during the last several months.  It’s typically described as a spy story with ruthless violence and a cold, detached protagonist.  Its main claim to fame is that it features a different artist with each new issue.

I’ll be honest.  I’m not much for spy stories, but the book has garnered such acclaim, I figured I should give it a shot.

I’m glad I did.

First of all, yes, this is a spy story … sort of.  I would actually tell you that it is a spy story with a heavy dose of subtle science fiction.  In fact, while the street fights and the gunfights are graphic, violent, and disturbing, the heart of the story revolves around cybernetic enhancements, teleportation devices, and something I’m not going to give away.  I like to think of Zero much the same as I think of Aliens—science fiction grounded in thrilling military realism.

And, quite honestly, the revolving artist tool works tremendously.  For the most part, each story is unique in terms of tone, content, and plot, and each individual artist fits those aspects perfectly.  Zero has found an inventive, authentic way to get many artists involved on the title, and though I’m not sure this technique would work as well with mainstream comic books, it suits Zero well, especially because this single volume spans thirty-eight years.

But, even after having said all of these positive things, I wasn’t sure until the very end of this first volume that I was hooked.  I liked what I saw and read, but a book has to be very special indeed to warrant my following.  The very last page, though … the very last page did it.  That last page hooked me.  I have to see where this title is going.

Pretty Deadly: The Shrike by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios – A Book Review

This is a strange book and I mean that as a total compliment.  Strange is good.  Unique is appreciated.  Original is commendable.  Pretty Deadly is all of those things, and more.

Pretty Deadly is not a linear story.  Meaning, it doesn’t start at an origin, then progress to a conclusion.  It sort of begins in the middle of things, offers some hints as to what occurred in the past, yet doesn’t totally explain what’s occurring in the middle.  By the book’s end, you have a good idea of what happened, but not a complete one.  For some books, this would be a gross misstep, but DeConnick executes it masterfully and I trust that the writer knows exactly what she’s doing.

For example, by and large, we don’t know much about the characters.  They are explored just enough to seem round, dynamic, real, but we don’t know everything.  For a few of them, we don’t know anything.  Even so, I want to know more.  This is not a plot driven book, though it certainly has an interesting one.  This is a story about people (of sorts).

This is a rather unconventional title, and that’s why it works so well.  Death personified is a major player, but that’s not necessarily breaking new ground.  The story occurs in the Old West, but that’s not unheard of in the comic book world, either.  But the combination of the two, coupled with mysticism, swordplay, gunfights, and a mythology-in-the-making sets Pretty Deadly apart from anything else out there at the moment.

Rios’ artwork is frenetic, almost messy, yet oddly detailed.  It suits the story well.  At times it’s hard to tell what’s going on, especially during the brutal fight scenes, but I believe that’s actually a boon to this title.  Fights usually are messy and confusing, and since this story is not delivered in a neat, tidy little package, I see no reason for the art to contradict the story’s style.

The story ends on a bittersweet note, but one that certainly lays the groundwork for many interesting stories to come.  If you’re looking for something different from a comic book, something well executed and purposeful, something that will stand the test of time, I urge you to give Pretty Deadly a shot.