Monthly Archives: January 2013

#CBR5 Maneuver #5 – Batwoman Volume 1

Batwoman 1Target: J.H. Williams, III and W. Haden Blackman’s Batwoman: Hydrology.  Collecting issues 0-5 of Batwoman (N52)

Profile: Comics, Mystery

Summary: From the back cover, “Gotham City is drowning.
They call her La Llorona.  ‘The Weeping Woman.’ A spectral presence that drowns her own sorrow by destroying the lives of others, dragging innocent children to a watery grave… or to an even worse fate.  The hero called Batwoman is no stranger to sorrow herself.  Estranged from the father who was once her partner in crime fighting, she blames him for the death of her mad sister in Gotham Harbor – but she blames herself most of all.
Now, she has a new partner, her cousin Flamebird.  Together they’re on the hunt for La Llorona, the children she’s abducted, and the shadowy forces behind it all.  But the hunters are hunted as well: Everyone from government agents to Gotham cops want to clip Batwoman’s wings.”

After Action Report:

If I had to point to a single comic that drew me to start exploring the DC universe, it would probably be Green Lantern: Rebirth.  There’s just something about power rings and anyone who grew up watching Captain Planet.  But Batwoman: Elegy is what got me really hooked.  I picked up the collected Elegy back in 2010 and when DC announced that Batwoman would be returning in the New 52, I started getting excited about the relaunch event and DC in general.  Hydrology doesn’t disappoint, picking up where Elegy left off and expanding on the personal experiences of this exceptional heroine.

Before I get any further, I need to put my cards on the table.  There is a phenomenal amount that I do not know or understand about DC’s continuity.  I’ve done a bit of due diligence this year to write these New 52 reviews, but, as I am perhaps overly fond of saying, I know just enough to get me in real trouble.  To make things worse, the New 52 universe reboot was only partial, so as many things have changed as not.  It’s a bit of a mess.  This is all by way of saying if I make a significant error in summarizing the books or their background material, I apologize.

Batwoman was one of the series that was not reset, so the events of Elegy are still canonical, and really are essential to understanding the unfolding plot of Hydrology.  I cannot recommend enough picking up Elegy if you get the chance, but to keep things simple and self-contained, I’ll do a quick summary here.  Spoilers to follow:

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#CBR5 Maneuver #4 – Throne of the Crescent Moon

Throne of the Crescent MoonTarget: Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon (Crescent Moon Kingdoms #1)

Profile: Fantasy

Summary: From the back cover, “The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, home to djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, are at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings.

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “the last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame’s family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter’s path.

When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince’s brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time—and struggle against their own misgivings—to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.”

After Action Report:

I don’t understand io9.com’s criterion for good fantasy.  Between their three-year-long campaign for the mediocre novels of N. K. Jemisin and their unceasing steampunk fetish, it’s gotten hard to take their recommendations seriously.  Yes, they still put up the odd Alistair Reynolds or Ken MacLeod, but I suspect that’s just to keep us coming back.  And then they put Throne of the Crescent Moon on their ‘Best of 2012’ list.  Now, any long-time readers will know that I am pretty skeptical of any recommendation, so why would this one be noteworthy?  I don’t have a good answer, but it really bugs me that a list that includes the phenomenal The Long Earth and the well-received Red Shirts could also include this slug of a novel.

When I say slug, I’m referring to pacing.  Throne of the Crescent Moon has everything needed to be a standout fantasy book, but the story is so bogged down with descriptive text that the action feels like molasses.  Don’t even ask about the exposition.  It is actually quite sad, as the setting has a lot going for it.  The characters are pretty interesting, if oddly gifted with near-perfect empathy, and the plot isn’t the completely boring re-tread it easily could have been.

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LAB Notes #5 – Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha

Nanoha Movie BoxTarget: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha – Mahou Shoujo Ririkaru Nanoha
Studio: Seven Arcs
Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Comedy
Notable Themes: Magical Girl, School Life
Episodes: 13
Fanservice Level: Heavy*

Reasons to Watch:
Visually dynamic, high action magical combat
A quintessential ‘Magical Girl’ experience

Reasons to Not:
Heavily reliant on anime tropes and stereotypes
Low episode count makes the pacing a little manic

Similar to: Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Cardcaptor Sakura, a long list of other Magical Girl shows.

Review:
Magical girl (Mahou Shoujo) series are a long time staple of anime.  Most Americans in my generation got their first taste of anime either from Dragonball Z, or from Sailor Moon, probably the most iconic magical girl show to cross over to the States.  The genre ranges from the uber-commercialized product placement, like Pretty Cure, to some of the most interesting critiques of anime as an art form, like the much lauded Puella Magi Madoka Magica.  These shows have huge appeal in their target market, 6 to 11-year-old girls, but also tend to be popular in the 16 to 30-year-old male and otaku demographics.  The same cross-demographic appeal is what has made the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic reboot so successful.

In contrast, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha was written almost exclusively to appeal to the older male demographic.  It uses tropes and storytelling tools more commonly associated with the giant mecha genre and characters pulled from an H-Game.  At the same time it retains much of the subject matter typical of other magical girl shows.  The combination of high action mentality and magical girl sensibility produces a uniquely fun series that escapes the worst of both of its parent genres.  So we end up with a show that packs in some fantastic action sequences right alongside significant social dramas and resolves both with giant lasers.  What more could a fan ask for?

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#CBR5 Maneuver #3 – Old Man’s War

Old Man's WarTarget: John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Military

Summary: From the back cover, “John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space.  The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce–and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.
John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine–and what he will become is far stranger.”

After Action Report:

I’ve resisted reading this book for a very long time.  The reviews were just too universally good, and I’ve been burned that way before.  But after hearing Scalzi interviewed on NPR about his new book, Red Shirts, I finally started wondering what all the fuss was about.  And for once, I wasn’t disappointed.  Old Man’s War is a tremendous novel in an understated package that handles the horrors of war and the wonders of the final frontier with equal aplomb.  It approaches its subject matter with the correct mix of humility, awe and confidence to tie the reader to the plight of the cast, and even this fictional version of the human race.

Old Man’s War is narrated in first person perspective by John Perry, an aging ad copy writer.  He and his wife Kathy decided to get a second lease on life by joining the Colonial Defense Force.  But Kathy died before their number was up, so John is on his own as he enlists and becomes a part of humanity’s first line of defense.  Scalzi’s vision of the future has humanity expanding colonially into the stars, while Earth remains isolated.  But the galaxy is not empty and many other species desire the same resources we need.  Competition for planets and systems is fierce and humanity isn’t the big kid on the block.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #2 – The Way of Kings

The Way of KingsTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings

Profile: Epic Fantasy

Summary: From the Back Cover, “I long for the days before the Last Desolation.  Before the Heralds abandoned us and the Knights Radiant turned against us.  When there was still magic in Roshar and honor in the hearts of men.

In the end, not war but victory proved the greater test.  Did our foes see that the harder they fought, the fiercer our resistance?  Fire and hammer forge a sword; time and neglect rust it away.  So we won the world, yet lost it.

Now there are four whom we watch: the surgeon, forced to forsake healing and fight in the most brutal war of our time; the assassin, who weeps as he kills; the liar, who wears her scholar’s mantle over a thief’s heart; and the prince, whose eyes opens to the ancient past as his thirst for battle wanes.

One of them may redeem us.  One of them will destroy us.”

After Action Report:

I read The Way of Kings back in 2011 and never got around to posting a review.  I had gotten a lot of reading done on trains in the middle of June of that year and totally overshot my ability to review things.  I was going to write a review post it as a Lost Battle, but when I started I found I couldn’t answer many of the questions that I use to seed these reviews.  So I re-read the damn thing.

The Way of Kings is a pretty good book.  It’s a bit long and takes ages to get to the point. It does, however, follow in the best traditions of epic fantasy, capturing your imagination and attention.  The worldbuilding is top-notch and the protagonists are strong and well developed.  The book makes you crave more, even as it stretches out what could have been a brisk prologue story into a mammoth novel.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #1 – Birds of Prey Volume 1

Birds of Prey Trouble in MindTarget: Duane Swierczynski’s Birds of Prey: Trouble in Mind.  Art by Jesus Saiz.  Collecting Issues 1-7 of Birds of Prey (N52)

Profile: Comics, Mystery, Science Fiction

Summary: From the Back Cover, “One is wanted for a murder.  The other is on the run for knowing too much.  Together Black Canary and Starling work in Gotham City, taking down the villains other heroes can’t touch.  But now, as a grizzled newspaper reporter threatens to expose them, the tow get sucked into a nightmare involving stolen pharmaceuticals, terrorists for hire and killers in stealth suits who can appear – and disappear – at will.

Realizing that Gotham City’s citizens are in grave danger, Black Canary recruits Katana, a vengeful samurai, and the notorious bioterrorist Poison Ivy.  Will the Birds of Prey be able to work together to save Gotham?”

After Action Report:

I came to (American) comics relatively late in life, and entirely because of Joss Whedon.  I started collecting the Buffy Season 8 trade paperbacks in college, but couldn’t really get excited about trying to break into the enormous continuity clusterfuck of ether DC Comics or Marvel’s main universe. I would read a few stray issues here or there if an author I liked was guesting, but that was about it.  When DC decided to do a partial reboot of their continuity it seemed like a good opportunity to start seriously exploring comics.  That lasted all of three weeks, but now that the first trade paperbacks from the reboot are coming out, I decided to take another stab at it.

Birds of Prey is an interesting series that walks in the shadows of some of DC’s biggest names, but has managed to stand on its own as both a concept, and as a storyline.  The original concept was the pairing of a paralyzed former Batgirl, now called Oracle, and the impulsive Black Canary taking on organized crime in the city of Gotham.  The team grew over the years, but at the core of the series was the conflict between the headstrong Black Canary and the cautious and organized Oracle.  The reboot undid Oracle’s paralysis, and made Black Canary the team leader in charge of a new batch of unknowns, including the mentally unstable Katana and the former bio-terrorist Poison Ivy.

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