Blog Archives

#CBR6 Review #20: Dial H, Vol. 2

Dial H 2Target: China Miéville’s Dial H, Vol. 2: Exchange. Art by Alberto Ponticelli, David Lapham and Dan Green.  Collecting issues #7-15 and Justice League issue #23.3

Profile: Comics, Mystery, Science Fiction, Fantasy

After Action Report:

When last we left Dial H, Miéville was busy adding weird fiction and horror tropes to a little known corner of the DC Universe.  The events of the last volume have raised the stakes and opened the door to a multiverse of possibilities.  Unfortunately, while Dial H was an incredible critical success, its sales numbers left something to be desired and DC ended the run at issue 16.  True to form, Miéville seems to treat the cancelation as a challenge and crashes through two storylines to bring readers a climax worthy of this creative adventure, and a thoughtful coda that hints that we might not have seen the last of the Dialers.

Issue #7 picks up a few weeks after Nelson’s fight with the villain Ex Nihlio and her pet Abyss.  In light of the new threat of the Shadow on the Line, Nelson and his new partner Roxie, set off to uncover more secrets of the dials.  But their leisurely globetrotting quickly turns scary as they catch the eye of a Canadian super-agent who knows more about what they are than they do.

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Not Dead; Iteration 70-something

Recovering RyukoAs usual, reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.  With a new year upon us, I am forced to pronounce CBR5 an abject failure, with more than 20 books unreviewed and a complete halt of my anime review project.  That being said, 2013 was a tremendous year for anime and I feel compelled to write about it in some fashion.  So, what’s coming in 2014?  

CBR6

A new year means new book reviews.  I’ll be starting off with some intriguing holiday gifts and then onto my normal slog of fantasy, speculative fiction and occasional pop psychology book.  Less comics this year and, with any luck, more reviews completed on time. 

LAB Notes

While the acronym is still a woeful relic of days gone by, I hope to actually do some anime reviews this year Before I stopped, I had plans for  a series examining magical girl shows as both classic anime genre and modern subversion.  I’ll also resume reviews of series that have strong appeal in the U.S.

Odds and Ends

While I don’t have any explicit plans to expand the commentary section of the site, I hope to continue my Op-Ed series with Geek Outsider in some form or another, and maybe add another recurring feature about video game storytelling.  No promises though.  

In the meantime, Happy New Year to my few regular readers and stay tuned to this space.  

 

#CBR5 Maneuver #25 – Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan WakesTarget: James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1)

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

The Expanse has received a lot of attention, mostly from other authors, for being a fresh take on space-based science fiction.  The books have also received high praise for their cinematic fight sequences and politically charged plot lines.  The books are each fairly lengthy, sitting well over the 500 page mark, but manage to feel like much shorter novels thanks to brisk pacing and strong, dynamic characters.

In spite of the ‘space opera’ tag, the stories of The Expanse are really more like war stories, having more in common with John Scalzi than they do with Iain M. Banks or Alastair Reynolds.  The scope of the setting is mostly limited to the solar system and there isn’t the same sense of wonder and discovery that has become associated with New Wave Space Opera.  Instead, The Expanse feels like older styles of space opera that focused more on combat, and the brave actions of courageous soldiers against overwhelming odds and the threat of the unknown.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #24 – Cursed Pirate Girl

Cursed Pirate GirlTarget: Jeremy Bastian’s Cursed Pirate Girl: The Collected Edition Volume 1.

Profile: Comics, Fantasy, Pirates!

After Action Report:

Way back in June, I attended the Denver Comic Convention.  In the process of browsing the expansive artist alleys, I came across a curious man with a nose ring doodling some incredibly intricate, scrimshaw-esque pictures.  Next to him were copies of his book, Cursed Pirate Girl, bound in a distinctive light blue cover and filled with more of the same detailed black-and-white drawings.  It was easily the most interesting thing I’d seen at the Con so far.  I impulsively grabbed a copy.  Two hours later, covered with the paper flakes of Pirate Girl’s beautiful faux-old ragged pages, I was in love.

Now, to be fair, I love fairy tales.  And Cursed Pirate Girl is a fairy tale for people who love the idea of adventure on the high seas; being spirited away by a noble pirate captain and exploring forgotten ruins in search of treasure.  It’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making with more water.  And this is where the review comes off the rails, because I’m horribly biased towards this kind of storytelling, not only because it’s basically just a fairytale wrapped in salt-soaked ropes and topped with a talking parrot, but because it is a well-handled coming of age story that casts the girl as someone capable of anything.  Congratulations Mr. Bastian, you’ve punched all of my buttons.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #22-23 – The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West

The Wicked WestTarget: Tom Hutchison’s The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West Volumes 1 and 2.  Art by Alisson Borges and Kate Finnegan.  Collecting the original miniseries and Issues #1-5

Profile: Comics, Fantasy, Western, Oz

After Action Report:

The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West is a truly stunning graphic novel.  Pitched as a reimagining of the L. Frank Baum masterpiece in a ‘Wild West’ setting, The Wicked West manages the difficult task of remaining true to its roots while exploring new territory.  But what stands out is the strength of the characters.  Both fresh and familiar, these new iterations of the much beloved Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion are the driving force behind a story that is incredibly dynamic and compelling.

The Wicked West opens with Dorothy, who goes by her last name in this adaptation, making her way towards the Emerald City.  It has been three years since a twister pulled her and her horse, Toto, from their Kansas home and dropped them on the Wicked Witch of the East.  The Munchkins gave Gale the witch’s ruby spurs and gem-encrusted pistols as a reward and she’s been on the yellow-brick road ever since.  But the road has been pulled up by bandits and Gale has been lost for years.  Being lost has kept her off the radar for a while, but when she stumbles into a saloon filled with flying monkeys, the hunt is on again.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #21 – Birds of Prey Volume 2

Birds of PreyTarget: Duane Swierczynski’s Birds of Prey: Your Kiss Might Kill.  Art by Jesus Saiz and Travel Foreman.  Collecting Issues #8-12 and Issue #0 of Birds of Prey (N52)

Profile: Comics, Mystery, Science Fiction

After Action Report:

DC’s release dates for its mass-market collections are stupid.  Between the hardcover special releases and some bizarre need to spread releases out, it’s been eight months since I reviewed Volume 1 and fourteen months since the first issue in Volume 2, issue #8, was printed.  This obviously isn’t a problem for people who are just collecting the issues, but DC seems pretty intent on screwing its MMP base, particularly those of us who are fans of Batwoman.  Now, part of this delay is because I’m STILL enormously behind on the reviews, but, much like the U.S. government, I refuse to let facts get in the way of a good rant.

I really enjoyed the first collection of the new Birds of Prey, so it is with mixed feelings that I report that Volume 2 leaves much to be desired.  Between the jerky plot jumps and the ill-conceived Poison Ivy arc, the issues in this volume never really get down to business.  Some of this is due to the Night of Owls and Issue #0 ‘crossover’ events, which derail the existing plot lines in really jarring ways.  But even the two arcs that belong to the Birds feel clunky and don’t have the same storytelling hook present in Swierczynski’s first arc.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #20 – The Rithmatist

The RithmatistTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist

Profile: Young Adult, Fantasy, Steampunk

After Action Report:

Oh thank god.  A Sanderson book.  I was beginning to get the vapors.  Except these reviews are STILL running about two months behind my reading schedule, so it’s more like I’m starting to get the vapors again…

So Brandon Sanderson took a break from his endless list of epic fantasy projects in order to dabble in the ‘Young Adult’ fantasy market.  The result is, in many ways, a well-written subversion of the Harry Potter books.  Of course there’s more to The Rithmatist than that, but it does seem that Sanderson was aiming to distance himself as much as possible from the story of a kid chosen by fate to save the world from evil.  Unfortunately, it’s still the story (and the characters) he ended up writing.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #19 – Dial H, Vol.1

Dial H Vol 1Target: China Miéville’s Dial H, Vol.1: Into You.  Art by Mateus Santolouco and David Lapham. Collecting issues #1-6 and #0

Profile: Comics, Mystery, Science Fiction, Fantasy

After Action Report:

Like many of China Miéville’s novels, Dial H tries to alter the way readers look at its genres.  It uses the tropes of superheroics to tell an entirely different kind of story with a lot of style and unique take on the world of DC Comics.  It is a quintessentially Miéville story, where the rules have to be learned, or re-learned at the very least.  And in spite of all that, it stays true to the comic book canon and is a huge breath of fresh air in a space that has been stagnant for a while.

I am a huge fan of Miéville’s ability to turn the boundaries of genre into creative playgrounds and Dial H doesn’t disappoint in this respect.  It is a brilliantly rendered series that taps into the ‘weird’ space that DC has been attempting to capitalize on in their ‘New 52’ reboot.  It isn’t as grand in scope or story as some of the great graphic novels, like Sandman, but it bridges the gap between a superhero story and a ‘larger’ adventure.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #18 – Princeps

PrincepsTarget: L. E. Modesitt Jr.’s Princeps (Imager Portfolio #5)

Profile: Fantasy, Political Fiction

After Action Report:

After reading both Scholar and Princeps, I honestly think I was wrong about Modesitt’s motivations behind abandoning the ‘present-day’ progression of his Imager Portfolio series.  Pinceps is the second book in the Portfolio to follow Quaeryt, an imager that lived hundreds of years before the events of Imager.  In my review of Quaeryt’s first novel, Scholar, I accused Modesitt of fighting off stagnation by radically shifting the setting and the protagonist.  But now I’m beginning to think that he wrote a huge amount of backstory for the island nation of Solidar and was getting frustrated at being unable to use it in Rhennthyl’s storylines.

Princeps continues to flesh out the formation of Solidar, as the restless city-states of the continent are gearing up for full-fledged war.  But the primary focus of these books is increasingly an ongoing treatise on the value of intellectualism, the dangers of populism and an indictment of racial intolerance.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #17 – Secrets of the Fire Sea

Secrets of the Fire SeaTarget: Stephen Hunt’s Secrets of the Fire Sea (Jackelian #4)

Profile: Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Fantasy, Mystery

After Action Report:

The fourth book in Stephen Hunt’s Jackelian series is a marked improvement on the third, but doesn’t quite recapture the energy or creativity of the first.  However, the actual narrative line of Secrets of the Fire Sea is surprisingly clean and easy to follow, a vast improvement over Hunt’s pervious stories.

If you haven’t been following my various Cannonball blogs, Secrets of the Fire Sea takes place in Hunt’s steampunk/fantasy/sci-fi setting that started with The Court of the Air. And it is honestly one of the best steampunk settings out there, and continues to be wonderfully creative sometimes even surprising.  I would go so far as to say that the setting is the reason these books are worth reading, as the stories tend to be retreads of obvious tropes and are only interesting because of the set pieces that make up the world.

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