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Hack/Slash: Dead Celebrities April 16, 2014

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hackslash_vol10I must have picked the wrong order of books or something, no way I’ve read enough graphic novels lately to get two about Cassie Hack as close together as this. Oops I guess? Weird crossover successfully dealt with, Cassie is back to her old tricks. Which are still mostly episodically dealing with jungle goddesses and revenge-seeking parapalegics and incursions from other, more rapey dimensions. Luckily, this is exactly the kind of thing I want out of my Rebellious Teenage Girl and Her Giant Deformed Sidekick literature.

The main plot, as you may have partially gleaned from the title, revolves around a recent rash of murdered celebrities. Which is only so interesting, even when tangled up with Cassie’s own fascination with, and experience of being (albeit only in limited circles), celebrity. Except for the parody portion, which was fantastic. Even if the rest of the book had been horrid, I would have been satisfied because of Lady-Gaga-by-proxy Art Projekt, whose entire career is to support her master’s thesis in sociology. And since the rest of the book was, instead of horrid, lots of cheesecake-laden fights with rampaging murderers and/or murderous rampagers, yeah: still a fun series!

Ultimate X-Men: World War X April 8, 2014

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jpegIf the last several volumes of Ultimate X-Men had been bad, that would be one thing. I’ve seen them through bad stretches before, and if I do again, I’ll probably be able to work that out too. It happens. No, what’s so especially frustrating is that both the individual plots and the overarching one, finally brought to its climax in World War X, have been really quite good. Personal stories with high stakes, good interactions with the ongoing stories in the Ultimates, and the central mystery of why someone as powerful as Jean Grey has been so deftly used, or why she let herself be used, or why she’s turned so suddenly power hungry and maybe evil, plus also the mystery of which one of those it even is.

Except, and I say this with no opprobrium for the actual story of the battle between Jean Grey’s Tian and Kitty Pryde’s Utopia for the future (or the soul, if you’re feeling especially poetic) of mutantkind; that story was perfectly dandy and even pretty cool in places. Except: there’s no payoff. Not only do I still have no idea what made our Ms. Phoenix go off the deep end, there is really no hint that it was supposed to be hard to swallow.

Which renders the whole exercise not only frustrating, but at least a little bit retroactively pointless. Ugh. At least with Reed Richards, I know what happened. This is just bad characterization, going back basically all the way to right after the Ultimatum wave. Which means Jean Grey has been a plot-driven puppet for like four years. Ugh.

Which I guess I already said once before in that paragraph. But jeeze. Usually these are perfectly serviceable. Hell, I liked the whole stretch right up until the end, when I found out there wasn’t actually anything there, right? Okay. Done complaining.

Side Jobs April 2, 2014

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Side-jobs-by-jim-butcherIn awesometimes news, I’m a mere two books behind in the Dresden Files series now. In less awesometimes news, that will change in less than sixty days when another book comes out. Plus also, Side Jobs, being a collection of short stories across the course of Harry’s story so far, did not actually advance the story more than a smidgeon beyond the massive cliffhanger ending of the prior book. Which I read a year ago?? And I wonder why I can’t get caught up.

I don’t think it particularly has a unifying theme, but since the stories were written over the course of eight years or more, there’s no reason why it particularly should have one, is there? Still, my mind craves this kind of thing, and found (or more likely was handed by the author, since he introduces each of these stories in a page or so) this: in contravention of all available evidence, not everything that happens to Harry Dresden and his friends has world-shattering impact. Sometimes there’s just a lost girl or a stolen batch of mead or a… okay, it’s honestly a lost girl a lot of the time. Which is maybe a bit of a bummer, because it’s a lot easier to accept the sexism from Harry than it is from Butcher. But then again, noir as a genre is Women-in-Danger-heavy. So I will handwave this for now, since at least Harry keeps growing as a character. But man do I wish my mind didn’t crave this kind of thing.[1]

In any event, all of the stories were diverting, most of them were pretty darn good, and my favorite of the bunch, The Warrior, even got me in the emotions at one point near the end. I will say that the two narrators who were not Harry[2], while distinct in voice from him, were not really distinct enough; not for my tastes, and certainly not to sustain a story much longer than what he wrote. But then, I’ve always kind of assumed that Harry’s voice is much closer to Butcher’s than not. As complaints go, the fridge thing bothers me quite a bit more.

[1] In all sincerity, I had not noticed the trend yet when I started that paragraph.
[2] Thomas Raith once and Karrin Murphy once, if you wanted to know, and if you don’t know who each of them is, I really can’t imagine why you wanted to know in the first place.

Ultimate Spider-Man: Spider-Man No More March 26, 2014

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jpegWithout this Cataclysm event coming up, I could see myself being extremely excited about the direction in which Bendis is taking Miles Morales’ story. …okay, that’s not fair. I still am excited about it, I just hate to see it get put on hold for a big giant event that he should by rights be at the fringes of (I mean, unless the earth is destroyed? That would change my opinion drastically and unpredictably), or even worse, get partially canceled / re-written. Perhaps what I am saying is, I wish Bendis was at the helm of the whole universe, so I could trust that this particular aspect won’t get railroaded somewhere dumb.

Anyway.

Stan Lee originally wrote this story (well, title) for issue 50 of Peter Parker’s run, published in 1967. Pete was tired of being Spider-Man because his life was always one terrible event after another, and something something Aunt May’s heart, and long story short, Marvel could not go more than 1/3 of the pages in any given comic without the hero being in costume, so you knew something would change his mind by early in issue 51. (In this case: Kingpin.) Bendis’ take on Spider-Man No More! is interesting to me for quite a few reasons, but chiefly because of the vast gulf of difference between Then and Now.

Miles went through a fairly major life event at the end of the previous book, as a result of which[1] he’s put away the uniform and the web slingers to resume a normal high school life. And then, boom, a year passes. A year! Because Miles, unlike non-Ultimate Peter Parker, knows how to commit to a decision.[2] Of course, it’s still a comic and the past always catches up with you, but unlike Stan Lee (however much I appreciate all that he’s done), this was handled thoughtfully, with false starts and denials before the inevitable outcome, and I do not feel that Miles is on a whiny pogo stick. I definitely think, as I already said back in that top paragraph, that he and Spider-Woman are on an excellent path with a lot of potential, and I hope I get to see how that turns out.

[1] I bet you could see this coming.
[2] Also because really a lot of events have been happening around the rest of the world, between mutant rights and new American civil wars and so on, and it’s nice to see that, if Miles is not going to be involved in those events, the editorial staff came up with a good way to explain why not. Plus, it’s good getting him a little bit older. Also, for those taking notes, this indicates that somewhere in the range of 2.5 to 3 years have passed since all the mutants and superheroes started appearing on the scene back in 2000-2001 when all this Ultimate folderol began. (Contrast: regular Marvel time, as checked against Peter Parker’s schooling process, has spent maybe 6 years of time between 1961 and 1979. So the scales actually match up pretty well!)

The Walking Dead: All Out War Part One March 22, 2014

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Wd-cover-Vol20-dressedsmThe problem with reviewing All Out War isn’t the usual one where, oh no, the series has gone on for twenty volumes, how am I supposed to talk about what’s going on now without massive spoilers? Either I care less about spoilers than I should, or else something about these books doesn’t cause the typical problem. No, the problem with the review is the same thing that’s a strength of the book. It doesn’t really feel like a new book at all, more like just a new comic. That makes it sound like the storyline hasn’t progressed, and it definitely has. It’s just that the last few books, pretty much ever since Rick was asked to remove protectionist warlord Negan from the world, have felt a lot more like a single coherent storyline than the Walking Dead used to.

I reckon that the title reveals both a) that the plot is going as I’d anticipated and b) that they’re taking a little longer to get there than they could have. Which is fine. In a case of becoming more wishy-washy than ever, the strength of Negan’s character (which, yes, continues to compel) and the strength of the current plot are buying me enough goodwill to no longer hope it wraps up soon. Intellectually, I know that’s why Kirkman needs to wrap things up on this high note more than ever, but, screw it. If he doesn’t, I’ll cave and stick around for a while until the high points come back yet again.

The Troop March 22, 2014

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cover32021-mediumI’ve had an advanced reading copy of The Troop sitting on my reading devices since last fall. It’s probably fair to say that I’ve misused the entire purpose of Netgalley’s project by waiting until a couple of months after the book was released to actually read it. So, um, my apologies to the people who set that up and possibly to the author who, were this going to be a favorable review, might have lost out on literally ones of avid readers as a result?

I can’t decide if I’m being unfair. I know that my most negative impressions of the book were early on, when I hadn’t gotten used to the weird random capitalization errors and other iffy editing that I’ve never seen in physical ARCs I’ve gotten before, in used bookstores or whatnot. But I really don’t think that’s all it was. Which, to explain more, I should probably talk about the book. See, these Canadian boy scouts head off to a small island somewhere off the coast of, um, Canadia, where they can live out their various Breakfast Club stereotypes in nature. And that would have worked out the same way as it always does, I guess, with some fire building and some rock throwing and some hiking marching songs and whatnot, except for the extremely hungry gentleman in the speedboat who lands on the island a few hours later, and the apparently-Canada-has-a-navy quarantine blockade of the island that quickly follows.

You can see why I was into that premise, I’m sure. The execution, though… here’s what it looks like happened, although if you’d asked me, I would have said that the entire purpose of an editor is to prevent something like this. It seems like the author got better over the course of the book. The characters (well, the ones who were still alive) got incrementally more, you know, real, and the plot got tighter and more tense, and by the end it felt like a pretty interesting story had happened, but man, that rocky start. I’m really not convinced I’d have gotten past 10%[1] if I hadn’t felt guilty about running late. Which, in retrospect, is a pretty dumb way to look at it, since I would have felt obligated to put out an honest pre-release review if I’d read it on time, and should have taken the opportunity to not care since I waited too long anyway.

Plus maybe they fixed the first third of the story in post?

[1] Page numbers are weird in the future.

The Unwritten: Leviathan March 5, 2014

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11142767The irony of staring at a blank screen, trying to figure out what to say about the current volume of The Unwritten, it has not escaped me. Here’s where I’m stuck. The story, in which Tom Taylor is exercising his new-found powers over the world and the literary realms[1], was definitely lively enough to keep me interested throughout. The problem is, having reached the end and nodding along wisely as he explicates his own conclusions on the topic and re-dedicates himself to the fight those powers are meant to help him with…

Well, the problem is, I don’t really yet have any idea what either he or his opposition want to accomplish. The stakes certainly seem world-spanningly high, and it may be my fault for having spaced these books out too broadly, but I have no idea what the prize is supposed to be, much less the win condition. It seems like I should, and it’s hard to look back and care very much while I don’t.

I’m kind of asking, in fact. Does anyone else read this series and know what the fight is actually for? I don’t want spoilers if I shouldn’t know yet (as of Leviathan), but a confirmation that someone else does know or an appropriate reminder if I should know myself, these would definitely not go amiss. It’s all the more frustrating because I appreciate what Carey is doing here, and I think he might have something profound on his hands, but right now it, whatever it is, is as adrift as I am.

[1] Perhaps someday we’ll find out if he has powers over the world as well because he himself is a character in a literary realm. That might be far too meta and self-aware of the story, but I haven’t made up my mind yet. Probably I won’t until it happens, and if it never happens, I’ll be stuck always wondering if that’s what I was supposed to believe.

Ultimates: Disassembled March 4, 2014

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jpegI’m very nearly caught up on Ultimate Marvel comics again, after my year-long hiatus to read about a shepherd with a sword. Which is really good timing, because The Ultimates: Disassembled makes a good go at tying up every loose end that has dangled since the Ultimatum[1], not to mention a few from the Gah Lak Tus incursion. Plus, the Fantastic Four are finally reunited?!

Unfortunately, it cleans up those loose ends in such a way that I’m still not sure if what’s been going on with Quicksilver for the past three years or so has all been this, or different authors pulling him in different directions. (See, I was going to say, “If you want to know what’s been up with Quicksilver, here you go!” Only, I’m still not completely positive I do know.) If you want to see another convoluted time travel story involving Kang the Conqueror? Cool, here it is! If you care about the Infinity Gauntlet[2], this is where you’d find the Ultimate version!

What is fortunate is that this felt like a story instead of the series of tickboxes I complained about for the last Ultimates outing. An exciting story, with more than a dollop of consequences, and a big albeit possibly premature glimpse at the upcoming, what are they calling it this time, Cataclysm I think? I’ll definitely take that. But I am kind of sad at implications that my excellent character analysis of Ultimate Reed Richards (available upon request in comments, if I haven’t already told you it in some other written or aural format) may have just been undone. Thanks a lot, Kang.

[1] If there’s one thing that does make me happy about there being a new massive crossover event that will kill off half the populace or more all over again, it’s that I can at least start referring back to a new dividing line between “then” and “now”.
[2] Plausibly, I will someday care about this.

Seedling March 3, 2014

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51b094MgQYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Assuming you haven’t been here long (and are unwilling to click through the Deathlands tag): post-apocalyptic 22nd Century gun porn with teleporters and whiffs of Seven Samurai, in episodic format, series approximately 100 books in length. Okay? Okay.

Since I’m still reading them, it’s probably time to stop being surprised by how compelling they are, or at least to stop mentioning it every time. The real problem is that without that or the setting summary, and without massive spoilers, it’s hard to say much of a much. Plausibly, I should not concern myself with spoilers regarding a 25 year old men’s adventure series that nobody besides me is going to read, but it’s hard to think that way. The result of all of this being, there’s maybe a sentence, tops, I can put together to explain any given book.

In the case of Seedling, Ryan Cawdor and company stumble out of the latest abandoned secret government teleport installation into uptown Manhattan (or technically probably Queens, but whatever), where they discover the biggest collection of pre-nuke hardware and memorabilia any of them have ever seen, an unexpected mutant army, the expected levels of treachery and general Deathlands deadliness[1], and a deviously clever use of the book’s title.

[1] After all, it’s not named that because you’d want to buy into the timeshare.[2]
[2] Okay, fine, two sentences. But only barely.

Hack/Slash/Eva: Monster’s Ball February 17, 2014

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HACK_SLASH_EVA_MONSTERS_BALL_TRADE_PAPERBACKMonster’s Ball was refreshing in that it was an episodic slasher hunt without any accumulated baggage, exactly the kind of thing I’ve been asking for. It was problematic in that… well, see that “Eva” up there? Apparently this was a crossover between Cassie’s comic and Eva’s, who is a brunette hunter of monsters in tight, occasionally accidentally-revealing clothing accompanied by a hulking, inhuman, green-skinned monster[1]. I’m not precisely sure who is ripping off whom here, but clearly the creators must not mind so much, or else I doubt there would have been a crossover in the first place?

Also, it was less of a crossover and more of a boost for the Eva character, as far as I can tell. That is, it’s much harder to find any information about this person, despite the authorial duties coming from that direction, and also Cassie and Vlad were entirely guest stars in Eva’s enemy’s evil plot. Sure, some of Cassie’s old enemies made an appearance, but you could skip this and never know you’d missed anything, whereas even without knowing anything about Eva that I didn’t glean in this book, it’s obvious that her life altered significantly between the first and last pages of the story. So, cool I guess?

Even if other Eva collections existed (and they appear not to), I wouldn’t be seeking them out after this taste. Which probably tells you what you need to know.

[1] I mean, not the Hulk.