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Powers: Cosmic July 16, 2014

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71DwWGj1SOLHonestly? I kinda got nothing here. This Powers collection has retroactively justified my recent acceptance of Captain Marvel into my personal Marvel comics canon, since it is about the death of Earth’s Cosmic guardian and what that means for the planet’s future. (Because, you see, that’s what Kree-born warrior Mar-Vell’s story has eventually metamorphosed into.) But otherwise, it is by and large standard Powers fare, with murders to solve[1], heroism to be performed, and major plot-points to be incrementally moved forward.

If I could talk about said plot-points without big spoilers for previous parts of the series, maybe I’d have more to say. Because there’s definitely a building theme over the course of the series, one that I could not have predicted before being an unregistered superhero got outlawed and which now seems unavoidable in retrospect. But, yeah, major character and story arc spoilers lie in that direction. Next book, when things come to what I assume is an inevitable head, I’ll just have to duck behind the spoiler cut and talk about it anyway, but since both character arcs were in set-up mode this time, I can safely wait one more time.

Meanwhile, a structural discussion. Every issue in this collection started with a coffee-house-looking open mic night, with a different random character from somewhere in The City(tm) doing a different not-quite-comedic stand-up routine. It’s not that they were bad, by and large. It’s that they felt like they were supposed to be making some kind of thematic resonance, either within the current plot or maybe even issue by issue. And, I flat out did not get it. I have no point here, I just wonder if that’s on me or on Bendis.

[1] Notably, the one I already alluded to.

Cataclysm: The Ultimates’ Last Stand July 2, 2014

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511fl0IJPOLThis is, what, the fifth Ultimate universe crossover event? Well, probably more even than that, but it’s certainly the second really big one, after the Ultimatum, which is cool because now I can start marking time from this instead of that. Based on the cover of this and many past books, I think it’s fair to say that if the Ultimate universe can even survive[1], this is certainly an event which changes everything, an event after which nothing can be the same!

And, okay, it’s a fair statement to make, right? The last time nothing could ever be the same, something like a third of the major and minor heroes died because Magneto flooded Manhattan and froze Europe solid. That’s some pretty hardcore destruction, and it certainly went after the highest density of heroes, with predictable and already-mentioned results.[2] If that sounds hardcore, then you can only agree that a confrontation with the literal purple-hatted Devourer of Worlds would be rather more Cataclysmic, right?

So, yep. Dire odds, check. Requirement for every single superhero to band together against total destruction, check. Desperate gambles, heroic sacrifices, senseless tragedies? Check, check, check. And of course, for anyone who’s been paying attention the last couple of years, we all know there’s only one person who can defeat Galactus, right? That’s some added conflict right there.

Like you’d expect, Bendis’ stories have the biggest emotional punch, but there’s really not a single bad moment anywhere in this event, which is far more than I can say for the muddled, incoherent mess that the Ultimatum storyline became. Let me say it like this: at the end of a story that featured significant amounts of Rick Jones, I do not currently despise Rick Jones. That? Is impressive storytelling.

And, y’know, it was valid claim after all. Nothing will ever be the same.

Probably.

[1] Spoiler alert: probably it can?
[2] Although, who could have predicted that the single largest impactful moment would have been the meeting between Ben Grimm and Victor Von Doom in the epilogue? Honestly, it’s still not clear to me whether even the authors are aware of just how instrumental that was to subsequent events.

The Way of Kings revisited June 25, 2014

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51WC999OnyLOn the one hand, there are so many new books I want to read right away, and I kind of resent the need to go back and read a book I’ve already read just to remember what would be going on in the sequel, now that it’s finally out three and a half years later. And then I think about other books I want to reread also, actively because I haven’t in a very long time rather than passively so that I’ll remember what’s going on as per that prior sentence. Not to mention just how much rereading I’ve done over the past couple of years.

All of that to say that (despite all my complaining), wow, The Way of Kings is still extremely good. Intriguing characters with real problems (I mean, besides the end of the world), highly alien setting with reasonable extensions of human societal development as a result[1], moral dilemmas, secrets to be explored, and of course exciting combat and magic sequences. I don’t think it would hold up to the kind of attention I paid Jordan’s opus, but that’s a reflection of how I’ve changed more than anything else. Which is why it’s nice to have followed along on the Tor reread as I dug through this one. Well, it was up until the last quarter of the book or so, when suddenly the authors and a lot of the commenters had read the new book and I had not yet. Bleah.

Because, seriously? It’s not all the details they teased out of this book that astonish me, although there are some pretty astonishing things being teased out. Someone translated runic script on a couple of the late book drawings? Someone else identified who all of the faces are in the chapter icons, associated them with thematic elements laid out in the otherwise bare glossary, and then proved how those faces / themes fit the chapters?! Are you kidding me? So, yes. Pretty meaty stuff, and kudos to Brandon Sanderson for that much depth and attention to detail at every turn. But then there’s all the connections they have drawn to his other works, which are all set in the same universe[2] and contain a same wandering character as well as the same pantheon of cooperative and opposed gods, some alive, some dead, spread out in the various corners they have decided to stake out and world[3] around with. Although I’ve read like 3/4 of his output, I would never have had the faintest clue about any of these interconnections. Which just makes me want to go back and reread all the rest of his books too, and if I resented the time for this, how am I supposed to find time for that?

Curse you, Sanderson!

[1] And if it seems like this alien of a world shouldn’t have humans in the first place, I’m nearly positive that’s by design and may well be addressed, implicitly or explicitly.
[2] Cosmere, they call it, and apparently the people on this book’s world, Roshar, are aware of said Cosmere and aware that travel to other places is possible. Answering how that can be is another missing piece I look greatly forward to acquiring somewhere down the line!
[3] Plausibly, world is not a viable verb? Then again, maybe it is. I’ve never Mormoned, so I can’t be sure.

Jack of Fables: The Big Book of War May 11, 2014

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51HD3y3QFQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_So, it happened the way I thought! (You know, thanks to the twin powers of authorial foreshadowing, logical consequences of previous actions, and foreknowledge of the subsequent book’s title. ….er, triplet powers.) Sure enough, all those inter-related Literals (who are living representations of various literary terms[1]) have proceeded with the war against each other to determine the fate of the Fables, who they all agree that they dislike immensely but apparently hate each others’ Final Solutions enough to shed each others’ blood rallying for their own specific cause.

You can imagine how that turns out for the Fables, I suppose, since this is a story and not real life. Plus also, there’s good old deceit-filled, beanstalk-climbing, always-has-an-angle Jack fighting on the side of himself, which is to say that he doesn’t want all the Fables to be destroyed since he is one and all. So: big war? Cool. Deeper understanding of what’s actually going on? Definitely cool, even if there are still pretty big gaps. Overall: it is 100% clear that the Jack stories just aren’t nearly as good as the main sequence Fable stories, and in fact that Jack himself is starting to be as unlikable to me as he was probably supposed to be all along on top of it; but still, they’re diverting enough to keep reading. (It helps that I know there aren’t many left.)

[1] For example, probably one of them I haven’t met yet is named Foreshadowing, and either knows what will happen soon or drops hints about what will happen soon without actually knowing that’s what he or she is doing.

Marvel 1602: New World April 30, 2014

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250px-1602_New_World_coverWhat do you get when you take the stable of Marvel superheroes, transplant their existence 350 years into the past (and initially across an ocean, but I think we all knew that wouldn’t last) and have the whole concept authored by the only comic creator ever to win the World Fantasy Award? Something that is, in all sincerity, pretty damn cool. What do you get when you follow-up on the aftermath of that first outing, using a completely other author that I’ve never heard of? Well, it’s a good thing I mostly like and am pretty familiar with these characters, at least.

New World, predictably, continues the story of the people of Roanoke, now that all of existence is no longer under dire threat. Instead, they have to deal with way too many “Witchbreed”, which is to say people with powers, and rampaging dinosaurs, and slimy land developers, and metal-suited men bent on revenge for historical wrongs. None of which was especially disinteresting, but the white man vs. indian plotline was trite and the rest didn’t hold a candle to its source material.

Most criminally for a story half of whose character arc was focused on Virginia Dare, she was barely present. I mean, she was there, working through her own “should I use my powers?” crisis, but that’s literally all any of her scenes were. “It’s too dangerous! I mustn’t! Should I?” Then, later, she decided. No process, no journey, just bad event leads to crisis leads to indecision leads to decision. Nothing reflective, no synthesis, nothing at all that would involve the rest of the plot, or some visible internal character growth.

I’ll say this, though: it’s nice that I expect comics to provide me with that. Hooray for a lot of people who are out there doing things right!

Allies April 25, 2014

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alliesOn the one hand, I knew intellectually that the second half of the Fate of the Jedi series had been sitting on a shelf collecting dust[1] for a while. But it’s quite another hand indeed to go back through my previous four reviews in preparation for this one to discover that I read them between 2009-2011. And yet, I want to reread the Malazan series before tackling the last two books, or Sanderson’s series before opening its book 2, or Rothfuss before the finale comes out. I wouldn’t have time for this if I wasn’t working 50 hours a week! (Although, to be fair, a good portion of my reading does occur within those hours, so I don’t have it as hard as it sounds.)

Another uncomfortable realization I had while scanning these reviews to catch myself up is that the series is deeply flawed. Or possibly the Extended Universe itself is deeply flawed? Well, at least the future half of it, by which I mean the continuing adventures of Luke Skywalker and his Extended Family. Which, when you get right down to it, is the flaw. But I said plenty enough about that last time; all I mean to convey here is that 2011 me was pretty persuasive and is still right.[2]

The funny thing is, even though I was aware of flaws in Allies just as I had been in the previous members of the series, that did not stop me from enjoying myself. This time, the weird outlying thing was slavery. Don’t get me wrong, the various people in the various far-flung reaches of the galaxy should ought to be free. And maybe the fact that it hasn’t come up until now, right in the middle of a story that is very much about other things is exactly the point? It’s not like you’re going to catch me saying “too soon”; if anything, it’s millennia overdue and I can’t help wondering why the Jedi have never done anything about it before, even though I know the answer.[3] But structurally, even if it is the point from a “the world/galaxy/whatever sure is messy about its timing” perspective, it’s weird to bring it up as a third of a book’s topic at the midpoint of a nine book series, when other than acknowledging its existence in the galaxy, Star Wars has literally never[4] talked about this topic before.

So, okay. Structurally odd, like I said. But the treatment was handled well and clearly tied into the future of the series even if not its past. And everything else? I’ve probably mentioned that the Jedi are under a dark cloud because of their failure to prevent the latest previous Sith incursion, right? Well, not only is that political stew getting worse all the time, but in the meantime Luke has allied[6] himself with a whole armada of newly discovered Sith, because of… well, it’s honestly not that important why, in the scheme of things. Jedi going insane, massively overwhelming evil in the middle of a nest of black holes, you know the drill. “Dawn’s in trouble? Must be Tuesday.” Like that.

But it’s Star Wars, and even bad Star Wars…. no, you know what? There’s some craptacular Star Wars out there. But even structurally unsound, problematically repetitive Star Wars is still fun. That’s all I’m really trying to say.

[1] Oh, how I wish I meant this less literally than I do.
[2] On the bright side, the announcement of an Episode 7 has halted all production in that direction, such that three years later, I’m only the rest of this series plus one more book behind. Probably because they can see all their carefully crafted continuity about to come crashing down around their ears. ….which is probably the best news the Extended Universe has had in a long time. Or maybe I’m just cynical. But seriously, 2011 me was pretty smart about this.
[3] Wildly insufficient numbers is the answer. I mean, spectacularly insufficient. Though probably not insufficient to have been the shining beacon leading the way for everyone else.
[4] Well, that I’ve seen. And okay, I have not consumed all the Star Wars out there that is to be consumed. But I’m way over half, which is more than probably anyone else you know.[5]
[5] For values of “you” whose initials are not ZD.
[6] Oh, hey, maybe that’s where they got the title! Nah, I kid, there were a number of unlikely alliances throughout the story.

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!)