Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Walking Dead: Something to Fear

That show’s pretty good, huh? Well, I guess a lot of people didn’t care for the most recent season; I share their opinion, but for different cause. Oh, Andrea, why did they have to make you so hateful? Anyway, though, the show is like a dozen volumes behind right now. I can’t recall exactly where they are[1], but I do know I just finished volume 17. Which is a lot of volumes you guys.

I stand by what I said most recently. I continue to be compelled by this current plot, and I will keep reading until it is run into the ground regardless. But… and okay, here’s where I get a little wishy-washy. I can see ways to extend the current storyline at least two more books, without even half-trying. And I do not even mean they’d be stretched out or bad. Rick’s most recent and most shocking decision in a long time just has a lot of character potential, that’s all. And plus of course I should have known it couldn’t wrap up in this current book, because we hadn’t had an “oh no holy shit” moment recently enough, and that trumps plot progression.

So, my new claim is this: The Walking Dead can no longer tell a compelling tale past the resolution of the current storyline. Because, like I’ve been saying, they’ve already been down every road they reasonably can, without taking huge steps backward in character growth. I just hope Mr. Kirkman is paying attention to me over here, and gets while the getting is yet good.

[1] The people in the show.

Ultimate Comics X-Men – Volume 2

It’s time to admit that I’m a little bit lost on the whole Ultimate universe thing. First, there’s Spider-Man, which is consistently good, and I’ve had nearly a year to not think about it, so I’ll probably get over my ongoing objections. So that’s not so bad. Then there’s the Ultimates, which has amped everything up to 12 or 13, in keeping with the story they’re telling, don’t get me wrong, but since I still don’t think I liked that story, it is making me unfairly feel like the amped-upness of it contains the soullessness of a Michael Bay action piece.

Meanwhile, X-Men has just left me confused. The funny thing is, I didn’t entirely know I was confused during the first book until reflecting back on this one. They’ve done a good job of foreshadowing and playing it coy, and the confusion is not on the part of the writers. (Except for so far as, now that I know I’ve been confused, I’m still confused. But I’m assuming this is an artifact of another recycled regular-Marvel to Ultimate-Marvel storyline; if so, this is not a real complaint.[1]) But between the double- and triple-covert actions taking place, the four completely unrelated storylines that are only finally coming together a little bit, the other shoe of the whole “Mutants were created by the U.S. government while still trying to make that elusive super-soldier formula work right” reveal having taken so damned long to drop, and, let’s be honest, the large span of time since I last read these books[2], yeah. I’m at sea here.

On the bright side, the big “reveal” at the climax of volume 2 leads me to believe we’re in the home stretch toward resolving things and getting on to whatever comes next. Or possibly nothing will come next? My upcoming reading list, at least as portrayed by Amazon, is pretty sparse right now.

[1] Okay, it’s sort of a real complaint. If your big reveal is only a reveal to people who have read 50 years of comics (as opposed to my paltry 16), then yes, you will be leaving your new readers confused as to how that reveal is so momentous. I mean, it answered some of my confusion, it did, but it was also a scene between two characters I do not recognize, and that’s… problematic.
[2] Which are supposed to be monthly, remember. Well, the individual issues, but still, they’re supposed to happen in much closer proximity to each other than I give them even in the best of times.
[3] If I remembered how to diagram sentences, I would diagram a couple of these as punishment to myself for putting you the reader through trying to parse them sensibly, and perhaps I would learn to not do it as often. Pity I can’t remember how to diagram sentences.

Changes

71nTPAQkoHL._SL1062_If you were looking for the book with the most understated title, I would definitely offer into contention Changes, the Dresden Files book that puts me only two behind (I think). I received a spoiler for this book in the first sentence of someone’s review of its sequel, before I had quite realized what was happening. And so (after the annoyance faded), I stroked my chin and nodded wisely and said, “Ah, Changes. Indeed.” The spoiler I received, you see, was… no, wait, come back. Of course I’m not going to actually spoil it myself! Who am I here? I am only identifying its placement in the text, for the benefit of folks who have already read it. You know the last thing that happens? That one.

The point, my friends who have not read these books, is that everyone else is now snickering at me for thinking I understood what was going on in advance, and also for being quite so put out as I had been. In retrospect, considering a book whose first major change occurs in the opening paragraph[1] and who does not let up on Harry Dresden either being confronted with or choosing for himself one major change in the way his life works (worked, I should say, because boy howdy are things fundamentally different now) after another, I can even almost understand how said reviewer of the sequel could have tossed out that one spoiler so casually. As huge as it seemed to me at the time, it feels pretty small potatoes now. I, uh, think I’ll probably read the last few of these soon now. Not to avoid spoilers, that’s a fringe benefit, but because I really need to know where this is going.

[1] And that change is arguably bigger than the one I was spoiled for!

Oblivion (2013)

Since Oblivion is the kind of movie that it’s best going in knowing as little as possible[1], I will endeavor to keep this missive short and sweet. Remember when everything was basically fine on Earth, and aliens had not shown up to attack us and destroyed the moon and we had to retaliate with a bunch of nukes and therefore the planet wasn’t mostly a barren wasteland from which pretty much everyone still alive had emigrated to Titan? If so, you share at least a little in common with Tom Cruise, who despite the mandatory memory wipe has occasional flashes of memories that he knows aren’t really his, about the old days. When he isn’t having paradoxical contemplations about Earth-That-Was, Tom mostly flies around troubleshooting equipment (that is being used to collect what remains of the planet’s resources) or defending that equipment from the remaining aliens that still pop up to cause trouble now and then. When not on the job, he hangs out in a floating sky palace with his mission controller, Victoria.

Okay, that gets you through about the first five minutes of the film, and I am quite sure that’s all I want to tell you, except to say that you should see this one. It’s not a “run, don’t walk” kind of scenario, but if you like thoughtful science fiction, this is where you want to be. And Cruise, like Bruce Willis, has in my estimation been very reliable about picking the right sci-fi scripts. If you needed evidence outside my opinion about this one time, I mean.

[1] For example, don’t read footnote 2.[2]
[2] For real example, I wish I had been able to not know Morgan Freeman was a cast member, but every preview and the media blitz made it perfectly clear. Alas.

The Boys: The Name of the Game

It’s not that it’s unusual for me to start a new series now and again. But it’s highly unusual for me to read three graphic novels between actual prose books; still I’ve had a batch of these books on loan for a good long time, and it seems the fairest thing to do is burn through them as quickly as possible. Which is to say, you know, not literally all in a row, that’s crazy talk. But one per graphic novel break? Most definitely.

Way back at the beginning of my time in graphic novel reviews, I read Garth Ennis’ Preacher series. It would be fair to say I enjoyed it, with the despite / because-of dichotomy of the hyper-violence and the hyper-sacrilege alike to be left to the reader to decide. I think I’m correct in saying that The Boys is the first thing I’ve read by Ennis since. Not to worry, it is still pretty violent, at least going by The Name of the Game[1], and sacrilege is less relevant this time around anyway. Also, it made a nice companion-by-contrast piece with Powers, since that is also about people dedicated to dealing with super-powered persons in the world, those times when they fail to police themselves. (Which, in my long and still-stalled history with classic Marvel, not to mention a sizable number of other volumes over the years, computes to practically always.) The difference is that this particular policing group is comprised of people who really dislike and distrust the super-powered community, and are not afraid to show it, whether via blackmail, veiled threats, or bloody violence.

So, yeah, I’m prepared to keep going. The superheroes are mostly horrible people, and I am so far enjoying that contrast with the normal situation. Plus, there are hints of a Romeo/Juliet scenario in the works, and I do want to see how that goes and if I will end up hating some of the nominal protagonists of the piece when it all shakes out. (This seems more possible than it might otherwise when you learn that a sizable portion of the Boys are psychotic.) But I’m pretty disappointed by the homophobia in this one. I can deal with the misogyny, because it serves the plot in a meaningful way, and I expect there to be a payoff. But the homophobia was not only puerile[2], it was irrelevant. Am I really supposed to believe that, in 2005 or so, someone would have to take a leave of absence from their supergroup because he had decided to out himself as gay?

[1] If anything, I anticipate that Volume One is going to seem light and cheerful by comparison to future events.
[2] And believe me, it was. Gerbil jokes? Seriously?

Powers: Legends

I knew it had been a while since I last read anything in the Powers series, which is why I scanned my last couple of reviews. I thought (while I was reading this volume) that I still had a good grasp on what has happened lately, but one likes to make sure. What I would not have been able to guess is that it’s been significantly over a year. I guess if you do something for nine months, eventually the stuff you were doing before is more than a year ago, but still. Shocking!

But also prescient. Actually, scratch that. Terrible segue. I was prescient during those year-old reviews, is what I meant to convey. Because, see, well, let me quote myself: “Powers [are] basically outlawed altogether. (Which only makes a limited kind of sense in a world with supervillains, but roll with it.)” And sure enough, Bendis was able to spot that flaw just as quickly as I was, which is where Legends picks up some significant period of time after the events leading to that outlawing I mentioned. Cops such as our protagonists Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim are facing super-powered mobsters, and with a toolset to deal with them that is limited at best. And that’s fair enough, I like it when bad choices have consequences.

Of course, I like it less when bad choices made by other people have consequences to the common wash of humanity (and not incidentally characters I’m invested in) instead of to themselves. But it’s cool, the book is also about that, at least a little. No, you know, it’s about that a lot. The common folk see the consequences their politicians have forced upon them, the exiled Powers see the consequences, certainly the powered villains have seen the opportunities long since, and the only remaining question is how each group will react to their new-found knowledge.

All this, plus: three characters have shocking secrets!, and one character meets a shocking end! Yeah, okay, look, it’s not a perfect series by any means, but I like it alright.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates – Volume 2

I have previously pointed out that the current Ultimates run has been turning the dial to 11, and I think that has been true of the Ultimate series[1] in general since pretty much Magneto’s Ultimatum and on forward. Even the most laid-back of the current storylines, surrounding Spider-Man, has had a major character death in the not-too-distant past. Meanwhile, this particular episode has reached a conclusion of sorts, although not without multiple devastating nuclear strikes and a more-divergent-than-usual final outcome. And I’ll admit, however much I may have complained that the Ultimate line is working a little too hard to achieve the appearance of a full-throttle, all stories have major consequences! approach to things, it is nice to not be familiar with what’s coming next like I used to be during the first decade of that run.

As far as the current conclusion, I’m hopeful that something useful will finally be made of the main villain, whose identity I have been trying to keep quiet over the last few reviews; as things stand currently, all I have is a question mark about whether I’m expected to believe his beef with humanity (and the Ultimates in particular) is as straight-forward as it seems[2] and a smaller question mark as to what precisely occurred in his final scene of the book. Also, Tony Stark? Still cool.

[1] There is a definite downside, Marvel of ten years ago, in having one letter to distinguish between your current world-building / imprint and a team of heroes that reside within that world. I’m a little amazed I haven’t complained about this before.
[2] Because yes, I will be extremely disappointed if the most powerful Ultimate Comics villain since Galactus is only a villain because he was feeling butt-hurt and didn’t get over himself. That right there is a massive character shift with no provided explanation. (Ironically, if this were regular Marvel, I would completely believe it. That guy has always been a dick.)

Northstar Rising

I went with a Deathlands book to ease myself into reading not-The-Wheel-of-Time, and I have to say, it was a solid choice. (The other initial possibility was Dresden Files.) See, while I had no problem returning from screen to paper, I had a huge problem reading a book that didn’t have Rand in it. Not him specifically, but I’m not kidding either; for pretty much the first half of Northstar Rising, everything about it felt subtly wrong, like I was reading a fake book that someone was trying to convince me was the real thing.

Eventually I settled in, and this one is every bit as good as the others, though I am starting to have minor problems with the series. For one thing, the titles? Chosen seemingly at random lately. I’ll admit that they went to Minnesota, which is in the north. But otherwise, they hung out with cryogenically frozen doctors (who are a touch on the stereotyped side, alas) and giant ant swarms and vikings and barrels of radioactive waste. You know, like you do when it’s the nuclear devastated wastelands of America a hundred years in the future.

Then again, I cannot really say what I’d have named it instead, there being no common theme to pull the various events of the book together. On the other hand, they broke formula a little, and that’s probably good news. Like I say, minor problems. Certainly nowhere near enough to make me put away the mind candy.

Evil Dead

In a way, I’m disappointed by Evil Dead‘s prologue scene, since it removes the possibility of the film being a nightmare metaphor for facing and exorcising one’s demons. I mean, no, that’s not fair. It’s still a metaphor for that, but I wish I was able to believe that was true internally to the story instead of only externally, and the prologue is the line between those possibilities.

Metaphor aside, Evil Dead is a reasonably faithful adaptation of Sam Raimi’s original 1981 flick. Five friends head out to a cabin in the woods[1], find and foolishly read the Book of the Dead sitting in the basement, and then some fragment of hell breaks loose, the trees get frisky, and people start getting dismembered. I’m sure there are movies I’ve seen with more blood in them, but I’m hard-pressed to remember one. I know for a fact I’ve seen films with more gore, if only because nobody spilled their intestines. Still, though, I don’t think I’ve seen any movie that has as many things going into and especially being pulled out of someone’s body. So, that’s a claim to fame, I guess? At the least, you know what to expect now.

The acting (except for maybe the blonde chick) was above average, the effects were impressive (especially if you unfairly compare them against the intervening three decades[2] and more than an order of magnitude smaller budget of the original), and the soundtrack was pretty darn good. You could do worse for a horror outing and you could do a hell of a lot worse for a remake outing. …but seriously, who sees movies because they’re remakes?

[1] Not a Cabin in the Woods, though the influences of the original on that very fine movie are easy to spot.
[2] God help us.

A Memory of Light

For the past twenty years, which it to say, about as long as it takes to grow a human, I have been reading the Wheel of Time. For the past nine months, which is to say, about as long as it takes to gestate a human, I have been reading nothing except[1] the Wheel of Time. As of sometime shortly after I finish this review, those days have ended, I guess. It’s pretty hard to think past that, so far.

This also marks the end of the Kindle experiment. After going more than eight months of just that little screen, I picked up and read a physical book again. And let’s not kid around, A Memory of Light is a monster of a book. So, how was the adjustment? It sucked having to find light in the dark instead of the light being built in right there. And it sucked having to lug around such a huge beast of a thing instead of a thin rectangle that fits in my pocket and holds more than enough books to choke a zorse. And, call me Luddite however you will, it was a relief to be turning pages and not having the words vanish mid-screen when I turned back to the open surface after a few minutes of distraction by work or whatever. I don’t know if it’s that the ritual act is subtly different and I missed it, or what. But I am quite sure I’m not finished with legacy paperbooks yet. (Not to worry, though, the Kindle is still 100% awesome for re-reads and Dresden Files paperbacks that have lately been manufactured using non-Euclidean geometries that hurt my brain.)

And there’s the story inside the book. See, I do not think there will be spoilers here, just sensory impressions. Nonetheless, I make no promises depending upon your sensitivity. Let’s see… First, I’m glad it was three books. The first two books could have been combined into one monster, but this deserved to be separate. It was not the same story, it was not the same stage of story, and although between them they probably did not need three entire books’ worth of pages to tell the last of what Jordan left behind, they probably did need two and a half.

I just had to delete half a paragraph (and an accompanying footnote!) when I realized that it was incredibly spoilerish in its implication. You probably don’t need to know that, but if the rest of this seems a little thin, that’s why. But, here’s what left of what I can say: A Memory of Light is a very apt book title. This is such a grim story. It should be; with terms like ‘the Last Battle’ and ‘the Dark One will break the Wheel of Time and remake it in his own image’ floating around, if your world isn’t on the brink of total destruction by the last book in your series, then you’ve been writing the previous books wrong. Anyway, my point is this. There were ways I might have hated the way the story ends (The Great Lord’s victory not being among them, and I’m not just saying that in an effort to avoid the appearance of spoilers[2]), but none of them came to pass. Which is to say, I can unreservedly recommend that people who have not made up their minds should go ahead and finish. There are a couple of bad parts to the story, but it is, taken as a whole, a solidly good story that I’m glad I read and that I do not think has let me down, not after either the nine months or the twenty years.

And, okay, one or two spoilers behind the cut.

[1] I mean, yes the internet, and yes some of the articles in Playboy. But no books, no comics, no graphic novels.
[2] Though I find that secondary outcome decidedly convenient!

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