books

REVIEW: “Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss / “Doctor Who: The Witchfinders” by Joy Wilkinson (Doctor Who Target Collection)

The Target range of Doctor Who novelizations has long held the ability to transform an otherwise average-to-bad episode of the show into a memorable and enjoyable book. Sometimes, what doesn’t work on screen is destined to work on the page, and granting the original screenwriter the opportunity to expand upon their script often yields exciting results. This is the mindset I approached the latest wave of the range with. Neither “The Crimson Horror” nor “The Witchfinders” are bad episodes of Doctor Who, but they are decidedly average ones, which means there’s quite a lot of room for them to be bettered in a novelization. While “The Crimson Horror” doesn’t really achieve this feat, “The Witchfinders” does. And, to be fair, both novels are immensely enjoyable and should prove pleasing to any Doctor Who fan who decides to read either story.

“Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss
Something ghastly is afoot in Victorian Yorkshire. Something that kills. Bodies are washing up in the canal, their skin a waxy, glowing red… But just what is this crimson horror? Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax are despatched to investigate the mystery. Strangely reluctant to assist their enquiries is Mrs Winifred Gillyflower, matriarch of ‘Sweetville’, a seemingly utopian workers’ community. Why do all roads lead to the team’s old friends Clara and the Doctor? Who is Mrs Gillyflower’s mysterious silent partner Mr Sweet? And will the motley gang be in time to defeat the mysterious power that threatens all the world with its poison?

“Doctor Who: The Witchfinders” by Joy Wilkinson
The TARDIS lands in the Lancashire village of Bilehurst Cragg in the 17th century, and the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz soon become embroiled in a witch trial run by the local landowner. Fear stalks the land, and the arrival of King James I only serves to intensify the witch hunt. But the Doctor soon realises there is something more sinister than paranoia and superstition at work. Tendrils of living mud stir in the ground and the dead lurch back to horrifying life as an evil alien presence begins to revive. The Doctor and her friends must save not only the people of Bilehurst Cragg from the wakening forces, but the entire world.

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REVIEW: “Killadelphia vol. 2 – Burn Baby Burn”

The first arc of Rodney Barnes and Jason Shawn Alexander’s Killadelphia ranked among my favorite comics of 2020. It was a breathtaking, gorgeous, layered story that blended absurd-yet-scary horror with gritty, grounded character drama. So, naturally, I was pretty excited to see where the comic would go from there. That first volume ended in a way that opened numerous narrative doors for future stories. And that’s a pretty exciting place for a second arc to find itself. Now, to be fair, Barnes and Alexander certainly take advantage of those numerous avenues—but it comes at the cost of narrative coherence. While the first volume of Killadelphia was something new and exciting, the second volume feels like more of the same—with all of the pros and cons that come with that. The world is explored with more depth, but the narrative is often unfocused, with an ending that’s less of an ending and more of a beginning for another story. There’s too much going on and not enough time to explore it with. (3 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: This review will remain as spoiler free as possible.

Killadelphia vol.2 – “Burn Baby Burn”
Written by Rodney Barnes
Illustrated by Jason Shawn Alexander
Adams’ battle to reshape the United States in his own twisted vision might have been thwarted for now, giving Jimmy Sangster a moment of respite, but the war for a new America rages on! Now, as Abigail steps out of the shadows, she unleashes a new violent terror upon the city some have renamed Killadelphia. But this time, it’s about creating as widespread a web of fear imaginable as she rips the beating heart from the city itself.

Can Jimmy stop her or will history repeat and force him to meet the same fate as his father?

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REVIEW: “Tales From the Umbrella Academy: You Look Like Death” by Gerard Way, Shaun Simon, and I.N.J. Culbard

One of the best things about the first season of Netflix’s adaptation of The Umbrella Academy was the way it developed Klaus. In the comics, he wasn’t depicted as much more than a troubled drug addict who could talk with the dead. But the show dove deep into his past, expanding upon the trauma he undergoes by exposing himself to these unrestful spirits, and giving him a heartbreaking love story and an unhealthy amount of Vietnam PTSD. The show turned a character who was merely quirky in the comics into a character that was multi-layered and deeply complex. So, in the wake of this, the announcement of a Klaus-centric prequel comic was exciting. What kind of a past would the character’s creator, Gerard Way, (and co-writer Shaun Simon) give him? How much would it differ from the show? What happened to eighteen-year-old Klaus after he was expelled from the Umbrella Academy? As it turns out, these aren’t really the questions at the front of the comic’s mind. While it does explore some of Klaus’s trauma and psyche, You Look Like Death is more of a fun romp with a fan-favorite character than an intimate character study. But honestly, it’s so much fun that that’s not much of a problem. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: I was provided an advance copy of this book from Edelweiss and Dark Horse Comics. This review may contain mild spoilers, but will mostly be spoiler free.

“Tales From the Umbrella Academy: You Look Like Death”
Written by Gerard Way and Shaun Simon
Art and Colors by I.N.J. Culbard
When 18-year-old Klaus gets himself kicked out of the Umbrella Academy and his allowance discontinued, he heads to a place where his ghoulish talents will be appreciated—Hollywood. But after a magical high on a stash stolen from a vampire drug lord, Klaus needs help, and doesn’t have his siblings there to save him.

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REVIEW: Dark Horse Comics’ “Norse Mythology – Volume 1”

Characters from Norse mythology remain a popular facet of modern pop culture. These days, most people are probably familiar with the Marvel comics/film versions of deities like Thor, Loki, and Odin, but elements of Norse mythology frequently pop up all over the place. Famously, Neil Gaiman borrowed heavily from Norse mythology for his 2001 novel, American Gods (which got adapted by Dark Horse Comics as a comic series in 2017, so it’s only appropriate that he published his own retellings of Norse tales in 2017’s Norse Mythology. And now, Dark Horse is bringing these closer-to-authentic Norse tales to the world of comics—where the Marvel versions of these characters got their start. The first volume of this series—adapted by P. Craig Russell and illustrated by Russell, Mike Mignola, Jerry Ordway, Piotr Kowalski, David Rubín, and Jill Thompson—is a very faithful adaptation of Gaiman’s source material. Like Dark Horse’s American Gods adaptation, very little is changed here—but it works very, very well. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: Thanks to Edelweiss and Dark Horse Comics for providing a digital ARC of this title. All thoughts are my own.

Norse Mythology: Volume 1
Adapted by: P. Craig Russell
Illustrated by: P. Craig Russell, Mike Mignola, Jerry Ordway, Piotr Kowalski, David Rubín, and Jill Thompson
Gaiman and Russell team with a legendary collection of artists to take readers through a series of Norse myths, including the creation of the Nine Worlds, the loss of Odin’s eye and source of his knowledge, the crafting of Thor’s hammer and the gods’ most valuable treasures, the origin of poetry, and Loki’s part in the end of all things—Ragnarök.

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REVIEW: “Release the Snyder Cut: The Crazy True Story Behind the Fight That Saved Zack Snyder’s Justice League” by Sean O’Connell

I’m a fan of creators having control over the things they create. Yes, to a degree, all art is a process of collaboration, whether it’s written or visual. But there’s nothing worse than seeing a creator either forced down an avenue they don’t want to explore or having their entire project taken out of their hands. The latter, it seems, is what happened with 2017’s Justice League movie. Full disclosure: I’m pretty neutral on Zack Snyder as a filmmaker—I’ve liked some of his films, and I’ve disliked some of his films. I’m also pretty neutral on the fandom that surrounds him—every fandom has positive and negative elements, and I think it’s disingenuous to paint any fandom based on its worst aspects. So, I don’t have any skin in the discourse that surrounds the Snyder Cut. What I do have, however, is an interest in the behind-the-scenes stories of films like Justice League. This interest is what brought me to Sean O’Connell’s Release the Snyder Cut. Going into it, I was hoping for a well-sourced examination into the making of the Justice League movie—what went wrong, how it went wrong, and how we got to a point where Snyder’s original cut could be made. Unfortunately, that’s not what the book is. Instead, O’Connell’s book reads as more of an extended blog post, briskly chronicling the history of the DCEU—from its earliest days with Man of Steel up until the disastrous theatrical release of Justice League and the subsequent fan-driven campaign to restore Snyder’s original cut. It’s fine, but there’s not much here that isn’t available elsewhere. (3 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from Edelweiss. All thoughts are my own.

Release the Snyder Cut: The Crazy True Story Behind the Fight That Saved Zack Snyder’s Justice League by Sean O’Connell
Release the Snyder Cut is an entertaining, investigative, and emotional recap of 2017’s failed Justice League movie, followed closely by a breakdown of the exhaustive efforts by a dedicated fan base to unearth director Zack Snyder’s unfinished version. We’re currently in the golden age of superhero blockbusters. Movies like Black Panther, Wonder Woman, Joker, and Avengers: Endgame routinely break box office records and compete for Oscars. Yet, Zack Snyder’s 2017 behemoth Justice League—a veritable sure bet at the Hollywood casino—tanked miserably, and the behind-the-scenes reasons for the movie’s demise are fascinating. The true story behind Justice League’s failure is only half of the juicy narrative, though. Snyder—who left the project months before filming concluded—still fans the flames that surround the rumor of a “Snyder Cut” of the film. This allegedly is the version of the story he wanted to tell before the studio, Warner Bros., pulled him off of the project. Hence, the “Snyder Cut.” Pop-culture fans love a meaty mystery, and the controversy swirling around the lost Snyder Cut of Justice League has been captivating comic-book movie fans for years. Additionally, an army of passionate DC and Snyder fans are committed to getting the “Cut” released. They already have gone to incredible lengths to fight for the movie’s opening, and have found strength, support, and charitable goals in their global “family” of Snyder Cut supporters. Their stories are remarkable, and the book is just as much about the dedicated fans who make up the Snyder Cut movement as it is about the unreleased film. Their efforts finally paid off with the recent announcement that Snyder’s cut will be released in 2021 by Warner Bros. and HBO Max. Release the Snyder Cut tells the entire story.

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REVIEW: “The Department of Truth” Volume 1 – “The End of the World”

I love a good conspiracy theory. I’m not someone who believes in them, though. I just find them endlessly fascinating—especially as a storytelling device. With how often they’re used in serialized TV, it’s amazing that more comics don’t embrace conspiracies, given how serialized modern comics are. The Department of Truth, a new series from James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds, dives headfirst into conspiracy territory, weaving a tale that is as captivating as it is surprising. The writing is a masterclass in world-building, character development, and mystery storytelling. The artwork is superb, being beautifully atmospheric without hindering the storytelling. All in all, it’s a must read. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: This review features mild spoilers for the first five issues of The Department of Truth. Read at your own risk.)

The Department of Truth, volume 1: The End of the World
(written by James Tynion IV, illustrated by Martin Simmonds)
COLE TURNER has studied conspiracy theories all his life, but he isn’t prepared for what happens when he discovers that all of them are true, from the JFK Assassination to Flat Earth Theory and Reptilian Shapeshifters. One organization has been covering them up for generations. What is the deep, dark secret behind the Department of Truth?

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REVIEW: “The Future is Yours” by Dan Frey

Have you ever read one of those books that immediately envelops your interest? One that just grabs your attention and holds it like a vice, daring you to put the book down? There’s nothing quite like reading a book like that. It’s a high that all readers chase as often as they can. Reading Dan Frey’s newest sci-fi techno-thriller, The Future is Yours, created just that experience for me. The Future is Yours is an epistolary novel and tells its story through writing found within the novel’s world (like emails, text messages, blog posts, transcripts of congressional hearings). As a result, it creates a reading experience unlike those found in prose-based novels. The Future is Yours is a face-paced, thrilling read that asks what might happen if humans could access information from the future and then thoroughly unpacks all the reasons why humans shouldn’t be allowed to do that. It’s a nuanced page-turner with fully-fleshed characters and a well-executed premise that’s well worth a read for all sci-fi fans. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own. Additionally, this review is spoiler free.

For Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry, the answer is unequivocally yes. And they’re betting everything that you’ll say yes, too. Welcome to The Future: a computer that connects to the internet one year from now, so you can see who you’ll be dating, where you’ll be working, even whether or not you’ll be alive in the year to come. By forming a startup to deliver this revolutionary technology to the world, Ben and Adhi have made their wildest, most impossible dream a reality. Once Silicon Valley outsiders, they’re now its hottest commodity. 

The device can predict everything perfectly—from stock market spikes and sports scores to political scandals and corporate takeovers—allowing them to chase down success and fame while staying one step ahead of the competition. But the future their device foretells is not the bright one they imagined. Ambition. Greed. Jealousy. And, perhaps, an apocalypse. The question is . . . can they stop it?

Told through emails, texts, transcripts, and blog posts, this bleeding-edge tech thriller chronicles the costs of innovation and asks how far you’d go to protect the ones you love—even from themselves.

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REVIEW – “Star Wars: Into the Dark” by Claudia Gray (The High Republic)

It’s great that Disney is finally starting to expand the Star Wars universe past the confines of The Skywalker Saga and the time frame it’s set in. I’ve always believed the Star Wars universe was one rife for exploration, and what better way of exploring new aspects of it than with a big, multimedia event? That’s exactly what Disney and Lucasfilm are doing with The High Republic, a multi-media publishing event spanning novels and comics. Set some 200 years before The Phantom Menace, The High Republic looks to explore a new corner of the galaxy’s history—and that’s exhilarating. While the first few titles of this event came out last month, I haven’t read any of them. Instead, I wanted to start my High Republic journey with Claudia Gray’s entry—the YA novel, Into the Dark. Gray is one of my favorite Star Wars authors and the book’s synopsis had a very claustrophobic Alien vibe. So, I was pretty excited to read it. And, having read it, it lives up to my expectations. Star Wars: Into the Dark is an exhilarating, character-driven story that deftly explores this new era. It’s a quick-paced, satisfying read, and I’m eager for more. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine. Additionally, this review will be as spoiler free as possible.

Star Wars: Into the Dark (The High Republic) by Claudia Gray
Padawan Reath Silas is being sent from the cosmopolitan galactic capital of Coruscant to the undeveloped frontier—and he couldn’t be less happy about it. He’d rather stay at the Jedi Temple, studying the archives. But when the ship he’s traveling on is knocked out of hyperspace in a galactic-wide disaster, Reath finds himself at the center of the action. The Jedi and their traveling companions find refuge on what appears to be an abandoned space station. But then strange things start happening, leading the Jedi to investigate the truth behind the mysterious station, a truth that could end in tragedy…

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who: All Flesh is Grass” by Una McCormack (Time Lord Victorious)

So far, the Time Lord Victorious event has been a bit of a mixed bag. The first novel, The Knight, The Fool, and The Dead, set up a solid premise but didn’t explore any of its ideas with the depth needed to make them memorable. The two comics were well-written and illustrated but short and seemingly-disconnected from the larger story. And, as of this review, I haven’t listened to any of the Big Finish audios, so I can’t speak on them. But those parts of Time Lord Victorious that I have consumed have left me conflicted. I really want to enjoy Time Lord Victorious—I like a lot of the ideas and many of the stories are solid on their own, but the whole event hasn’t felt like it was coalescing into anything yet. So, I hoped that this second (and final) novel, the conclusion of the storyline, All Flesh is Grass, would tick those boxes. And it sort of does—it deftly ties together the seemingly disparate elements of the story into an explosive conclusion. However, it also maintains all of the flaws of the first book and wastes the intriguing premise set up in that novel by devolving into another Doctor vs Dalek story. (3 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There will be some spoilers for the book within. I wouldn’t consider any of them to be major ones, but your mileage may vary. Read at your own risk.)

Doctor Who: All Flesh is Grass by Una McCormack
A wasteland. A dead world… No, there is a biodome, rising from the ash. Here, life teems and flourishes, with strange and lush plants, and many-winged insects with bright carapaces – and one solitary sentient creature, who spends its days watering the plants, talking to the insects, and tending this lonely garden. This is Inyit, the Last of the Kotturuh.

In All Flesh is Grass we are transported back to The Dark Times. The Tenth Doctor has sworn to stop the Kotturuh, ending Death and bringing Life to the universe. But his plan is unravelling – instead of bringing Life, nothing has changed and all around him people are dying. Death is everywhere. Now he must confront his former selves – one in league with their greatest nemesis and the other manning a ship of the undead…

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REVIEW: “Song of Spider-Man” by Glen Berger

It has been a decade since Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark first began previews, accompanied by endless reports about injured actors and workplace safety hazards. With a budget exceeding sixty million dollars, an endless barrage of reported injuries, and suggestions that the plot was nigh incoherent, the musical had all the makings of a colossal train wreck. And, for a while, it delivered on that promise, with continued reports of technical mistakes and feuding creatives. But, eventually, it just fizzled out. After months and months of previews, the ousting of its director, and endless lousy press, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark opened on June 14, 2011. But what happened? Glen Berger, co-writer of the musical’s script, seeks to answer this in his account of the musical’s creation, Song of Spider-Man. While reading as more of a gossipy, biased memoir than an objective, neutral account, Song of Spider-Man is an entertaining and revealing look at how Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark went from being an anticipated Broadway spectacle to a “sixty-five million dollar circus tragedy.” (4 out of 5 wands.)

Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History (by Glen Berger)
As you might imagine, writing a Broadway musical has its challenges. But it turns out there are challenges one can’t begin to imagine when collaborating with two rock legends and a superstar director to stage the biggest, most expensive production in theater history. Renowned director Julie Taymor picked playwright Glen Berger to cowrite the book for a $25 million Spider-Man musical. Together—along with U2’s Bono and Edge—they would shape a work that was technically daring and emotionally profound, with a story fueled by the hero’s quest for love…and the villains’ quest for revenge. Or at least, that’s what they’d hoped for.

But when charismatic producer Tony Adams died suddenly, the show began to lose its footing. Soon the budget was ballooning, financing was evaporating, and producers were jumping ship or getting demoted. And then came the injuries. And then came word-of-mouth about the show itself. What followed was a pageant of foul-ups, falling-outs, ever-more harrowing mishaps, and a whole lot of malfunctioning spider legs. This “circus-rock-and-roll-drama,” with its $65 million price tag, had become more of a spectacle than its creators ever wished for. During the show’s unprecedented seven months of previews, the company’s struggles to reach opening night inspired breathless tabloid coverage and garnered international notoriety. Through it all, Berger observed the chaos with his signature mix of big ambition and self-deprecating humor.

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