books

REVIEW: “American Gods Volume 3: The Moment of the Storm”

american gods vol 3As evidenced by my weekly coverage of the American Gods TV series when it airs, I adore the book, originally written by Neil Gaiman. It’s one of those books that’s super weird and truly hard to explain and honestly just needs to be experienced. But, sometimes it can be hard to find a swatch of time with reach to read a 600+ page novel. Which is where visual adaptations come in. Obviously, they can, and should, never be replacements for reading the original text, but they can often be a great way of experiencing a story you might otherwise not have the time to experience. Unfortunately, Starz’s television adaptation continues to both stray from the source material and be plagued by behind-the-scenes troubles. Luckily, Dark Horse Comics’ has an adaptation of their own. Helmed by P. Craig Russell, these three volumes have been a very faithful adaptation of the novel and an utter joy to read as they’ve released. Now, with the publication of the third and final volume of the adaptation, it’s nice to have a fully-completed, semi-visual adaptation of the novel – if you consider a graphic novel to be a visual adaptation; I do. (Mild spoilers for both the original novel and the graphic novel.)

American Gods Volume 3: “The Moment of the Storm” (by Neil Gaiman, adapted by P. Craig Russell, illustrated by Scott Hampton) 
The new and old gods agree to meet in the center of America to exchange the body of the old gods’ fallen leader–heading towards to the inevitable god war in this final arc to the bestselling comic series! (Collects American Gods Volume 3: The Moment of the Storm #1-#9.)

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REVIEW: “Lucifer, Volume 2 – The Divine Tragedy”

lucifer 2Lucifer is such an interesting character, not just in The Sandman Universe, but in general, and I’m quite a fan of stories that portray the character as something more than just an ultimate prince of darkness, but one with true nuance who might actually have a point in his ongoing feud with God. This has always been what DC has done with this version of the character, originally developed by Neil Gaiman, then further developed by Mike Carey, and now written by Dan Watters. As evidenced by the previous volume, Watters has an excellent grasp on what makes Lucifer a compelling character – imbuing this version with lots of vulnerabilities to go along with his massive amounts of power. In this volume, we get a direct continuation of the previous volume, furthering the story of the Morningstar and his newly-discovered family. It’s a great continuation of that storyline and a really great comic in its own right. (Mild spoilers for Lucifer: The Divine Tragedy follow!)

Lucifer, Vol.2: The Divine Tragedy (written by Dan Watters; illustrated by Max and Sebastian Fiumara and Kelley Jones)
God is angry. Lucifer has committed an unthinkable act of sacrilege, and now the forces of Heaven have left him with nowhere to turn but the lands of the dead. Much has changed since Lucifer’s last visit to his former kingdom. Meanwhile: a cherub appears in a motel room, a witch queen walks the Earth for the first time in millennia, and Mazikeen gets to break a finger or two. Plus, things in Hell are heating up with too many potential leaders as Mazikeen prepares to fend off a usurper with assistance from an unexpected ally. But with Heaven and Hell so engrossed in their own affairs, who’s keeping track of what’s happening on Earth? Collects Lucifer #7-13.

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REVIEW: “The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek” by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

bleak creekI’ve been a fan of Rhett and Link’s for a while now. Their content is so wholesome and enjoyable – and they grew up fairly close to where I live – so it’s hard for me not to enjoy their stuff. My love of Rhett and Link is what led me to their first novel, The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek. Were it not to have been written by them, it likely would have never made its way onto my radar. But, with its connection to these YouTubers, I eagerly awaited the publication of the book, unsure of exactly what to expect. Well, having read The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek definitely feels like a first novel. And I don’t really mean that as an insult, but an author’s first novel is often very imperfect and that’s exactly what The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek is – imperfect. There are a lot of really good ideas and characters scattered throughout the book, but it’s all a bit hampered by too-few pages and uneven pacing. (Mild Spoilers for The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek follow.)

The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal
It’s 1992 in Bleak Creek, North Carolina—a sleepy little place with all the trappings of an ordinary Southern town: two Baptist churches, friendly smiles coupled with silent judgments, and an unquenchable appetite for pork products. Beneath the town’s cheerful façade, however, Bleak Creek teens live in constant fear of being sent to the Whitewood School, a local reformatory with a history of putting unruly youths back on the straight and narrow—a record so impeccable that almost everyone is willing to ignore the suspicious deaths that have occurred there over the past decade.

At first, high school freshmen Rex McClendon and Leif Nelson believe what they’ve been told: that the students’ strange demises were all just tragic accidents, the unfortunate consequence of succumbing to vices like Marlboro Lights and Nirvana. But when the shoot for their low-budget horror masterpiece, PolterDog, goes horribly awry—and their best friend, Alicia Boykins, is sent to Whitewood as punishment—Rex and Leif are forced to question everything they know about their unassuming hometown and its cherished school for delinquents.

Eager to rescue their friend, Rex and Leif pair up with recent NYU film school graduate Janine Blitstein to begin piecing together the unsettling truth of the school and its mysterious founder, Wayne Whitewood. What they find will leave them battling an evil beyond their wildest imaginations—one that will shake Bleak Creek to its core.

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who – The Target Storybook”

target storybookLast year, the Target line of Doctor Who novelizations burst back to life with the first adaptations of episodes from the revived TV series – Rose, The Christmas Invasion, Day of the Doctor, and Twice Upon a Time. The novels were really solid works in their own right, managing to take all the best elements of their respective TV episodes and weave them into something that worked as a novel. They also had the added bonus of reinvigorating the entire Target line – another batch of new adaptations has been announced for July 2020. And then there’s this collection of short stories that was published in October 2018. Normally, the Target range adapts preexisting Doctor Who TV stories, but this collection of short stories decided to go a different route – bringing readers a collection of stories set before/during/after iconic stories from all through Doctor Who‘s 50+ year history. And, I gotta say, a lot of these stories are really, really good.

Doctor Who: The Target Storybook (featuring stories from various authors)
In this exciting collection you’ll find all-new stories spinning off from some of your favourite Doctor Who moments across the history of the series. Learn what happened next, what went on before, and what occurred off-screen in an inventive selection of sequels, side-trips, foreshadowings and first-hand accounts – and look forward too, with a brand new adventure for the Thirteenth Doctor.

Each story expands in thrilling ways upon aspects of Doctor Who’s enduring legend. With contributions from show luminaries past and present – including Colin Baker, Matthew Waterhouse, Vinay Patel, Joy Wilkinson and Terrance Dicks – The Target Storybook is a once-in-a-lifetime tour around the wonders of the Whoniverse

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REVIEW: “The Dreaming, Vol. 2 – Empty Shells” by Simon Spurrier

The Dreaming Empty ShellsAs I said in my review of the first volume of this new run of The Dreaming, one of my favorite things about Neil Gaiman’s original Sandman run was the way the comic’s story was partially about the very nature of stories. Gaiman played with various structures to examine the fabric of storytelling and why it’s always been such an effective means of communication. Everything else was the icing on this theme of a cake. This examination of storytelling is one of the key things that brings readers back to those comics time and time again. Simon Spurrier continued this approach in the first volume of his run on The Dreaming, and he continues it in this next volume – a volume that helps bridge the story of The Sandman with this new story being told here. It’s a really good graphic novel.

The Dreaming, Vol 2: Empty Shells (written by Simon Spurrier, art by Bilquis Evely and Abigail Larson)
As his kingdom crumbles and his subjects search for him in desperation, Dream of the Endless wanders the Earth as an exile from the realm he is meant to embody. Here, far from the Gates of Horn and Ivory, there are wonders and horrors that even an immortal cannot imagine—until they experience them firsthand.

When an ill-fated romance collapses, Dream is vulnerable to exploitation by sinister forces. And when the heart of an Endless breaks, worlds break with it. Meanwhile, as the Dreaming’s abandoned inhabitants hunt their absent sovereign, the realm’s reluctant new ruler strains against the confines of its throne, threatening to undo the very reality that supports it. What happens to a fairy tale’s inhabitants when their author goes missing?

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REVIEW: Doctor Who 2019 Christmas Special – “Time Out of Mind” by Jody Houser

Doctor Who - Time Out of MindAs the saying always goes, if the BBC won’t give Doctor Who a Christmas special on TV, then the comics will pick up the slack! And pick up the slack they do as writer, Jody Houser, and illustrator, Roberta Ingranata, team up once again to tell a new story with Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor and her friends – this time as they go against a holiday threat as scary as anything they’ve faced to date. It’s fun, it’s festive, and Houser and Ingranata continue to show the vast understanding they have for these characters.

Doctor Who: Time Out of Mind (written by Jody Houser, illustrated by Roberta Ingranata) 
The 13th Doctor and co visit an inter-galactic fair for some down time, only to realise things aren’t all as they seem. Both their minds and the TARDIS’ logs have been tampered with, and in a bid to discover just what in Gallifrey’s name is going on, they head to a distant planet where they encounter a mysterious festive figure involved in an audacious plot…

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REVIEW: “Dart” by Dale Renton

dartI will always enjoy a well-written sci-fi adventure. There is just something that will always be really enjoyable about that genre for me. Maybe it’s the mixture of the bigger thematic ideas often found in science fiction with some of the sillier elements of an adventure story, but there’s just something about sci-fi adventures that I really enjoy. Dale Renton’s Dart fits perfectly in with any number of sci-fi adventures. It’s exactly what you’d expect it to be stylistically while still packing in some surprises and a fair amount of enjoyment. It’s a well-written and enjoyable read. (Thanks to the author for providing me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Dart by Dale Renton
From the plasteel towers of New Hope to the mist-shrouded jungle of the Core, from the dizzy heights of Mons Drop to the horror infested depths of the deadfalls, Darthanil ‘Dart’ Black faces enemies at every turn. He has to find a way to end the three hundred years war between Formers and Sylth – and prevent a group of super intelligent machines from taking over the planet while he’s at it. Not too tough an assignment for the undefeated First Blade of Sylas’s World – but there are complications…

His old worst enemy has kidnapped the woman Dart loves. His new best friend is a symbiotic plant. Time is running out for the settlers frozen in the Mother Ship’s cryobanks. Ultimate power and the lives of thousands are at stake. Somebody has to do something. Dart could be just the man for the job – if it wasn’t for the poison.

Keep your friends close, your enemies closer–and the ones you’re not too sure about closer still.

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REVIEW: “Cryptofauna” by Patrick Canning

cryptofaunaWhile lots of great science fiction takes lots of effort to tell stories that take a magnifying glass to the worse parts of humanity, sometimes it’s just really nice to take a break from that and luxuriate in a really fun science fiction story. After all, who doesn’t love a good semi-comedic, super entertaining sci-fi romp? The correct answer is: no-one. All of the other reviews suggesting this book is a hybrid of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are right on the money. Patrick Canning’s Cryptofauna proves to be a book that’s every bit as interesting as its cryptic title – and the cryptic game of the same name played by the novel’s characters. (Thanks to the author for providing a copy of the book in exchange for a fair review.)

Cryptofauna by Patrick Canning
Working as a janitor at an insane asylum in rural Idaho has Jim in the dumps. One night, his attempted suicide is rudely interrupted by one of the residents, and he’s recruited to play a game called Cryptofauna. The bizarre contest of worldwide mischief and meddling might actually help the blue custodian discover a reason to life, if he can survive the deadly trials that await…

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Review – “Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples” (Illustrated by Colleen Doran)

918fkn2oh0lWe all know how much I love a good Neil Gaiman story. He’s one of my favorite authors currently writing and I’ve yet to encounter one of his stories that I haven’t enjoyed in some way or another. Some of my favorite Gaiman things are the comic adaptations of his prose work. I always find it really intriguing seeing how comic artists adapt the work of Gaiman (an author who got, perhaps, one of his earliest and biggest breaks within the world of comics) into this more visual medium. This is where Snow, Glass, Apples comes into play. It’s the latest in a fairly-lengthy line of comic adaptations of Gaiman’s work to be published by Dark Horse Comics; ignoring their ongoing American Gods adaptation, it’s the second such graphic novel adapting some of Gaiman’s short stories. What intrigued me the most about this adaptation were the excerpts that featured some of Collen Doran’s illustrations. Her style promised a really interesting, unique, and gorgeous take on the original short story and I was very excited to give it a read. How did it turn out? Just as good as I’d hoped it would be, if not better!

Snow, Glass, Apples (written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Colleen Doran)
A not-so-evil queen is terrified of her monstrous stepdaughter and determined to repel this creature and save her kingdom from a world where happy endings aren’t so happily ever after.

From the Hugo, Bram Stoker, Locus, World Fantasy, Nebula award-winning, and New York Times bestselling writer Neil Gaiman (American Gods) comes this graphic novel adaptation by Colleen Doran (Troll Bridge)!

The short story this comic is based on is, perhaps, one of Gaiman’s best-known shorts. A retelling of the Snow White fairy tale from the point of view of the Step-Mother. What if Snow White were some kind of vampire-esque monster and the “Evil Queen” was only trying to save her kingdom from this threat? This is the question at the heart of the short story, itself a haunting and suspenseful tale that, as you’d expect, ends in tragedy. It’s a really solid short story, originally collected in Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors collection. I’m a sucker for a good twist on an old fairy tale and this one proves to be more than just “what if the villain was misunderstood”, pivoting hard into more of a “what if the ‘hero’ was actually the monster?” and I really dig that. Gaiman handles the subject with care, walking a fine line between sympathy for all the characters and depicting monstrous things with a monstrous touch. It’s a really solid, entertaining, haunting, and spooky story and it’s one of my favorites of Gaiman’s short fiction.

What makes this particular adaptation unique, though, are the illustrations from Colleen Doran. Doran’s art style throughout this comic adaptation is more reminiscent of religious stained glass artwork than that found in a traditional graphic novel. This stylistic choice really works well for the material, though, as it gives the whole story an elevated visual identity. Doran’s artwork is beautiful and she manages to maintain a superb balance between the beauty of the images and the practicality needed from them to usher the actual story of the graphic novel along. Each of her images, while being gorgeous works of art, exist to serve the story being told. They’re beautifully detailed but never too indulgent. It’s a perfect balance between beauty and practicality.

All in all, this is a must-read for Gaiman fans. It’s a short read – clocking in at around 60 pages – but it’s a beautiful new take on a Gaiman classic that will delight you, frighten you, and make you want to read it again and again. The story is haunting and well-executed, Doran’s artwork is beautiful and perfectly matches the tone of the story, and the whole affair just serves as a wonderful retelling of a great short story. It’s perfect for the spooky season, too, so give it a read.

Five out of five wands

REVIEW: “Books of Magic”, vol. 1: Moveable Type

791348._sx1280_ql80_ttd_I never read Neil Gaiman’s original 4-issue run of Books of Magic, nor did I read any of the subsequent runs, so, naturally, of the four titles initially announced for the first wave of Sandman Universe series, this one was the one I was least interested in. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in the premise – I love a good story about people learning how to do magic – but it was more the idea that, due to my lack of knowledge of any of the previous stories, I’d be totally lost going into this comic and find myself unable to enjoy it for what it is. Thankfully, that’s not what happened. Unfortunately, it is still my least favorite ‘volume 1’ of the three in the Sandman Universe that I’ve read so far. (Mild spoilers follow!)

Books of Magic, Volume 1: Moveable Type (written by Kat Howard, illustrated by Tom Fowley, colors by Jordan Boyd) 
While Tim’s trying to study and attract the cutest girl in his class, there are cultists who want to kill him, believing his magical powers will eventually corrupt him, turning him into a merciless mage that will bring upon the end of magic forever! But when a mysterious new substitute teacher for his school called Dr. Rose wants to mentor and educate him in the magical arts so that he can discover the secrets behind the Books of Magic, Tim believes he has the tools to find his missing mother. Is this sudden guidance too good to be true, and what connection–if any–does Rose have to the disappearance of Tim’s teacher Mr. Brisby?

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