Book Review: A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwartz
Review by: Prof. Jenn
If you like perky romantic tropes, and you like Historical Fiction motifs, and you dig steampunk, this book is for you.
No, really–I mention tropes because they’re here in spades, but in no way do I mean to imply that’s a bad thing. Schwartz delivers the goodies into expectant hands in this high-action story, and just because we know what the goodies are (and have had them before) does not diminish their deliciousness.
Elle is an independent, stubborn, beautiful-redhead airship pilot (I know, how cool, right?) who finds herself embroiled in a take-over-the-world plot beyond her ken. Of course. Unexpected help comes in the shape of handsome, rich, magically-powered Mr. Marsh, whom she *definitely* isn’t in love with, nope, no way, and he absolutely will not fall in love with her either, huh-uh, nothing doing… oh. Yeah. Except they of course do. This is not a spoiler–you will see them getting together miles away, the moment the first flirty banter exits their mouths. But again–that’s not a bad thing.
This book is unabashedly rife with tropes, and absolutely does not apologize for them, nor should it. When Elle put on her goggles to pilot her airship, I bounced with joy. When Marsh ventured into old Italy and met a mage within a dusty apothecary shop, I sighed as I do when I am sipping a favorite brand of coffee. And there’s a train trip. With intrigue! Yes, I’ve seen many of those before, but I *like* them! It’s like watching an episode of Star Trek, or reading a Sherlock Holmes story, or watching a James Bond film. There are certain motifs and images (even lines or events) you’ll see over and over in these, but you *want* to see them, you expect to see them, that’s what makes those media so enjoyable. It’s a similar effect in Conspiracy, except Schwartz has included a few different genres mixed up in a big fun sundae.
There is a little awkwardness just in some of the mechanics of the writing. For example, we get a little overburdened with exposition, and there are some places where Schwartz loses hold of her feel for the time period–even though this is a Fantasy world, some of the dialogue comes across as anachronistic. But hey, I’ve just gorged happily on vampires and airships and absinthe fairies; I’m willing to forgive such minor shortcomings.
Bottom Line: A Conspiracy of Alchemists is a heckuva lot of fun. I recommend it.
Review: The Wind Whales of Ishmael by Philip Jose Farmer
Review by: Prof. Jenn
Philip Jose Farmer is well-known for writing science fiction that in essence is a gate to mainstream classics. His Wold Newton series in particular does this artful remix thing that you readers have heard me wax rhapsodic about so often. The Wind Whales of Ishmael isn’t technically one of the Wold Newtons, but it very well could be, in that it takes a famous character from classic literature and plops him in a science fiction scenario.
Titan books has re-released several Farmer classics, with intros and outros by experts and colleagues of the legendary writer, which gives anyone not familiar with Farmer’s work a good background and inspiration to try further readings, and those fans a richness to their continued collection.
The Wind Whales of Ishmael is fantastically entertaining, taking place just after the events of Moby Dick, where Ishmael is floating alone in the ocean on Queequeg’s coffin (remember?). Then, just as the Rachel rescues him, he finds himself and the ship plunging through a rip in the fabric of time, landing as the sole survivor on a future Earth where sharks and whales have evolved to live in the air, and the seas have all pretty much dried up. Oh, and there’s plants that provide water, but that drink your blood. And there’s air ships that are whalers. And a pretty princess.
It’s written in a quick, clipped, concise style, with Ishmael as a character just as enigmatic and intellectual as he was in Melville. The action starts right away and doesn’t quit, ever, ending with one of the best dungeon crawl scenes in genre fiction. The descriptions of the future world and its machinations are exhaustive and vivid, but at no time do they slow down the action.
Bottom line: I highly recommend The Wind Whales of Ishmael. It’s a classic, and a great read. ~Prof. Jenn
Dark Horse is (kinda) proud to present Buddy Cops, the story of a demoted space cop and 1970s android that hate each other. The problem is that Uranus (the demoted space cop) gets drunk and wild while TAZER (the android) is more traditional and follows the law and procedures to the letter. Somehow they manage to work together despite their differences and immense hatred towards each other. Buddy Cops takes you through some of their adventures as they battle nuclear monkeys and equally ridiculous monsters (“ridiculous” used with the greatest sense of love and affection here). If you’re looking for a fun one-shot comic, look no further than Buddy Cops. Go pick up a copy from your local shop today!
Writing: Steve Niles
Art: Christopher Mitten
Review by Melissa Megan
Cal McDonald and Eben Olemaun have been battling it out in the middle of Los Angeles. Eben is out for revenge after the murder of his wife, Stella, by creating an army of vampires and feasting on the human race. He sells this plan to his followers by convincing them that vampires should no longer hide in the shadows of night but become the superior race on earth, knocking humans down on the food chain. Cal is now among the world of ghouls, walking and fighting but not necessarily living. He’s been tormented by a black vomit illness since his ‘change’ and struggles to maintain the strength needed to defeat the vampire leader and save the human race.
Final Night is the final issue of the Criminal Macabre/ 30 Days of Night crossover and writer Steve Niles has declared that only one of the series will survive when it’s over. I’m not a spoiler type, but I will tell you that I’m very happy about the outcome.
Cal pulls himself out of the rubble, entrails and organs on the floor, ready to keep kicking ass. That is what the man does best, at the sacrifice of his own physical and mental well being. It’s obvious to his best ghoul buddy, Mo’Lock, that he won’t be sticking around for much longer in his current condition and Mo’Lock is determined to do anything he can to save Cal. Blood is required to heal his already dead body, but who’s blood? And how much?
Meanwhile, Eben has released his army upon the Los Angeles night, beginning with the busy party strip. They feast, tear and demolish their way through the crowds, hungry for destruction and blood. Eben has Detective Alice Blood, Cal’s love interest, and knows that Cal will come for her. The two leaders will soon come face to face with their armies; ghouls versus vampires. Only one side can win this fight and there’s no doubt blood will be shed.
I’ve been reading Criminal Macabre for years, it’s one of my top favorite series. 30 Days of Night is also quality work, just not as much of a draw for me as the big, rag tag personality of Cal McDonald. Steve Niles has pulled off this crossover with skill, managing to let the two main characters meet and go to war without diminishing the power of either. These are two bad ass dudes, each with their own personal agendas and commitments to their cause. Christopher Mitten’s art has been a treat and a perfect companion to this story. I’ve very much enjoyed seeing the two clash and I think the conclusion of Final Night will satisfy readers, regardless of who you were hoping to see come out on top.
“The Massive gives us a different, and essentially unique, take on the story of the end of the world. It doesn’t revel in destruction; when scenes describing the planetary crisis show up, they make clear that this was a true disaster, not a disaster movie. Millions have died, in dirty, tragic, and decidedly noncinematic ways. Instead, The Massive is a story of the necessity of resilience. While it leads us through the catastrophic aftermath of the Crash, we soon see that survival here is not the purpose in and of itself—it’s survival with the hope of making things better, even while recognizing that the old world’s legacies (in materials and ideolo-gies) yet remain.”
This introduction to Volume 1 of “The Massive,” mirrors the thoughts I shared in my review of Issue #1 back in June (although decidedly with a gift for language I can only hope to one day touch). The only thing I added was how fantastic the artwork was. The superb attention to detail in both art and story continue with the rest of this first collection.
One thing I loved about the first issue of “The Massive” was how the action starts immediately and the reader is thrown into a world where it doesn’t know the rules, but quickly learns. Never confusing, always intriguing, “The Massive” does a fantastic job of taking the reader on a journey through a post-apocalyptic world where two sister ships must find their way back together while also discovering the cause of the event known to us as “The Crash”. The story gets richer with each page, making the reader dive into a world that’s falling apart, bit by bit. As we learn about this world and the destruction it has already seen, we also slowly get to know the cast of characters and how they ended up in the situations we see them face from the beginning of our story. The transition back and forth from past to present keeps the story moving in ways much more interesting than if the author had simply said “this is what has happened, now to continue…” It not only helps with the steady flow of the story, it also engages the reader better than a straight timeline would.
“The Massive: Vol 1″ is a brilliant collection of stories that introduces you to a world of chaos and disorder. It gives you plenty to drag you into this world, while still leaving you wanting more. Just a little more…
The Massive: Volume 1 is available now, so go ask about it at your local comic shop. Volume 2 will be available Dec 2013, and Volume 3 June 2014. Keep with it, because from what I’ve seen so far it promises to be a continuously good read.
Comics Review: Modesty Blaise–the Girl in the Iron Mask by O’Donnell and Romero
Review by: Prof. Jenn
This collection is a lot of fun–it has an old-school James Bond or Avengers flavor, complete with sexy, daring, whip-smart heroes and colorful, twisted villains. The art is stylized and lovely in a ‘60s sort of way, black-and-white, very high quality in a large format so a reader can hunker down to longer strings of the storylines without feeling interrupted.
It occurred to me as I read through these, that modern comic heroines can learn a thing or two from Modesty. She’s super-badass (one of my favorite panels is from Fiona, where Modesty is engaged in kicking butt in a staff fight), unabashedly sexy, yet is drawn without all the weird contortion-y stuff to add unwarranted sex appeal (see blog Escher Girls to see the kind of thing I mean). She’s got a knockout figure, and can knock dudes out with it. Her friends are as smart and kick-ass as she is, and their adventures would make Indiana Jones sweat.
Bottom Line: I highly recommend Modesty Blaise in general, this collection in particular is worth it just for the title arc: The Girl in the Iron Mask.
Comic Review: Dr. Who vol. 1: the Hypothetical Gentleman by Diggle, Buckingham, Seifert, Bond, and many more
Review by: Prof. Jenn
The Hypothetical Gentleman consists of two story arcs: the title one, and one called The Doctor and the Nurse. Both are quite different both in writing feel and artistic style, and both are quite enjoyable.
The Hypothetical Gentleman takes place in a few different time periods in London. It concerns seances, artifacts of time, and what is real and what is shenaniganry, and of course there’s a dangerous device having to do with the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey and the Doctor must save the day. Or space-time. You get the picture. There’s some wonderful Amy-Rory dialogue, and a delightful bit where the Doctor is exploring a museum, coming across some objects that any Whovian readers will recognize with a chortle (Just checking to see the mummy is deactivated. Yes). The art is elegant and full of emotion–it reminds me a little bit of the style of CrossGen’s old series Ruse, in that we get lots of character and movement, with rich color and a sort of Impressionist realism about it.
The Doctor and the Nurse is a much more whimsical storyline, and the art is more colorful and cartoony as is appropriate. It follows Rory and the Doctor attempting to have a Boys’ Night Out, ending up with a trapped Amy and many many time periods and a flood of beer. And the Silence. But they’re not the scary Silence in this one, they’re just slightly menacing–even though we get a sense of tension and high-speed action, this isn’t one of those terrifying or super-deeply-poignant stories, but rather a fast-paced Whovian romp. The comedic relief of the Doctor’s dynamic with Rory when trapped alone with him is a lot of fun, and Amy is a resourceful hero in her timeline too.
Bottom Line: Volume One is a lot of fun–the stories are beautifully drawn, and they read like good episodes of the show. Highly recommended.
Writing: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Fiona Staples
Review by Melissa Megan
Boy does Brian K. Vaughan know how to open an issue and get your attention. In another of Hazel’s flashbacks to her parents’ beginnings, we get to be a fly on the wall to what I assume is her moment of being conceived. Every naughty detail revealed and oh boy, is Alana naughty! Of course it’s also a difficult realization of the kind of situation Hazel was brought in to: her parents fugitives, each of their respect homelands hunting them down. Alana and Marko aren’t even sure they can breed, being of two different species from different planets, but the method of baby making seems to work just fine.
Another great skill of Brian K. Vaughan is transitioning from one place in a story to another, seamlessly, without depleting the jarring effect of that jump. The ship containing Alana, Marko, Hazel, Marko’s parents and Hazel’s ghostly babysitter is spiraling towards a freshly born fetus planet that appears hungry. In another ship which has already been damaged and exposed to open space, The Will tries to save Lying Cat while Gwendolyn holds tight to the slave child they rescued from Sextillion. If you aren’t reading Saga already, you should be appropriately confused by now.
Every single issue of Saga contains so much. So very much that I often find myself re-reading an issue to make sure I didn’t miss something really important. Issue #11 is powerful and emotional. I’m not going to spoil this for anyone, but I will say that by the end of this issue you’ll feel some feelings that might not be happy. This issue also has many opportunities for Fiona Staples to show off her art skills with sweeping space landscapes and beautiful scenes of magic making. The creators of Saga are the power couple of 2013 and Saga is their glowing love child.
Read Saga and don’t stop. Well, if you read one issue you won’t want to stop.
Writing: Nick Spencer
Art: Riley Rossmo
Review by Melissa Megan
After a few issues of watching Fillmore, formerly serial killer Madder Red, passionately assist the police department in working out the identity of a murderer with a thing for religious reference, issue #5 gives a little more of what Bedlam is really about: psychological fun time.
This issue opens with another flashback to the ‘healing’ of Madder Red, specifically a powerful scene in which he gains the hospital staff’s trust and proves himself ready to re-enter the world a new, less dangerous man. These peeks in to the treatment of Madder Red are what I feel really give Bedlam it’s gritty meat. I find myself increasingly invested in this character although I still can’t decide if I want to see him truly succeed and be a ‘productive, law-abiding citizen’ or if it would be more fun to watch him completely demolish those expectations in a blood bath of celebration for the return of Madder Red.
One thing is certain, this issue makes it clear that Fillmore is quite aware that he’s gaining the trust of Detective Acevedo and has secured himself the opportunity for a chat with an incarcerated priest suspected of being connected to, perhaps behind, the unsolved case. Fillmore has an agenda but if it’s purely to help bring the murderer to justice or something more sinister is yet unclear. What is crystal is that Bedlam is not slowing down but quietly gaining momentum and I suspect the next issue will reveal something juicy.
If you’re reading my reviews on Bedlam, you must be interested; if you aren’t already buying these books, what the hell are you waiting for? Bedlam is top notch material in the horror/suspense genre and the art work of Riley Rossmo is always a delight.
Writing: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Fiona Staples
Review by Melissa Megan
Marko and Alana are the hottest couple in comic books. Does anyone not know that by now? The opening of this issue is yet another fantastic example of Brian Vaughan’s perfect writing in this series. The first panel, Marko standing shirtless, gently asking “Please. Keep reading.”, is not only sexy but gives the exhilarating feeling of being spoken to by this 2 dimensional book character. This leads to a touching peek at where the intense love between Marko and Alana began. I can’t recall ever reading about two characters in a comic book before that I felt so intimately connected with, as if Saga is really just the biography of a couple of very close friends of mine.
Then, there’s the hunt for the missing ghostly babysitter. Marko and his hard edged mother find themselves searching a strange planet that they’ve been told will soon be ‘hatching’. And yet another shining exhibit of why Saga has quickly gained huge praise and is selling out copies everywhere: incredibly fresh, creepy, awesome alien life forms and settings. It just never stops with this series, each issue throwing new and fascinating characters at you, opening up new worlds filled with completely unique adventures. No matter what comparisons you can make between Saga and other books or films that it shares style with, I honestly don’t think anything like this has been accomplished before.
To sum up this issue, Marko and Alana reunite with their missing babysitter, family ties are strengthened and a planet gives forth new, dangerous life. Gwendolyn, Marko’s bitter ex, is hot on their tail and employing the help of an infamous assassin and a child with special powers of sight. An unfortunate loss leaves us wondering how many more there will be before Marko & Alana are either captured or somehow escape for good.
Saga rocks my socks off, every freakin’ month. I dread the day that this series comes to an end, because it’s one of the most exciting, creative things I’ve had the honor of reading in years. The writing of Brian K. Vaughan and the art of Fiona Staples are a magical marriage that many, many comic book readers are thankful for.