Sunday, May 29, 2011

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2

Title: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2

ISBN: 9781595825537
Price: $11.99
Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2010
Artist: Omar Francia, Manuel Sila
Writer: Haden Blackman

Rating: 2.5/5

With the release of the new video game, so comes the release of this new trade. The saga and the franchise continue. How they could seriously continue after the ending of the first, I wasn’t sure. There’s a part of me that wishes I wasn’t such a die-hard Star Wars fan.

For starters, I received the video game as a birthday present. That same day, I sat down and began to play it. About 8-hours later, I had completed the game. No cheats. No strategy guide. The original game took me several days to complete, and I needed a strategy guide to get past bringing a Star Destroyer down onto a planet. I was very disappointed in the game, but I thought that the trade would tell a better tale.

I was so wrong.

The only part of this trade that is worthwhile is the art and Boba Fett. If they had horrible artists and didn’t include Fett, this trade would be totally worthless. The upside is that, unlike most of the Star Wars trades I’ve purchased, the binding didn’t fall apart when I opened it to read. For this, I am thankful.

If you’re curious about the story surrounding the video game, find someone who has already bought this trade and borrow it from them. Maybe you can check it out from your local library. Fortunately, I had a 40% off coupon when I purchased this trade. If I had paid full price, I would have contacted Dark Horse for my money back.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spring Cleaning

The past few days, I've been going through my past posts/reviews and have been noticing some formatting issues. Not sure where they came from or why I didn't notice them sooner. I would ask that if you happen to see something askew, please drop a comment or send me a message/email so I can fix it.

Thank you for your help and continued support.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fables: Rose Red

Title: Fables: Rose Red

ISBN: 9781401230005
Price: $17.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2011
Artist: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Inaki Miranda, Dan Green, Chrissie Zullo, Dave Johnson, Kate McElroy, J. H. Williams, Joao Ruas, Adam Hughes
Writer: Bill Willingham
Collects: Fables #94-100

Rating: 4/5

If it hadn’t already been used, I would call Fables the neverending story. I look forward to the next volume every time. At this point, we are now to the 15th volume of the series. I hope they continue for years to come.

We finally find Rose Red coming out of her long depression to start kicking some ass into shape around the Farm. She had good timing to because the other Fables were about to go to blows over who was going to be in charge. Before this miraculous return of the wayward leader, we go back into Rose’s past to find out what happened between her and Snow White and what made her who and what she is today. This tale is something that Disney will never use for a movie.

When Totenkinder (now Bellflower) returns to the farm, she’s ready for Mister Dark. This epic battle takes up most of issue #100, and is well worth the price of admission. Do you remember the wizard duel in “The Sword in the Stone”? Think something similar, but bigger and better. This alone is testament to why I love this series. Great writing combined with incredible art make for another excellent trade.

When the battle is over, there are a few epilogues that provide a little something extra to keep you wanting more. Then there are 4 “Celebrity Burning Questions” where Phil LaMarr, Eddie Cahill, Cobie Smulders & Michael McMillian each asks a question about the Fables. These have been funny in the past, and this issue doesn’t disappoint.

As with the previous volumes, I highly recommend you buy this trade and add it to your collection. The next volume isn’t out until December 2011, so I guess I’ll have to be patient for my next does of Fables.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Sandman Volume 7: Brief Lives

Title: The Sandman Volume 7: Brief Lives

ISBN: 1563891387
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 1992
Artist: Jill Thompson, Vince Locke
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Collects: The Sandman #41-49

Rating: 4/5

When members of the Endless meet, they often refer to the missing sibling, the one who went away.

Destruction, we have learned over the course of Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, gave up his duties and left his realm. Now Delirium, the youngest sister who was once Delight, decides to go and find him. She tries to enlist sister Despair and brother/sister Desire for their aid, but both refuse. (The scene in a B&D club, where Delirium meets with Desire after mistaking a pale goth chick named Lisa for her eldest sister Death, is priceless!) So she turns to her scary bigger brother, Dream.

Dream, for all that he's a being older and more powerful than the gods, has never learned to handle romance well. Delirium finds him moping about his castle, which is bathed in endless rain, because he's lost his latest love. (Pity poor Abel, who lives in a low spot.) The talk, and snack on salad, an omelette and raspberry-cream chocolate lovers, and she asks for his help finding their missing sibling.

Dream has almost always been stern and aloof in his dealings with mortals, gods and Endless alike. But for a moment, faced with his youngest sister's tears and her ready assumption that he'll reject and mock her, the coolness cracks. A glimpse of genuine affection shows through. And he agrees to go with her -- not so much out of a sincere desire to find Destruction, but simply for the journey itself and the distraction it will provide.

The pair of Endless begin by trying to contact those who knew Destruction before his disappearance 300 years before. That means calling on some of the immortal mortals and incognito gods who live among the normal people of the world. But as the adventure begins, bad things start happening to them. Take for instance Bernie Capax, who has spent roughly 15,000 years of life as one form of lawyer or another, and whose reaction to his sudden impending demise is to scream "Not yet!"

Others among the long-lived are more crafty. Etain just manages to escape an explosive death in one city, while the Alderman pisses on his clothing and becomes a bear. (Really!) Meanwhile, the elusive Destruction is off on an island someplace, painting landscapes, writing mediocre poetry, sculpting, um, things, and debating philosophy with a dog. (Really!) And then he gets it in his head to learn to cook....

Meanwhile, Dream and Delirium are having adventures in the Waking World. They call on Pharamond, the last of an ancient Babylonian pantheon of gods, for transportation, and Delirium makes some frogs. They cross the Atlantic by plane, meet their spunky chauffer and head out across the country. They chat with the dead lawyer's confused son, stop in a hotel, where Delirium blows bubbles, and experience a nasty fire. Delirium learns to drive -- a scary prospect indeed, even with a raven to help her -- and covers a cop in imaginary bugs.

And they meet the once-goddess Ishtar, who was Astarte and Belili, and who now dances and strips in a roadside bar for tips. After their encounter, Ishtar dances -- really dances -- and the customers get much more than they paid for. Her last words are a potent commentary on the nature of deities, how they begin and end: "We start as dreams. Then we walk out of dreams into the land. We are worshipped and loved, and take power to ourselves. And then one day there's no one left to worship us. And in the end each little god and goddess takes its last journey back into dreams ... and what comes after, not even we know. I'm going to dance now, I'm afraid."

The goddess Bast, meanwhile, plods on in a world with little thought or time for her. But as long as the world has cats, it will have Bast.

Throughout, we learn more about Destruction via flashbacks (a 17th-century London epidemic, for instance, and a dissecting room in the Age of Reason), and he's not the God of War-like being you might expect. Rather, he's bluff and hearty, quick to smile and quicker to laugh. He defines his province as change, and he's in love with existence. He doesn't take offense quickly, even when no one will eat the food he lovingly prepared.

His long-awaited meeting with his siblings is not when anyone -- reader or character -- would expect. And his words cast doubt on the very nature of these characters we've been following so avidly since the series began.

We learn more about the ever-changing Delirium, too. Her drifting thoughts, her spontaneous creations and frequent non sequiturs on subjects ranging from vitreous humor to mango juice, give the book a sparkling life. We also get our first glimpse of her realm, which is not for the faint of psyche. Her two-page summation of the entire story so far doesn't quite replace the preceding books, but it does make for an interesting interpretation.

And the story of Orpheus, the tragic son of Dream, finds its conclusion.

But our protagonist remains Dream, and the events of this book seem to have an extreme impact upon him. It's odd to think that a being so old, so eternal could still have things to learn ... and yet he does. And changes in him are evident almost immediately.

And the events of this book will have repercussions in the stories to come. If you haven't started reading The Sandman yet ... what are you waiting for?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Sandman Volume 6: Fables & Reflections

Title: The Sandman Volume 6: Fables & Reflections

ISBN: 1563891050
Price: $19.95
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 1992
Artist: Bryan Talbot, Stan Woch, P. Craig Russell, Shawn McManus, John Watkiss, Jill Thompson, Duncan Eagleson, Kent Williams
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Collects: The Sandman #29-31, 38-40, 50, Sandman Special #1, Vertigo Special

Rating: 4/5

Like the Dream King's inexhaustible pouch of raw dreamstuff, this next volume in the Sandman series is a mixed bag of stories and styles -- more a collection of illustrated short stories than an ongoing drama like so many other volumes in the series. But Neil Gaiman has proven himself a talented short story writer, so the change in format is neither abrupt nor disappointing. At worst, a reader might consider these brief pieces a diversion from the major storylines; at best, they'll see them as quality stories in their own right, connected but not bound to the overall epic tale.

The book opens with "Fear of Falling," a neatly written, poorly drawn story about a theater director who's lost his nerve. While there's a nice lesson to be learned when the young man stumbles onto Dream in his dreams, the art by Kent Williams left me cold.

Much better is the next tale, "Three Septembers and a January." Not only is the story one of my favorites in the series, it comes with an excellent visual component drawn by Shawn McManus. (Each chapter in this volume has a different artist, accentuating to the tangible differences between them.) In this story, we meet Joshua Norton, a failed San Francisco businessman who has fallen into the realm of Dream's sister, Despair. She challenges her brother to prove that dreams can save a man from despair, and he accepts the task.

It is September 1859, and Joshua begins to dream. Soon he proclaims himself Norton I, the emperor of the United States. Over the course of the next 16 years we see Norton rubbing elbows with a not-yet-famous newspaperman named Samuel Clemens, as well as the various attempts by Endless siblings Despair, Delirium and Desire to claim him, and yet he remains firmly in the realm of Dream ... until the eldest sister, Death, takes him in the end.

As sister Delirium declares: "His madness keeps him sane." And indeed it did. (As fantastic as this story sounds, it's actually based on fact. Well, except for the bits about Dream and the Endless. The history of Norton I is quite fascinating to read! For instance, he was deemed mad by some for commanding the construction of a bay bridge to Oakland, and yet years later, the Golden Gate Bridge was built just as he wished.)

The next chapter is an intriguing tale of Johanna Constantine, set in England and revolutionary France, 1794, when she is hired by Dream to reclaim something he's lost. Then Gaiman takes us to the ancient steppes of Russia for a fable involving a roaming peasant lad, lycanthropes, the witch Bab Yaga and a librarian who has lost a book that was never written. The lad makes several wise exchanges, gains that which he sought and finds what he needed. Flash back to ancient Rome with a wise dwarf and the Emporer Augustus a'begging in the marketplace. Forward again to 1273, when a young Marco Polo encounters his own descendant and a roving location in one of the "soft places" of the dream realm. Then back to ancient Greece to see the tragic wedding of Orpheus -- the famed minstrel who was the son of Calliope, the Muse, and Oneiros, also called Dream -- and Eurydice. Anyone the least bit familiar with Greek mythology knows the circumstances which must follow, but Gaiman has woven them into his own mythology to set up events in future storylines. (We also learn, inexplicably, that the proper response to being clubbed in the head by a naked member of the ravenous Baccheae is the word "Ut." To be followed by copious bleeding.)

Next we meet Daniel, the son of Lyta and the faux Sandman we first glimpsed in The Doll's House storyline. The young boy, conceived and born in a dream, is a powerful dreamer himself, and in this tale his dream takes him straight into the Dreaming and the homes of Cain and Abel. Each brother and their mother, Eve, tell Daniel a story -- about the Parliament of Rooks, about Adam and his three wives, and about Li'l Death and Li'l Morpheus and the "loving" brothers they met on Earth.

The volume concludes with prosaic tale of old Baghdad, a new fairy tale which tells why the story, and all its ancient glory, may never be forgotten.

Fables & Reflections hops through a broad range of times and places in its 250-odd pages. Some of the stories are simply that, and are completely self-contained. A few pick up the threads left hanging in earlier volumes, while others set the stage for things to come. But each adds a bit more to the still-growing lore of the Endless and furthers the journey of Dream through Gaiman's vision. And never a page is wasted along the way.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Sandman Volume 5: A Game of You

Title: The Sandman Volume 5: A Game of You

ISBN: 1563890895
Price: $19.95
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 1993
Artist: Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran, Bryan Talbot, Dick Giordano, George Pratt, Stan Woch
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Collects: The Sandman #32-37

Rating: 4/5

The concept of a dreamworld that's real and can be visited repeatedly by a dreamer is hardly new. Alice did it, perhaps best of all the dreamers, which is likely why Neil Gaiman included a passage from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at the start of this book.

The concept in A Game of You is The Land, which has been visited for a long time by dreamer Barbie, whom we previously met in Gaiman's earlier volume, The Doll's House. Now separated from husband Ken and living in a New York apartment house, Barbie has ceased to dream ... and the denizens of The Land are worried. Without their princess, they are suffering under the cruel tyranny of the mysterious Cuckoo, and several friends -- a giant dog/lion named Martin Tenbones, the parrot Luz, Prinado the organ-grinder monkey and Wilkinson, the Murphy-lovin' trenchcoated rat -- try to find her.

There are also several real-world friends involved in this story: Wanda the transsexual, the deceptively sweet Thessaly, a dog-phobic baglady, and lesbian lovers Hazel and Foxglove (the latter of whom has a gruesome connection to the climactic chapter of Preludes & Nocturnes). There's also George, but he's decidedly not a friend, especially after having his face skinned off and nailed to a wall.

We learn a lot about Barbie's friends through their dreams, and we learn about Thessaly, too, because she doesn't. Suffice it to say, she's not the vanilla sweetheart we were led to believe. And Barbie has returned to The Land and won't be coming back without some kind of resolution. Of course, that will have far-reach effects back here in our world, so Thessaly leads Hazel and Foxglove on a rescue operation into the Dreaming.

The adventure which follows could have been another in a long line of fantasy books in which a mismatched set of earnest and comical characters set off to defeat the Evil Threat in whatever fantasyland the author has chosen. But Gaiman doesn't do things the generic way. There is still a series of violence, mistaken identities, an unplanned pregnancy, a lot of walking, strange revelations about childhood fantasies and toys, resurrections and really bad weather to go.

Gaiman doesn't wrap it all up neatly, with a happy ending for all, either. That would be boring and predictable, and not at all Gaiman's style. The wrap-up, in a small town in Kansas of all places, includes an extremely touching display of love and friendship in a hostile family environment.

Neil Gaiman's world just keeps getting bigger and bigger, the ride through his eyes, wilder and wilder. Unlike the previous volume, which was a collection of short stories connected only by their relation to Dream, A Game of You is an entire novel with excellent character development, emotional impact and, most importantly, a really good story.

Fine illustrations by Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran, Bryan Talbot, George Pratt, Stan Woch and Dick Giordano don't hurt, either.