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Books Review

Book Review – Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Carrie Vaughn from friends who read her Kitty Norville series, so when NetGalley had a copy of her new book, Martians Abroad, available to read, I jumped at it.  I’m glad I did, though the book is not without it’s faults.

The story takes place in a future timeline where Earth has settled the moon, Mars, and has stations and colonies out in the belt and on the usual moons.  Sort of like the Expanse, but less grim.  Polly Newton and her brother, Charles, are the kids of the main Martian colony leader.  Polly wants nothing more than to learn to be a pilot, but her mother has other plans – she manipulates their way into the Galileo academy, a prestigious Earth-based school for the best and the brightest.  Off-worlders usually don’t attend, not only for the physical limitations (with most growing up in 1/3 to 1/6 Earth gravity), but for the fact that the school is basically a networking tool for all the elite rich kids of Earth.  Polly is furious, but her brother Charles (an odd hacker who isn’t against a bit of manipulation himself) convinces her to give it a try as attending may give them some advantages in life.

From there, it plays out not unlike the usual YA novel where the outsiders struggle to fit in.  The Earth folks look down on them, the head of the school doubts them, but it’s a series of strange accidents where Polly has to be a hero that really throw them for a loop.

Martians Abroad is well-written and keeps things moving at a decent pace.  The main downside for me was, it seemed to take quite a long time (more than half of the book) for the mystery to really take hold, and even then, it didn’t stand out that the bad things happening were all that out of the ordinary.  Still, it was an interesting, YA-friendly take on future kids doing dangerous stuff in space and if any of that sounds appealing, or you’re already a Carrie Vaughn fan, it’s worth checking out.  You can pre-order at the link, the current release date is January 17, 2017.

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Books Review

Book Review – The Girl With All The Gifts

I am not normally a zombie guy, but I had heard great things about comic writer Mike Carey’s (styled M. R. Carey here) novel The Girl with All the Gifts and when it went on sale, I gave it a shot.  I’m glad I did, as it’s an enjoyable spin on the nature of zombies and the “zombie apocalypse”.

Carey’s book starts out with all the usual zombie trappings, you know, the last few human survivors working to find a cure, the zombie infection coming from a real-world source (a cordyceps fungus, like in The Last of Us), and the somewhat annoying trope that people don’t call zombies zombies.  The twist comes from the children found among the walking dead – seemingly still fully intelligent, they just have an uncontrollable hunger for flesh when they smell it.  The group of survivors we follow (most notably Doctors Caldwell and Justineau, and Sergeant Parks) are studying the children, hoping that they are a hint to a final cure for the infection.  The conflict comes from the differing views of just how far they should go in that study – Caldwell is rather freewheeling with a scalpel, carving up the intelligent zombie children, while Justineau empathizes a bit too much with them.  Things are turned upside down when the base is assaulted and overrun and they are on the run in a busted truck – with Melanie, one of the intelligent “hungries” along with them.

The rest of the story becomes a survival-on-the-road movie where Parks, Caldwell and Justineau learn more about the zombie infection while travelling with Melanie, but she’s learning at leaps and bounds too.  The Girl with All the Gifts moves at a solid pace for the most part, and drives to a solid conclusion I didn’t see coming.  It’s a bit abrupt considering the time spent on the rest of the story, but the only other negative was a rather eye-rolling romance aspect between Parks and Justineau that seemed unnecessary.  In the end though, it’s a book about zombies that had something new to offer, and considering how prevalent zombies are in our media at this time, that shouldn’t be ignored.  Check out the preview below if any of this interests you.

 

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Sing

Illumination’s latest movie, Sing, is a song and dance you’ve seen before.  Heck, the Muppets have done it twice at least.  Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey as a Koala) grew up loving the theater, and eventually (with financial help from his blue-collar dad) he buys a theater.  Buster’s not very good at running it, though, so it’s in pretty dire straits with the koala dodging the bank and having trouble paying his employees.  He’s got one last chance to save the theater, with an American Idol-ish singing competition.  Hijinks, of course, ensue.

The animation is fine, with some decent visual gags, and of course, the music works fine (it better, considering).  The one thing they needed to do is trim the cast.  There’s too many characters we are supposed to care about packed into too little movie to actually build them up.  They could easily drop the wannabe gangster mouse so we could flesh out the other characters a bit more.  This is fine for kids, probably, but adults will see through it as they rely on the fact we’ve seen these stories before to fill in the blanks.  At least the music is entertaining.  The voice cast does a perfectly fine job but nobody leaps out, except maybe Taron Egerton as the young gorilla Johnny.  Uh, no pun intended.

Sing is worth a matinee showing if your kids are clamoring to see it.  It’s cute.  Exactly what you expect happens right when it should.  Just don’t expect to think about it or remember much about it a few days later.  I’m still thinking about Kubo.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Doctor Strange

I saw the Scott Derrickson-directed Doctor Strange over the weekend, and enjoyed it a lot.  It’s not going to unseat any of my favorite MCU movies (currently Iron Man, Winter Soldier, Guardians and Civil War) but it was a fun if familiar tale.  I’ll get all the non-spoiler notes out of the way first:  the effects are as amazing as advertised, and I can’t wait to go back and see it in 3D.  The cast (for all the difficulties with casting a movie from a source so steeped in racial stereotypes) are great as a Marvel movie’s cast usually is, with Benedict Cumberbatch filling Strange’s robes admirably as the arrogant surgeon/distracted driving consequences example.  I really liked Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, he’s got such a great delivery of his lines.  It’s no surprise why he got to say most of the artifact names.

The visuals are simply jaw-dropping.  For those who scoffed at the early clips and trailers that mostly showed the city bending as “psh, Inception” that barely scratches the surface.  Basically take the visuals of the Quantum Realm in Ant-Man, add a bunch of psychedelic color, and jam the accelerator to the floor.  So cool.

<spoilers from here on out>

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Comics

Comics Twitter is a JERK!

Subtitled “Ask me about MY feminist agenda”.

The thing about this whole mess I don’t get is, why do the misogynist man-babies get so wound up about a book they didn’t read?  They are gleefully vile in attacking Chelsea Cain after the cancellation of the Mockingbird series, and the preview of Joelle Jones’s cover to Mockingbird #8 seen in part above.  Why?  Why are they so threatened by the idea of a comic book series not directly aimed at them?

I’m late to Mockingbird, mostly because I didn’t have a ton of cash for comics over the past year or so, but I’ve read it up as the issues have hit Marvel Unlimited and it’s quite a bit of fun, enough that I’m going to get the trades.  The thing is, if I hadn’t liked it I could just…not read it.  Even if I had bought the first issue, and not liked it, I’m out, like $4.  I could MOVE ON and not make my whole life about the fact that a woman wrote (or drew or colored or lettered) a comic that was not specifically targeted to me.  The fact that Hellcat exists doesn’t actually stop me from reading Iron Man or Batman.  Your local comic shop isn’t going to smack that issue of Superman out of your hand, rip a five-spot from your wallet, and stuff an issue of Lumberjanes in your bag whether you want it or not.  Look, I guarantee comic companies don’t want to replace your manly comics with feminist ones, they want to sell BOTH.  They will make more of whatever sells.  Marvel would put out 100 books a week if they all sold 50k copies.  They don’t, so some books go on, and some get cancelled.  Mockingbird didn’t find an audience, but the correct response shouldn’t be to crow about it and harass the creators behind it beyond all reasonable endurance.  You should be celebrating that a company is willing to try something different than just another comic about a white guy punching bad guys because his parents died.

There is no excuse for what happened to Chelsea Cain, or any other person who has been chased off or had vile insults and threats leveled at them for the ‘crime’ of doing something in a formerly male-dominated space.  Don’t give in to the impulse to gatekeep ‘others’ out of your hobby, and seriously, don’t take your hobby so seriously that you think abusing strangers is a good idea.  I get really tired of being a part of fandoms that act like this (I’m a gamer too).  I plan to be a better ally, and so should you.

Anybody who wants to check out Chelsea Cain’s work, see the below:

  1. Mockingbird, Volume 1:  I Can Explain
  2. Mockingbird, Volume 2:  My Feminist Agenda
  3. Heartsick
  4. One Kick

Go ahead, step outside your comfort zone.  You may just be glad you did.

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Books Comics Review

Book Review – Black Widow: Forever Red

Before you start this book, know that while it’s got Black Widow in the name, it’s both about her, and not exactly about her.  If it might bother you to discover the story is told mostly through the viewpoint of a teenaged girl that has an…interesting connection to Natasha, as some other reviewers seem to, just be aware.  Black Widow: Forever Red (by Margaret Stohl) tells the story of Ana Orlova, a young girl rescued from the mastermind of the Red Room, the infamous organization that turned Natasha into the perfect assassin.  Nat promptly dumps the girl into SHIELD’s lap and jets, not being the mothering type.  Fast forward 8 years, and Ana is having strange dreams and that evil from the past roars back to put the whole world in danger.

Forever Red doesn’t break a ton of new ground, being a fairly standard YA novel, just in this case, it’s set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  And yes, it’s the MCU, as they specifically mention events like the Battle of New York, and has Coulson as SHIELD director.  There’s also an extended appearance from Tony Stark.  There’s a good balance between the weirdness of the MCU and the more grounded aspects Natasha typically deals with.  I enjoy the interplay between Ana and Nat as their similarities get the better of the older woman (in a “when you get older I hope you have a daughter just like you!” sort of way).  The action moves at a fair clip most of the time, and the story has just enough twists to make you second guess some things.

Forever Red is a worthwhile read, especially for the MCU fan who isn’t up on the comics and wants to know how a spy/assassin gets the skills to team up with gods and monsters and not die.  Preview below:

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Comics TV

The First Legend of Korra Comic, “Turf Wars”, Starts June 2017!

It was first announced that Korra’s adventures would continue in comics (much like Aang’s) last New York Comic-Con, but it’s taken until this one to get an update.  The new comic, titled “Turf Wars”, begins June of 2017.  The details:

This three-part graphic novel series is written by Nickelodeon TV series co-creator and executive producer Michael Dante DiMartino, drawn by Irene Koh (Batgirl, 1602, TMNT), with covers by Heather Campbell (Free Comic Book Day 2016: The Legend of Korra), and consultation by TV series co-creator and executive producer Bryan Konietzko.

Turf Wars begins with Korra and Asami leaving the spirit world and returning to Republic City only to find political hijinks and human vs. spirit conflict, as a pompous developer plans to turn the new spirit portal into an amusement park, potentially severing an already tumultuous connection with the spirits. In addition, the triads have realigned and are in a brutal brawl at the city’s borders where hundreds of evacuees have relocated.  In order to get through it all, Korra and Asami vow to look out for each other—but first, they’ve got to get better at being a team.
No information as to why Brittney Williams (who’s been great on Hellcat) isn’t the artist but Koh does great work.  I’m very curious to see if they will be showing more of the Korra/Asami relationship, which would be great to show some LGBTQ representation to younger readers.  The story sounds like classic Avatar, with a mix of serious and fun.  Can’t wait!  I’ll update the post when pre-orders show up at Amazon, or head to your local comics shop and pre-order there!
Categories
Comics TV

Help Me Fix Agents of SHIELD

This is mostly in response to the article over at Heroic Hollywood, Is Marvel’s ‘Agents of SHIELD’ Really Any Good? so maybe check that first.

There was no one more excited by the concept of Agents of SHIELD than me, when it was first announced.  A Whedon-adjacent look at the more mundane aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, led by everyone’s favorite dead SHIELD agent?  Let’s roll!  The reality of the show has been, at times, middling however.  As Jon Negroni points out in the article above, rather than the show being must-see TV for Marvel movie fans, it’s mostly an afterthought.  The episode that tied in to Thor: The Dark World is the perfect metaphor for AoS, as the team were literally picking up the scraps left behind by one of the MCU’s movies.

Not that there hasn’t been some great stuff to enjoy along the way, but beyond the direct link to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, all that’s great about Agents of SHIELD is of their own making.  Brett Dalton’s Grant Ward bored us all to tears as generic SHIELD agent guy…until the HYDRA twist turned our understanding of him on it’s head.  The action directing has been a highlight also.  Really, the only thing that holds AoS back from being spoken of in the same breath as The Flash is the MCU.  The focus (more from the fans than anyone at ABC/Disney/Marvel) is on just how the show will tie-in to the upcoming movies.  “Hey look, Inhumans!” which is particularly rough since the Inhumans movie is now off the schedule, or Lorelei/Sif which is fun but not exactly something that’s going to grab the attention of the movie-goers or the casual TV viewer who sees the promos.

No, the biggest thing Agents of SHIELD could do to increase its quality is…stop worrying about the MCU!  There are signs of that this year, with the Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider being a focus, but they need to really lean in to it.  There are plenty of characters that will never get a movie or a TV show, and you already HAVE a show that needs to fill 20+ hours a year.  And has a tendency to have some filler episodes of questionable quality.  Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of sifting through the rubble of the next MCU movie, Coulson and May went on an adventure with Jimmy Woo and Ken Hale?  Or, instead of holding out hope we see another Kree, we see Fitz and Simmons have to figure out how to help defeat the Wrecking Crew?  The Hood.  Shang-Chi.  Moon Knight.  Tombstone.  The Grim Reaper.  Taskmaster.  Most of these characters wouldn’t carry a series on their own (okay, maaaybe Moon Knight) but would work great as a 3-8 episode arc on AoS.

There are signs that AoS may be going down this path this year, with Ghost Rider and some of the other mystical stuff.  The real trick is getting the audience back that may have lost interest.  Is there anyone you’d like to see on the show, or any TV-friendly storylines you’d like them to tackle?

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Books Review

Book Review – Rebel Genius by Michael Dante DiMartino

Rebel Genius is a new book from Michael Dante DiMartino (of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra fame), and if you are a fan of either of those shows, you’ll find a lot to love here.  In fact, if there’s one negative to the book it’s that it hems a bit closely both to what DiMartino’s done before and some other classics of the fantasy genre.

The story follows Giacomo, a 12 year old orphan who is also an artist.  In Giacomo’s world, art is outlawed, and artists gain a birdlike companion creature (not unlike the daemon concept in the His Dark Materials series) with special powers tied to the creation of art called a ‘Genius’.  When Giacomo gains his genius, he goes on the run and falls in with a mentor who has a hidden studio where he teaches other children how to use their gifts.  They are opposed by both the Empress Nerezza (styling herself the ‘Supreme Creator’) who hunts down artists and destroys their Geniuses, rendering them zombie-like, and another renegade artist, Ugalino, who has made a Tulpa – basically a homonculus, or a living statue of immense power.  He wants to tear down the world and remake it in his own image, and to do so he seeks the Sacred Tools – said to be the three items God used to make the world.

All of this is well-trod ground for DiMartino – a group of almost-teens or teens with special powers set out on a journey to save the world.  You’ll notice that I said they were opposed by the Empress and Ugalino – as usual for DiMartino, the good/evil aspect of the antagonists is fuzzy.  You may not like what they do, and disagree with their methods, but they have a reason for what they are doing.  The other kids tend to fall into tropes but I trust DiMartino to twist those expectations around (Sokka didn’t stay a misogynist dip for long).  We see some of it by the end of this first book.

The idea that art is magic is kind of precious, considering that DiMartino himself is a creative person.  Sort of like how so many writers write books about writers doing stuff.  But it’s easily forgiven as the Renaissance-inspired world is interesting.  There’s a lot of talk about ‘sacred geometry’, and Zanobius is very obviously Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, which may drive some readers to go investigate classic art, which is never a bad thing.  If you have a kid in the target range, Rebel Genius is a worthy purchase.  Just don’t expect it to stray too far from the formula that DiMartino and Konietzko made (admittedly excellent) use of before.  Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.  It’s currently scheduled for release October 4th.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Kubo and the Two Strings

We saw Kubo and the Two Strings a while ago, but I’m just gathering my thoughts on it now.  It’s quite possibly my favorite Laika movie, and that’s saying something as Coraline gets a ton of play, especially this time of year.  Kubo deals with complex feelings with mind-numbingly gorgeous visuals.  It’s the sort of movie (like When Marnie Was There) where you are tearing up at the end and you’re not sure if you are happy or sad or both.

It’s funny, if I try to explain the plot, it sounds really convoluted.  I think my wife (who didn’t go see it with us) is still confused.  Watching the movie, though, everything is crystal clear, and it kept me so emotionally invested that I never saw the twists coming, even if I should have.  That’s a sign to me of a great movie.  Travis Knight is the director, having been a lead animator on many of Laika’s previous works, and does a fantastic job.  While you may scratch your head a bit at Matthew McConaughey as a beetle-Samurai, the voice cast does great work, with Art Parkinson (GoT’s Rickon Stark), Rooney Mara, George Takei, and Ralph Fiennes all pulling their weight.  There are scary parts, and creepy parts, so keep your younger/more sensitive kids close.

Really, just go see this movie.  You complain about everything being a sequel or franchise movie, nothing original?  SEE THIS.  On the biggest screen you can.  Bring a few tissues, and a child young enough that they’ll let you hug them afterwards.

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Review TV

New Amazon Pilot: The Tick

The Tick is both blessed and cursed by TV.  Blessed because very few comics from such an obscure source would get not one, not two, but three tries at a series.  Cursed, because the first two attempts were both on Fox and had plenty of network interference/mismanagment.  The third try may just be the charm, though, as as Amazon has produced a new pilot for The Tick as part of their current ‘Pilot Season’.

The specifics behind The Tick vary from the various comic books and shows, but in general he is a dimwitted but nigh invulnerable superhero who ends up protecting a city named “The City” from various silly supervillains from a Man-Eating Cow, a million-billion ninjas, to the Terror – an elderly villain most famous for punching out Teddy Roosevelt.

thumbsupforevil

The new Amazon pilot focuses, at least to start, on Arthur.  Arthur is usually portrayed as the sidekick/straight man to The Tick but he’s the driving force here.  He’s had a terrible childhood – the non-Quinjet of the not-the-Avengers superteam the ‘Flag Five’ crashes on and kills Arthur’s dad, and young Arthur comes face to face with The Terror, who eats his ice cream (seriously).  An iconic, Time Magazine-ish photo is taken of the moment.  Fast forward to adult Arthur, and he’s obviously still suffering from that moment.  He’s obsessed with The Terror, who everyone else thinks is dead, but Arthur is convinced is still running the criminal underworld.  His investigations are what brings him into contact with The Tick.  They try to set up a “is The Tick even real?” question, but I think it’s pretty clear he is – but Arthur, with his mental illness isn’t sure he’s not imagining the whole thing while off his meds.

I won’t say the pilot is perfect, as the tone shifts suddenly, but Peter Serafinowicz is actually really good at delivering The Tick’s weird monologues and quips.  Griffin Newman has some real depth as Arthur, too.  I’d complain about the strange over-textured suit but I’m fairly certain that’s a parody of every recent Superman suit where the filmmakers can’t stop themselves from putting some wacky design on it.  I guess the best thing I can say after 30 minutes of the new series is, I want to see more.  If you do too, go to this link and vote.

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Books Comics Movies TV

Happy Birthday Star Trek

50 years ago today yesterday, the first episode of Star Trek (now known as ‘The Original Series’) aired.  Sci-fi fandom hasn’t been the same since.  Hundreds of episodes of TV across five decades, scores of books and comics, big budget movies, video games, copycats and parodies, Trek holds a special place in our pop culture.  Star Wars may have the cool laser swords and planet-exploding superweapons, Star Trek – for all the added fistfights – made you a better person.

The Original Series was the first show I ever watched that dealt with real social issues which despite the show’s 1960’s roots, were still relevant.  Star Trek made you think about the consequences of the action, even as they had to shoehorn in a ridiculous fight with papier-mâché rocks to try and stay on the air.  Sure, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” may have been heavy handed, but for ten year old me this was the first show that dealt with racism in a way I understood.  I came for the Frank Gorshin, but left asking my parents why those two men thought they were so different.

But the best part of Star Trek was how it brought my family together.  My dad, I think, was the driving force, he loved TOS due to the “Wagon Train to the stars” aspect.  I can still remember us gathering to watch Encounter at Farpoint together.  Looking back, it wasn’t the greatest premiere episode, but it still had a sense of wonder about it that captured my attention.  It didn’t hurt that it had John de Lancie mugging for the camera as Q.  Most likely I hit The Next Generation at exactly the right time – young enough to forgive the inconsistency of the first few seasons, but then maturing with the show as it truly hit its stride a few years in.  That led into Deep Space Nine, which remains one of my all-time favorite shows, and the one that best continued the Trek legacy of examining real-world issues through a sci-fi lens.

I am looking forward to the new Star Trek: Discovery show, as it looks like it may be a return to form for Star Trek after the uneven, action-oriented ‘Kelvin-verse’ movies.  And if it doesn’t, there’s always “The Squire of Gothos”, “The Trouble with Tribbles”, “Inner Light”, “The Visitor”, “In The Pale Moonlight”…