Thursday, April 17, 2014

Archeologists of Shadows, Volume 1: The Resistance by Lara Fuentes and Patricio Clarey

The sheer variety of comics available today, especially given digital distribution methods such as comics for the Kindle through Amazon and ComiXology, is staggering.  One graphic novel that takes its art in a non-traditional direction is Archeologists of Shadows, written by Lara Fuentes with art from Patricio Clarey.  The first volume, The Resistance, contains the first four chapters of what is clearly a much larger story.

Archeologists of Shadows follows two characters who could be the reincarnation of the two deities of the world, or two pawns in a large-scale revolutionary movement.  The government is forcing everyone to let their bodies be consumed by technology and industrialization, and while most people are following along, there is a resistance group looking to bring back the gods of the world to fight against the government-sponsored dehumanization of humanity.  This first volume establishes a steampunk, techno-nature world where the world hangs in the balance.  The art very much distinguishes itself from the field, uses a host of techniques to create an almost abstract, surreal 3D world.

Full of big concepts, it is unfortunate that Archeologists of Shadows does not live up to its potential.  The story isn’t nearly as engaging as it could be, with the adventure and journey seeming to lose its appeal quickly.  And while the art is certainly different, it isn’t an art style that will appeal to everyone, and can lack clarity at critical moments.  The setting is very interesting, and I would have liked to have seen a better story taking place there.

Archeologists of Shadows, Vol. 1: The Resistance isn’t a bad book, it just isn’t a great one.  However, for a very low entry price, curious readers can discover for themselves if this book might be their cup of tea.  For this reviewer, it wasn’t.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

ComiXology Submit Single Issue Reviews #2

Ready for some more first issues from indie publishers released through ComiXology Submit?  Then let’s dive in!

Arrival #1

Arrival begins by giving you a sense of the future it is set in, with constant video feeds and news reports running in the background, as a mission to the new celestial body that recently appeared in the solar system is begun.  The story follows a group of astronauts as they come to discover that the new planetary body is much more than it seems, and something there is alive, and knows far too much about the astronauts.  The first issue of Arrival ends on a very ambiguous note, not so much a cliffhanger as a moment of ethereal confusion, leaving the reader wondering if they will be coming back or not.  Not a high recommendation, but for the reader okay with an exploration of the metaphysical in a serialized science fiction adventure, okay with abrupt endings and not much attention to the details of science, may find something to enjoy here.  Arrival #1 is written by Thomas Kovach and Nishan Patel with art from Kovach.

Blastosaurus: Welcome to Freak Out City #1

I almost didn’t read the first issue of Blastosaurus: Welcome to Freak Out City because the art looked very kiddie-oriented on the cover.  Hesitant, I decided to give it a shot after all, and this comic very much managed to surprise me.  Blastosaurus is fun, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Scientists travel to the past and create humanoid dinosaurs, which travel to the present and the future, wreaking havoc wherever they go.  Who is the shadowy company behind this?  Who are the children that pop up in the present storyline, and what role do they play in the oppressive future we later see them in?  Blastosaurus leaves you with a lot of questions, and plenty of interest to keep reading to find out the answers.  Blastosaurus: Welcome to Freak Out City #1 is written by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones with art from Fairgray.

Combat Jacks #1.1: Director’s Cut

Combat Jacks follows a group of marines who are sent to explore an alternate Earth populated with pumpkin-looking beings.  The human outpost on the planet has gone silent, and the marines investigate, only to be attacked by demonic-looking alien jack-o-lanterns.  While this story had the potential to be fun in a corny way, the unintentionally stilted dialogue, the meaningless deaths of characters you never get attached to, and the lack of a gripping story element leave this comic lacking.  Most readers will want to give this one a pass.  Combat Jacks #1.1 was written by Mark McKenna with art from Jason Baroody and McKenna.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction edited by Leigh Grossman

Anyone who has spent time studying literature at a college or university is familiar with the Norton Anthology series.  My introduction to the series was with The Norton Anthology of English Literature (8th Edition), Volume 2, a 3000+ page tome of tiny font, tissue-thin paper, and dense reading.  To say that it is overwhelming is an understatement, but Norton manages to pack in an incredible amount of content into one book, and gives an overview of a very broad swath of literature.

Editor Leigh Grossman is doing something similar with Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction.  This book is huge.  Massive.  Enormous.  And it has everything from Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe, through Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, into the pulps, and all the way up to today, including short stories, novel excerpts, complete novels, poems, and even a play, along with a host of essays.

It is difficult to even explain the breadth of the contents.  One can view the entire table of contents online (at Amazon, among other places), and it is worth taking a look.  The table of contents alone is the length of a short story.  And while many longtime fans will find some of these stories to not be new, it is impossible to not get your money’s worth out of this volume, even from the essays alone, which are as diverse as the stories, with everything from histories of the main periods of the science fiction magazines, to studies of gothic themes, to a look at science fiction anime.  The depth is staggering.

This isn’t a book that you race through.  It is one that you take your time with.  And it is without a doubt worth the cost.  Everyone will find someone worth while here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

ComiXology Submit Single Issue Reviews #1

As briefly touched upon in an earlier review, I took advantage of ComiXology’s major sale to celebrate the one-year anniversary of ComiXology Submit to explore a large number of the indie comics being released through this platform.  Already Luke Reviews has featured reviews of Afterlife, Inc., Vol. 1: Dying to Tell – Tales from the Afterlife and Allwёn: Soul & Sword, both of which are indie releases published through ComiXology submit.  Along with those and a number of other larger works, ComiXology features many on-going and limited series, and here well take a look at a few of the individual issues that are a part of this program.

The Accelerators #1

There is a lot going on in the first issue of The Accelerators.  We see hints of a devastated future with gladiators from throughout history, time travelers from the past in a race through our present and into the future, and a teenager caught up in the race through time who is displaced and can’t return home.  The Accelerators starts out fast paced, with lots of open ends to keep you interested.  For readers looking for a new science fiction comic, and for fans of gladiatorial combat, this title is one worth checking out.  The Accelerators #1 is written by R.F.I. Porto with art from Gavin P. Smith.

Anathema #1

A nice historical fantasy drama, Anathema follows Mercy, whose lover is burned at the stake as a heretic.  When creatures of the night crash the execution, and a crow seemingly steals the soul of Mercy’s beloved, Mercy makes a dark bargain to stop the dark magician behind it all.  Very well written, with art that fits the mood perfectly, Anathema should be very popular with historical and dark fantasy fans.  Anathema #1 is written by Rachel Deering, with art from Christopher Mooneyham.

Armarauders: The Last Battalion #1

Sometimes, all you want is to see some giant robots beating the holy heck out of some giant aliens, and Armarauders: The Last Battalion #1 provides just that.  Introducing a strong cast of characters and a conflict in progress, Armarauders keeps up the action through the whole book.  While occasionally a couple of the robots of similar design and color may get confused for the reader, all in all this is a very fun read for those looking for their science fiction action fix, and for mecha fans.  Armarauders: The Last Battalion #1 is written by Dan Taylor with art from Don Figueroa.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Anywhere But Here by Edward J. McFadden III

As we discussed a bit in the review of Allwën: Soul & Sword, the rise of ebooks has contributed to a bit of a rebirth of the novella, allowing more to be released and sold without the complications of higher costs and print book demands.  This is particularly evident among some of the smaller presses, willing to take risks on novella lengths tales with low prices.  This is a wonderful thing for short fiction, and Luke Reviews embraces this trend wholeheartedly.  This new openness in publishing allows for the release of books such as Edward J. McFadden III’s novella Anywhere But Here, which should count among the successes of this trend. 

Starting in suburbia, Anywhere But Here features an average family that quickly realizes something strange is going on.  From a baseball that mysteriously disappears, to slight alterations in the seemingly stable, day to day lives of the family, Willie realizes that there is something strange with space in his driveway.  When this anomaly grows and his son is sucked in, Willie follows him, and will stop at nothing to save his family.

Featuring time travel, post-apocalyptic wastelands, and causality cops, Anywhere But Here like a fast paced romp pulled out of the science fiction magazines from the first half of the twentieth century, with an everyman shooting through a blistering adventure to save the day.  Truly, it feels almost like a superscience adventure of old, but with a modern sensibility that keeps it from feeling dated.

Anywhere But Here is an unapologetically fun adventure, and the perfect length to sit down and read in a full afternoon.  This novella will have you looking for more from McFadden.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Allwёn: Soul & Sword by Jesús B. Vilches and Javier Charro

Novellas tend to fall into that awkward place in publishing where they aren’t long enough to sell on their own as a book, but they are too long to include a few in a collection with other stories.  Ebook publishing has helped this situation immensely by making the publication of individual novellas and novella collections both feasible for the publisher and affordable for the reader.  One route that publisher have taken in the past to help make novellas stand out on the bookstore shelves was to have them illustrated.  This was a hit-or-miss enterprise, at best, but occasionally one saw successes.  However, with the increase of digital releases, this is a direction with an ever-growing potential.

This is realized in Allwёn: Soul & Sword, written by Jesús B. Vilches, illustrated by Javier Charro, and translated from the Spanish by Pedro C. Camacho.  It is almost unfair to categorize Allwёn as an illustrated novella, as the book is set up so brilliantly to feature small amounts of text, no more than a couple paragraphs, per page, intermixed with full page illustrations and dramatic formatting.  Truly, Allwёn is almost in a format all its own, blurring the lines between comic and illustrated fiction.

Allwёn: Soul & Sword is the story of Allwn and his great love, Ӓriel.  Half elf and half dwarf, Allwёn brings the traits of both to his role as a warrior.  What helps his retain his soul and not become a berserk war machine is Ӓriel, an elven sorceress.  However, events transpire to tear Ӓriel from Allwёn’s life, and turn him into a blood-mad warrior seeking his own death by instigating one slaughter after another.  The story follows both plot lines, alternating back and forth and approaching the cataclysmic turning point of Allwёn’s life.

Part of the power of Allwёn: Soul & Sword is the non-linear story-telling.  Readers know from the beginning that this will be a tragic love story.  But the power of the storytelling keeps you deeply involved, so that you hope tragedy won’t occur even though you know it already has.  One particular motif, Allwёn’s sword and its three parts symbolically mirroring the three parts of the story, is particularly well done.

But the true highlight of the story has to be is elegance in atmospherics.  The mood is very deftly created and the world feels truly mystical, magical, and fantastic.  The art and the words mesh together brilliantly, and they truly create a whole even greater than the sum of its parts.

For readers looking for a dream-like fantasy experience in a medium as unique as the story, then Allwёn: Soul & Sword is something you should pick up instantly.  Not enough good can be said about this fascinating work.

For those interested, Allwёn: Soul & Sword is set in the world of Vilches’s epic fantasy series, La Flor de Jade, which begins with El Enviado.  For my English-speaking readers, La Flor de Jade is unfortunately not available in English at this time, with the exception of Allwёn: Soul & Sword.  Allwёn does stand on its own as a complete story, but it certainly makes this reader wish he had taken more than just one year of Spanish in college so that I could further explore this story.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Afterlife, Inc., Volume 1: Dying to Tell - Tales of the Afterlife by Jon Lock

ComiXology recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of ComiXology Submit, the company’s indie comic platform, with a fantastic bundle sale of some heir best releases.  We will talk more about this later, but the short version is that this meant readers, including this one, could take advantage of a great price to explore the wide range of titles released through ComiXology Submit.

One of these was the first volume of Afterlife, Inc.  Set in an afterlife devoid of deities, the series follows a large cast of characters as they live in/work in/explore the post-life world.

Afterlife, Inc., Volume 1: Dying to Tell – Tales from the Afterlife is written by Jon Lock, and features art from Jack Tempest, Del Borovic, Will Tempest, Roy Huteson Stewart, Ash Jackson, and Jerry Gaylord.  This first volume features eight interrelated stories following Jack Fortune, head of Afterlife, Inc.  All of the stories are pretty short in length, but make a very enjoyable whole.  We have stories of people who can’t accept their death, angels who want to be something different, pulp noir crime, an Alice in Wonderland pastiche, and even a Sherlock Holmes/Jack the Ripper throw down. 

Truly, while each of the stories on their own are fun, fast stories that are clearly well written, the whole presents a very detailed picture of a strange new setting.  The multiple art styles vary significantly in some degree, with different artists working on different stories, but they fit the mood of the story quite nicely, and the varying styles create a homogenous whole that fits the world-building efforts quite nicely.

Readers will find a nice blend of humor, action, strong storytelling, and a sense of the bizarre in Dying to Tell, and the balance is performed quite nicely.  For those wanting a story that isn’t your typical comic, neither superheroes nor the more snobby “literary” graphic novels, Dying to Tell is a wonderful mix of intelligence and fun that will have you excited to explore more in the series.  For those interested, there are currently two more volumes of Afterlife, Inc. available: Near Life and Other Stories and Lifeblood.