Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Beast of Wolfe's Bay by Erik Evensen

As a reader with a relatively broad spectrum of interests in fiction, I find myself frequently at a loss as to what I want to read next, as the options can be overwhelming.  On the other hand, sometimes I know exactly what I want.  And I wanted monster mayhem.

Erik Evensen’s The Beast of Wolfe’s Bay is set in a small town where a string of strange disappearances appears to have culminated in a murder, and the evidence baffles the local law enforcement.  So they call in two academics, who set out on the trail of what appears to be a bigfoot attack.

The story is very much like many monster movies, where occasional plot holes do exist, but part of the fun is embracing the story wholeheartedly despite them.  Evensen does a wonderful job of laying the plot out for the reader, and making his characters successful enough to carry the story along at a significant clip.  Truly, I found myself flying through this book, and having fun the whole time.

Fans of monster horror fiction, monster movies, or cryptids will have a blast with this.  The Beast of Wolfe’s Bay is fun graphic fiction at its very finest.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Oz by Joe Brusha, Rolando Di Sessa, and Glauber Matos

When Zenoscope released the first issue of their flagship series, Grimm Fairy Tales, most people likely didn’t imagine it would become the starting point for an entire franchise, but the success the series found has led to a host of spin-offs as the core series nears its 100th issue.  Among many are Return to Wonderland, which has proved the series’ most successful branch, spawning a host of titles itself, as well as Inferno, Robyn Hood, Grimm Fairy Tales: Myths & Legends, and a whole stack more.

One of their more recent offerings is Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Oz, a retelling of the story from the novel by L. Frank Baum, but taken in a direction very much fitting with the Grimm Fairy Tales line.  Dorothy lives on a farm with her aunt and uncle, and when a twister comes through a takes the house, Dorothy is transported to the magical land of Oz.  However, this is an Oz where the Cowardly Lion is a fierce warrior, the Tin Man is a steampunk robot, the Scarecrow is a frightening nightmare version of usual happy-go-lucky portrayals, and Toto is a gigantic wolf.

Far from just being a story of Dorothy’s personal journey, the maneuverings of the Wicked Witch of the West is leading to a cataclysmic final battle at the Emerald City for the fate of Oz, and Dorothy and her companions and deeply entwined in the conflict.  There is also some brief tying in of this story to the over-arching Grimm Fairy Tales storyline, but it is done in such a fashion that readers new to the universe won’t feel lost, or that they need to read a large number of books to get caught up.

Rolando Di Sessa and Glauber Matos capture the essence of Zenescope’s art direction with the overall universe, creating vibrant, dynamic settings populated with characters designed in the vein of some of the early Image Comics arts stylings.  The beasts are monsterous and deadly-looking, the men have muscles piled on top of muscles, and the women seem to find some of the most imaginative ways to unintentionally reveal their staggering assets.

Writer Joe Brusha creates a story that really kicks into gear as it progresses, and is a lot of fun.  Particularly surprising, given the scantily-clad nature of the protagonist, is that Brusha features a Dorothy who is strong and powerful in her own right, rather than constantly having to be saved by the others.  The ensemble cast is slowly developed, and by the end of the story the reader wants to continue on another journey with Dorothy and company.

Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Oz doesn’t have any nudity, but it comes as close to it without crossing that border as is possible, so this book is likely best for the teen and older crowd, but for readers looking for a fun, fast paced adventure featuring a charming hero, devious plots, and a battle full of deceit and deception, then this is a book very much worth checking out.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Astronaut Dad by David Hopkins and Brent Schoonover

Written by David Hopkins, with art by Brent Schoonover, Astronaut Dad is a fascinating indie graphic novel.  The story follows a group of astronauts who are running secret missions to space to spy on the Soviet Union in the midst of the Cold War, and the families that they leave behind as they spend more and more time training and in space.

The family drama is deftly handled.  Rather than making it into a soap opera, nothing is taking to the point of exaggeration, leaving the relationships, friendships, and family bonds feeling that much more real.  The kids exude the joys of childhood, the families feel the strain of absent loved ones, and the hopes and dreams of the astronauts are tempered by the cost.

Astronaut Dad is not a long read, but it is one that will be remembered.  It is an example of what historical comics can do, and how deftly a story can be told in this medium.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Redcaps' Queen by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

For regular readers of Luke Reviews, seeing a review of a book by Danielle Ackley-McPhail should come as no surprise.  This reviewer has frequently been impressed with her work, most recently her collaboration with Day Al-Mohamed, Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, which I was beyond impressed with.  The Redcaps’ Queen, part of the Bad-Ass Faerie Tales series, is a direct sequel to Ackley-McPhail’s The Halfling’s Court. 

The Redcaps’ Queen picks back up with the Wild Hunt, a group of bikers that happen to be a mix of humans and magical beings, featuring Suzanne, who is recovering from a vicious attack from a group of redcaps, flesh eating creature that need blood to survive.  While the physical injuries are gone, Suzanne’s struggle with overcoming the emotional trauma of the event is far from over.

But all that is just a launching point, as machinations from the fae high court that Suzanne used to belong to pick up, Lance, Suzanne’s lover, encounters a threat from dark faeries, and roller derby women into the world of Suzanne in a big way.

The adventure is wonderful, but the gritty seriousness of the internal struggles of the character is where Ackley-McPhail shines brightest.  The wedge growing between Suzanne and Lance is just as important as the larger-scale conflicts the characters become involved in.

Fans of The Halfling’s Court and the Bad-Ass Faerie Tales series will clearly want to pick this title, but it is also a great fit for readers looking for a strong urban fantasy title that embraces the world of faerie.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Magic: The Gathering, Volume 4: Theros by Jason Ciaramella, Martin Coccolo, and Eric Deschamps

I briefly touched upon my interest in Magic: The Gathering in my review of Cory Herndon’s Guildpact, and I will now return to it.  One of the most recent releases in the game was a set called Theros, featuring vast monsters, epic quests, and active gods, in a setting very much inspired by ancient Greek mythology and culture.

Dack Fayden, whose first major story arc wrapped up in the third volume of the Magic: The Gathering comic series, returns in Magic: The Gathering, Volume 4: Theros.  After stealing an artifact that begins speaking to him, Dack travels to the world of Theros to uncover its secrets, and instead stumbles into a much larger mystery involving a being who is devouring the souls of the people of Theros by turning their spellcasters against them in their sleep.

Written by Jason Ciaramella, with art from Martin Coccolo and Eric Deschamps, Theros is a wonderfully exciting start to what is clearly a much larger adventure.  The comic also does a very nice job of getting the reader immersed in the story without having read the previous three Magic: The Gathering mini-series that featured Dack Fayden.

As a character, Dack is well fleshed out, and lots of fun.  The world of Theros is also presented as vibrant and rich.  All-in-all, Magic: The Gathering, Volume 4: Theros will get your attention, and have you looking for more Magic: The Gathering comics and graphic novels.  This book is perfect for fans of fantasy comics, in particular adventure fantasy.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Treasure Planet by Hal Colebatch and Jessica Q. Fox

Re-imaginings of classic novels seems to be very much in vogue in science fiction and fantasy in recent years.  From Dan Simmons’ tribute to Homer, Illium, to the more quirky Pride and Prejudice and Zombies from Seth Grahame-Smith, the genre seems to be enjoying this in all of its varieties.  At the same time, shared world environments also seem to keep on trucking along, from the huge successes of late in Warhammer fiction to the occasional release of a new Wild Cards book from George R.R. Martin, even to the Kindle Worlds program and the output of fan fiction flowing out.  Hal Colebatch and Jessica Q. Fox, in Treasure Planet, have created an intersection of these two trends.

Peter Cartwright and his mother live in an inn, where his friend Marthar spends a lot of time.  Peter and Marthar are at the same grade in school, and have a lot of common interests, but the two have a key difference: Peter is human, while Marthat is kzin, part of a species of feline-like aliens that fought a vicious war with humans.  However, on Wunderland, the planet the Peter and Marthar live on, the war is ended, and the two species live together in peace.

However, when an old spacer is killed at Peter’s inn, and pirates begin chasing Peter and Marthar with talk about a treasure planet, Peter, Marthar, and a host of other characters begins an exciting, dangerous mission to find the secret pirate treasure planet and solve the mystery found there.

Treasure Planet is a science fiction version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, following a young hero on an adventure full of pirates, intrigue, and treasure.  It is set in the Man-Kzin War shared universe, created by Larry Niven, and does feature some characters from multiple volumes of the series, but this novel is very new reader friendly, not expecting the reader to come into it with any prior knowledge of the characters, the conflict, or the setting.

Treasure Planet captures the excitement and adventure of its literary forebear, and is wonderful fun to read.  The adventures of Peter and Marthar are truly fun, and the novel makes for a great adventure tale just like the original it is based on.  However, Treasure Planet also suffers from being a little too closely related to Treasure Island at times.  With a peg-legged kzin pirate named Silver, a mysterious omen of treasure from the very start, even having the novel start with the protagonist at the inn, all speak to how diligently Colebatch and Fox stuck to their source material, but it also leads to a fair amount of predictability.  At times, this made the book a little tricky to get through, but the story at its heart, and the wonderful adventure writing from its authors, wins through, and builds to a very satisfying ending.

Fans of pure adventure science fiction will truly enjoy this novel, as will those who are fans of Stevenson.  With this novel working as an entry point to the Man-Kzin universe, it is very reader-friendly, and is more than worth the read.

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.