Friday, July 21, 2017

Comic Book Review: Dark Knight III: The Master Race (mini-series)


I know this will sound strange, but I was not a fan of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns but loved Dark Knight Strikes Again! Now, before you start casting stones, let me explain.

Dark Knight III: The Master Race is a dystopian future, superhero comic book mini-series and a sequel to The Dark Knight Returns and Dark Knight Strikes Again! It's available in print and digitally and will soon be collected.

The Good


Artwork. Andy Kubert is the penciler on this series, and his work has never looked so good. He perfectly captures the Frank Miller vibe from the original mini-series, but infuses his own style and current artistic sensibilities into it to create a modern-looking homage with the fun and flavor of the original but none of the dated look. The inking and coloring are good, but not stellar.

Story. The story is really, really good. It's one I've never read before, which is surprising because now it seems so obvious and such an essential part of the mythos. It involves many characters from Dark Knight Strikes Again! and basically continues that story with a few nods to the original. Unfortunately, the story isn't well told. The idea is great; the execution not so much.

Mini-comics The mini-comics are the best part. The first three have varying artists, but by issue 4 Frank Miller takes over the artistic and storytelling chores, and each is a little masterpiece. They are bold. They are exciting. They fill in gaps of the main story further exploring the individual characters in this universe. Each one is very short, and yet tells so much story, much like the classic Will Eisner The Spirit comic strips in newspapers of the 50s. These are the reasons I rushed out to buy each issue the second it was on sale.


The Bad


Pacing. The story is very unevenly told with some scenes being cut short and not fully explored and developed and others being drug out too long just to fill a certain page count.


Filler Pages. The last half dozen pages or so of each issue are basically uncolored artwork from the issue. While it was nice to look out, the pages could have been much better utilized to tell more story instead of cutting so many scenes short.


What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish this comic had followed the pattern of the first two mini-series and had only three or four issues that contained two to four issues worth of story. That would have fixed the pacing issues, although I'm not sure how the mini-comics would have worked.


Overall


Dark Knight III: The Master Race tells a really interesting story that's never been told in DC lore with incredible art but not-so-great pacing rushing certain scenes while stretching others out way too long. The mini-comics were the real jewels of the mini-series and the reason I rushed to read each issue. I give it a solid 4 out of 5 eReaders.



     


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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Comic Book Review: Batman/Elmer Fudd Special



I love DC Comics characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Green Lantern and more). I love the Looney Tunes (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Taz, and more). Mixing the two in a comedic environment works really well. But pitting them against each other in serious, real-life stories? I was pretty doubtful, especially after reading a couple of other issues that didn't do much for me (Legion of Superheroes / Bugs Bunny and Lobo / Wylie E. Coyote team ups). But IGN.com called this issue a masterpiece, so I decided to give it a try.

Batman/Elmer Fudd Special is a crime thriller comic book. It's available in print and digitally.

The Good


Film Noir Feel. This story looks and reads like a classic film noir tale from either the days of classic pulp fiction in the 1930s or detective yarns of the 1940s and 50s, and yet it feels so fresh and modern. Not an easy trick.

Reimagined Looney Tunes. Many of the classic Looney Tune characters are reimagined as realistic humans from Bugs Bunny to Yosemite Sam. They have just enough of the physical characteristics, personality quirks, and classic catch phrases to be instantly recognizable (with one exception) and yet were totally believable as humans.


The Bad


Ending. After such a great build up, the reason behind the murder was pretty disappointing.


Comedic Backup Story. In other DC Comics/Looney Tunes team-ups, the comedic backup story was the best part of the comic, but this time it was pretty disappointing from a poorly drawn Batman to a pointless story that tried to parody one of the least funny classic cartoons.

Foghorn Leghorn. All of the other characters were spot on, but this one was so poorly conceived it took me three readings to figure out who this should have been. Putting characters in blackface almost never works, and this was an epic failure.


What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the ending had been as clever an original as the rest of the story, and I wish the backup feature had even a tenth of the imagination of the original story.


Overall


Batman/Elmer Fudd Special is an incredibly clever, well written reinvention of the classic Looney Tune characters as real life people but with enough of the physical and personality traits to make them instantly recognizable. The story is highly engaging up until the ending which is unfortunately a huge letdown. I give it a solid 4.5 out of 5 eReaders.



      


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Monday, July 17, 2017

Book Review: Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

I'm a big fan of classic science fiction from the mid-1900s and John Scalzi, so I was curious to see the combination of the two even if the subject matter wasn't the most interesting.

Fuzzy Nation is John Scalzi's retelling of an earlier science fiction story by H. Beam Piper. It's available in all formats: eBooks, Audiobooks, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

Overview

A prospector working for a large corporation discovers both a large mineral deposit and a sentient species on a remote planet. The discovers cause major legal woes for all.


The Good


Writing. John Scalzi is a master of words. The words don't interfere with the story, which I always appreciate. The story moves at a good pace and is always interesting.

Characters. The characters were all very likeable and sufficiently developed for this story. They were all memorable enough that I cared what happened to them.

Narration. Wil Wheaton does his usual great job with this story. His voice and approach really fit the types of stories John Scalzi writes.


The Bad


Melodramatic, "They Lived Happily Ever After" Ending. The story was pretty good up until the very ending when suddenly the little guy who keeps losing throughout the story suddenly completely and utterly defeats the giant, all powerful corporation through a short preliminary hearing with a few Perry Mason-style legal maneuvers. It was just too much. The character, while a lawyer, was never shown to be at Perry Mason's level, and his arguments in the book would never fly in a real court of law.


Soft Science and Pedestrian Legal Battle. John Scalzi is a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none, as this book shows.
While I appreciate how varied and genre-crossing his stories are (one of the reasons I read them), it's clear his understanding of most topics doesn't extend beyond what he's read or watched on TV. This book is mostly an environmental sob story, but becomes a legal thriller at the end. The environmental story is the same standard propaganda one sees on popular TV shows with little read science or thinking behind it. The legal battle at the end has about the same level of credibility.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish John Scalzi would spend more time preparing to write the stories by obtaining the necessary technical knowledge in the subjects he chooses to write about instead of using a pedestrian level of knowledge on gains from reading and watching fiction and mainstream media coverage. His writing is really good, his ideas and take on subjects are always interesting and fun, but the stories always suffer from a lack of real expertise that would turn enjoyable stories into masterpieces.


Overall


Fuzzy Nation is an enjoyable read with interesting characters, but nothing I haven't read before. The science is fairly pedestrian and the legal battle at the end little more than a back Perry Mason parody. I give it 3.5 out of 5 eReaders.



   




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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review - Dogs of War: A Joe Ledger Novel by Jonathan Maberry



I picked up this book on a sale. As I read it, the names of the characters seemed awfully familiar. Then I realized I had read an earlier book in the series. The fact I didn't immediately recognize the series and characters had me worried that this book would be equally unmemorable.

Dogs of War: A Joe Ledger Novel is a science fiction, action, techno thriller by Jonathan Maberry. It's available in all formats: eBooks, Audiobooks, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

The Good


Ray Porter. I know I sound like a broken record, but Ray Porter's narration was the number one reason I picked this up, and it was the best part of the story. He was at the top of his game giving each character such a unique voice and putting so much emotion into his performance.

Science. I love the edge of reality--it's such a fun place for science fiction to play--and this novel had much cutting edge and experimental science. Some of it like nanotech has been overdone, but others such as the unique use of disease and the novel designs of drones were a lot of fun.

References. This book is number 9 in the series and ties up events from the previous eight novels. I've only read two books in this series, but that was okay, because the author does an excellent job of summarizing events from previous books with enough detail that newcomers can follow it, but not so thoroughly that fans will get bored.


Ties Up The Series. This book takes most of the events from previous novels and ties them up into one giant conspiracy. Being a conspiracy theory fan, I really appreciated and enjoyed that. And it was done in a very logical, unforced way which I also appreciated. 

Great Villains. This book had some really great villains, all of them very different, and all explored sufficiently to make them interesting.

The Bad


Unoriginal Threats. This is a doomsday book with one group plotting to destroy the world for their own benefit. They use the usual back of tricks--disease, nanotech, robots, and AI. Some of it was novel, but a lot of it was pretty standard and a little stale.



What I Would Like to Have Seen


I enjoyed the story, but I wish it hadn't been quite so predictable and taken all the obvious turns. I wish it had surprised me.


Overall


Dogs of War: A Joe Ledger Novel is an exciting science fiction conspiracy thriller about a small group with extensive resources using cutting edge science to destroy the world for their benefit and an elite government black ops team who fights to stop them. If that setup sounds familiar, the way it plays out won't surprise you. It's fun, it's exciting, it's incredibly well read, but nothing I haven't seen before. I give it 4 out of 5 eReaders.



    




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Friday, July 7, 2017

Movie Review - Spider-man: Homecoming

I love Spider-man. I've loved the character for as long as I can remember. I loved the live-action 70s series with Nicholas Hammond, the live-action Spidey Super Stories on The Electric Company, the first live-action Sam Raimi film, and the reboot with Andrew Garfield. I was excited to hear he would finally join the cinematic Marvel Universe, but was a little nervous about the new approach the powers that be were planning.

Spider-man: Homecoming is a 2017 superhero, action, comedy from Sony and Marvel Studios. It's rated PG-13 for mild violence, strong language, and inappropriate jokes and is appropriate for teens and up.

The Good


Comedy. This is the funniest film Marvel has put out. There were jokes from start to finish, and each one was so funny and so unexpected. The comedy is by far the strongest aspect of this film.

Michael Keaton. Michael Keaton is a brilliant actor that can play anything from funny to series to creepy to scary. While I didn't like the version of the Vulture chosen for this film, I loved Michael's performance. He completely sold the character.

Peril. This film actually had a real sense of peril. You felt like Spider-man was actually in danger and might not make it, even though you knew he would. That's hard to do in a superhero film.

Cameos and Nods. This film had so many cameos and nods to other films, especially Spidey's appearance in Captain America: Civil War showing the fight from a different perspective. And it was so cleverly done. I also appreciated the remix of the 1967 Spider-man theme at the beginning.

The Bad


Not Classic. This movie was basically Spider-man's appearance from Captain America: Civil War for two hours. While a lot of characters from the comic appeared in this film (Flash Thompson, Betty Brant, MJ, Aunt May, Peter Parker, The Vulture, The Shocker, The Tinkerer), not a single one of them was true to their comic book version. They each felt like a modern reimagination that was a pale shadows of the original.

Not Epic. The Sam Raimi films were epic. The first Andrew Garfield film was epic. This movie felt like a filler episode of an Avengers TV show that showed a day in the live of a superhero when he wasn't on a mission. It was funny. It was entertaining. But it wasn't memorable.

CGI Effects. I was really disappointed in many of the special effects. They were competent, but they weren't amazing or spectacular (see what I did there?). They looked very cgi, very computer game like.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


Now that Sony is working with Marvel Studios, the Sam Raimi films could be considered cannon and retroconned into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They were so well done and so classic. I wish they had taken that route instead of the teenager with a super suit. While the movie was fun and entertaining, it wasn't epic, it wasn't classic, and it wasn't memorable. Spider-man really works best as a struggling college student, not an inexperienced high school kid. Saying the first two Sam Raimi films happened and then continuing that series would have been awesome and still allowed room to explore new territory.

Overall


Spider-man: Homecoming is an extremely funny film that focuses on Peter Parker as much as Spider-man. While very entertaining, it lacks the classic and epic feel of the previous films and feels more like a filler episode of an Avengers TV show than the beginning of a film franchise. I give it 4 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.


    

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Movie Review: Cars 3



I am not a fan of Pixar movies. They are too formalistic for me, ie. they religiously follow a formula making them so predictable that they become boring. But the first two Cars movies were fun, so I was excited to see what they'd come up with for number three.

Cars 3 is a 2017 action, family, 3-D animated film from Pixar. It's rated PG for mild violence and is appropriate for all ages.

The Good


Visuals. This film looks amazing. Pixar is the master of creating gorgeous 3-D graphics. From the characters to the backgrounds to the action, everything couldn't look better.

Racing Scenes. The racing scenes are extremely well done. They're fun, they're well filmed so you can see what is happening, and yet they manage to somehow put you into the driver's seat so you feel like you are on the track yourself.

Mentor Theme. The main theme and message of the film revolves around mentors and inspiring the next generation. The first 3/4 of the film involve Lightning  remembering his mentor from the first film, Doc Hudson, and all that he learned. The last quarter focuses on Lightning moving into a mentor role himself.

The Bad


Cruz Ramirez. The idea of the Cruz character, a wannabe racer who doesn't have a chance without Lightning opening the way for her, is a really smart direction to go. Unfortunately, they picked a lousy character for that role. Cruz is annoying, winey, unlikeable, and unbelievable as a racing champ. I wish the school bus had sent her to the big car lot in the sky.

Weak Villains. The new rookies are supposed to be the villains of the film, but they aren't very mean and don't spend much time on screen, which is unfortunate, because they have so much potential. The filmmakers had two choices: portray the rookies as truly mean bullies (the obvious less interesting route) or show them as the misunderstood cool new generation that doesn't mean to cause problems but do. Unfortunately, Pixar took a very walk-on-eggshells approach afraid to make them too mean and not willing to make them misunderstood ultimately making them lukewarm villains at best. A hero is only as good as his villain, and these villains that should have been so awesome were unnecessarily weak.

Lack of Conflict and Peril. I never once worried that Lightning wouldn't come out on top. None of the obstacles were that hard for him to overcome. It cheapened his victory at the end.

Moping. Lightning spends most of the movie moping. It really slows the pacing down to where it feels like the film is dragging much of the time. It reminded me of the second Twilight film. Not really what I'm looking for in a fun family flick.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the movie had better utilized and developed the villains into a true threat. I wish there was real peril for Lightning to face and actual struggle to overcome the obstacles. I wish they had replaced Cruz with a character the audience could actually like and root for instead of against.

Overall


Cars 3 is an entertaining flick that brings a nice conclusion to the story begun with the first film. The racing scenes are amazing, and the theme of mentors is fitting and well developed. Unfortunately, the new villains are weak and not menacing, and the new hero is so unlikeable you want to see her fail and are disappointed when she succeeds in the end. I give it 3.5 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.



   

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Review: Dead Men Can't Complain and Other Stories by Peter Clines



I am a huge lover of short stories, especially science fiction short stories. I buy and read a lot of anthologies, but find myself disappointed by a good number of stories in almost any collection (Edmond Hamilton collections being an exception). The two books I've read by Peter Clines were both excellent and original, so I thought I'd give his short fiction a whirl.

Dead Men Can't Complain and Other Stories is a science fiction short story anthology by Peter Clines. It's an Audible original and exclusive.

The Good


Original Approach. Peter Clines takes the common, overused troupes of the science fiction and horror genres and gives each one a unique twist. I've never seen stories quite like these, which was a refreshing change.

Variety. Each story deals with a different genre from time travel to zombies to superheroes to magic to dime novel detectives, and each is done so well.

Development. The stories are very short, and yet almost none of them feel short. The characters feel sufficiently realized and fleshed out. The stories almost all have a beginning, middle, and end (unlike a lot of short stories that are little more than a scene that leaves you hanging). The ideas and messages are all clear. At the end of each story (with the exception of two), I felt satisfied, and yet still wanting a sequel.

Ray Porter. What more can be said about Ray Porter than what I've already written in other reviews. He is a master of his craft and at the height of his powers.


The Bad


Two Bad Stories. Only two of the stories weren't excellent, and they weren't so awful I had to skip past them.



What I Would Like to Have Seen


More stories!!


Overall


Dead Men Can't Complain and Other Stories by Peter Clines is an incredible anthology of science fiction and horror stories, each taking an original angle on a tried-and-true troupe of the genres. Even though the stories are short, they don't feel rushed or cut short. Each feels fully realized and left me satisfied while wanting a sequel. I give it a solid 5 out of 5 eReaders.



      




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