The Icarus Hunt

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I was searching for books similar in feel to the TV series Firefly, and a couple lists I came across suggested The Icarus Hunt.  It takes place in space and has a motley spaceship crew with some gray morals, so I figured it was worth a shot.

Is it like Firefly?  For the reasons I listed above, yes.  It didn’t have the main similarity I was looking for – a close-knit crew prone to banter – but it did have several others.  For example, even though there is tension in the crew, you do get the feeling that it’s the crew vs. everyone else.  Some of the crew members engage in questionably legal business, not so much because they want to, but because the economy is such that they can’t make an honest living.  And there is a large, powerful organization with shady motives that they end up crossing.

If those were your primary points of interest in Firefly, you should like The Icarus Hunt.  Heck, I liked The Icarus Hunt, even though I didn’t think it was like Firefly.  One of the main things that differed to me were the crew dynamics.  I can’t go into much detail without spoiling it, but early in the book you learn the crew is a group of strangers, that they don’t particularly like/trust each other, and that one may be a saboteur.

I had mixed reactions to the end of the book.  It explained some things I’d noticed earlier in the story, but it felt a little too neat/convenient.  Or maybe it was because even at the end I was still trying to compare the book to Firefly, and was just expecting something different.

tl;dr = You may or may not think the book is like Firefly, but even without the comparison, it’s worth the read on its own.

Rating: 7.5/10

SpoilerAlert

At the end of the story, we learn that Jordan McKell is an undercover operative.  It explains why he was so good in a fight, but I had been hoping for a slightly different resolution.  Him having been an agent all along kinda ruins the “underdog victory” feeling.

The Iron Druid series

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Here be spoilers.  I am reviewing the first 3 books of the series simultaneously, so there will be spoilers for them.  You are safe for later books though.

This series revolves around Atticus, a magic-weilding Druid.  He’s the last Druid, he’s able to stand toe-to-toe with gods and survive, he looks young but is thousands of years old, he’s… a male Mary-Sue (aka Gary-Stu). Seriously. It was easy to ignore at first, but the further I got into the series, the more it bugged me.

First, the age thing.  He’s thousands of years old, but somehow knows how to talk, dress, and act to fit in.  In real life, most older people are not up-to-date with modern technology and trends, and yet Atticus, who is many times their age, seems to have no such problem.  He even teases Lief the vampire about seeming antiquated, and Lief is like half of Atticus’ age.

Then the power thing.  A couple of times the book tries to describe the boundaries of Atticus’ power, and try to make him sound limited, but he killed a god.  He also managed to create a magical necklace that other gods hadn’t even thought to make.  At the point where I finally stopped reading, there was nothing Atticus had encountered that seemed like a real threat.  Not even the Bacchants; by the time they showed up, it felt like they were just an excuse to have Atticus make a promise that would lead to the next book.

The female representation isn’t the best.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s sexist, but a lot of it is shallow and/or stereotypical.  There were no female characters that I identified with or liked.  Almost all of the women were beautiful or sexy, except for a funny one, a couple of older ones, and maybe some evil ones.  Granted, this is true to some extent for the male characters too, but the main character is male, so it doesn’t feel as glaring.

Were the books all bad?  No. There were some good points.  Atticus is able to communicate with his dog, and his dog is funny.  In the first book the dog is obsessed with poodles, but overall his thoughts are amusing.  The idea of all the various gods being alive isn’t original to this book, but it is entertaining (most of the time).  There’s witty banter and quips that are funny when in the right dosage, though sometimes the author drags it out.

Overall the first one was pretty decent – maybe a 6.5 or 7 out of 10 – but the second one wasn’t as good, and obviously I didn’t finish the third one.  The books may not be very original, but they still have some fun ideas to play with.  If you like supernatural stories and don’t mind Gary-Stus, you’ll probably get further in the series than I did.

Deadpool

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[Spoiler-free]

This is a movie that understands itself, sets a reasonable goal, and achieves it.  That may seem like faint praise, but considering that many movies miss that mark, it’s actually quite an achievement.  Deadpool isn’t revolutionary, but it has all the elements necessary to meet fans’ demands and keep them thoroughly entertained.

Element #1: Humor
Deadpool is “The Merc a Mouth.”  He is supposed to be a talkative, joking wise-ass, lovable and irritating at the same time.  Ryan Reynolds nails it, and the rest of the cast/movie tone is good too.  The jokes run the gambit from dick jokes and potty humor to gallows humor and 4th-wall breaking.

Element #2: The 4th Wall
One of the traits that sets Deadpool apart from so many other humorous and/or anti-hero characters is how he breaks the 4th wall, a trait alive and well in this movie.  The 4th wall is broken frequently, and other movies by Fox and/or Ryan Reynolds are skewered in the process.

Element #3: R-Rating
Look, blood!  People get shot and stabbed and blown up, and there’s actually blood and gore to accompany it!  And there’s skin: full-on frontals of naked women, man-butts, and even a faint penis cameo.  There are sex scenes – yes, plural – and torture scenes too.  Captain America would not approve of this movie.

Element #4: Romance
In the comics Deadpool is not a complete stranger to romance, and the love story they chose for this movie works surprisingly well.  I’m not a fan of typical “chick flick” romances, but this is more realistic than sappy, striking a nice tone that actually made me care about it rather than wishing it would just end already.

I think this movie may make production companies rethink their PG-13 vs R stances.  Deadpool proves that if done right, you can have your chimichangas and eat them too.

Rating: 8.5/10

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Debate time!  There are some debates revolving around the Deadpool movie that I feel the need to jump into.

1.) Deadpool is a poor parody.
This argument says that Deadpool is out to skewer traditional comic book movies, that it’s supposed to make fun of them and do something totally different, but then falls flat or is actually hypocritical because it falls into some of the same tropes it’s making fun of.

Yes, the character Deadpool makes fun of a lot of comic book tropes, namely because he’s aware that he’s in a comic book and therefor has more awareness of said tropes.  And yet, Deadpool is a comic book character, just one in a large, traditional comic universe.  So while he is able to make fun of it, he’s destined to have a number of similarities with traditional comic book characters/stories.  He’s just supposed to give you a wink and a nudge, acknowledge what you’re thinking, and have fun with it.

2.) Deadpool isn’t the first rated-R comic movie.
Apparently some people are mad that so many are praising Deadpool for being rated-R because there are other rated-R comic book movies that came before it.  My response: Deadpool is the first FUN rated-R comic book movie.  Of the earlier rated-R comic book movies I’ve watched, the only one I found somewhat enjoyable was V for Vendetta. 300 was nothing but a mindless testosterone-fest, and Watchmen was an overhyped, pretentious load of bulls*** that took me 2 attempts to finish.  And every older R-rated comic book movie I can think of is serious, dark, and/or depressing.

Identity Crisis

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I’ve always preferred Japanese manga to Western comics.  Something about mainstream Western comic art style and story-telling always felt lackluster to me.  There are exceptions of course, but by and large they’re not something I’d waste time or money on.  Identity Crisis may be one of those exceptions.

The first discussion point is what is most immediately obvious about any comic book: the art.  I would not say the art was as nice as 1602 Witch Hunter Angela, but it certainly seemed a step above a lot of traditional comics.  I can’t recall any one particular frame that made me think “ick,” which is an accomplishment in and of itself.

Next comes the story.  My friend raved about The Killing Joke, which ultimately ended up being a letdown in how predictable I found it.  As such, I approach comics with low expectations.  Perhaps it was because I had low expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised by the actual story of Identity Crisis.  There was still predictable parts, sure, but there was enough that I didn’t guess to keep it interesting, and it’s obvious some thought was put into it.

I did borrow this book from the library, and I’m not sure how re-readable it is, so I can’t say I’d suggest paying a lot of money on it, but if you can find it for cheap or borrow a copy, it’s worth your time to read.

Rating: 7/10

SpoilerAlert

I enjoyed how this comic gave attention to the loved ones of super heroes, specifically to the danger they’re in.  Sure, you have comics when Louis Lane or whoever gets kidnapped, but often the danger feels like a simple plot device or excuse, with the main focus still being on the hero versus the bad guy.  In Identity Crisis, heroes relationships with their loved ones and the threat to the lived ones’ safety is central and felt throughout the story.  And not just heroes: a brief but surprisingly sincere reunion story between Captain Boomerang and his illegitimate son is also featured in the book.

The focus on these relationships makes it more impactful when we finally learn that the culprit behind Sue Dibny’s murder is The Atom’s on-again-off-again lover, Jean Loring. The extra whammy behind it is that Jean insists she didn’t mean to kill Sue, she just wanted to rough her up so the heroes would get worried and spend more time with their loved ones.  So the villain isn’t your classic villain, but rather someone with mental/emotiona; issues that are just coming to light.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant

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This is one of those rare instance where I wish the book had been longer.  In, fact, I wish this book had actually been two or three books instead of just one.  It wasn’t a bad book, but there were issues that I think would’ve been fixed if there’d been more to it.

The book starts with a young Baru, living with her family unit – two fathers and a mother – in the nation of Taranoke.  Taranoke starts getting visitors from a distant empire referred to as The Masquerade.  It’s a slow invasion, starting as harmless trading, then the Masquerade’s currency is introduced, and then soldiers start trickling in, and then Masquerade schools are built.  Without a real battle ever being fought, Taranoke is colonized and controlled by The Masquerade.  When one of Baru’s fathers is killed, Baru knows it is because The Masquerade considering homosexuality “unhygienic.”  She vows to topple The Masquerade from the inside.

Sounds like a lot, right?  That’s actually only a small part of the story, making up at most one quarter of the book.  The idea of seeing a nation be conquered through economics and politics is interesting, and I think this part could’ve been a book on its own.  It’s good for people with a short attention span, but not so good for those that like to escape into books because there’s simply not enough there.

Once Baru completes her schooling, The Masquerade sends her to act as Imperial Accountant of Aurdwynn, another land they are trying to control.  There she must deal with political intrigue and power games to squash rebellion and keep her life.  Again, while, interesting, this left me wishing for more. Baru’s time in Aurdwynn could easily have been another two books.

If the book had been longer, it might have also smoothed the ending.  I’ll go into more detail about that in the Spoilers section.  Suffice to say, the book is almost a cliffhanger and begs for a sequel.

Was it entertaining?  Yes.  Was it great?  No.  It was good, and it had the potential to be great, but it fell short.

Rating: 7/10

SpoilerAlert

This is a book of acts. Act 1 is Baru in Taranoke.  Act 2 is Baru as Accountant in Aurdwynn.  In Act 3, Baru turns traitor against The Masquerade and joins the rebellion.  And in Act 4, Baru is revealed to be a double traitor, and that her participation in the rebellion was a ruse to draw out all the malcontents, thus positioning them elimination and proving her loyalty to The Masquerade.

Somewhere between Act 3 and Act 4, the book seemed to make an abrupt turn, and for all of Act 4 I was confused.  Not the good, “how could this happen” sort of confused, but the suspicious, squinty-eyed confusion of a reader trying to decide if they’re staring at a story hole or just missed something.

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Perhaps it’s because I never felt really connected to the characters, but I wasn’t that shocked or horrified by the ending.  Instead, I spent the end trying to figure out how the book even got there.  We spend the whole time in Baru’s head, but there didn’t seem to be any obvious clues that she was planning this double-cross.  Since we were privy to her thoughts and emotions, shouldn’t we have at least known something was off, even if we didn’t know what?  Of course, I admit to not being particularly aware of such clues, but I just feel like the book leaped from point A to point E and skipped all the stuff in between.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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I’ll start with a short, vague review, then dive into spoilers after the warning.

There are a number of very familiar elements in this movie.  They can bring waves of nostalgia, or they might feel a tad lazy or maybe even desperate, like the movie is saying “Love me, love me!”  Different people will have different reactions, and my reactions to them were mixed.

There’s a fair amount of humor in this movie, definitely more so than any other other Star Wars movies.  Some of it was pretty good too, and made the whole theater chuckle.  Other parts, while still funny, felt unnecessary or like they didn’t quite fit.

Also mixed were the characters.  The leads’ roles were solid, and most of the side characters were decent, but at least one prominently advertised supporting role was unexpectedly disappointing.

The jist?  It was good, but flawed.  Interesting, but not amazing; a plain, solid good.  If you go in expecting a nerdy religious experience, you may be disappointed.  Keep your expectations at a normal level and you should enjoy yourself.

Rating: 7/10

SpoilerAlert

First, I must discuss a role that really disappointed me: Captain Phasma.  I was really looking forward to Captain Phasma!  I was envisioning a kick-ass (albiet potentially evil) female in a not-skimpy, not-ridiculour outfit.  In fact, by just looking at Captain Phasma, you’d never even know she’s a woman.  So what went wrong?  What you see of her in the trailers is basically the entirety of her screen time in the movie.  I’m serious.  She had may 3-4 lines, and was in the movie no more than 5 minutes.  Plus instead of being kickass, she seemed almost pathetic thanks to the scene where she deactivated the shields without a fight at the prompting of our somewhat bumbling heroes.  It ended up feeling like they stuffed the character in just so they could sell Captain Phasma merchandise.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the meat of the story.  The enemy is building a giant, planet-destroying piece of tech.  Someone gets their hands on info that can help defeat the baddies, and the info is put into a droid.  The droid wanders around a desert and runs into an unsuspecting character, dragging them into the mess.  Said character discovers they have Force abilities, sees their mentor-figure killed, and confronts a Dark Side user.  Oh, and after the shields are dropped, rebellion pilots attack the giant death ball, trying to hit a specific point.

Sounds familiar, you say?  That’d be because it is.  Don’t get me wrong, some familiarity is good, and I enjoy some nostalgia, but I just basically summarized the whole movie, and without character names, it just reads like a mashup of the original “Star Wars.”  At what point does nostalgia and honoring the source material become laziness?

Now for one of the major twists.  Han Solo’s death was something some people didn’t expect going into the movie.  It did have emotional consequences, but I’m not sure if it’s the ones the writers were aiming for.  You could see it coming as soon as Solo stepped onto that catwalk, so the obviousness of the setup and the length of the scene diminished the impact; there was no gasp-worthy moment for me.  I was disappointed in loss of a fun screen presence though, because I enjoyed Harrison Ford’s acting.  The bigger impact for me was my attitude towards Kylo Ren: it condemned him.  I’m not interested in his struggle anymore, he just needs to go die in a fire.  If it was supposed to cement him in our minds as a villain, then the scene worked, but that means they better not expect us to continue to sympathize with him.

A character you can sympathize with?  Finn.  Poor guy basically spent his whole life in Stormtrooper-land, but still had enough heart to realize some of the things the First Order was doing was not cool, and he had enough of a spine to run away.  Sure, he’s no dashing knight or cool Jedi – Rey’s the Jedi, but I’ll get to that next – but once you consider his background, you realize he is brave.  Unfortunately the movie ended with him having sustained what I think was a serious back/spine injury, so we have to wait until the next move to see just how advanced their medical technology is.

Rey is the baby Jedi!  Yes, the female lead is the Force-user, contrary to what the trailers would have you believe.  This mostly makes up for the Captain Phasma mess.  She is not a damsel in distress waiting for rescue, and in fact gets herself out of at least two scrapes without assistance.  Once she realizes she can use the Force, she picks it up very quickly, which is one of my few complaints: she figures it out too quickly.  In the space of what I think is literally one day, she goes from thinking she’s an ordinary person to using Jedi mind tricks and Force-pulling stuff.  At that rate, what do they need Luke for?  Give her a week to practice and she’d be Master level.

Other characters: Poe was cool, BB8 was freaking adorable.  A pink R2 unit was supposed to make a brief appearance, but I didn’t see it; did you?  As far as writing/acting is concerned, Kylo Ren didn’t suck like I feared he would.  Overall the actors did a good job, though there were a couple I feel need a bit more experience to really polish their skills.

The ending is basically a cliffhanger, so maybe the sequels will smooth ver some of the bumps in this movie?  We shall see.

Witch Hunter Angela (Complete Series)

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I started following this comic book series on a whim.  The cover art was pretty, and when I flipped to a couple of random pages inside, I was surprised to find that the panel artwork was also appealing.  Since it’s rare for comic book art to interest me, I decided to give this series a shot, and I’m glad I did.

1602: Witch Hunter Angela” takes place during the Secret Wars storyline on Battleworld.  Angela and her companion Sera hunts witches, aka “witchbreed.”  They investigate a new threat called “Faustians,” and try to find the one responsible for them.  A threat is made against Sera, which looms over their heads for much of the series.

First, the art.  This series actually employs two art styles.  The dominant art style is kinda… softer, dreamy?  Like if A-Force and traditional comics look like something inked, then Angela looks like it was painted.  At times it’s a bit too dark/muddy, but most of the time it’s pretty.  The other art style is lighter and more cartoon-y, which when juxtaposed with the main art style made one particular scene/panel quite memorable.

Second comes the characters.  In short, I liked them.  Coming into the series, all I knew about Angela was that she was part angel and somehow related to Thor or Thor’s world/story.  I’d never heard of Sera, and I hadn’t read any works containing Angela or Sera.  With no prior experience to compare them to, I liked the way they were portrayed.  Angela came across as tough, competent, and maybe a little rigid, but not heartless.  Sera seems to be a 4th-wall breaker and comic relief, as well as being the heart and emotion of the duo.  I also liked the guest character appearances, even if they weren’t fleshed out that well.

That leads me to my next point: alternate universe fun-times.  I was tickled by some of the little puns, name switches, etc. that the series used to demonstrate the timeline and world it was dealing with.  For example, the Guardians of the Galaxy show up, but Groot wouldn’t have really fit this series, so the writers turned him into Goodman Root, a silent priest.  An iron maiden torture device makes an appearance, but the characters call it an “iron man,” and it resembles – you guessed it – Iron Man’s old armor.

Now for the plot.  It wasn’t exactly rocket science, but it was serviceable, and I did feel its threads throughout the series.  That is another way it excelled over A-Force, which on multiple occasions felt like it was just shuffling between scenarios that would let the writers stuff in more cameos.

What about the negative?  Well, there was more than one occasion where I wasn’t sure what order I was supposed to be reading the frames in.  That could’ve been my comic book newbie-ness showing, but I don’t think it was.  Also, I admit a significant portion of my enjoyment came from seeing how they made characters fit the setting; I don’t know how much I would’ve liked it without that.

Overall: 8/10

SpoilerAlert

There’s a scene in the first volume where Angela stabs and drowns a Witchbreed.  The Witchbreed is Logan (Wolverine).  Between Logan’s wriggling, Angela’s matter-of-fact actions, and the cartoony art style used for the scene, it was perfect.