Sunday, December 31, 2017

REVIEW: DESCENDER VOLUME 4: ORBITAL MECHANICS

Souls scattered across the stars...


INTRODUCTION 
With backstories for Driller, Telsa, Tim-22, Bandit, and Andy/Effie out of the way, DESCENDER VOLUME 4: ORBITAL MECHANICS delivers on some much needed plot development for the larger story of the machine vs. organic conflict. After two whole volumes of this being somewhat stalled, it is finally brought forward in ways that feel important and sometimes surprising.

HOW I RATED IT 
5/5 This felt like the entry into the series that I have been waiting for. The story is back on track, the art is back on par, and the characters are as good as they have ever been.

CHARACTERS
The cast benefits from all the time VOLUME 3 spent on it's more obscure members.The revelations from Driller's issue generate a satisfying amount of drama with Andy and his crew. The results of these pivotal moments drive him, Effie, and Andy forward as characters while also making way for someone new who may or may not become an important player in what comes next. The fight between Tim-21 and Tim-22 concludes, but the end result is not immediately what it seems and both of these companion bots have some some neat twists hiding up their baggy sleeves. Psius is still a bit of a mystery to me, but it was fun to see more of his scheming and I look forward to seeing what frightening plans he has for the future. Nagoki (Telsa's dad and an important member of the UGC) divulges a very important piece of intelligence that connects a couple of important dots regarding why Tim-21 is so important to everyone. The chapters of this volume are definitely a lot more plot/event driven, but there's still some great stuff going on with the people involved along the way.

WORLD/SETTING 
There's a much greater emphasis on the universe this time around. Conversations are had regarding the Harvester threat, characters are trying to reach specific destinations, and the writing has done a great job of making things that happen in one place feel important to another. There's this great inter-connectivity between everything that makes the world(s) feel so much more alive than before. Even back in the first volume it wasn't entirely clear how one thing connected to another, but now, there's a distinct sense of unity across all people, places, and things. This is a good thing because location-wise there's not a ton going on. Most of the action takes place in different starships, UGC bases, and The Machine Moon. These are all rendered with a bit more detail and care than they were in the previous installment, at least. There are also two more exotic planets that the story does go to. One is all water which sounds boring, but story-wise it's pretty cool. The second is a swamp planet which is something a little different from what's been shown so far as well. All in all, the setting definitely takes a higher precedence than before, there is a tiny bit of variation in the backdrops, and there is a little more effort into depicting where all the characters are. 

PLOT/TONE 
While it could definitely be argued, that this volume is just setting up future installments, I felt as though it was as satisfying as it should be with weaving a compelling space opera while still building hype for what comes next. With the threat of the Harvesters taking the forefront, the overall tone of the story is far more pressing. There's this excellent sense that the characters are racing against an invisible clock and that the shoe could drop at any moment. Although the Harvesters do not actually make a sudden and devastating appearance, there are a number of smaller hammers that do come down which result in there being twists around every turn. There are also some fun side stories that keep things interesting without distracting too much from the main thread - the troubled relationship between Andy and Effie being chief among them. 

ARTWORK
Some of my criticisms about the backdrops being a little bland in VOLUME 3 do not carry over into VOLUME 4. It looked like a bit more time and effort was put into this area of the visuals and there were decidedly more "high budget" shots as well. Sure, there will still occasionally be a character standing in front of nothing but textured white, but this is the DESCENDER style that readers know and love and it's possible that this is the best looking volume to date. My only remaining criticism at this point would be that for some reason everyone has weird-looking hands. They're not anatomically incorrect or anything, they just look like they belong to an old man which might be alright for characters like Doctor Quon, but looks weird for someone like Andy.  

CONCLUSION 
It took a while, but I feel like the all the buildup that has been taking place is finally paying off. The characters that were explored in VOLUME 3 all have important parts to play which made learning their backstories feel all the more worthwhile. The dots are connecting and the different locations have converged to one larger stage. The pace has picked up, the twists have increased in number, and there are plenty of new open threads to look forward to.

REVIEW: DESCENDER VOLUME 3: SINGULARITIES

When singularities converge...


INTRODUCTION 
DESCENDER VOLUME 2: MACHINE MOON was a sturdy continuation of the story, but faltered in that it didn't do enough to move the overarching story thread along. My hopes going into VOLUME 3: SINGULARITIES was that this would be rectified. In some ways, I found that it does amend a handful of the things that kept the preceding volume from being awesome, but it wasn't what I anticipated it would be since the story moves forward by actually taking a few steps back. 

HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 While I definitely liked this installment better than the previous one, it still felt oddly lateral in terms of story progression and a little less than extraordinary when it came to it's visuals.

CHARACTERS
This series has always been filled with strong personalities. The key highlight of this particular volume is that it explores the backstories of some of the more obscure and/or mysterious members of the cast. Each of the five chapters spends it's time exploring the past of 1-2 characters (some of them are paired up). They start off in their distant memory and build up to where the are in the present tense of the plot. Bandit, Andy and Effie, Driller, Telsa (and a little of Tullis), and Tim-22 are the featured characters in these singular adventures. Things kick off with a bang as the readers finally get to know what went into Tim-22 becoming such a psychotic murder-bot. I've never been a huge fan of bandit, the barking dog-bot, but his issue went a long way towards endearing him to me and by the end, I could finally look at him as a full-fledged member of the crew. A couple of the other stories tread on some familiar ground, though. We already knew what happened to Telsa's mother so revisiting that  in her chapter felt a little pointless and her story of rebelliously joining the military against her father's wishes wasn't terribly original, but she's such an awesome and visually striking character that this was still a lot of fun. Driller's story also felt a little dull since it explored his existence as, well ... a driller. I wasn't even sure about why the writers devoted a whole section of the volume to him until a pretty awesome twist that comes toward the end. To close things out, Andy and Effie's complex past is explored which felt like a timely series of flashbacks given how unlikable Effie (if that's even her go-forward name) came off when they first introduced her. Overall, I think this series of flashback-centric issues really built out some of the less known and less likable characters in a hugely positive way.


WORLD/SETTING 
The world is far less important in this entry. There are still plenty of exotic science fiction locations that serve as the backdrop for the memories of the various featured characters. It's just important to note that there isn't anything particularly spectacular going on in this department. A lot of familiar places are revisited like the mining colony Tim-21 and Andy are from, the sparkling hub city prior to the Harvester attack, and some shots of various UGC facilities. There are some new places as well like the refugee camp Andy winds up in and the shady market that Telsa wanders into, but these backgrounds are very much in the background. None are rendered with particular attention to the little details nor is there any special emphasis placed on being somewhere or going somewhere else. 

PLOT/TONE 
Each chapter plays out in the same format: The story kicks off with a character's distant past and gradually flashes forward from that point in time to where they wound up at the end of VOLUME 2. The formula itself doesn't really feel tedious at all, I kind of liked that they stuck to this theme throughout the whole of the volume, it created some nice cohesion that you don't always find in a graphic novel. What did feel a little off though was actually the glimpses of what happens in the present. It sort of felt like they wanted to give the story some forward momentum even though there was only room for a couple pages per chapter of that content. The result is a sense that these bits are shoehorned in and don't add much value to the overall narrative readers have been following. Had I not felt like things were at such a standstill in the previous volume, I think I would have received this one far better. In my review for VOLUME 2 I stated that I wanted to see things move forward again at the exciting pace that VOLUME 1 set. This certainly does not do that, but I also didn't mind the more reflective nature of the individual stories being told because I felt like there was a lot of progression in terms of unveiling some important information about the various side characters and that this sets them up to play a bigger role in the story proper.

ARTWORK
The water paint inspired look is still as beautiful as ever, but it feels a little rushed this time around. There's nothing that looks particularly different or bad and most of the time, characters look perfectly crisp. I think for me, I just felt as though the backgrounds were a bit more white-washed than usual. This isn't anything new for the series, but there's a distinct lack of any kind of "money shots" present. Previous volumes have had a fair number of memorable shots on both the character and environment end of things and I just didn't really note too many of those here. I've also picked up that sometimes people's hands look weird. I couldn't put my finger on it other than to say that it was almost like there was too much detail there in the penciling.



CONCLUSION 
It's not the important narrative push that I hoped for, but there was definitely some important information conveyed here. Characters that have lingered on the sidelines get their time in the spotlight and benefit from some much needed depth. Some of the revelations provided in these pasts feel like they are setting up some interesting story beats in VOLUME 4 so I definitely look forward to those payoffs. Overall, I think this was well done even if what the series really needed was a good push onward. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

REVIEW: THE KING'S JUSTICE

Two tales of magic and mystery...


INTRODUCTION 
THE KING'S JUSTICE intrigued me because it is actually a collection of two novellas. Length-wise it comes out to about the same number of pages as a shorter novel so it's still a pretty good value proposition. I was pleased to find that while both THE KING'S JUSTICE and THE AUGER'S GAMBIT have similar tones and themes, they play out in very different narrative structures and feature two distinctly separate leads.

HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 While not mind-blowing or even terribly deep, it was easy to appreciate the creativity in the characters and story as well as the consistency and coherence in each episode's respective magic systems. 

Broken down are my thoughts for each of the novellas:


~~***~~

THE KING'S JUSTICE

CHARACTERS
This novella stars a man who goes by the name of Black. His dark and moody moniker is matched by his mysterious behavior and sometimes dour attitude. Initially, I found him to be a little disappointing - a little too much like every other bad-ass who's seen the darkest corners of the world and still chooses to defend it. Over time though, Black starts to be revealed as someone who's much more interesting. There's a lot about him that is divulged over time, though to discuss some of his finer points might be diving into spoilers. What readers will discover quite early on is that Black has some intriguing supernatural abilities thanks to the fact that his body is "shaped." The details of what this means are not immediately revealed, but during Black's first encounter, it is disclosed that Black has the ability to influence those around him while he himself is compelled by what he calls his purpose which as it turns out is more than your average hero's desire to complete a quest. The story also makes great use of the small army of minor characters like a little girl gifted with healing magic, priests of darkness and light, and a man who mourns the murder of his boy. Black interacts with them like Sherlock Holmes questioning people with ties to a crime. The interactions are all pretty entertaining thanks to how distinct each character is, but there's also a disappointing lack of any meaningful relationship building. 

WORLD/SETTING 
The bulk of this story takes place in a small town recently disturbed by the violent murder of a young boy. There's an air of darkness and dread that hangs over everything and I pictured every scene as happening either at night or under the veil of a canopy of storm clouds. In spite of this dreary mood, the locations are actually fairly interesting with the climax taking place in a somewhat surprisingly exotic location. The story also does a nice job of making this town feel connected to the world around it. Some of this is done through expositional tidbits Black shares with the reader and the rest is accomplished by him both coming from another location and venturing off to places set around the town proper. It's all quite well done and makes exceptional use of the compressed fantasy real estate. A layer that I won't spoil too much is he fascinating spirituality that surrounds everything which is based of four key elements in the world. Finding out how those connect everything that goes on in the story was a real treat that I felt set this story apart from those that have followed a similar detective-style formula.

PLOT/TONE 
The overall plot of this narrative is far more compelling than your typical dark and dreary fantasy tale. There's a lot going on here, but it all comes in manageable doses. There's decent world building though the story achieves this through focusing on one small region of it. There's a simple, but nuanced magic system that was a lot of fun to learn about as well as a compelling spiritual component as well that while not immediately clear to the reader, is also not horribly convoluted. The writing is well done and the characters are all serviceable as well as distinct. Like I mentioned before, there is a lack of any real relationship building between the story's key players. Interactions are all interesting and vital to advancing the plot, but there is a bit of "chess piece storytelling" going on here that may bother some. I happen to enjoy that kind of thing when it's well done and I felt like it was executed pretty well here though I did long for some deeper exchanges. It should also be noted that the author has a very proper sort of style. I really loved it, I even learned a couple new words from his writing. It's not Old English, but it is a bit more sophisticated than most books in the fantasy genre when it comes to word use and elongated sentence structure (think more LORD OF THE RINGS than A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE). That's not to say it's better or worse writing than other fantasy novels, there's just a noticeable stylistic difference here. One thing that threw me off personally is that the author likes to split up dialog into multiple paragraphs. While I'm pretty sure this is actually a more grammatically correct approach, I did find myself constantly trying to figure out if the dialog was switching over to another character or if the initial speaker was simply continuing their lines as part of a separate thought. Another thing that will be hit or miss with some people is that the story of the world is unveiled bit by bit. The upside to this is that there is no exposition dump to forget promptly after reading it. Backstory is provided at the exact time that it's relevant which makes it feel far more important to current events. The downside is that you're pretty much getting exposition droplets all the way through the story. 


THE AUGER'S GAMBIT

CHARACTERS
The cast of this novella is a bit tighter in some ways and that's largely for the better. The story still follows a lead character. This time he's a Heironomer instead of a mysterious warrior.  I found this to be a very fun switch. Basically the main character (who does have a name, but since it's withheld for a while it feels like a spoiler to reveal it here) divines the future from the guts of small animals that he kills and pulls apart. He's an odd duck for sure, but an surprisingly sympathetic one due mainly to how earnest of a person he is and how loyal he is to the people he serves. He serves a noble, though sometimes cruel, queen who is a paragon of royal composure, beauty, and grace, as well as her daughter, the "plain" princess. There's also Slew, the royal assassin/executioner/brute/enforcer and Veil, a loyal bodyguard. Although they are not as defined or as colorful as the queen and her daughter, they are still good fun. This core group felt a lot tighter-knit than the cast of THE KING'S JUSTICE and the way their relationships to the main character develop definitely felt more fulfilling than Black's interactions with his supporting cast. This greater focus on the core did detract from my ability (or maybe desire) to keep track of the other side characters, mainly when it came to the five barons. I think part of it was that they have weird names that are hard to remember, but I also just didn't really find them interesting as individuals even though they have definitive characteristics. 

WORLD/SETTING 
There is a darkness that looms over this world, but it is different than how the world of THE KING'S JUSTICE comes off. Whereas that novella is set in location that is already dark and dreary, THE AUGER'S GAMBIT takes place in a land of peace and material excess. The darkness comes in the form of a future that is marked by doom of an unclear variety. The Auger's workshop is literally dimly lit and the finale of the story does happen to be held under the shadow of a violent storm, but for the most part, this is a far brighter and warmer world. This makes the threat of it's demise all the more unsettling and the narrative does a good job of building up the tension that it's characters feel as they do all they can to prevent their country's destruction.

PLOT/TONE 
This novella is no less mysterious or magical than the first. The main difference is that much of the mystery comes from court intrigue and vague prophesies of a tragic future. The magic, interestingly enough, still seems to come from the bodies of the people wielding it, but instead of glyphs and scarifications placed on the flesh, the magic is instead found in the blood. This felt especially appropriate for a story that is centered around royalty and lineage. The stakes and the scope are on the broader end of things yet there's still a charming intimacy that the story benefits from and perhaps would not work without. By the end of it all, I felt quite attached to the characters and invested in the fate of their kingdom. I also liked that certain details of this world's history are being learned by the characters and those discoveries play an important part in their plans to secure it's future. It felt like a creative way to give historical exposition an actual place in the story rather than tossing it in to provide context or justification or certain plot points. The stylistic choices and quirks I mentioned for the first novella are still very much applicable here so if you didn't love the way that one read, there's no real guarantee skipping over to this one will go any better for you. That said, there's no obvious connection between this world and the one that Black inhabits so if court politics and prophesies of doom are more your speed than murder and magical detectives with a chip on their shoulder, then you definitely can skip to this story without being at all confused about what's going on. 

~~***~~

CONCLUSION

If you're a reader like me who has been having a hard time finding time for books or are simply not a fan of the longer, sweeping tales that have dominated modern fantasy writing, then this book may provide some quality entertainment. The novellas are short and focused, but they strike a lot of the same notes as a full length novel and are structured in such a way that they have an intriguing opening act, a compelling and revelation-filled middle, and climactic final sequence that builds upon everything that has happened up to that point. They may not stimulate a lot of philosophical thought or make you question aspects of life, but I found them to be pretty entertaining and I loved that I could get the same satisfaction from reading a novel out of a far more condensed narrative. I think this could also make a decent side read if you are the type that's into the elaborate tales of Martin, Sanderson, and other modern fantasy rock-stars.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

UPDATE: NOVELLA NOVEMBER

In 2015, I did a New 52 November where I read through a bunch of first volumes for the New 52 DC comics line that I got on the cheap. This year, I am back with more alliteration, but a very different theme.

To kick things off, I will be sharing the first two installments of THE VOIDWALKER NOVELLAS for free on Amazon. These two serve as a pilot of sorts for the series as they introduce readers to Bryan Daley, a man plagued by strange and extravagant dreams that may or may not be the start of some serious problems during his waking life. Although the project has been dormant for a while due to other thing going on in my life/career, I've recently been hard at work getting the remaining six novellas put together. At this time, I'm hoping to get some reactions to these first two books especially when it comes to getting insight on how I should release the rest of the series (two at a time, one every so often, one big delivery of the rest of them, etc.).

Here is when and where you can pick these two up if you're interested in checking them out:


https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N3QHUDC
Free from today (Saturday 11/11/17 until Monday 11/14/17)

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N45AHTC
Free from today (Sunday 11/12/17 until Monday 11/14/17)

But it's not all about the writing this November, I will also be reading and reviewing Stephen R. Donaldson's THE KING'S JUSTICE: TWO NOVELLAS which, as the title indicates, is a collection of two novellas. I'm partway through the first of these now and it's been a weird, but fun adventure so far so I'm excited to continue through this.


Time permitting, I'll try to get through one more novella, probably in eBook form, but that's probably getting ahead of myself a tiny bit. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

REIVEW: NORSE MYTHOLOGY (BY NEIL GAIMAN)

Ragnarok is coming...


INTRODUCTION 
With the release of Marvel's THOR: RAGNAROK right around the corner, nothing seemed more appropriate than to borrow my roommate's copy of Neil Gaiman's NORSE MYTHOLOGY to read while I ride the hype train. I'm not a huge connoisseur of Gaiman's vast library of works, but I did enjoy reading his novel, STARDUST, and graphic novel, MARVEL 1602. I also love all things mythology so needless to say, I dove into this one with a good deal of enthusiasm.

HOW I RATED IT 
5/5 Lovingly composed, written with enthusiastic wit, and teeming with all the wonder of the gods and their greatest legends, this take on the classic Norse tales is a must have for anyone who calls themselves a fan of mythology and folklore. 

CHARACTERS
Obviously, the way that "characters" come off in myths is quite different from how they are portrayed in a novel or really any form of modern storytelling. These personalities are certainly distinct, but they won't necessarily have complex backstories or complicated motivations. Most of the gods are quite simple to understand which I have always found gives them a charming accessibility that I don't always find in some of fantasy's tortured heroes. Thor, Loki, Odin, Freya, Frey, Sif, and so many more all appear in their godly glory. Loki has his tricks, Thor has his hammer, Freya her treasures, and Odin his wisdom. In spite of the fact that they are arguably one-dimensional, I still love the whole lot of them just because they are so much fun. Their adventures are wild, their antics can be hysterical, and the cruelty that they sometimes exhibit can be genuinely shocking.  

WORLD/SETTING 
The world of Norse mythology is probably one of the coolest to be found in all of the world's ancient religions. Sure, the Greek pantheon had Olympus and the underworld, and yes Egyptian tales could go to some pretty wacky places, but the world of NORSE MYTHOLOGY spans a variety of realms, each of them connected to Yggdrasil, the impossibly giant world tree. The shining halls of Valhalla, towering walls of Asgard, icy peaks of Jotunheim, and harsh landscape of Midgard all have their place in these stories. These lands are vast and dangerous and filled with enough secrets to keep these pages chuck-full of surprises. Sure, it pretty makes no sense how anything works here, but this is still one of the coolest worlds ever, even when stacked up against some of the most creative universes modern fantasy has to offer (probably because it just causally breaks all the rules of modern sense). 

PLOT/TONE 
What really makes this particular version of the classic myths special is Gaiman's eloquent use of the English language and his mastery over the art of sarcastic humor. From the very first story, I immediately realized how perfect Gaiman is as a storyteller for these tales of old and I loved how he gave them a fresh new take. This is far from your textbook collection of myths! Gaiman takes some minor liberties with things (he admits so right from the get-go) but even if your a mythology purist, I feel as though you will still appreciate how right Gaiman gets the overall feel of things. He doesn't shy away from portraying the gods as the brutal barbarians that they can sometimes be and really plays up some of the darker humor though it's all done in a way that feels almost relateable in addition to entertaining. I got the sense that he had an especially fun time with just about any moment involving Loki, which is great since he has always been my favorite god in this pantheon. 

CONCLUSION 
This is definitely very different from the characters and stories that Marvel fans will be familiar with, but I think this could be a lot of fun for that crowd especially if they are interested in the original tale of Ragnarok or the gods in general. Really though, I think this can be a fun read for just about anyone who likes a good collection of stories. Gaiman's whimsical style won't really help if you fundamentally hate the way that myths tend to read. These are still pretty implausible stories featuring characters that don't necessarily develop or grow in any way, but I really do think everyone should at least give this one a shot, especially since this version of these stories almost has a fairy tale sort of vibe to them. If you're already on board with the magical world of myths, then you'll certainly be right at home and I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable version of these stories than what Gaiman has put together here.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

REVIEW: EVERYONE'S A ALIEBN WHEN UR A ALIEBN TOO

Our world through the eyes of an alien...


INTRODUCTION 
No I didn't make some horrible spelling blunder in the title of this post, you're actually reading it exactly as intended. Given to me as a parting gift from a friend at work, EVERYONE'S A ALIEBN WHEN UR A ALIEBN TOO, is a charmingly misspelled adventure into the human experience. It's a piece of fiction that will warm your heart, make you chuckle, and slap you in the face with sorrow, often within the span of a single breath. It's honest and heartfelt in all of the ways that count with some adorable visuals and bold typography to go with it. While some would rightly argue that this is actually more of a graphic novel, the way it's formatted is actually far more like a children's book, just one that's written for adults.



HOW I RATED IT 
5/5 Though it can occasionally be found guilty of overreaching, this is one book that should really be read by anyone who has even a Grinch-sized a heart. 


CHARACTERS
The story stars Jomny, an alien who is considered strange even by his fellow aliens. He is given an assignment to live on Earth and study humanity by trying to immerse himself in it. What sets Jomny apart from his colleagues and people in general is that he has a genuine and unrelenting curiosity in those around him. While this trait is off-putting to the aliens he works with, it's appreciated by the inhabitants of Earth who are often so encumbered with their own business, they don't take enough interest in one another. It's also part of what makes him so endearing to readers.

Along the way, Jomny is joined by a diverse selection of sidekicks including a lonely tree, an artistic otter, who insists that it is pronounced as "auteur," a hedgehog who aspires to make art, an egg afraid of what it will hatch into, and a hunky flower adored by his entourage of bees. All of these side characters seem to represent different aspects of the human experience. The egg for example, is so concerned with what it will become that it utterly forgets to embrace what it is right now. Each of them has interesting commentary to offer on the topics of love, life, friendship, loss, and many more. You'd be hard pressed to make it through this book and not have one of these characters hit home.

WORLD/SETTING 
The world of this book is largely minimalist. Most of the events seem to take place in forested or otherwise natural backdrops. The front of the book includes a map of Earth that's not exactly what you'd expect. You get the sense that the globe is far smaller than the world that we live in. This scale fits with the tender, close-knit theme that the story quickly develops. Although world-building isn't really the central focus of the narrative, I think many will still find themselves enamored with the innocent simplicity of this universe.

PLOT/TONE 
Sometimes cheerful, sometimes sad, always reflective, EVERYONE'S A ALIEBN WHEN UR A ALIEBN TOO, brings readers on a calming stroll through the landscape of human emotion and desire. The book boldly takes on on some incredibly complex and difficult ideas and doesn't really pull any punches in doing so. The overall tone manages to stay mostly lighthearted, however. This is largely due to the fact that Jomney looks at life through the lens of someone who understands things the way a child does. Our world is new and utterly unfamiliar to him. This allows the readers to approach these complex subjects under simplistic terms. While some may feel that the author is a little presumptuous at times especially when addressing things like how life began and what happens once it ends, this formula will generally resonate with readers.  

ARTWORK
As someone who reviews graphic novels, I generally put a fair bit of stock in how lavishly detailed the imagery is. In the case of EVERYONE'S A ALIEBN WHEN UR A ALIEBN TOO, I am approaching my review of the book's visuals in a much different manner. The point isn't really that the art is all that stellar. With the exception of some lovely diagrams that come at the end of the book, the illustrations are decidedly childish. It's all done in black and white with thick black strokes shaping the characters and what scenery is placed behind them. The one word that comes to mind for me is "appropriate." The simplicity of the art matches up wonderfully with the childish earnestness of the book's overall tone and never seems to fail to convey exactly what I felt like the story was trying to make me feel. It should also be stated that the art is absolutely not sloppy. Each image is carefully arranged on the page and all of the lines are clean. Adding to this is the expertly selected fonts which even get a special shutout in the book's credits. The book would absolutely not have been the same without such a strong visual support gracing it's two hundred and fifty plus pages.  
CONCLUSION 
Jonny Sun has written and illustrated a truly captivating journey through the depths of what it means to be a human being. His wit and thoughtful, yet simple examination of all the things that we struggle with is something not to be missed. There are certainly some that will not care to delve into these ideas and others that may be put off by the sometimes-to-definitive opinions the book has to offer, but really anyone who cares about mankind should pick this one up and give it a shot. Due to it's picture book style, it can be devoured in the span of just a couple of hours (even with some pausing to reflect on the narrative's ideas). I found it to be time well-spent and I'm grateful for having been introduced to such an important piece of fiction. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

UPDATE: GRAVITAS CHAPTER 5

Kanso meets with Fredryko and his two enforcers. With no other option than to confront his shortcoming, he'll find out what's in store for him. Will it be mercy or pain?





Monday, May 15, 2017

REVIEW: INJUSTICE 2 - THE SERIES SO FAR

A whole new world...

INTRODUCTION 
With the INJUSTICE 2 video game coming out tomorrow (tonight for some), I thought it might be fun to review the first five issues of the INJUSTICE 2 prequel series which bridges the gap between games. I've been reviewing the original INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US comic volumes and have found myself loving every moment so I'm very happy that there is now a whole new series for fans to enjoy. I don't know if it will be as long-lived as the original, but I wanted to jump in an at least see where they'll go with it. At the time of this review, there are five individual issues out which I picked up digitally. This will be a cumulative review of those five issues that I may expand or perhaps transform into a review of the first volume when that eventually gets released. 

HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 I loved seeing familiar faces from the game all showing up in their brand new costumes and a totally new sort of world. There's nothing quite as grand as the conflict that the first series told, but there are some pretty great and sometimes shocking moments that this story has to offer. 

CHARACTERS
There aren't a whole ton of characters running around just yet. The series kicks off with a conversation between Batman and the now-imprisoned Superman. There isn't a ton of development on Superman's side, he's just as hopelessly lost as he was in the game. Batman on the other hand has a very interesting personal challenge to face. With Superman's Regime toppled, someone has to now step in to usher in new leadership, but no one wants to see Batman's vision of the world realized. This point is reiterated by so many different characters it actually becomes kind of comical and I found myself feeling a little bad for Batman even though he was a good sport about these comments. Harley Quinn has some funny moments, my favorite being where she decides that Batman wants her to be the next Robin. She gets herself nabbed by Amanda Waller who is starting up a pretty large Suicide Squad for herself which serves a good way to introduce series newcomer, Deadshot. I did feel a little worried that this would devolve into a shameless promo for the somewhat recent movie. Fortunately, the story quickly takes a different turn as a new rival for Batman steps onto the scene. I think I already know who this mystery man is unfortunately, but even if I'm right, I still think it's an interesting twist. Ollie and Dinah are brought back into this world thanks to Dr. Fate and they bring their son, Conner, with them. There is also an appearance from two of Batman's close allies which I was pretty psyched to see.

WORLD/SETTING 
The world of INJUSTICE 2 is very different from the original INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US. Gone is the dark dystopia that resides beneath Superman's shadow. There's a newfound lightness to the world, one that teems with hope, but is still weighed down by responsibility to maintain this peace. This weight falls mainly upon Batman, but thanks to encouragement from his friends, he seems consigned to allow others to help him bear the weight. For Batman to admit he needs help with anything is something I'm not sure I've seen before so this was a particularly interesting scenario for me. There are some scenic shots of Superman's Red Sun Cell block, Oliver's home on the alternate Earth, and the facility that houses the Suicide Squad. There isn't a great sense of scale to things just yet though. While there is a lot of talk about the fate of the world, the actual events of the story seem to take place within a relatively tight geographical space. 

PLOT/TONE 
Tonally, things are much different from INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US. This time, it's Batman that's in control of the situation, but not really. The  serenity that's come with the removal of Superman feels like it could crack at any point. Batman must slowly build up the world that Superman ran into shambles. It's a surprisingly low-key plot that I did wish would get a little wilder, but perhaps they are just setting things up at this point. The roster is also fairly conservative though the characters that do show up get ample characterization. It was actually nice in a way to have things scaled back a little bit. The story focuses on characters who seem like they will be the main protagonists in this new narrative so it was good to spend some quality time with them. The Suicide Squad and their new leader make for fun antagonists and I am intrigued to know why the main villain seems to be in favor of freeing Superman. It's unclear as to just where things will go or how they can ramp up while keeping Superman confined in his cell, but I'm hopeful that this series will reach the same heights as its predecessor. 

ARTWORK
The artwork of this series is every bit as good as I'd hoped it would be. The characters are hyper-detailed, the environments are crisp and the action is brilliantly depicted. There's not much more that can be asked for in this department.


CONCLUSION 
Those on the fence about giving this series a shot should definitely consider picking up the first couple of issues. their fairly cheap, but also quite brief. I think it's definitely more satisfying to read them in a graphic novel format, but I'm glad I picked up these first five issues. I think I'll continue to follow this series as it grows and I look forward to how it helps connect the two games.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

REVIEW: INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR FIVE VOLUME 2

Lines once crossed...


NOTE 
While this review will be relatively spoiler-free, there may be some spoilers for previous volumes in the series.

INTRODUCTION 
A lot has happened since the Series launched. Readers saw the sad decline of one of Earth's most cherished heroes in YEAR ONE. They watched as The Regime waged war with The Lantern Corps in YEAR TWO and were introduced to DC's magical underworld in YEAR THREE. YEAR FOUR brought forward an awe-inspiring clash between gods and heroes. In YEAR FIVE, things have started coming together. In VOLUME 1, pieces began falling into place, but there were a lot of loose plot threads left by the end. I started in on VOLUME 2, excited to see how those loose ends get tied. 

HOW I RATED IT 
5/5 This deeply emotional entry into the series cements Superman's tyrannical identity while also bringing many of the other characters to the point that players found them. This is perhaps the hardest hitting of the volumes so far and even though it doesn't quite wrap YEAR FIVE up into a neat little package, I did appreciate that the story took some time to slow down and savor each heartbreaking plot point.  

CHARACTERS
There are a lot of characters that get some good attention in this installment. The Bizarro Superman and his new buddy, The Trickster, go rampaging around, stirring up all kinds of chaos. Since he was created by Lex, there are some interesting moments where the billionaire mastermind has to outmaneuver the super-beings who might expose his secret plot to take down (and replace) Superman. His scheming ways and the hardened morality of this version of Lex clash in some fun ways. Harley 's therapy sessions with a cardboard cutout were both hysterical and genuinely moving. This volume also introduced the first iteration of the Joker Clan, a group of anti-Regime activists whom Harley follows around. Batwoman finally gets a little more time to take part in the drama of it all. She's largely been an accessory to Batman's war this whole time so I very much appreciated seeing her operate on her own a little. A defeated Catwoman also has a couple of small appearances while  Damian makes a key showing for the volume's finale. Batman and Alfred have some amazingly humanizing moments that were probably the highlight of the whole thing for me. It all comes down to a one on one fight between Batman and Superman with Damian standing by in confusion. The last chapters feature Flash struggling with his allegiances and slowly being pushed to pledge himself to The Regime. The internal conflict was portrayed every bit as well as the external conflict is depicted and I don't think these characters have ever been more compelling.  


WORLD/SETTING 
A shadow begins to fall over the world as Superman and his cronies solidify their iron grip while Batman and others do their best to frustrate those efforts. The result is conflict on a pretty large scale. The Joker Clan gathers in large abandoned buildings. Batman's allies brood and leap from towering buildings. Lex scrambles to protect himself in his laboratory/office building while Bizzarro flies from place to place leaving a trail of bodies and destruction in his wake. There are a lot of ominous references to a new super prison, though with the rate that both Supermen exterminate those who cross them, it's hard to imagine there being anyone left to lock away there. Tragedy strikes in the Batcave and The Rogues have a secret memorial service in a shady bar. The epic Batman v Superman showdown takes place in a simple dark alley but The Flash's journey of self-discovery brings him to a number of scenic locations. By the end, I felt as though I'd gotten a full tour of this world which made it that much sadder to know that freedom no longer reigns here. 

PLOT/TONE 
If lines weren't crossed before, they definitely are now. Even some of the most noble heroes have lived long enough to see themselves become a villain. Although previous years have consisted of two volumes, there appears to be a third part of YEAR FIVE set to come out this June. Due to that fact, not everything comes to a wrap in this one. There are still outstanding questions like whether Batwoman and Batgirl make it through the series and what eventually drives Catwoman to join up with Superman. There's also the matter of how the Joker Clan takes its place in the Insurgency. There are, however, plenty of things that do get tidied up. All remaining signs that Superman has any of his former self left are gone. He's become as ruthless as he was in the game and now that he's crossed certain lines, there will be no coming back. Batman finds himself trying to resist crossing a one of his own when misfortune falls upon one of the people he cares for most and Damian's true allegiances are tested as well. Even though I already knew how a lot of these things would turn out, this didn't diminish the emotional intensity of being in the moment with these characters which speaks highly to the writing. I never knew what would happen next and in spite of how much I wanted things to work out, I of course knew that there would not be any happy endings. 

ARTWORK
The art was definitely on point at just about every turn here. A few of the backdrops are a little sparse at times, but that mostly only happened during points where the action shots hit an extreme angle

CONCLUSION 
While this is neither an ending to the story nor this series, it did do a nice job of concluding certain story points in a satisfying way. I'm only disappointing that I'll have to wait a bit before the next volume comes out. I'm very glad that this series got as big as it did because it's offered a lot of epic super hero entertainment. I look forward to the next (and maybe last?) installment of this prequel series. In the meantime, I'll be diving into the new INJUSTICE 2 series which fills the gap between games as well as of course picking up the new video game as well.

Friday, May 12, 2017

REVIEW: INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR FIVE VOLUME 1

The villains are unleashed...


NOTE 
While this review will be relatively spoiler-free, there may be some spoilers for previous volumes in the series. 

INTRODUCTION 
The final year of INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US begins. At the end of the previous volume, an entire prison's worth of supervillains was set loose upon the world. Now both sides of the Batman vs. Superman war are recruiting from this pool of new faces. With the story getting very close to the point that players found it in the game I dove into this one excited to see the different pieces fall into place. 

HOW I RATED IT 
5/5 Though it's a little scattered at times, there are a lot of fantastic moments in this installment that help drive the plot forward and define the characters in some brilliant ways. 

CHARACTERS
With the addition of all the previously shelved villains, the roster of INJUSTICE gets much bigger. While there are a lot of classic bad guys and gals that never get much time in the spotlight, there are a good number of them who do get some decent attention. Bane and Killer Frost join up with Superman, much to the distress of team members like Wonder Woman and The Flash. Batman has some fresh blood of his own in the form of some of the Flash's rogues like Weather Wizard, Gold Glider, Mirror Master, and Heatwave under the justification that they have a strict code not to kill anyone. Batman's allies are less than convinced by this distinction which made for some interesting interactions within that squad. Catwoman finds herself at wit's end with fighting for what feels like a futile cause. A Bizarro Superman finds his way onto the scene and starts to wreak havoc with The Trickster and tensions run high as a result. Rounding off the ensemble is Damian who finally gets some character development after being stuck in a perpetual cycle of rage and depression. Dick Greyson and Alfred also make some fantastic guest appearances and help drive some of this character building. It's a strong and varied cast of heroes and villains that did feel a little spread out at times, but was handled well overall. 

WORLD/SETTING 
This installment jumps all over the established world. There's a cool fight scene on Penguin's docks, tension in Batman's hideout, and harsh accusations made in Lex Luthor's tower. From the brutal opening at Wayne Manor to the calm infirmary of Damian's moment of self-discovery, the scenery is varied and each backdrop felt perfect for the given moment. There are even some shots of places like The Batcave which brought me back to earlier moments in the story. The world is definitely in disarray and it's easy to see how that chaos is shaping the way that things turn out. The state of things is in direct opposition to the way Superman wants them to be and it will be very interesting to see how he puts them into the way he wants them. More interesting will be how he creates the buttoned-up dystopia that this world is fated to be. 

PLOT/TONE 
The overall feel of the world is one that's fallen back into chaos. Superman and his allies are kept busy with rounding up all of the escaped villains while Batman and his band of followers are doing their best to ensure that they raise as much disturbance as they can. The involvement of Bizarro only makes things feel that much more chaotic. Even though the villains pick sides, that doesn't mean they are suddenly freed of their own antics and agendas. This added a wonderful layer of unpredictability to pretty much every scene. In spite of Batman's scheming and Superman's control issues, there are just too many loose cannons running around for either of them to really be in control. There's a sense that it will all boil over before the Regime assumes control once more, but in the meantime, it's a lot of fun to simply watch discord reign. There are also some really nice personal moments for characters like Selina and Damian that help keep things grounded.

ARTWORK
While the new character designs were all great and certainly fit in with the INJUSTICE style, there were points where the quality seemed to dip a little or at least where the imagery felt inconsistent. Gold Glider for example looks stunning in some shots and quite bad in others. The Trickster kind of alternates between looking very young and a little older. Make no mistake, the overall presentation is still fantastic. This collection just felt a little less polished than some of the others, possibly because of all the different designs the artists had to keep up with.

CONCLUSION 
There's still a lot of ground to cover before everything falls into place, but this is a solid first part of the fifth and final year of the series. There are tons of great characters, many of which haven't had much face time yet, but there are also some great moments with already established heroes. Very little time is spent in any one place, making the scope of this installment feel much bigger. I loved the chaotic tone of it all as well as the moments of more personal drama. The final conflict between the Regime and the Insurgency promises to be a magnificent disaster to behold and I just hope that the final collection will contain some great emotional moments as well. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

REVIEW: INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR FOUR VOLUME 2

Olympus has invaded...


NOTE 
While this review will be relatively spoiler-free, there may be some spoilers for previous volumes in the series. 

INTRODUCTION 
Gods and heroes continue to clash in this second part of YEAR FOUR. Thankfully, this volume is more than just a prolonged sequence of swords and fists flying across the pages. The conflict to rid Earth of Olympus's residents brings the narrative forward in some important ways and an issue at the end introduces some new characters into the mix which will likely have a big impact on the fifth and final year of INJUSTICE.

HOW I RATED IT 
5/5 While this installment is still very action-packed, it also has the narrative depth that previous volumes lacked, making it feel like a far more like the kind of collection the series deserves. 

CHARACTERS
Batman seemingly has his way when Superman is forced to relinquish his throne. In the Man of Steel's place, a much bigger problem now arises. The gods of Olympus occupy the planet and there's nothing Batman and his band of mortals can do about it. They take refuge in Themyscira, much to the chagrin of the locals. In his defeat, Superman consults with the scheming Ares and turns to Poseidon for help against Zeus and his followers. The result is a glorious entrance for the god of the seas as he threatens the land of the Amazons with a towering wall of water. This move creates even more tension between Superman and Wonder Woman, putting their relationship on a very thin ice. Batman immediately gets down to manipulating the situation from the shadows, getting Aquaman, Mera, and some very surprising guests involved. Ares has a shocking ally of his own who clashes with Superman in a brilliant display of comic book violence. Harley, a powerless Billy (Shazam), and Hippolyta find themselves stuck in the Greek Underworld, a place that Harley just so happens to be well versed in. Using this knowledge, she leads the trio on a prison break or maybe a hell break. While a little random, it was a lot of fun to see her demonstrate some leadership ability. It was a nice nod to where she ends up in the game and pretty rewarding in general. Zeus was also fairly interesting. While it would have been more interesting for his actions to have a little more motive behind them, I at least found them to be entertaining and I liked his final stand-down with one of the characters Batman calls into the fold. I was disappointed that Raven never showed up, but I  suspect she'll be making an appearance in YEAR FIVE.

WORLD/SETTING 
There's no more standing around in one spot. This volume takes readers to some of the most exotic locations in both DC and Mythological lore. Themyscira takes center stage as Superman and Poseidon act in defiance against the will of Zeus. There are a lot of great shots of this place as well as the mass of water that stands to level it.  There are some glimpses of the gorgeous Atlantis as well as some secret government meetings to keep things fresh. Different parts of the Underworld create a fun backdrop for Harley's Antics. Another fiery locale sets the stage for an iconic fight scene and a serene utopia from another dimension is stunning enough to rival any of the other places that the story has gone so far. Overall, the setting is varied, wild, and chaotic. This was exactly the type of world that this story deserves and I hope the more chaotic aspects of it ramp up before things fall into the ordered dystopia that players find when they play the game.  



PLOT/TONE 
All of the plotting and scheming of the gods remains a huge element of this story. Out of all of the volumes so far, this one feels the most like an epic comic adventure. It's definitely still as dark as previous installments, but there's a lot more moving pieces running wild. The aspect of involving not one, but two different mythologies (one native to the DC Universe) was great and added a lot of good, clean fun to things. I loved that I felt surprised by narrative events again, but could also still enjoy some high-flying action. There are so many super-beings running around and so many different agendas at play and I had a ton of fun never knowing just what would happen next. Things get more and more interesting until the god/hero conflict finally comes to a head, but that's not all the volume has to offer. The final chapter is one that's seemingly random at first, but the ending of it definitely feels like a setup for things to come. 

ARTWORK
The art has really outdone itself this time. Between the varied and elaborately detailed environments and the characters that still look fantastic, this is the best that the series has ever looked. 

CONCLUSION 
In a lot of ways, it feels like the series has returned to it's former glory. The plot is moving forward again, the action and visuals are top notch, and things are starting to fall into place within the context of the game. The gods of Olympus have taken their leave of Earth, but their stay was certainly entertaining and hopefully it's not the last the series has seen of mythological elements. I'm looking forward to finding out how everything wraps up and who survives the inevitable final conflict that is to come.

Monday, May 8, 2017

REVIEW: INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR FOUR VOLUME 1

Olympus descends...

NOTE 
While this review will be relatively spoiler-free, there may be some spoilers for previous volumes in this series. 

INTRODUCTION 
A new year of Injustice means a new threat to Superman's Regime. This time the theme comes in the form of a different kind of magic...it comes straight from the books of Greek Mythology. The gods of Olympus turn their gaze down to earth and all sorts of discord ensues. Being a big fan of mythology, I've enjoyed the little bits of Themyscira this series shows, but never would I have guessed that it would bring in the entire Greek Pantheon. I'm thrilled that the story took this turn, but given how much I've read about Zues, Hera, Hermes, and company, this collection definitely had a lot to live up to in terms of my expectations.

HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 This installment follows in the pattern of becoming one gigantic battle. I do think there were some more interesting turns than the last one had, but there still felt like there was something a little lacking here in terms of the overall narrative.

CHARACTERS
The cast of INJUSTICE gets a whole lot bigger with the inclusion of Greece's most legendary heroes and gods. If you're like me and love the old tales about gods and demigods, then you will be stoked to see that pretty much all of the heavy hitters come out to center stage. Ares, Artemis, Hermes, Hera, Zues, Hippolyta, Hercules, Atlas and a whole army of Amazons enter the fray. They stand against Superman, demanding he abdicate his throne and leave the planet Earth. All of Superman's allies stand beside him out front of the Hall of Justice and Batman shows up with his team to watch in hopes that the forces of Olympus can finally free them of Superman's tyranny. There's a lot of fantastic tension in the air and little breaks in the conflict offer some great opportunities for interactions between different characters. Wonder Woman was particularly compelling due to being torn between two different sides of the battle. This creates some great conflict between her and Superman as she finds herself having to face off against him. There are other great standoffs between characters like Batman and Robin and Hermes and The Flash. It's these little moments where characters clash and try to reconcile that made this installment feel a little more complete than the last one. I did wonder where Dick Greyson went off to since he just sort of seems to go away. Raven also has a cameo that left me confused as to how she'll play into things to come. I also loved that all of the gods felt true to how I remember them from the myths. Hera is manipulative, Ares has his agenda, Hermes is the dutiful messenger, and Hercules is the hero seeking glory through combat. I did note the lack of presence of Athena and Poseidon, but I hope they'll factor into VOLUME 2. Lex also has some more nice surprises for us including a decision which will likely have some ramifications in the chapters to come. All in all, I did find this area of the volume to be pretty satisfying and the gods' scheming was a lot of fun.


WORLD/SETTING 
Unfortunately, the setting for this volume does feel a little restricted. The vast majority of it takes place entirely in front of the Hall of Justice. Obviously, this is a really lovely and iconic place, but I did feel like that sense of adventure was a little lost here. Leading up to the grand standoff, readers do get to see quick glimpses of Batman's hideout and some city streets, but these are fairly short-lived. There are some gorgeous shots of Mount Olympus and Themyscira to break things up as well. Basically, all of the locations that do show up are carefully selected and visually interesting, you'd just generally expect to see a few more of them in a world as expansive as the DC Universe. 

PLOT/TONE 
The plot itself is pretty simple and doesn't go too much deeper than what I have described so far. Where most of the story-building takes place is in the conniving machinations of the gods. Each one has their own agenda in mind. This divine chess match really brought me back to the myths of old and I love how faithfully they depicted these interactions while doing it in such a way that fit in well with the story.  There are also the great little moments between characters as well as a flashback featuring Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman which definitely made the conflict between them that much sadder. Leading up to the main conflict are some fairly compelling moments with Damian Wayne. I've felt like his character has been pretty one-dimensional so far so it was nice to get to see some of his personal struggles and understand what it is he hopes to achieve. Along with that is the demise of one of Batman's particularly vengeful friends . It should also be noted that there is a ton of great action shots in this one. The gods look every bit as glorious in combat as they should and there are some fun match-ups between gods and heroes with similar strengths (or at least levels of strength). Batman also finds himself in an interesting position since it was by his doing that the gods were unleashed upon the Earth, but he has no real control over their actions. He finds himself simultaneously in the most powerful and vulnerable position of his life, especially when some of the gods start trying to go Mortal Kombat on Superman and his allies. Overall, I definitely thought this was paced better than the last volume, but it still suffers a little bit from the fact that it's mostly one continuous struggle that doesn't actually even end by the time the last page is turned. The violence is once again pretty brutal, but it was a little easier on the eyes this time around since some of the gore was a bit dialed back, but there's still some blood that's shed and a couple of characters readers will have to say goodbye to. 

ARTWORK
The visuals are probably at the best I've seen them so far. The armor the gods wear is gorgeously rendered. The action shots are dynamic and beyond dramatic. Some of the scenery is really great as well.

CONCLUSION 
There's a lot of fun to be had here between the gods and the heroes and all the action in between. The story does still kind of feel like it's at a standstill, but this is one conflict I was pretty okay with hitting the pause button for. I do kind of feel like maybe the writers have taken things as far as they feasibly can within the confines of the space they had to work with and are maybe saving some things for the fifth and final year of the comic. If that's the case, then that's kind of a shame since I would like to see things advance a little bit more either on the side of the main narrative or even just in the individual character archs that have all been fantastic so far (the comic's just been a little stingy with rolling them out). I want to see Damian make a little more progress with his identity crisis, I want to witness Wonder Woman and Superman's relationship blossom (right now it's sort of disintegrating), and I want to find out what eventually drives Catwoman to change sides. To me, it feels like the story still has a lot of ground to cover and while I understand that things can't be rushed, it also feels like these large scale clashes are slowing down the thrilling pace that previous volumes set.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

REVIEW: INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR THREE VOLUME 2

Hellfire and impish specters...


NOTE 
While this review will be relatively spoiler-free, there may be some spoilers for previous volumes in this series. 


INTRODUCTION 

The world of magic has been introduced and there's no turning back. The Insurgency dealt some critical blows to Superman and his Regime thanks to the use of magic. Now it is the Regime's turn to make a move. This volume continues the theme of magic and intrigue, but also gets quite a bit flashier than I expected given the last one's grungier take on the conflict. 

HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 This volume lacks the same depth that previous installments have enjoyed. The world of magic is still fun, but things turn into one extended fight that, while epic, didn't move things forward as much which makes the pace actually feel a little slower. 

CHARACTERS
The cast of characters remains largely unchanged from the previous volume, albeit with a couple ofInjustice 2 video games (and probably the new comic series as well). Side issues explore John Constantine's character a little more as well as an obscure mystical character from his world which helps explain Wonder Woman's sleeping beauty act. The other actually shows what happened to the Teen Titans (Wonder Girl, Beast Boy, Kid Flash, Superboy, Red Robin, and Starfire) and why they have been nowhere to be found in this series.
neat swap-outs. One I will not fully spoil, but the other is that Deadman has ... well died I guess and in his place is Dick Greyson (formerly Nightwing) who now takes up the mantle of Deadman. I was very excited to see this character come back, even if in a different form and I thought the scenes with him and a few of the other characters added some much needed emotional depth to all of the action going on. Constantine is still a major player and some of his schemings have landed characters on both sides in quite the magical mess. Two magical superpowers engage in battle while the forces of the Regime and the Insurgency clash. Wonder Woman and Superman are both back in action and they fight with a righteous fury against Batman and his allies. One particularly good interaction is the dynamic between Constantine and Batman. Both men are similar in how expertly they plan, but readers will find that they are very different in their motivations. The tension between Superman and Wonder Woman also made for some nice narrative surprises and there are some good action sequences with Batwoman and Huntress who tend to be more in the background. Swamp thing and Poison Ivy also enter the mix which is exciting since they are both characters who will be appearing in the


WORLD/SETTING 
The locations in which this volume take place are pretty interesting. There are some scenes at the regal Hall of Justice to open, but things quickly move into the Tower of Fate which Dr. Fate distorts into a M.C. Escher drawing with staircases going all over the place. Things escalate quickly here and the heroes/villians are transported to the House of Mystery which is where the rest of the story takes place. It's a pretty interesting location filled with magical energy and there also seems to be two of these manors existing simultaneously in the same spot. This lush locale quickly turns into a fiery battleground and begins to warp as the conflict distorts reality around it. I found the whole thing to be a pretty neat spectacle and liked that the backdrops were much more colorful in this volume. 

PLOT/TONE 
Whereas YEAR THREE VOLUME 1 was dark and mysterious, VOLUME 2 felt chaotic and action-packed. The overall them of magic does carry over, just in a far more battle-oriented way. There's not really a lot to say in terms of the narrative honestly. Much of the volume is spent on one long fight sequence that rises and falls in its intensity. There are definitely still some interesting character interactions as well as a couple of key story moments that would be a shame to spoil. Other than that, there's just a lot more tension that gets built between Superman and Batman, especially since Batman can now go toe to toe with him thanks to the super pills Lex Luthor developed. Most of the depth comes from two issues that act as a bonus of sorts (though not really since I think the number of issues this time was just fewer than usual). One of these returns to that dark noir tone from the previous volume and the other explores the pretty heartbreaking disappearance of Superboy and the rest of the Titans. 

ARTWORK 
The visuals continue to be outstanding in this series. It was impressive just how detailed things remained even when all hell broke loose. Where the art falters a little is in the two additional issues that close out this volume. The art wasn't bad or anything, it just lacked that level of polish and vibrancy that fans of the series have come to enjoy. The style looked older somehow which some might like, but I'm not a fan of.

CONCLUSION 
This wasn't the finest collection in the series, but it was still a pretty enjoyable read. It had some outstanding action and effects to enjoy. There were definitely some more personal moments to be had as well as a couple of key plot points that advanced the story a little, but the volume felt light in terms of both characterization and narrative progression. The side stories were pretty good and did add a  bit more depth to the overall narrative as well as explain a couple of story gaps, but I wish the art had been a little better for these issues.