Monday, January 30, 2017

REVIEW: DESCENDER VOLUME 2: MACHINE MOON

Welcome to the Machine Moon...

INTRODUCTION 
When I turned the last page of DESCENDER VOLUME 1: TIN STARS, I was left utterly stunned and wanting more of this brilliant science fiction universe. The world was intriguing and vast. The characters were edgy and unique. The plot evolved methodically, becoming more and more complex as the volume went on. This had just about everything I could ever want from a piece of graphic fiction including beautiful water-color inspired artwork.  I don't know why it took me so long to dive into the series's second volume, but now I've finally rejoined Tim-21 on his adventure.

HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 It doesn't get everything 100% right, but this second installment definitely manages to deliver on some quality science fiction fun. While I would have liked to see some better character management and a more exciting plot, this was still a very worthy entry into the series that seems to be setting up some bigger and more interesting things.

CHARACTERS
Tim-21 doesn't like leaving
men behind
The cast is back and larger than ever, however not all of them are necessarily handled as well as they could be. Three of them are sidelined for most of the issue though the fact that they were left behind does come up in conversation. Although none of them are really main or particularly vital characters, I was still bummed that they just kind of got ignored. Their exclusion does make room for some new players to step in, however, one of them being none other than Andy, the boy that Tim-21 belonged to. He's all grown up now and has a curious liking for hunting down and exterminating robots of all kinds. He's grown into quite a viscous bounty hunter and I liked that I was left to wonder at what events led him down this path. While we do see some flashbacks of his childhood that help flesh out his character, his deeper, darker motivations remain a mystery. I'm excited to see where this character is taken and am optimistic that he'll play a big part in the next volume. Partnering with him is actually an antagonist briefly seen in the very beginning of the first volume. I found it interesting that they brought him back into the story given how inconsequential he initially seemed and he turned out to be a pretty great addition to be honest. 

The main focus is still on Tim-21, Dr. Quon, and Telsa. They are joined by some new "friends," namely Tim-22, and the leader of the robot resistance who Tim-22 refers to as his father. Seeing both the Tim units together was pretty fun and I loved how different they both turned out to be in spite of them being the exact same model. It seems that nurture makes the ultimate difference to his particular type of robot. Quon and Telsa's earlier truce seems pretty shattered in light of recent revelations about him. Telsa finds herself feeling like the only sane one in the group as she tries to devise a way to get them all out of their current situation. Although there isn't much more revealed about the planet-sized robots that may return one day, there are some good interpersonal dynamics that get explored which served to put the story's quiet time to good use. There's also some deeper questions that get asked about the nature of Tim-21's dreams 

WORLD/SETTING 
The world of DESCENDER is every bit as memorable as when I last left it. The conflict between man and machine rages fiercer than ever and there are even a few who find themselves in a freakish in-between. The universe is large and there are some pretty memorable locations that readers get to visit. One of the most interesting is a gaseous planet that's filled with ghosts of some kind. There are also some shots of familiar, but still exotic locations as well as a good long look at the fabled robot resistance hideout, the Machine Moon. It turns out that the resistance has been hiding in a literal mechanical moon where they've built out a home that's large enough to be considered it's own planet. The majority of the story takes place in a large research facility on this over-sized base of operations, really only shifting focus when switching perspectives to a different character. There're are some incredibly gorgeous shots of scifi scenery, but I did wish I had a little more of those and a little less of the space stations and laboratories. 

PLOT/TONE 
Tim-22's idea of fun
Rather than the story being about Quon, Tim-21 and Telsa's journey through space in search of answers, the story instead takes a slightly more stationary approach. The main cast is brought to the Machine Moon, where they will ultimately stay for the rest of the volume. Here, Quon and Telsa find themselves as the only organic beings on an entire planet of machines who could murder them at any time. Tim-21, being the innocent little robot that he is, has no comprehension of the danger he and his friends face. He's instead interested in getting to know his new "brother" Tim-22 as well as working with the resistance to figure out what makes him special. It turns out that there might be a sort of robot heaven where all of the destroyed robots can be retrieved from and Tim-21 holds this key. Quon finds himself struggling with the fear of what destruction his creations might bring while simultaneously curious about the secrets they could help him uncover. All of this is pretty tense, but there's not much in the way of real action. Most of that is instead provided by Andy who takes on his most difficult mission yet.
The team tries to unlock the truth using Tim-21

Due to there not being as much moving around this time, the scale of the story does feel a little toned down. There definitely are scenes with other planets, stations, and ships to liven things up, but overall, this feels like a far less eventful story than before. That said, I was glad that the story took a little time to process and address some of the shocking reveals that came at the end of VOLUME 1 and the narrative does get brought forward as new plot points are set up. It's just an undeniably slower and less impactful series of events this time around. This volume does end on a pretty shocking cliffhanger as well though and I'm excited to see where things will go from here.  

CONCLUSION 
After everything that happened in the first volume of the series, it's hardly surprising that this one would be more of a transitional story. I liked that the characters get a little bit of quiet time and thought the writer did a good job of keeping these less eventful moments engaging and tense. All of the new characters introduced do add a good deal to the story, I just wish they didn't come at the cost of sidelining some of the existing members of the cast. Basically, if you loved the first volume like I did, then you'll need to pick this one up. It doesn't quite match the crazy tempo that the first one set, but I also don't think fans of the series will be disappointed by what VOLUME 2 has to offer.

 If you want to check out more reviews on DESCENDER VOLUME 2: MACHINE MOON, then head on over to Goodreads.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

REVIEW ROUNDUP: WRAITHBORN REDUX

INTRODUCTION 

While venturing around a local comic book shop, I discovered a limited run series called WRAITHBORN REDUX from the creators of LADY MECHANICA. I mentioned this series in a Review Roundup post for comic issues I received during Free Comic Book Day earlier this year. I praised the special issue for it's gripping world, strong female character, and stunningly detailed artwork. So far my only hesitation to dive into that series is simply that I still have a couple other graphic novel volumes to read before I can really justify buying any more. But something felt really appealing about WRAITHBORN in that I could just buy up the six issues right then and there and enjoy the story from start to finish. I also thought it would be cool to own the whole run of a comic series, however brief it might be. I've listed my thoughts below on each of issues as I read through them and finished with my impressions on the series as a whole.

Issue # 1
5/5 The Wraithborn is born...


The first pages of this first issue are filled with a viciously beautiful young woman tearing through the streets, killing unholy monsters of some kind. Her narration explains that she is only able to see and kill these beasts because she is what's known as a Wraithborn. It's not entirely clear what that means even by the end of this chapter, but it sure does look badass to see her do her thing. Immediately I found myself sold on this concept, this world, and this character.


After a few indulgently violent pages, the story flashes back to Melanie before she became the demon-slaying beast of a woman that we see at the story's opening. It turns out that Melanie was not only a shy teenager before she gained her mad skills, but also a bit of a coward. It turns out that her mother died trying to help someone which has left a deep scar upon young Melanie. Right away, it's clear that she has a big heart. She tries to take care of her dad who's eating habits threaten to deliver him to an early grave. Later on, she even covers for a careless coworker. But there's one crucial moment where a bigger girl at school is getting picked on in the locker room by a bunch of cheerleaders. Melanie is asked for help and she does want to help, but her fear gets the better of her and she cowers from standing up for this girl. It's this defining moment that made me relate to the character the most as there have been plenty of times in my life where I've really wanted to reach out and help someone and sometimes I have the courage to do so, while other times I don't. This idea of a hero who's scared to help people is one I'm really loving and I can't wait to see how Melanie grows over the course of the series.

Mixed in with the story of Melanie's internal struggle are glimpses of an underground organization tied into the Wraithborn. We are introduced to Valin, the intended heir to the Wraithborn, but there's still a lot of mystery which surrounds this side of the narrative. At the issue's end, this secret world of power and demon slaying collides with Melanie's humble existence. It's a pretty strong start to a series and I liked how it gives a glimpse of Melanie as a fully fledged hero before diving into her origin story.

Reviewed 11/25/16
Issue # 2
4/5 Two worlds collide...

Melanie now has the power of the Wraithborn, but she doesn't understand what it is or the kind of danger that having it puts her in. This issue spends a lot of time on continuing the origin story that's begun in the first chapter. To a certain extent, this is kind of unfortunate since I'm dying to know more about what's actually happening in the world of Wraithborn and monsters. I personally could have done without a scene where the cheerleaders are mean to Melanie, given that we already established this during the first issue's locker room scene. But did like seeing the girl that Melanie chose not to help come in and show some compassion and understanding to her. Another worthwhile interaction is where Melanie discovers that a girl at school has the ability to see the same ethereal bugs that she can.

While the bits at Melanie's school are pretty interesting, most of the fun is in the reveal of the big bad guy. Without spoiling too much on this front, I will just say that it was awesome to meet the story's principal villain and I really loved her horrifying, yet regal character design. This part in particular was probably the most rewarding aspect of this issue and it's really one of the only things that kept it from feeling like origin issue: part two.

After the big reveal, Melanie is faced with just how dangerous this new world of hers is as she finds herself chased down my creatures that definitely don't just move right through her like a phantom. She also seems to pick up some inexplicably slick moves as she tries to escape her assailants. A dark figure who I presume to be Valin watches as this unfolds and swoops in during the final panel of the issue with classic superhero theatrics. While this is definitely a pretty sweet entrance, it's also slightly disappointing that we don't get to see him actually do anything.

Although the story is taking a bit to ramp up, there were definitely some nice highlights to enjoy as well as a solid setup for the next issue. Here's hoping that I get to see some awesome stuff during Issue #3.

Reviewed 11/25/16
Issue # 3
5/5 Violence and intrigue...

This entry picks up right at the moment that Issue 2 left off on. Immediately, I get my wish of seeing Valin spring into action and cutting down the viscous hell-hounds chasing down Melanie. The shots are hectic, bloody, and there are some cool out-of-panel effects that get used. It's a little tough to really appreciate some of the finer details since the pages are maybe a little too busy, but the images are still exciting none the less.

There is also some decent back and forth between Valin, the hero seemingly robbed of his destiny, and Melanie, the girl who doesn't want or understand the power that's been bestowed on her. She also falls into a state of shock as a result of the gory battle that unfolds around her and it was pretty cool to see her try to deny that any of this is actually happening. Her disbelief and reaction to everything that's happened so far felt believable and made me connect with her on a much more personal level. With half the series out of the way now though, I do worry that her transition from scared teen to brutal warrior will be a little abrupt or that it just won't really happen at all within the space of the main narrative. It seems like the writers know what they are doing with her though so I'm still excited to see how she develops.

Because there is so much action to enjoy, there isn't a ton of advancement with the plot. That said, there is a new character who gets introduced who I'm excited to see more of as she might become quite the problem for Melanie. Watching this new femme fatale interact with Brijit, the principal villain, was great fun and I felt like I got to know both of these characters pretty well because of this moment in the issue.

It's been a crazy ride so far and I look forward to seeing how things go in the second half of the series.

Reviewed 12/15/16
Issue # 4
4/5 Good people, bad people, and sexy people


The story falls into a bit of an interlude in this issue. Brijit takes a break from hunting Melanie down in favor of bolstering her forces. She gets a little help from her lovely and strange assistants in recruiting a new helper. It's her pages of the comic that felt the most intense since the way she goes about building her forces is actually pretty terrifying. She's shaping up to be a pretty cool villain so far, I just fear that she won't really get her time to wreak havok since there are only two issues left.


I was hoping for more out of Melanie's side of things. She spends most of the issue trying to either cope with what's going on or figure out a way to make it go away. To be fair, she does seem to be dealing with things in a way that makes sense given her age and situation. She also has some cool moments with her friend, Zoe, and I did enjoy watching them work towards figuring out how to contend with Melanie's paranormal problem. At this point, I definitely think her transformation into badass demon slayer is either going to be very rushed, or handled through a time lapse. Whatever the case, I think I'm realizing that this is less the story of how she turns into a fierce warrior and more about her mental transition from quiet teen into Wraithborn. I like this approach, it just wasn't the kind of story I was expecting based off of the first issue. I also could have done without some of the high-school cliches.

On Valin's end, things are pretty interesting and weird. It turns out that there isn't actually a way for him to claim the power of the Wraithborn for himself without killing Melanie in the process, but it's unclear as to whether or not he understands that. It also turns out that him and Kiara, the redheaded woman introduced in Issue 3, are brother and sister. They have an interesting conversation and a strangely sensual sparring session. I'm not really sure what the deal is with their scene together since it doesn't seem to actually be sexually charged, but the outfits they wear and a number of the poses they are depicted in are most definitely a bit more sensational than they really needed to be.

Overall, there are a lot of cool piece in place and I'm hoping that there's an exciting final act to be had in the final two issues of the series.

Reviewed on 1/7/17
Issue # 5
5/5 Get ready for the end...

As I'd hoped, this issue is a proper beginning of the end of this series. All of the plot threads that have been established start coming together. Melanie continues to struggle with understanding just what the Wraithborn is. She still thinks that it's an object of some kind that she's somehow come into possession of. She looks all over for answers, even turning to a Catholic priest who places some doubt in her mind that any of this is even real. She quickly finds that her plight is all too grounded in reality when she is reunited with Valin who explains to her that the Wraithborn is within her and not merely an object that she can return, a fact that we as the readers have known this whole time. The two of them finally come to an understanding and it was still nice to see them finally allied toward a common purpose although neither seem to understand what will actually be involved in transferring the power of the Wraithborn from Melanie to Valin.

Brijit is sadly absent from the pages of this issue, but the monster that she created in Issue 4 does show up and wreaks some serious havoc. It was a lot of fun seeing Valin and Melanie battle with him. The struggle provided some much needed psychical conflict that's been lacking from the last couple of issues and was an impressive set piece in it's own right. There's also a tease at some action sequences to come featuring Kiara. Zoe and her grandmother do play an important part of the beginning and ending of this installment, but their roles are much smaller than they were last time and they're largely absent from the conflict that's taking place.

Most of this issue is centered around the action, but there are plenty of plot points to look forward to seeing concluded in the final issue. I do still worry that things will feel a bit rushed as the story wraps up, but I'm excited to see how it all comes together. If there's one piece that feels particularly disappointing, it's on the side of Kiara. They call to attention a physical scar that she has in this issue that hadn't been brought up at all previously. It just felt like a strange time to introduce a new plot point especially given how little I really understand about her character. Hopefully, her story will get some good closure in the next issue.

Reviewed on 1/18/17
Issue # 6
4/5 Endings and beginnings

All of the players come out for the action-packed finale to this six-issue series. Melanie has been taken by Birjit's forces and is held captive in her lair. It turns out that basically every major character in the story is after the power of the Wraithborn. This leads to a crazy final battle where Valin and Kiara clash with Brijit's unholy army. The pages are teeming with violent and dramatic action shots that do a great job at showing off exactly what each mystical warrior can do. Even Melanie gets in on the action before the issue ends and we finally get to see that Brijit's lovely assistants can do more than just stand around in shiny lingerie. 

On the more plot-centric side of things, there is quite a bit more revealed about Brijit. She's been a wonderful and mysterious main villain since she first appeared, but details about her powers and how she came into this world as well as what her true purpose is are revealed. It was really rewarding to finally get some of these unanswered questions about her addressed. Her relationship with her two minions also made a lot more sense and I was glad that they turned out to be a little more than obedient, half-naked, disciples. 

Where things take a disappointing turn is where the ending is  concerned. The story just kind of glosses over a pretty substantial and rather interesting plot point. The conflict with Brijit and her army DOES come to a satisfying close, but there's the not-so-small detail about how Valin and Kiara want the power of the Wraithborn for themselves but may or may not realize that they'd need to kill Melanie to get it. There's a time jump that addresses the fact that things don't go well once they reach the temple and we already know that Melanie becomes the Wraithborn warrior since we saw her in action at the start of the series. This took a lot of surprise out of the last few panels of the issue and I found myself wondering what the fates of Valin and Kiara were. I also would have loved a little more about Melanie as the bad-ass warrior that we were introduced to. While this was an exciting issue, it ultimately left me wanting more from the series as a whole. I just wished that the story didn't end here since the ending felt far more like a beginning of other plot points. 

Reviewed on 1/28/17
Conclusions
Overall, I'd say I enjoyed this series quite a bit. The art is breathtakingly detailed and the concept feels pretty unique. The characters are all quite interesting although most of them never get the development that they really deserve. The main arch surrounding Brijit was compelling and ended on a satisfying note, but some of the other story elements fell flat for me. The process of Melanie's coming to power felt far too slow when time could have been spent fleshing out some of the less mundane aspects of the story. Ultimately, not enough room is left at the end to explore one of the more interesting story points and what becomes of most of the supporting cast is entirely left up to the reader's imagination (though there's nothing much to really go on). While the fact that this was such a short lived series is one of the things that initially led me to picking it up, I feel like it really could have used a couple more issues. Two to four more installments certainly would not have made getting into it a more daunting proposition for me and I think the ending could have been more complete if they had just extended the story that extra little bit. It's still more than a worthwhile read though, especially if you're a casual fan of comics like me and aren't keen on the large, complex comic universes that fans of Marvel/DC enjoy. Really, it's even worth the read for just the visuals alone. 

Overall, I'd rate the series at a 4/5. It's a high-quality work of graphic fiction that does have some disappointing drawbacks, but still makes for an enjoyable read.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

UPDATE: 2017 BOOKISH GOALS

2017 is a year that I hope to be focus on content creation. This includes stepping up my efforts in the original fiction I create as well as trying to write more regular (or at least more consistent) posts. Here are some of the goals I'm looking to achieve in this new year. 

READING:
Unfortunately, I failed to meet my 2016 goal of reading 30 books, making it to only 25. I had a very hectic year both personally and professionally and since there's no sign of things really slowing down, I've decided to set my 2017 goal as 15 books, but if I start off strong, I will increase that to 20.

Though I'm reducing my reading objectives, I would actually like to release posts a little more consistently, even if that means doing more review roundups of comics or posts on shorter fiction.

To start, I will be reviewing:


The remaining two issues of WRAITHBORN REDUX
I've been loving this series so far so I'm excited to see how the series ends and finish my roundup of the six individual issues. 


DESCENDER VOLUME 2: MACHINE MOON 
After reading the first volume, I was officially obsessed with this series. As soon as 2017 rolled around, I decided I wouldn't let another month go by without seeing what this next installment had to offer. 


WRITING:


THE VOIDWALKER NOVELLAS
 2016 saw the release of the first two entries in a series of eight short paranormal suspense novellas (pictured above). I've fallen a bit behind on where I'd like to be with the rest of the series, so I'll be aiming to get the remaining six installments out by the end of the year if possible.


FLASH FICTION
I have one more flash fiction piece that's very nearly complete. If I do nothing else with flash fiction this year, I will at least be releasing this third story.

OTHER PROJECTS
I'd like to be able to release an anthology of short stories. This effort is already partially started, but I only want to complete the project if I can do so without significant impact on my work with THE VOIDWALKER NOVELLAS.

I've also been wanting to do a comic of some time for a while now. I read a lot of graphic novels in 2016 and have experimented with a couple of different comics I could create either as a web-comic or an actual retail release. While I have no definitive goal for 2017 as far as this is concerned, I would still like to have something out by the end of the year, even if it is a very humble first stab at things.