Sunday, April 30, 2017

UPDATE: MAY IS THE MONTH OF INJUSTICE



May 16th is when the blockbuster video game Injustice 2, a fighting game developed by Netherrealm Studios, will be released. I played and loved the first game, Injustice: Gods Among Us, so I am very excited for this sequel to be released. One particularly awesome part of the first game was it's wild story featuring a world governed by Superman, Earth's most powerful hero, now it's most dangerous dictator. 

To complement this aspect of the product, a comic book series started and has expanded quite a bit since it's inception. These comics tell the story the bridges the five year time gap between the game's shocking opening scene and where the majority of the narrative takes place. I've already read and reviewed the first three volumes, but in preparation for the release of Injustice 2, I thought it might be fun to try to read through the rest of it since I was able to pick up many of the digital volumes at a discounted price. I will also attempt to read and review the Injustice 2 prequel comics, but since those are still actively being released issue by issue, I can't promise how many of those I will get to (or how many will be available even). 

UPDATE: I've now read and reviewed all of the currently available volumes of INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US. I had a blast reading through these and I hope others take the time to give this series a chance because it's really great. Here are all the reviews I have to date:

Reviewed on 6/3/15

Reviewed on 6/28/15

Reviewed on 10/8/16

Reviewed on 5/1/17
Reviewed on 5/4/17


Reviewed on 5/6/17

Reviewed on 5/8/17

Now that I've read through all of this here is what I have next:

  • INJUSTICE YEAR FIVE VOLUME 3 comes out later this June. I'm not sure if this is the actual finale to this series or not, but I'm definitely looking forward to it either way. 
  • I've been enjoying the new INJUSTICE 2 comic so I think I'll continue to follow that as new issues get released. 
  • Enjoying the game
  • There's a ton of other stuff outside of this series that I'm of course dying to get to so while the rest of INJUSTICE is still being worked on, I'll be moving onto other things
I didn't read through the GROUND ZEROES comic line which is a rehashing of Injustice 1's story except through the perspective of Harley Quinn. While that's definitely a neat idea, those looking to just catch up on the first game's narrative, can also just watch a Youtube Video that collects the game's many cut-scenes like the one below by CG Movie Trailer which does a nice job of mixing in little bits of gameplay to make the transitions from scene to scene less awkward. Or of course, you can also catch up on the story by playing the game itself which is fantastic. I replayed the story mode myself to get myself ready for the sequel.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

UPDATE: GRAVITAS CHAPTER 4

Kanso wrestles with his fears as he prepares to face his boss Fredryko and accept punishment for not completing the job on time. Along the way, he meets a bitter rival, and a dear ally.




Thursday, April 20, 2017

REVIEW ROUNDUP: THE FOREVERS

INTRODUCTION 

THE FOREVERS is an odd series I discovered while wandering around a local comic book shop. The strange art style and mysterious premise grabbed me as well as the fact that the series is pretty new. It's probably a little outside of my usual comfort zone as far as language and overall mood are concerned,but I'm giving the series a chance in the hopes that I've found something different and special.

Issue # 1
4/5 Everyone wants to be famous...



Right off the bat, this issue slams it's readers with strange and striking imagery. It quickly flaunts a sort of hazy realism in it's art style and a wastes no time in establishing it's dark and depressing tone. The overall premise is that this friend group gets together and seemingly casts some kind of spell, referred to only as "The Ritual." The idea is that all of them will become famous as a result, but none of them really know what comes after that. As magical pacts go, there is always a catch and that is where the story picks up. The primary character in this story appears to be Jaime. He's a rough-around-the-edges rock star who while not past his prime, does seem to be a little washed up. He's slipped pretty deep into substance abuse and even deeper into self-pity. The issue delves into his toxic relationship with Kate Sage, one of the seven involved in The Ritual. Overall, things are pretty bleak, and they don't get much brighter when the story shifts focus over to Daisy Cates, another one of the seven. Things do take an interesting turn though when it is revealed that someone is out to kill these former friends and current superstars. One of the seven dies a fairly gruesome death, apparently at the hand of someone they know. This sets up future issues to be far more interesting as the group will likely discover that their fame has consequences beyond the fact that it has led some of them to self-destructive tendencies. Bronson Pierce is introduced at the very end and it feels like he's been expecting something like this to happen. After going through this moody first chapter, I definitely felt intrigued to move forward. The art alone is pretty compelling and I'm hoping that the series dives a little deeper into the dark mysticism that it's introduced.



PLEASE NOTE: Going forward, the reviews of each installment will have spoilers for those that came before.

Issue # 2
3/5 Someone is on the hunt...

This issue picks up right where the last left off. Jaime is in rough shape after his wild attack on a fellow rock star, a stunt that soils his public opinion and sullies his comeback performance that night. Immediately, I found the way the panels cut between two different scenes simultaneously to be kind of jarring. The art does it's best to reflect the different sequences happening in unison by changing the colors and lighting, but I still didn't care for this more hectic approach to the page composition. Sure the way they did the first one was a little weird too, but I found myself having to stop just to try to get my bearings on who was doing what and when. It doesn't help that the first couple pages do this with a scene from the past and the present, while the rest seem to be exclusively in the present tense. Weird visual storytelling techniques aside, I did still find this issue to be pretty good and I guess in a way, I liked that it had a confusing feel. The imagery gets weirder in spots and they definitely deepened the sense of magical realism that the first issue mostly hinted at. In the wake of Daisy's murder, Bronson is in full-on rich detective mode and even displays some kind of super strength when his own safety is threatened. An attempt on Kate's life brings Jaime back from his international rehab and I will say that it was pretty rewarding to see these two make up a little especially after their bitter parting in the first issue. The ending left me even more intrigued and will hopefully provide the story with some much needed focus now that the threat has been sufficiently established. I'm excited to see where things will go with this series and to find out who is hunting these characters.



Issue # 3
#/5 Coming soon...

Review to come...

Sunday, April 9, 2017

UPDATE: GRAVITAS BEGINS!



Gravitas is now at the point where I can say it's officially launched. The first four chapters are posted up along with several informational pages that give a little more info about the project, outline some key terms, and catalog the ever-growing cast. It's been a fair bit of work to get things off the ground and now the real work can begin. If you haven't checked it out yet, then please head on over now and see how things are shaping up. I'll be hard at work adding new chapters all the time so be sure to keep checking back or subscribe by email if you enjoy the overall premise. 



Thursday, April 6, 2017

REVIEW: EVERY HEART A DOORWAY

Life after Wonderland...


INTRODUCTION 
What was life like for Alice when she returned from her adventure down the rabbit hole? That's the main theme that EVERY HEART A DOORWAY explores. I first heard about this short novel from the Booktube SFF Readalongs on Goodreads. I went in without knowing much about it, but did find the concept intriguing.

HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 This quick read does a nice job of exploring it's core concepts though the more fantastical elements are not as prominent as they should have been and I have mixed feelings about the ending. Overall, though this was a fun and enjoyable read.


CHARACTERS
The story primarily follows Nancy, a girl who's just returned from a world of darkness and death, but also one of magic and beauty. She finds herself at a boarding school, thinking that it is meant for treating youths with mental illnesses when it's actually a school meant to service kids who made trips into fantastical worlds and have been returned to their own world for one reason or another. In Nancy's case, she served the Lord of the Dead and loved to be in his court. Before she could pursue further aspirations within it, he told her she would need to prove her dedication and loyalty to him in her own world. She meets other students and learns about all of the different types of worlds a young person could wander into. Some are candy-colored whimsical wonderlands, some are highly ordered fairy lands, and a few are dark underworlds. It was a lot of fun to see her learn to interact with others having both very similar yet also different experiences as her. The cast is pretty varied and extremely weird. The author does a nice job of conveying all the different types of trauma that these characters have experienced while also offering valid reasons for why they would want to return to whichever magical realm they'd wandered into. Even though the story is pretty short, I felt like I got to know them all pretty well thanks to how wonderfully their distinct quirks are written. The one thing that did bother me a little is that I had a hard time picturing what one of the characters looked like. At one point in the story I thought he was a boy mistaken for a girl at childhood, but then it sounded more like he might actually be transgender. The SJWs of the world would probably jump down my throat saying it shouldn't matter, but I'm a very visual person so I found my inability to reliably picture his appearance to be distracting.


WORLD/SETTING 
This world is all about travelling to unknown lands, but the story itself is primarily set in the mundane world that we all call home. While this fits nicely into the overall theme of the narrative, it's also a shame that the more fantastic realms are never really explored. What little descriptions that are provided of these more magical places is all done well and it honestly was impressive how the author could paint so clear a picture with so few words, but I still couldn't help but want to explore this aspect of the universe a little more or at least that more of the mystical crossed over into the mundane. All that said, the school in which most of the action takes place is a pretty interesting location. It reminded me a little bit of Xavier's School for Extraordinary Children from the X-MEN franchise. There's science equipment in the basement, books in the attic, an assortment of classrooms, and even a large tree in the yard. The charm of this place does help make up for the lack of magical worlds that are explored and the fact that the students bring a little bit of those worlds back with them is also cool. Nancy has her ability to become eerily still, one character can animate bones with a flute only audible to the dead, and another brings her scientific prowess back with her. This idea that the normal world will never again be wholly normal for these people was a neat concept to explore and I liked how it created the perception that even the "normal" world isn't quite as dull as you'd expect. 

PLOT/TONE 
There's a certain whimsy that marks the style of the writing. It helps keep even some of the darker contents feeling a little more lighthearted. That said, there are some very dark places that this story goes to. Sex and sexuality, death, secrets, abandonment, and rejection are all explored in great detail and the author doesn't really pull any punches. About a third of the way through the story, students start dying at the hand of one very sadistic murderer. This gives a little more focus to the narrative, but fortunately it doesn't fall into the classic who-done-it formula. The mystery just kind of unravels itself as the characters reactively deal with the consequences of the murders rather than proactively trying to solve them. I thought it was a pretty interesting approach to a murder mystery and I liked that I was actually surprised by the outcome of who the killer turned out to be. I thought for sure it was going to be one character for the majority of the book, lamenting in being able to predict the outcome so early on, only to have my theory be crushed. In hindsight, there were clues which might have tipped me off and that made the final reveal all the more satisfying. It was also great how the killers motivations tied back to some of the central themes of the story itself. Overall, I think this is a story that really earns its darkness and makes good use of it to craft a compelling ending. All of that said, I did hope that the resolution would take a different direction than it did, but I think there will be plenty of people who actually do enjoy how Nancy's story ends. 

CONCLUSION 
This is one of those rare reads that probably won't totally blow your mind, but it will feel delightfully original in the ways that matter. There are a few pretty interesting concepts which get explored, some quirky characters to fall for, and a good murder mystery that swoops in to help carry the story forward to the end. If you're looking for a quick read that's a little different from what you'd normally find in the science fiction and fantasy genres, then this one is definitely worth a look.


If you're looking for more thoughts and opinions on this work, you can always check it out on Goodreads.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

REVIEW: MONSTRESS VOLUME 1: AWAKENING

A hunger born of darkness...


INTRODUCTION 
I'd seen and heard a little about MONSTRESS, but it wasn't until this graphic novel made the shortlist for the Booktube SFF Awards (an annual reading group on Goodreads). I knew this one would be a little bit out there and that's partly why I'd never bothered to look into it too much, but based off of all the high praise that this comic was getting in the group, I felt compelled to buy it on Comixology and see if I would like it as much as others do.   

HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 While this definitely ventures a little outside of my comfort zone in terms of anime-ish weirdness and over-the-top gore, I did actually like this painstakingly detailed and intriguingly dark piece of graphic fiction. 

CHARACTERS
This is the one area in my opinion that I think the story actually falls a little bit flat. Don't get me wrong, I found all of the heroes and villains to be pretty interesting. The issue I have simply stems from the fact that I didn't feel particularly invested in any of them. I did find their goals and motivations to be compelling and there are a lot of bad-asses running around which is always fun, I just needed that little extra bit of humanity that wasn't there to really connect with them. Even Maika, who's the principal heroine of the story just felt a little cold and hard to relate to at times. This is definitely one of those harsh fantasy worlds where the people living in it have become rather callous. This made sense to me given the circumstances, but I'm the type of reader that needs at least one character to cling to, so there was something missing here for me. I did love how stylish everyone is from the pseudo-religious order of sexy witches to the grand army of the Dusk Court. All of them look wonderfully unique and I felt like their visuals added to their personalities in a significant way. I'll also say that I actually kind of liked some of the cutsier characters. Normally, I would find these characters to be impossibly irritating, but I think in this case they were actually the ones I liked the most.

WORLD/SETTING 
The dystopian semi-steampunk high fantasy world of MONSTRESS is by far one of the best things that the series has going for it. Humans and non-humans have a sort of cold war going on after the fallout of a battle at a place called Constantine. The various non-humans are viewed as monsters and the order of witches that serve as the primary antagonists of the story have no qualms about committing horrible acts of cruelty upon even the most benign of them. I was a little confused by some of the origins of how these non-humans came to be. There are references to having "ancient" blood but it's a little unclear to me as to exactly what that means and whether all of the different creatures descend from the same god-like beings that seemingly no longer wander the world. There's also some confusion around what exactly the towering phantoms are and what kind of creature inhabits Maika's body. All of this weird mysticism and interracial conflict is complimented nicely by a sprawling world that is breathtakingly rendered by some stunning artwork. Towering cities, creepy laboratories, dark forests, and soulscapes are just a  few of the exotic locations this story visits and all of them felt equally interesting which is quite an achievement for any work of epic fantasy. 

PLOT/TONE 
One thing to know about this graphic novel is that it is incredibly dark and morbidly violent. People are beaten, maimed, murdered, and sometimes resurrected in horrific ways that are sure to disturb more than a few people. A lot of it probably isn't totally out of the realm of what an avid anime fan is used to, but for those like me who really aren't all that much into anime at all, some of the imagery will probably rub you the wrong way. I found the story and characters compelling enough where this never deterred me from wanting to continue, but I also could have gone without some of the more detailed depictions of graphic violence. There's also a pretty deep psychological brand of horror that the story explores. They don't call this series "Monstress" for nothing. It turns out that Maika suffers from a deep and disturbing hunger that she can't control, the likes of which threaten to drag her down into the darkness. I found her symbiotic relationship with the monster living within her to be pretty tense at times. It's pulled off in an interesting way and by the end of the volume I found myself very curious as to where this theme will go. 

ARTWORK 
There's not much to say about this aspect of the volume other than that it is some of the best and most consistent comic artwork that I've ever seen. Everything, the characters, the backdrops, the landscapes, and the props, are all intricate and vibrantly colored. The style is definitely at least a little reminiscent of anime-type art, but it's also very detailed and the lighting is very well done. 

CONCLUSION 
If you can stomach the more gruesome bits and tolerate some of the inherent strangeness, then this graphic novel can be a pretty enjoyable and wild ride. The art in and of itself make giving this a read more than worth it, but I think the story is pretty worthwhile as well. There's just a lot that this series has going for it and it would be a shame for anyone not to give it a good look.

If you want more info and/or reviews on MONSTRESS VOLUME 1: AWAKENING, then be sure to check it out on Goodreads.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

UPDATE: NEW REVIEWS AND THE BOOKTUBE SFF READALONG

The Booktube SFF Awards Read-alongs are back this year. Due to a few different reasons, I've been finding it hard to keep up with them this time, but I did read entries in the Graphic Novel and Short Fiction categories from their March Read-along. The reviews for those will be coming shortly. If you haven't heard of this group yet, then you should definitely check them out, they read a lot of awesome books and I've discovered some thing that I would have missed otherwise. 

Here are the reviews that will be coming out this week:

 MONSTRESS VOLUME 1: AWAKENING
http://www.dbbooksandreviews.com/2017/04/review-monstress-volume-1-awakening.html

EVERY HEART A DOORWAY
(Review Coming)


I have also already read and reviewed DESCENDER VOLUME 2: MACHINE MOON, the Graphic Novel in the April reading list and I'd definitely recommend checking it out.


BOOK TALK: ONE HUNDRED PAGES FOR READY PLAYER ONE

It's not often that I've found myself in a place where I just couldn't bring myself to finish a book. Normally, I can trudge on and sometimes do enjoy the way things turn out, but such was not the case with READY PLAYER ONE. This is a book that is widely beloved and I have heard high praise about from a lot of people I know well and respect. So you can imagine my surprise, when I dove in at last to this book and found that I actually just didn't like it at all. In fact, I made it a little further than one hundred pages before calling it quits and just getting to that point took me a while even with skimming. Now, since I did not finish, I am not going to write a formal review, nor will I give this a rating since I'm not sure how ethical that is really. Instead, I'll just share my admittedly unpopular thoughts on why this book vexed me so much and why I decided to stop reading it.

1. Alls The Pop Cultures

Don't get me wrong, I love a pop culture reference as much as the next person. They can express a connection you're probably already making in your head or perhaps catch  you off guard. But this is only when they are well done and well placed, not to mention, carefully selected. My fundamental problem with READY PLAYER ONE is that it's basically "Pop Culture Reference: The Novel: 80's Edition." It's too much and honestly, a few of the "references" are so extravagant, that I'm am genuinely shocked that this novel never came under fire for copyright infringement. It's not sampling from things like Grim's Fairy Tales or other public domain works, these are fairly recent pieces of media and they are pretty extensively borrowed from, especially on the side of the gaming world. To be honest, this seemed to be all the novel really had to offer me. It's like an extended sharing of one's love for different nerdy things and I've frankly had more interesting nerd-talks with friends both in person and online.

2. You Can Trust Me As a Reader

I may be a nerd, but I'm not socially inept. When a character is described as having a particular facial expression, I don't then a need a follow-up sentence to tell me how they're feeling. I also don't need to be reminded about the same things over and over again. This is by far the most repetitive and distrustful writing I have ever come across and in the one hundred something pages I read, there was no sign of this improving. The classic "show don't tell" rule is something that every writing class ever will teach young writers. It's also something that's fairly difficult to overcome, but as a reader, I guess I just find it personally offensive to have this one fundamental principal so flagrantly disobeyed. Does this kind of thing happen from time to time in other works of popular fiction? Yes, of course it does, as someone who's tried his hand at writing, I do appreciate the tendency to want to tell rather than show, but this is a professionally published piece of fiction and it's very distracting to me that writing basics are so carelessly ignored here.

3. Why?
At the end of the day we read fiction to feel something, right? We want to be invested in the characters, engrossed in the story, and captivated by the world. In the case of this book, I simply didn't care about anything or anyone. I've played enough MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) where the idea of a virtual reality world wasn't all that novel to me and I was bummed that nothing particularly interesting was done with this setting aside from having the real-world public school system live inside of it. When I passed one hundred pages, I just didn't have a reason "why" I would want to continue.


Parting Thoughts
So ultimately I'm setting this down. Now, if you've made it to this part of the post, you might be fuming over how many criticisms I have for this story and/or wondering why I bothered to write all of this. While this probably seems like an angry rant, it actually isn't for the most part. I do find myself disappointed that this book has received so much praise as I think there are just a lot of books out there with better writing and a lot more intrigue. I also share my thoughts/opinions because I've learned some things about myself as a reader. Namely, I think the one hundred page rule is garbage (if you haven't heard of this it's just a little piece of advice book lovers, especially teachers, will sometimes give that says to give a book 100 pages and put it down if it's still not gripping you). I knew right away that I would hate this book and I should never have spent as much time struggling through it as I did.

I am happy that many have made a good connection with this book, it's certainly always nice to see that happen even when I don't like it much myself. I also need to do a better job at understanding that different books will appeal to different people for different reasons. Most of the time, books I end up liking are ones that hook me right away. Books I don't love, tend to be a struggle from beginning to end. I think I've decided that hooking your readers is part of the artistry of writing, so from here on in, if I'm not feeling a story after the opening bit, then I'm probably going to move onto one of the many books that I'm still dying to get to. Reading should never feel like a chore and I think I sometimes make it that way for myself. So from here on in, no more bearing with things for the first hundred pages or so, I'll either be all in or all out.