Thursday, December 27, 2018

REVIEW: DESCENDER VOLUME 5: RISE OF THE ROBOTS

Image result for descender volume 5 rise of the robotsWar erupts as humes fall and robots rise...

The fifth entry in this series keeps with the momentum that's re-established in VOLUME 4. The war between flesh and metal officially kicks off and there'll be no turning back.

HOW I RATED IT 
5/5 High quality art, high octane pacing, and some fulfilling payoffs make this one of the strongest volumes in DESCENDER to date. 

CHARACTERS
Tim-21, Telsa, Quon, Andy, Eff, Driller, and the rest of the gang are back as Psius pulls the final strings to send the universe into chaos. As with before, perspective jumps around to the different parties: with Telsa and Quon struggling against the unhinged Tim-22, Tim-21 trying to escape Psius's ship to rescue them, Driller exploring a strange planet with his new friend, and Andy, Eff, and co. brought aboard Nagoki's flagship. It was cool to finally see Telsa's stern father in action as fleet commander as well as rewarding to have a brutal confrontation with Tim-22. I also enjoyed the emotional roller coaster that Andy has to go through as the world as he knows it shifts around beneath him. 

Related imageWORLD/SETTING 
Much of the story takes place upon various starships, but there's a generous amount of alien scenery to enjoy as well. One planet of particular note is Noch, the planet that Driller and his friend traverse through. This one will be of special interest to fans not only because of how it serves as the backdrop to some character development for Driller, but also because it introduces magic to this universe. It's home to goblins that hurl spirit bombs which turn their victims into more spirit bombs as well as vampires that make their home beneath sinkholes, waiting to devour any unlucky enough to fall through. Though this planet is only featured for one full issue, there seems to be a lot of potential that it introduces, perhaps something that's being saved for after the Harvesters - assuming there is something to come after their arrival. There are also some interesting developments beneath the surface of Mata, but to say any more there would be approaching spoiler territory.

PLOT/TONE 
Image result for descender volume 5 rise of the robotsAs I mentioned before, the plot progresses very nicely and rapidly. Things have all begun to come together, but there's also much more to come. This volume lays down some hints at what some of the secrets might be regarding Tim-21's connection to the Harvesters, Psius's full intentions for living beings, and what makes Mata so central to everything. Driller's issue feels like sort of a stray side-story, but I imagine that it's setting up some important things to come as well. Chaos is the ruling force now and from here to the finish line, it will be a desperate race to stop the destruction of organic life. Readers are left with some cliffhangers on that front, but that will just make diving into the sixth installment all the more enjoyable.

ARTWORK
Everything from the subtleties in Tim-21's facial expressions to the watery depths of Mata and Driller's violent encounter with a goblin camp is rendered as lovingly as ever with the watercolor-esque style that the series has become well known for. 

CONCLUSION 
If you've been with the series up until now, this will have some of the important payoffs you've been waiting for. It does an excellent job at depicting the early stages of the organic/synthetic war while also teeing up whatever grand finale to the conflict the creators have in store. I found myself engrossed in everything going on here and I'm eager to see what comes next. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

REVIEW: THE FINAL EMPIRE (MISTBORN #1)

41586421Of metals and men...

As a big fan of Sanderson's short fiction, it was high time I dove into one of the landmark series that put him on the map as one of the big names in Science Fiction and Fantasy. 

HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 With the minor (yet, for me, bothersome/distracting) gripe of how often passive verbiage is used (ex: had told vs. told), this is by far one of the most gripping fantasy novels I have ever read.  

WORLD/SETTING 
Normally, I start a review with the characters in the story, but in this case, the setting of MISTBORN is so monumentally important that it deserves to come first (an impressive feat even for an author that's well known for his world building skills). Part of what helps here is that there is no major exposition dump and while the inner workings of the world are intricate, nothing is so complex that it distracts from the events within it. The core premise is that this is a world where a chosen one went to do battle with a daunting force for evil. While it seems that the hero may have "won" against the threat known only as "The Deepness" he also appears to have become a dictatorial villain in his own right. The resulting society is one where the noble houses hold lavish parties and conspire against each other while the "ska" slave away beneath their rule.It's also one where the grass was literally greener in the days that came before The Lord Ruler's regime. Ash falls from the sky like rain and the sight of vegetation that isn't brown or grey is a marvelous thing to the people of this age. The economy is based upon the trade of goods and there's a delightful magic system based upon different metals that certain people known as Mistings (more common and able to "burn" one metal) or Mistborn (very rare, typically born of high nobility, and able to make use of all of the metals). It's a fascinating place steeped in rich lore that I imagine will require me reading the full trilogy to fully understand. 


CHARACTERS

Equally as layered and nuanced as the world are the various characters who live within it. The story primarily stars the charismatic Kelsier, a Mistborn with rebellion on his mind and revenge in his heart, as well as Vin, a thief who's grown up with some serious trust issues, but a solid head on her shoulders and sharp wits about her. The two take on a master-apprentice relationship and I found it endearing to see how they each help the other grow over time. There are some other great characters mixed in as well like the wise and loyal Sazed, the eccentric Elend, and Kelsier's ragtag team of Misting thief friends. Without dipping into spoiler territory, I'd just say that I was impressed by the amount of depth each character had as well as how much potential some of them have for the sequels. They all managed to feel familiar, relateably flawed, and none of them fit too comfortably in any pre-existing archetypes which made for some nice diversity in the cast as well as the sense that you never know exactly what they're going to do. The Lord Ruler himself also proves to be a very intriguing villain and I loved the short journal entries from The Hero of Ages that mark the beginning of each chapter which hint at the backstory for how a conscientious hero could become a brutal tyrant. 

PLOT/TONE 
While the setting of this novel is decidedly dreary, the overall tone of the narrative is actually quite hopeful and occasionally ponderous. Kelsier and his band of unlikely rebels take on the seemingly insurmountable task of bringing down The Final Empire. The early sections of the book divulge portions of Kelsier's crazy schemes while also setting up the rules of Allomancy, the story's magic system. Things do eventually start taking some dramatic turns that throw serious wrinkles and tears into the gang's carefully laid plans. The pace continues to intensify until the final moves are made and the fate of the heroes is determined. One thing worth particular note are the spectacularly detailed action sequences that are spread throughout the narrative that not only serve to keep things high-energy, but also give you a very tangible sense that danger lurks around every corner. 

CONCLUSION 
I'm not sure if I've ever read anything that packages a fully realized fictional world, complex characters, and a well-defined magic system together in such a way that it works so seamlessly with the main narrative. Usually one aspect shines while another is overshadowed, but that's not the case here at all and the end result is a fantastical adventure unlike any that I've enjoyed before. Although I did nitpick the writing itself above, I should be clear that it's very serviceable and Sanderson's distinctive literary voice is always a pleasure for me. Anyone who likes a good work of fantasy would be sorely missing out if they do not pick up this series. I'm fiercely looking forward to catching up on the rest of it myself.

REVIEW: MARVEL'S SPIDER-MAN: HOSTILE TAKEOVER

40071320Does whatever a Spider-Novel can...

Serving as a prequel to this year's highly anticipated MARVEL'S SPIDER-MAN, a game exclusive to the PS4 console, this little novel serves as much more than a pre-release cash grab. I actually picked this up after completing the main portion of the game and enjoyed reading through it while waiting for the DLC chapters to be released.  

HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 Although the prose itself lacks any sort of distinct style or flare, this tie-in not only manages to do justice to the characters that appear in the video game, but also introduce a couple that exist solely within this story as well as surprise readers with sudden twists and interesting turns. 

CHARACTERS
The titular Spider-Man and his alter ego, Peter Parker, are naturally the central duo of this narrative, but there are a number of other characters who get some quality time with readers as well. Mary Jane, and Wilson Fisk (A.K.A. Kingpin) get chapters dedicated to shaping their personal arcs while other characters like Aunt May, Norman Osborn, and Scorpion make notable appearances. Seemingly exclusive to this novel are new faces like Maya Lopez, an adopted daughter to Kingpin, Anika, a girl Peter works with who develops a crush for him, and someone who serves as an impostor Spider-Man. All of them are wonderfully represented with the sole exception of Harry Osborn, who players don't actually get to see really in the game as he's already departed for a trip to Europe. I'm sure Marvel tied the author's hands a bit when depicting this character so as not to spoil the surprise twist he's involved in during the game's after-credits scene, but given that this novel is both the first and (sort of) the last time we get to see this version of the character, I wanted his inclusion to have a little more impact, especially when he and Peter say their goodbyes to one another. 

WORLD/SETTING 
New York is just as vibrant and alive here as it is in the way it's depicted in-game. The story takes readers to all sorts of different corners of it from Fisk Tower to The Bar With No Name and a number of different restaurants that, real or fake, give you the distinctive sense that this is where Spider-Man and friends eat, sleep, and breathe. There's also a fantastic number of little side references and "easter eggs" scattered throughout such as mention of The Avengers Tower and reflections on various super-criminals that Spider-Man knows. Different parts of it are explored through the different characters which gives you this sense that it's so much larger and perhaps more important than any one of them. 

PLOT/TONE 
What surprised me the most is how this story proved to be so faithful to the experience players have in-game, while also serving as something wholly it's own. The writing captures everything from the kinetic fighting style of Spider-Man to how important his in-mask cell phone is to how he interacts with the people in his life. I also loved the way perspective shifted around from character to character, much like how players will sometimes take control of one of Peter's friends for brief sequences in the game. It all just works without ever feeling like you're reading some cheesy description of what you'd see on a TV screen. Fortunately, the meat of the story is just as well done with information about the Spider-Man impostor slowly divulged, the rivalry between Osborn and Fisk brewing to a boil, Spider-Man's relationship with Officer Yuri Wantanabe being established, and turning what could have become a very tropey love triangle into something quite unexpected. The ending doesn't pack the same emotional punch as the game's narrative does, but there are still some great twists and high-energy moments that give it a proper finale even if the bigger conflict with taking down Fisk is saved for the opening chapter of the game.

CONCLUSION 
If you either have played, or plan to play MARVEL'S SPIDER-MAN for the PS4 then this is a very worthy and (at the time of writing this) cheap book to pick up. The writing is about as mass-market as it gets which did bother me a little, but I was impressed by the overall tone and how the narrative defied some of my expectations. It's a worthy enough Spider-Man story even if you aren't into games, but it is important to be aware that the full resolution to the Spider-Man vs. Kingpin narrative is saved for people playing the game.

REVIEW: THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE (WINTERNIGHT TRILOGY #1)

25489134Magic in the cold of winter...

Set in the unforgiving Russian landscape during a time where a newly established Russian-Catholic Church clashes with the mystical beliefs of yore, a young woman comes into her own as an unlikely hero. 


HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 Deeply creative, un-apologetically raw, and packed with unique cultural perspective, this pseudo fairy tale is sure to delight a wide range of readers.  

CHARACTERS
The story primarily focuses on Vasya, the young heroine of this tale, but the perspective will shift back and forth between other characters as well such as her father, stepmother, Dunya, her brother, Alyosha, and Father Konstantin who serves as one of the narrative's antagonists. Vasya is a bright and wild girl that has trouble fitting into a society where girls are expected to grow into polite, obedient, and loyal homemakers who bear lots of children for their husbands and keep their houses warm (something easier said than done in this landscape). None of that is for Vasya though, she was born different and she can see into a whole other world of demon-like creatures although she is blind to some of its inner workings. Her story is compelling at every turn and I also very much enjoyed the segments that explore the weight on her father's shoulders, Dunya's wisdom of the old ways, Alyosha's support of his sister, and the conflict that rages within her stepmother as well as Father Konstantin.

WORLD/SETTING 
This world is not one for the weak. The very landscape is filled with peril, not least of which is the searing cold that threatens to claim any that stay out in it too long. This landscape is made all the more dangerous by the deep lore that surrounds it. There's an unseen ecosystem of demovi - various ancient creatures that either help or hunt mankind. The land stands on the precipice of a major conflict that no one even knows is brewing, all while political machinations and religious agendas disrupt the normal day-to-day of the hardworking townsfolk. 

PLOT/TONE 
Despite the light and airy fairy tale whimsy that the story boasts, there's also an unmistakable gravity in every line of text. The odds could not be more against Vasya and her family as they contend with both very tangible and very mystical adversarial forces. Fortunately, things never get too grim for the events to be enjoyable and the likable cast of characters is probably part of what makes things feel so tense. One thing that fell a little flat for me here is the concept of consequence. The sins of Father Konstantin are very nicely (and respectfully) represented as he obsesses over the painting of his "icons" (holy images of God and the saints) in the name of glorifying The Lord when really he's attempting to glorify himself - a malpractice that costs both him and the townspeople dearly. My issue is more in the fact that an equal weight is not given to Vasya's interactions with the demovi and Morozko, lord of winter. She dabbles in very dangerous forces, some of which that are beyond her ability to control, and while the climactic final battle is definitely intense, the perils of the mysticism she gets into are not really given as much attention as they deserve. Perhaps this is being saved for future entries in the trilogy, but for me this was one glaring omission.  

CONCLUSION 
THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE plays to the strengths of what people love about fairy tales without leaning too heavily on commonly known tropes or narrative patterns. It illustrates a beautifully grim world in which old demonic powers hold sway over the fate of its people and does a nice job in clearly defining the societal parameters - many of which have some basis in Russian history. The author also does a lovely job of transliterating Russian words/names into English in a way that feels both faithful to the spirit of them while also pleasing to an American reader. While it does feel a little too anti-establishment at times, it's clear that a lot of love and care went into this story, the world it's told in, and the characters that readers meet. This one really is a must-have for anyone who might enjoy a sort of fairy tale that's a little more grown up and I'll certainly be continuing with the series. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

MINI REVIEW: ALL SYSTEMS RED (THE MURDERBOT CHRONICLES #1)

327589014/5 An enjoyable, albeit brief science fiction romp that keeps readers guessing as to what comes next. 

The story follows a part-human but mostly robot service bot that offers support to his team of specialists on their outpost. The story spends a bit of time developing the different members of their crew and their relationships with each other. As this is happening, the Murderbot, as he calls himself (though the team doesn't know he's killed people), is also fleshed out. It seems he's somehow broken through his security protocols which has led to him keeping some entertaining secrets. He has an affinity for downloading and streaming media, often binge-consuming it while on the job (definitely a violation in his code). We also get some insight into how estranged he feels from human interaction. There are even some funny moments where he's purposefully awkward so that he can avoid prolonged conversation with his crew. 

Things take a turn for the more dire when other stations begin to experience violent activity. The gang finds themselves tangled up in the mysterious conflict raging around them and tensions rise as Murderbot has to choose between keeping he secrets to protect himself or exposing them in favor of protecting his crew. The tension of not knowing exactly what they're up against for most of the story a well how the characters bond during these events is really what makes this a worthwhile read. There's also some interesting world building at play even though the physical scope of things is mostly confined to the the desolate planet that they're stationed on. I imagine that this is one area that the series will aim to expand upon in future installments. The one thing that didn't work quite as well with me was the ending. It's definitely a little surprising and nicely sets up future adventures, but I kind of wanted it to go a different way which slightly soured it for me. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this quick, intriguing read and I'll probably be continuing with the series to see what happens next to the Murderbot. 

REVIEW: INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR FIVE VOLUME 3

All Hail Superman...

The thrilling prequel comic to the INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US video game concludes with the third volume of the fifth and final year which reminds readers that although the series has enjoyed plenty of spectacle, it's always really been about the characters. 

HOW I RATED IT 

5/5 While not as sweepingly spectacular as previous volumes, this one still has plenty of action that propels the story forward those final few steps to where players found things at the start of the game. 

CHARACTERS

Related imageBatman and Superman again take their place at center stage. The tension between them continues to be the main staple of the series and it's as good as it's ever been here. Damien Wayne has some great development as he descends even further into darkness while Catwoman comes to Superman, vouching for Batman's life. Harley Quinn completes her transformation into Harleen - a persona that is both a return to who she was before The Joker as well as someone brand new. I've also felt that Batwoman and Batgirl have been underused to date so it was great to see them get a little more time in the spotlight along with Hawkman and Hawkgirl who have also played comparatively minor roles.

WORLD/SETTING 

The Regime is in power, but it's not yet exactly the way players found it. It undergoes some awesome changes that are also of great narrative significance. The quarantine of Wayne Manor, the appropriation of Arkham Asylum, and the decontamination/reconstruction of Metropolis all serve as reminders that the writers not only have a great deal of love for the characters, but also the places they call home. 


Related imagePLOT/TONE 

Batman and his allies make one last play at taking down Superman - one that won't be fully enacted until the events of the game. The good news for those who are only really interested in the comic, is that the INJUSTICE:GROUND ZEROES comics covers the events of the game. In the case of either audience, the story answers a lot of the open questions about how Harley Quinn gets her own army, what was involved with pulling in the heroes from the main DC world, and what became of Hawkman after his heartbreak in a previous volume.

ARTWORK

The art - by this point known as being high-quality - ends on a strong note with great attention to the detail. Some of the costumes that members of the Regime and Insurgency factions are wearing in the game even make their debut here which I loved. 

CONCLUSION 

All in all, INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US YEAR 5 VOLUME 3 is packed with a satisfying series of events that ties the comic back to it's source material and fans won't want to miss it. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

UDATE: GOT SANDERSON?

For the month of February, I decided to dive into two of Sanderson's shorter works of fiction: FIRSTBORN, a short story/"novelette" about the officer of a space fleet, and SNAPSHOT, a futuristic detective story where the main characters are the only "real" people in the whole world.

For my thoughts on each of them, just click the images below:

   




REVIEW: SNAPSHOT

This isn't CSI...


INTRODUCTION 
Detective dramas are nothing overly special to anyone who's a fan of contemporary novels, television, or film. Shows like CSI have formularized this kind of story to an extent where it sometimes feels like the genre that's all about mystery has very few surprises left to share. Brandon Sanderson takes some of these expectations and tropes and plays with them in some interesting ways in his novella, SNAPSHOT.

HOW I RATED IT 
5/5 Part cop drama, part science fiction, and arguably part speculative fiction as well, this piece of short fiction makes the most out of it's bizarre concept and toys with some interesting ideas about life and how our choices affect it.

CHARACTERS
Detectives Davis and Chaz are the only real people in a simulated world where all of the people and events of a particular day play out just the way they would have in real life unless the detectives create "deviations" through actions that they take which would not have occurred during the day that they're reviewing. Their mission is to solve crimes by visiting where it happened, when it happened. Although this sounds strange and exciting, like THE MATRIX with detectives, the story humorously depicts how the job is actually pretty boring for these two. "Snapshot duty" isn't really viewed as real police work since the crimes have already happened and the real detectives have already figured out who probably did it along with where and when the crime took place. All that's left for Chaz and Davis to do is show up and perform preordained tasks like bearing witness to the crime, or following a murderer to see where they dumped the murder weapon. The only thing they really need to worry about is making sure their presence within the events of that day does not trigger deviations which lead to events turning out different than they did in real life. I found the banter between them to be both funny and useful for understanding the way these Snapshots work without having a tech-heavy exposition dump. I also enjoyed the way it's slowly revealed how each of these men found themselves stationed as a Snapshot detective and how those pasts played into who they are in the present tense of the story. Davis's arch felt especially rewarding though I would maintain that they are both main characters as is the case with a lot of detective serials. 

WORLD/SETTING 
The world of the Snapshot is definitely weird. Virtual realities and such may not be groundbreaking, but I can honestly say that I've never read one of those kinds of stories where the "virtual" world is actually comprised of physical matter. Every person Davis and Chaz meets is sort of a clone of their real-world counterpart, everything they touch is actually there, and everything they eat provides very real sustenance to them. It's a bizarre twist on this type of a setting that builds up to some dark implications when it's revealed that the detectives must "shut it down" at the end of each day. Sanderson explores these through Davis as his perception of reality grows murkier with each passing moment. It's a fascinating world that is mercifully unhindered by explaining the finer points of how the snapshots work or even building out complex politics. It all feels very relateable in spite of it's pseudo time travel  strangeness and while it does require some suspension of disbelief, the landscape starts to take solid shape shortly after the story begins. 

PLOT/TONE 
At it's core, Snapshot is a story about two detectives cracking a high-stakes case. They find a lead on a dangerous serial killer they're not supposed to know about and can't resist the prospect of seizing the chance to find something out about them that will help end their reign of terror. Along the way is some funny social commentary, excellent character development (especially when it comes to Davis), and plenty of mystery and suspense to fill the pages. Somewhere along the line, readers will get a sense that this is not quite like the sort of detective stories they've grown accustomed to. There's this foreboding sense that something is just not what it seems (even for a world like this one), but the ending still managed to sneak up and surprise me in some awesome ways. If there's one thing this story does right, it's setting firm, albeit predictable expectations and then dashing them in the most unexpected way possible. 

CONCLUSION 
If you're just in the market for a good, fun read then this one is probably an instant winner. The characters are great, the world is intriguingly dark, and the sinister twists the story takes make for an explosive ending. I feel like this one could appeal to a pretty wide audience and I'm quite pleased that I randomly stumbled upon it and gave it a chance.

MINI REVIEW: FIRSTBORN

5/5 A little bit of STAR TREK, a little bit of ENDER'S GAME, and some GAME OF THRONES style politics thrown in for good measure makes for a short story that's entertaining, bright, and to the point.

Technically this would be categorized as a "novelette" (a story that is about 15,000-20,000 words in length), but I've always had a hard time recognizing this category of fiction just because it really feels like a longer short story whereas a novella distinctively sits between a story and a full novel. For all intensive purposes, what you really need to know is that this is a very brief read which is great if you're like me and try to balance reading time against a very busy schedule. There's a fair bit of substance packed  into this smaller package which I've found to be a trademark of Sanderson's shorter works of fiction which keeps me coming back for more. 

The story stars a young officer named Dennison who, in spite of how hard he studies the arts of war, can never slip out from the towering shadow of his older brother, Varion who has single-handedly managed to conquer the vast majority of non-imperial space. In contrast to Varion's stellar reputation and monumental successes, Dennison fails at just about everything he tries. I found it interesting to be thrown into a world where the hero of the story is so incompetent at what he's setting out to do. More interesting is how instantly likable and relateable of a character he is in spite of his perpetual inability to succeed. He's fully self-aware of all of his shortcomings and finds himself always beneath the pressures of his father (a High Admiral), his fellow officers, and even the Emperor himself. The familial drama is really what stands out here though. It's something new for me in terms of other things I've read by Sanderson and I loved how he pushes it out to an almost STAR WARS esque level of larger-than-life tension. There are also a couple of really nice twists which feel extra special given how they are unwoven in such a small space. 

This little gem is not something that should be missed by any fan of science fiction. It has basically everything you could want in a story and manages to even work in some surprises here and there. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

REVIEW: REDISCOVER JESUS: AN INVITATION

Though religion is not a huge part of this blog, it does have a significant spot in my life. Like many trying to live a life of faith, I often find myself stumbling along the path I'd like to walk. It's easy to forget the basics and loose perspective on the things that should matter most to me. The world is a noisy place with lots of noisy people who want to impose their values upon you which can make things hard for Christians (really people of any faith). This is why I picked up REDISCOVER JESUS: AN INVITATION by Matthew Kelly. I'm not a huge connoisseur of faith-based self-help or even theology books, but they gave free copies of this one out at church so I took the invitation.

5/5 Short, simple, and frankly, not too preachy or pretentious, this honest and earnest examination of how to reground yourself in your faith was well worth the first as well as future readthroughs.



BEST AUDIENCE(S)

This book is definitely targeted towards people who are already actively trying to live out a life of faith or at least had some introduction to Christianity at one point. That's not to say those simply curious about it can't benefit from reading this, it's just not explicitly written to sell you on why you should believe in the Christian doctrine.


THE GOOD 

Matthew Kelly addresses the many pitfalls that people tend to fall into while living out a Christian life. There are lots of little mistakes that we all make that might not be sins, but do hurt our relationship with God. He handles it all with a light hand, never seeming judgmental or self-righteous about the points he makes. A lot of this is probably because its all worded in a way makes it feel like he is speaking from experience. Each chapter is very brief and ends with an organized list of things to add to your daily prayer/reflection. There's a lot of power in how simple it all is, not only because this makes the book more accessible, but also because it often feels like things are very complex and confusing when in truth not everything has to be.

THE BAD

There's really not any drawbacks I felt this book had. I know no book is ever perfect, but honestly,this one sets a clear mission at the onset, takes  it one one step at a time, with each chapter carefully building upon the last, and accomplishes the main goal in a way that doesn't come off as pretentious. At the end of the day, I couldn't have asked anything more than that.

CONCLUSION

While most Christians probably don't feel any immediate need to revitalize their faith, I think many will find themselves surprised by how much they could be doing better. I went in hoping it would provide a host of valuable insights and found myself still surprised by just how far I have to go in my spiritual journey. There's plenty to chew on here, a couple of different ways you can consume the books contents (a chapter a day, blow through it one sitting, etc.), and the author is modest and encouraging as he breaks down the things a good Christian should do to better themselves and strengthen their beliefs.

REVIEW: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO DRAWING COMICS

As someone who enjoys drawing a great deal, I am always looking for ways to improve my current skills as well as to pick up new ones or just expand the styles I feel comfortable working with. A good learn-to-draw book can be far more useful than any art class, but they can also be very difficult to find. Some are too fancy, others too specific, and some just don't actually contain any great step-by-step guides for how to do what you're trying to do. 

4/5 While not truly all-encompassing, and sometimes a little inconsistent in the tutorial sections, this how-to guide does cover a variety of comic book styles and serves as both a great starting point for those learning to draw cool characters, vehicles, and scenes as well as a valuable reference for those who are simply trying improve upon the skills they've already started to develop. 

BEST AUDIENCE(S)


This book can definitely service two different types of artists-in-training:

(1) Beginners

Each section contains a number of great step-by-step tutorials that walk through how to create characters, vehicles, and scenes. If you follow along from start to finish, you will gradually accumulate a basic understanding of anatomy and posing, creature design, vehicle drawing, coloring, and composition of different types of images. It's not all encompassing, and is quite light on environment/background design, but there's a lot here to get your study of comic art off the ground. 

(2) Intermediate to advanced artists

There aren't really any advanced techniques shared here or even anything all that spectacular in the way of character design. As someone who's been drawing for a while, but am by no means an expert, the real value in this book is revisiting some of the fundamentals for comic art and taking the chance to re-evaluate your artistic workflow. For me, I was most interested in the fact that this book covers five different genres/styles: Super Hero, Sci Fi, Fantasy, Manga, and Horror. I've been trying to diversify what I can do a bit, and this is serving as a great reference for me. 

THE GOOD 

I've already mentioned this a couple of times, but the best thing about this book really is that it covers so many styles and comic art concepts. It also does a fantastic job of ordering it all in such a way that covering so much ground doesn't feel overwhelming. The basics of anatomy and posing along with line work, coloring, and shading are introduced in the Super Hero section. It wraps up with showing how you can compose a basic action scene. These concepts are continually reinforced throughout the book, but each section introduces a few new ones. The Sci Fi section brings in more complicated costume design, vehicles, aliens, and machines along with a tutorial for creating a comic book cover. Fantasy incorporates weapons and the importance of how those influence posing. It also details how to handle different types of non-human anatomy and pulls in some special effects as well as some perspective work. Manga shows off the more stylized and brightly colored art form that comes from Japan. This section retreads some of what's already been covered, but from a different lens. The Horror section covers more of what you might think of when it comes to actually composing a comic book. Visual storytelling, heavier lighting, and a greater emphasis on facial expression. By the end of it all, you'd have to basically be a comics veteran not to have picked up something new for your artist toolbox and if your coming in brand new, you would have learned to draw lots of different characters, pose them, compose them into a scene, color it, and light it to your needs. You'll have just about everything you need to create a simple comic of your own or just create some neat stills. Another great thing is that the artists featured didn't really demo anything too extravagant. Most of the art looks pretty simple and I don't mean that in a condescending way at all, it's actually very positive. All of it looks professionally done, but it's not so good that it's discouraging to look at while you're following along - I've had this issue with other learn-to draw-books. I think this was a smart publishing decision that will probably just make this that much more valuable of a purchase for those looking to learn from it.

THE BAD

While the tutorials are all very accessible to follow along with regardless of your skill level, there are some inconsistencies between steps in some of the more complicated walkthroughs that anyone will probably find confusing/distracting/annoying. There's nothing so drastic that it will ruin the whole experience of that exercise, but it happens at least three times which just feels a little sloppy and the text never calls out the design changes which feels like a missed opportunity to explain how your vision for a piece can change over time. The writing also indicates that all of the inking and coloring is done via physical medium, but I felt like most of that was actually done digitally. It's all just a little too clean unless they are using some high-end supplies and even if they really were just using markers and pens, it would have been nice to have them call out exactly what their process was for those later stages in the tutorials. 

CONCLUSION

This isn't a perfect production, but it's by far one of the most helpful learn-to-draw books I've ever picked up in spite of some of it's shortcomings. The annotations are generally very helpful and the tutorials are handled well enough that most will be able to create something pretty close to what the artists have demoed. Going forward, I will continue to use it as a reference for different things and there are some posing and workflow tricks I will be using in my future work. Whether you're looking to get started in the world of comic art, hoping to sharpen your current skills, or just add some new artistic tools to your toolbox, this one is definitely worth picking up.

UPDATE: SELF-HELP JANUARY

Depending on how you look at it, January is either famous or infamous for being a month in which everyone wants to set a resolution to do something they are not doing today. While I don't want to put that down, I usually prefer to simply improve upon something that I am already doing or get back into something I've been away from for a little while. This reflects itself in my reading choices for January, which hone in on two very different areas of self-improvement. 

The first is THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO DRAWING COMICS which I picked up because I can never really get enough drawing resources. 


The second is Matthew Kelly's REDISCOVER JESUS: AN INVITATION which was given out as a gift to anyone interested at the church I go to. It was an invitation that I didn't intend to pass up on. 


The selection may seem a bizzarely random, but my faith and my artistry are two things I take very seriously, yet somehow don't give as much attention to as I should. Perhaps I stick to changing that in the new year, but if not, I think I am still better for having read these books.