Review: “Star Wars: Heir To The Jedi” by Kevin Hearne

Title: Heir To The Jedi
Author: Kevin Hearne
Series: Star Wars (Rebooted canon, though it would fit equally well with the Legends stuff)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2015

Who’s up for more adventures in that Galaxy Far, Far Away? I know I always am! Heir To The Jedi has the honor of being the first novel in the newly rebooted canon to feature one of the “main three” characters from the films, as Tarkin was focused on that stellar baddie and A New Dawn was busy setting up the Star Wars: Rebels television series. The funny thing is, this still fits perfectly well with the older canon, which isn’t surprising since it was ordered before the cut. In fact, it was originally supposed to close out the Empire And Rebellion so-called trilogy, now a duology with the omission of this volume. The series isn’t really hurt by this though–the stories bore no relation to each other, and were a trilogy only by virtue of theme: first-person narratives, each focusing on one of the “big three” characters. As far as I’m concerned, this can “count” for both universes, both the official one overseen by the Lucasfilm Story Group and the more tumultuous “Legends” canon that came before.

The Death Star has been destroyed, but the Empire lives on. Though they’ve bloodied the Empire’s nose, the Rebel Alliance finds itself in an extremely tenuous situation, on the run and strapped for cash. The Empire has them outnumbered and outgunned in nearly every way, leaving the Alliance desperate for any advantage they can muster. So when word comes that a brilliant cryptographer under Imperial “protection” would like to defect, they have little room to refuse. Luke hasn’t had much time to train with the Force–in fact, without Ben around to train him, he has absolutely no idea what he’s doing–but he’s still one of the best pilots in the Rebellion. Alongside Nakari Kelen, newly-recruited Rebel and a crack shot with her slugthrower, Luke is dispatched to an alien world to stage a rescue under the very nose of the Empire….

There are a lot of terms I could use to describe this particular adventure, but I think the best one to pick would be “fun.” Remember the sense of unadulterated adventure you felt watching the original films for the first time? That’s what you get with this book, minus the whining Luke does through most of the first movie. That callow youth who yearned for something, anything to take him away from the sun-scorched sands of Tatooine is gone, sobered by the loss of friends both new and old. In his place stands an awkward young man just beginning to understand his place in the galaxy, conscious of his connection to the mystical Force but unsure how to proceed with learning to tap into it. No longer the boy he was, not yet the man he will become, this is Luke Skywalker at a crossroads, and anything can happen next….Or, you know, not. Because while this is all new territory, it was conceived before the reboot came down. Even leaving that aside, we know what the status quo is at the beginning of Empire. The game isn’t going to be changed by this book. But that’s okay. There are still things to be learned here. We can watch Luke take his first solo steps towards realizing his fate as a Jedi, cringe at his awkwardness with the entire field of romance, and cry with him when that romance proves doomed.* For the first time, we can really get inside Luke’s head as he narrates the entire adventure in the first-person POV. And who knew? His internal dialogue is remarkably entertaining! Bottom line, this is Star Wars at its best, as you remember it. I heartily recommend picking this one up.

As for when this happens, the closest I can nail it down is “shortly after” Star Wars IV: A New Hope. I’d say at least a couple months later, probably not more than a year. It’s pretty vague.

CONTENT: Mild profanity, mostly fictional. I don’t actually recall any whatsoever, but there’s usually a little bit. Some violence, usually not too disturbing. Some flirting, but no real sexual content.

*That’s not a spoiler–Luke is single at the beginning of Empire, so any romance set before that is doomed….

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Review: “Dark Horse Presents #141: Buffy The Vampire Slayer” by Dan Brereton, Christopher Golden, Andi Watson, Joe Bennett, Hector Gomez, & David Perrin

Oh look! More Buffy. This is a special issue of the anthology comic Dark Horse Presents, focusing on Buffy and her friends. These three stories have apparently never been reprinted anywhere except Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume IV, so they may be hard to find….

Hello Moon
Written by Daniel Brereton & Christopher Golden
Art by Joe Bennett
Rating: *****
Synopsis:
Buffy cuts her patrol short for the night to go for a moonlight stroll on the beach. So of course she meets a fish monster and a quartet of vampires….
Review:
This was great across the board, if a little predictable in its resolution. The art was superb, though I think the vampire designs were a bit recycled from some earlier comics, be they Buffy or Blade….
Continuity: This is supposedly set during Buffy’s third season, but otherwise there’s no clue as to when it happens. I arbitrarily set it after S03E03: Faith, Hope & Trick.

Cursed
Written by Christopher Golden
Art by Hector Gomez
Rating: ****
Synopsis:
Buffy and Angel run into one of Angelus’ old comrades, causing Angel to flash back to just after his transformation as he stalks and kills his former best friend.
Review:
Aside from the fact that this is inconsistent with what we’ve seen in the show, this was actually really good. Gomez’s art still isn’t my favorite, but it didn’t bug me this time. And the story? It was good, an excellent exploration of Angel’s character and his own personal Hell. I only wish it was consistent with the rest of the details we know about the same period.
Continuity:
Like I said, this doesn’t fit. It’s supposed to happen sometime during Season 3 though.

Dead Love
Written by Andi Watson
Art by David Perrin
Rating: ***
Synopsis:
Buffy goes snooping for some light reading, and finds an account of one of Giles’ solo adventures.
Review:
Meh. It wasn’t bad, and the art was okay. I just wasn’t a huge fan. Just….mediocre I guess.
Continuity: Set sometime during Season 3. I arbitrarily stuck it after Revelations, mostly just to keep it out of the insanely-busy later part of the season.

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Review: “American Vampire, Volume VII” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, & Matias Bergara

Title: American Vampire, Volume VII
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque & Matias Bergara
Series: American Vampire (Volume VII, American Vampire: Second Cycle #1-5)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2015

Finally! American Vampire is back from hiatus, and my library got it in! As always, this review might spoil previous collections, so you might want to start from the beginning…. (Volume I/Volume II/Volume III/Volume IV/Volume V/Volume VI) You’ve been warned!

It’s now 1965, and in the ten years since Pearl Jones and Skinner Sweet last saw each other everything has changed. America is a different place, from the space race to a war half a world away. Pearl has converted her family farm to a safe haven for young and innocent vampires on the run from the real monsters, while Skinner spends his time on the southern border robbing smugglers and drug lords. It’s peaceful, comparatively speaking. Of course, it can’t last….The Gray Trader, the original vampire, the first link in the evolutionary chain that ends with Skinner and Pearl, is coming. He’s powerful. He’s evil personified. He may just be the Devil incarnate. What does he want? God only knows, and unfortunately he’s not all that chatty with our protagonists….Rounding out the collection is a flashback story featuring Gene Bunting as he tracks the myth of the Gray Trader in 1947, following clues left in the journal of a doomed miner working a claim digging its way to Hell.

Gotta say, this was definitely worth the wait. Whereas the previous entries in the series have been stellar, they were admittedly lacking in a cohesive, ongoing narrative that tied the different stories together. Not that I didn’t enjoy reading about the various adventures of our protagonists, those were great stories! But now it looks like we’ve got an overarching story to tie everything together. What’s more, it’s looking to be a doozy! Rafael Albuquerque’s art is stellar as usual, with his trademark style that fits this book so well. Newcomer to the series Matias Bergara also hands in a great bit of work on the backup tale. I can’t wait to see what happens next….

CONTENT: This isn’t for the kiddies! It’s a Vertigo book, so you’ve been warned. R-rated language. Strong, gory violence, as you would expect from such monstrous creatures as appear here. Pearl and Skinner are on the side of the angels, but they’re monsters nevertheless. Their opponents? They’re worse. Mild sexual references, plus a couple creepy bits of nudity in the sketches from the journal. Not too explicit, but there nevertheless. No occultic content; these vampires are purely physical.

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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Pale Reflections” by Andi Watson and Cliff Richards

Title: Pale Reflections
Writer: Andi Watson
Artist: Cliff Richards
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer #17-19)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

Here we go! The conclusion to the Bad Blood storyline began here and here. I have to say, despite a couple of rough patches in the middle there, it’s been a fun ride. It was mostly good to see the book get away from the “villain of the week” format and do a longer-running villain, even if it maybe stretched a bit in the middle unnecessarily. This conclusion, though, was absolutely top-notch. These three issues can be found collected either here or in Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume IV.

These three issues are titled as if they’re two separate stories, with the first two going under the title She’s No Lady and the last being entitled Old Friend, but that’s not really accurate. These three issues are clearly a single unit, and I’ll discuss them that way. The Scoobies have been tasked by Principal Snyder with preparing a float to represent the school during Mardi Gras, (Which apparently is also celebrated in Sunnydale? Who knew?) which is taking a good deal of time away from the search for the origin of the super-vamps. Meanwhile, Selke and her pet doctor have managed to magic together an evil doppelganger of Buffy. Yep, things are heading for a showdown….

On the whole, this was great. The writing was back on top, and mostly there were no loose threads left hanging around. Spike & Dru show up again at the very end, but I suspect that that’s a seed for a future story rather than sheer randomness. The art was likewise stellar, and I think Cliff Richards has finally hit his stride. Chronologically, this happens soon after the previous story/soon after Buffy S03E11: Gingerbread.

CONTENT: No profanity that I can recall. Vampire violence consistent with the Buffy television show. Some mild sexual innuendo…. Buffyverse vampires could be considered occultic due to their demonic nature, but it didn’t bug me.

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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Crash Test Demons” by Andi Watson & Cliff Richards

Title: Crash Test Demons
Writer: Andi Watson
Artist: Cliff Richards
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer #13-15)
Rating: **
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

The Buffy binge continues! This time we have the next three issues in the ongoing arc begun back in Bad BloodCrash Test Demons collects issues #13-15 of the ongoing Dark Horse series, which can also be found in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume IV.

We start out on a weird note in Love Sick Blues, with Cordelia deciding her image needs revamped and deciding to compete with Willow in the school’s “Quiz Bowl.” Yeah, you heard that right. Of course, to have a hope of succeeding Cordy’s going to need some supernatural help, and that comes with consequences….In the untitled following issue, things start to get serious as Buffy and Angel encounter several “super-vamps” that take a lot more killing than usual. Oh, and after Buffy saves his bacon, Todd (the creep from A Boy Named Sue) develops an unhealthy fascination with our favorite Slayer….Finally, Lost Highway sees Buffy attacked by a trio of super-vamps after a fortuitous (under the circumstances) hit-and-run. All the while, Selke and her pet doctor are trying to raise a new dark power in Sunnydale….

Meh. The art was great, with the briefly-confusing exception of a few moments where the super-vamp gang contains a member who looks just like Buffy. The writing though….not so great this time through. The first story was mostly okay, but the other two are plagued with unresolved subplots, like Spike & Dru showing up just long enough to work some mischief and (apparently, since they don’t appear again) disappear without so much as a how-you-do. The characters’ dialogue was all spot-on, but the plotting and pacing could use some work. I think they just tried to stretch this ongoing story a little too long, causing issues here in the middle of the tale. Timeline-wise, for lack of any other information this continues to follow the previous so many stories, in the slot between Buffy S03E10: Amends and Buffy S03E11: Gingerbread.

CONTENT: No profanity that I can recall. Vampire violence consistent with the Buffy television show. Some mild sexual innuendo…. Buffyverse vampires could be considered occultic due to their demonic nature, but it didn’t bug me.

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Review: “Insurgent” by Veronica Roth

Title: Insurgent
Author: Veronica Roth
Series: Divergent #2
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Katherine Tegen, 2012

I’ve decided I need to be more focused when I read a series. I’ve always tried to not binge, but that’s obviously not working–I never finish! So here we go. Insurgent! Plus, the movie’s coming soon, and I know I’m going to get pulled in to see that with my wife and/or my sister….can’t see it ’til you read it, after all….Oh, and since this is the second book in the trilogy, it’s bound to be a bit spoilery for the first novel. If you’ve not read the first one yet, you’ve been warned.

Insurgent picks up right where Divergent left off. The faction system is shattered, teetering on the brink of collapse due to the unprecedented attack led by Erudite against the Abnegation. Erudite stands powerful, maintaining a position of strength after seizing control of the city. Abnegation is almost nonexistent, most of its leaders and citizens slaughtered. Dauntless is fractured, split between those allied with Erudite and those in revolt, horrified at having been manipulated into committing genocide. Amity stands aloof, offering a safe haven for refugees of the attack, while Candor stands undecided. But there is a sixth group that no one has considered yet, and they may hold the key to everyone’s future in this troubled city. Can Tris and her friends trust the Factionless? And regardless of the answer to that question….do they really have a choice?

I stated before, in my review of Divergent, that I thought this trilogy was far superior to The Hunger Games for a variety of reasons. I still hold that opinion, and I don’t think it’s likely to change despite my sister’s allusions to her “ocean of tears” after finishing the last book. The writing continues to flow almost effortlessly from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, and while I’m admittedly unlikely to give these a second read-through (I only do that if I really like a book) I have to admit to an incredibly reluctance to stop reading once I’ve started. Tris is a bit less emotionally stable this time around, and I can see where some people get annoyed at that, but I think it’s only natural for the character. She just watched most of the people she grew up with get massacred, her parents both sacrificed themselves to save her (a sacrifice she feels deeply unworthy of), and she was forced to shoot one of her closest friends in the face when he tried to kill her while under simulation control. I think her emotional breakdown is warranted, and while I don’t like whinyness in a narrator, I think I would find her character less believable if she didn’t break down occasionally. And believably, overwhelmingly human characters is something that Ms. Roth does incredibly well. There are a couple characters who are just outright slime (Eric, for example), but most of the villains are operating from a desire to serve the greater good…as they see it, and regardless of the cost. That element in particular is highlighted in this book, as we get more insight into just what the heck went down to cause the Erudite coup. I’ll not get too lost in rambling, except to say that any lingering qualms I had about the premise of the trilogy after the first book (and there weren’t many) have been laid to rest.

CONTENT: Brief R-rated language (I think, I don’t actually remember any, but the first one had some….) Strong, occasionally gruesome violence and its aftermath. Mild sexual innuendo and flirting, but nothing too explicit.

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Review: “Hellboy Vol. V: Conqueror Worm” by Mike Mignola

Title: Hellboy Vol. V: Conqueror Worm
Writer & Artist: Mike Mignola
Series: Hellboy
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse, 2004

Yay! More Hellboy! Have I mentioned that my library is totally awesome? They got in another three or four volumes of the adventures of everyone’s favorite monster-fighting….er, monster. I’ve mentioned my affection for this rebellious demon before, here and here, and now there’s more to read! So without further ado, Conqueror Worm.

In the early days of WWII, while Rasputin was scheming to bring Hellboy to our world, Herman Von Klempt and some of his colleagues sought a more direct route to the apocalypse. There are non-corporeal beings living out among the stars, many of whom would love to end life across the universe if only given a body. The Nazis sent them one…a dead man, a hollow shell they could inhabit. Now that capsule is heading back to Earth, bearing with it the conqueror worm….

Not sure why, but this one just didn’t quite do it for me. I can’t put my finger on it–we’ve got Hellboy doing his thing, intergallactic Lovecraftian beasties, another appearance by Herman the Head-in-a-Jar, even an undead early superhero dispensing justice (though it’s never explained why he’s resurrected just at this point in time). What’s not to like? I don’t know. I enjoyed it, really I did, it just wasn’t quite as awesome as some of the other Hellboy stories I’ve read. It’s still a worthy addition to the series, and an important one too–we’re given a bit more insight into the Ogdru Jahad as well as those funky aliens we saw standing guard over their prison in the first volume. I look forward to seeing where Hellboy goes from here, especially since….well, that would be telling….

Content: Minor language, some stylized violence and gore. Little to no sexual content. A fair amount of occult content, however. In Hellboy’s world, everything supernatural would seem to exist in….well, not harmony, but a unified worldview. This includes the Christian God and the Devil as well as more Lovecraftian things such as the Ogdru Jahad. God and the Church have power, but there are other things abroad in the world that have power as well and were old long before Christ was born in his manger. Hellboy is brought to Earth from another plane–implied to be Hell–in a dark ritual performed by Grigori Rasputin. He later tries to use Hellboy as the focus of another ritual to free the Ogdru Jahad (similar to H.P. Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones) and bring an end to the world as we know it. One of the short tales implies that Hellboy himself is the son of the Devil and a mortal witch. Ghosts, vampires….the Beast of the Apocalypse…..

 

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