Monthly Archives: February 2014

Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Viva Las Buffy!” by Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Cliff Richards & Paul Lee

Title: Viva Las Buffy!/Dawn And Hoopy The Bear
Writers: Scott Lobdell & Fabian Nicieza/Paul Lee
Artist: Cliff Richards/Paul Lee
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1998 Dark Horse Series, Issues #51-55)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2003

Like I mentioned in a previous review, my wife and I are watching through Buffy The Vampire Slayer for the first time. Since this is me we’re talking about, I of course had to go out and track down the tie-in comics to go with the show, despite their questionable canonical status…. (I decided to include the one-off issue Dawn And Hoopy The Bear in this review because it fits better with this arc than with the next, and isn’t included with either in the individual TPBs)(EDIT: I was misinformed. It actually is included with Slayer, Interrupted. My bad….)

This particular comic is set between the The Origin/the original screenplay* and the start of the TV series. As we open, Buffy’s in trouble. Her Watcher is dead, her parents are fighting, everyone thinks she’s a nutcase, and to top it off, there’s still slaying to be done. Even without a Watcher to guide her, Buffy hits the streets nightly with Pike to try and keep LA’s bloodsucker population down to a manageable level…and to get out of the house, where her unexplainable antics as the Slayer are proving a great excuse for her parents to fight on an ever-increasing basis. As much to escape this environment as because she feels it’s her duty, Buffy convinces Pike to run away with her to Las Vegas in pursuit of a lead on a nasty nest of vampires. Angel follows, watching Buffy’s back from the shadows unseen. In England, Giles faces a bit more than standard “office politics” in his efforts to be chosen as Buffy’s next Watcher. Meanwhile, little sister Dawn intercepts a stuffed doll intended for Buffy that is far more than it seems, and finds Buffy’s diary…

My reactions to this comic were a little bit mixed. It was well-written, all the characters that I knew sounded and acted like themselves, and it was nice to go back and fill in some of the gaps in the story. This particular installment provided some much-needed closure to the character of Pike, given the fact that he and Buffy are dating at the end of The Origin/the movie but he’s nowhere to be seen once the show starts. So writing-wise, kudos. The art for Viva Las Buffy, however, was just OK. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as good as I’m used to seeing from Dark Horse. Buffy looked like Buffy, but the rest of the characters weren’t usually recognizable by their appearance as compared to the show (though my unfamiliarity with Pike from anything that wasn’t this comic series did help a bit on that count. He at least looked better than in The Origin.)** A minor complaint, I suppose, but one that pulled down my enjoyment slightly. I also hated the cover to the collection, so I rebelled and used the cover to one of the individual issues for this review. In Dawn And Hoopy The Bear, on the other hand, everyone (who appeared, so basically just Buffy’s mom now that I think of it) actually looked recognizably like their characters.

Despite being official Buffy merchandise, this particularly Dark Horse series isn’t usually considered to be technically canon by fans unless Whedon himself was involved in a particular book, but they try to at least not contradict the series if they can help it. My philosophy is to consider it canon unless it directly contradicts the show, and even there years of reading Star Wars stuff that can be partially retconned at any time has given me a certain…flexibility with regards to how I regard multi-media series. For example, at one point in his own show Angel apparently makes a comment about only having turned one particular person after having his soul returned to him. In this book (and prior to making this statement,) he’s forced to turn another. I integrate this by pointing out that just because a character says something it doesn’t make it true (“Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” Really?) and pretending that there’s no conflict. If that doesn’t work for you, find your own rationalization. The parallel universe theory is popular with fans of this series, I hear….Another note, not a contradiction (well, kind of, but…it’s complicated) is that this book does feature Dawn Summers in a small role. If you’re reading this prior to watching the show, you may get confused since Buffy is an only child until late in the series. I’ll let you watch the show to figure out how that all goes down, but just be aware of it here.

If you want to read this, there’s the TPB collection I linked to on Goodreads. That should give you the information you need to track it down. However, that reprint doesn’t include the Dawn And Hoopy The Bear story. (EDIT: It’s included in the next TPB, actually.) Alternatively, like The Origin, Viva Las Buffy and Dawn And Hoopy are both included in Volume I of Dark Horse’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus collection.

CONTENT: No profanity. A fair bit of violence, mostly non-bloody since Buffyverse vampires disappear in a cloud of dust when they die. No explicit sexual content, but this is Vegas and they make Buffy wear a fairly skimpy outfit for her cover job as a coat-check girl at the casino. There are vampires, obviously, as well as a bit of occult magic being worked by the Watchers vying to be assigned to Buffy.

*Long story. Check out the linked review for the details there.
**Granted, doing a comic using the likeness of a real person can be challenging, but I’ve seen it done really well by Dark Horse before, so this was a bit of a disappointment.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Comics/Graphic Novels, Reviews

Review: “Codex Born” by Jim C. Hines

Title: Codex Born
Author: Jim C. Hines
Series: Magic Ex Libris #2
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: DAW, 2013

As you may remember, a couple months ago I finally got around to reading Libriomancer, the first book in Jim C. Hines excellent Magic Ex Libris series. Well, my inter-library loan request finally came through, and I got to read the sequel! Believe it or not, it was even better than the first one. Given that this is a sequel, the review here will almost certainly contain spoilers in some form or another for the first book, so if you haven’t read it, go fix that and then come back! Okay? Good, just so we’re clear.

Life is good for Isaac Vainio. He should have known it couldn’t last….After having the crap beat out of him and nearly dying in his efforts to head off a war, Isaac has been reinstated as a field agent and Porter researcher. Specifically, he’s tasked with searching out the origins of the Devourers, mysterious entities attempting to rip their way into this reality. Along with his side project, trying to figure out how a teenage girl is able to work magic with her e-reader, this project is put on hold when more pressing matters rear their head–someone managed to take down a Wendigo, torturing and skinning it before it was allowed to die. This incident is making a number of the other magical creatures in the area, mainly werewolves, nervous for obvious reasons. What he discovers causes him to question everything he has been told about the history of the organization he serves, and it seems that the killer has a very personal interest in Isaac–or more accurately, in Lena, his dryad girlfriend. It would also seem that the Devourers have found some new friends….

So, you know how The Dresden Files had that long run where important things happened, sure, but the status quo stayed more or less the same? And then Jim Butcher spent every book since drop-kicking the status quo all over the map? Yeah, Jim C. Hines just goes directly to the “screw-status-quo” place. Everything you think you know about where this is headed, everything Isaac thinks he knows about the world and magic, it’s all subject to change. Hines isn’t afraid to leave you scratching your head wondering what will happen next, how in the world the next book is going to shape up or what his long-term plans are, and the more Isaac learns about the history of the Porters and Gutenberg, the less he’s convinced that theirs is the side of the angels. I really like Isaac’s character…he’s as big a geek as I am, and that’s saying something! Anyone who read the previous installment and were fascinated with Lena’s character gets a special treat in this one, since every chapter is prefaced with a snippet of Lena telling her story. I very much look forward to continuing this series….

CONTENT: Brief strong language, somewhat more plentiful milder profanity. A fair amount of sexual content, sometimes fairly explicit, mostly tied up with exploring Lena’s character and the implications of her fictional properties. Quite a bit of violence, including some torture. There’s magic, but I wouldn’t qualify it as occult content. Very much fantasy-based.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Novels, Reviews

Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Origin” by Joss Whedon, Daniel Brereton, Christopher Golden, & Joe Bennet

Title: Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Origin
Creator/Original Screenplay: Joss Whedon
Adapted by: Daniel Brereton & Christopher Golden
Artist: Joe Bennet
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Miniseries)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 1999

So, my wife and I have been watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer recently. We’re basically on a Joss Whedon kick, to be honest, but that’s not a problem by any means! Aside from all the premature cancellation going on, at least…. Anyway, you may or may not know that before the show there was a movie. Whedon wrote the screenplay, but there were a lot of changes made during the production process that he felt detracted from the overall quality and tone of the work. When he got the chance to revisit that universe with the show, he wrote the pilot as a sequel to his original screenplay, not what eventually made it to the screen, which rendered the show inconsistent with what had come before. For example, the repeated comments that Buffy burned down her old school–in the film, it didn’t burn down. So in an effort to present to fans Whedon’s original vision, Dark Horse comics commissioned a three-issue miniseries based on Whedon’s original screenplay, using the likenesses of the characters as they appear in the show. The result mostly pleased Whedon, who declared that while he still had a few issues with it, he was glad that fans could now see his original vision for the story. For some reason, he also went out of his way to insult Donald Sutherland, who played Merrick in the film. Not sure why–I haven’t seen the movie, but Donald Sutherland is an incredible actor. Possibly just because his take on the character was so different from what Whedon had conceived….Anyway, moving on.

For Buffy Summers, life couldn’t be more normal. She’s on the cheerleading squad, she’s helping plan the fall dance, and is dating the captain of the Basketball team. Sure, she’s been having strange dreams about fighting vampires in different eras throughout history, but that’s normal…right? Then some guy shows up claiming that she’s The Slayer, the one girl empowered to fight the forces of Darkness and defend the world from the vampires and demons that lurk in the shadows. Needless to say, this somewhat puts a crimp in her social calendar….

My first contact with the Buffyverse was actually the novelization of the film, so I was somewhat familiar with this story when I started the show. Still, that was years ago and, as I mentioned above, not totally consistent with Whedon’s vision. So from that perspective, it was nice to see how it all was supposed to get started. The writing was good, not sure how much of that was Whedon and how much was Brereton and Golden. We actually got a flashback to one of these scenes recently in the show (by which I mean the end of Season 2), and I was pleased to see it was nearly word for word both places. The art was…serviceable. Not as good as I’ve come to expect from Dark Horse, but good enough that it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book. Buffy did actually look like Sarah Michelle Gellar, so that was well done at least.

If you’re interested in reading this, you can either track down the TPB collection or just grab the first volume of Dark Horse’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer omnibus collections.

CONTENT: Vampire violence consistent with the show, with people getting bit and vampires getting staked. Not too gory, since Buffyverse vampires disintegrate into a cloud of dust when they die. No language, though Lothos uses rude language which is censored (it gets stylized “b—-,” if you must know). Sexual innuendos, including Buffy finding her ex-boyfriend in the backseat of a car with another girl, being begged to “make her a woman.” There are vampires, which debatably counts as occult content. Normally I would say they don’t, but the way vampirism in the Buffyverse works is that when you are turned your soul is replaced with a demon, so….

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Comics/Graphic Novels, Reviews

Review: “Fables–1001 Nights Of Snowfall” by Bill Willingham

Title: 1001 Nights Of Snowfall
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Various
Series: Fables (Standalone Graphic Novel)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: DC Comics, 2006

I know I’ve touted Bill Willingham’s Fables series before, but I’m doing it again. 1001 Nights Of Snowfall is a standalone graphic novel set long before the main Fables series, in which Snow White travels to the Arabian Homelands in an effort to enlist their aid against the Adversary. As you may be able to guess from the title, she ends up entertaining the Sultan night after night with tales of the Homelands and the origins of the various characters we’ve grown to know and love over the course of the main series. Each tale is illustrated by a different artist, for a patchwork effect that I thought was awesome. Some I liked better than others, of course, but that’s simply a matter of taste and style. You would probably pick different favorites. Some of these tales are tragic, some are hilarious, some are both in turns, but every tale here will tug on your heartstrings one way or the other. So come, get to know your favorite characters a little better, from King Cole to Frau Totenkinder and all stops in between….

CONTENT: The language is a little toned down here from the rest of the series. The violence and sexual content, on the other hand, are not. Several of the stories contain bloody violence, another several contain nudity or sexual content of some kind, and several more are fairly disturbing. The rape and murder of Prince Ambrose “Flycatcher’s” wife and daughters, for example, or Frau Totenkinder’s backstory. (Given that her name is literally “dead children” in German, you have to know it’s going to be disturbing….) There’s magic as well, though in a fairy tale setting, so I wouldn’t consider it to be objectionable on occult grounds.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comics/Graphic Novels, Reviews

Review: “The Guild Of The Cowry Catchers, Book I–Embers” by Abigail Hilton

Title: Embers
Author: Abigail Hilton
Series: The Guild Of The Cowry Catchers #1
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Pavonine Books, 2013

I have to say, I am very conflicted when it comes to this book. On the one hand, the writing was decent, especially considering it was free. I liked the main characters by the end, even the one you start the book hating by default because the protagonist does. The world was fairly well developed, and the worldbuilding exposition not too intrusive. The flipside of this? The world that was so well developed makes my skin crawl. I’ll get to that below. Also, I was under the impression that this was the first book in a series–as in, a complete story set within the larger context of the series arc. Instead, it’s a serial. There’s no resolution, just a slightly-more-final-than-usual chapter break with a vaguely ominous teaser for what happens next. I admire the business strategy, making the first part of the story free to get you hooked, but I’m still annoyed at having to shell out money if I want to find out what happens next. Will I? Not sure, honestly. Not for a while, at any rate. If it’s still bugging me in a month or so I might spring for it. Depends on my book-buying budget. (This is not to slam serials, just to vent slightly because what I got was not what I expected. My fault, not the author’s.) All that said, I would recommend giving this a look. This first installment is free from Amazon in the illustrated version, and the illustrations are undeniably beautiful. They lost something on my B&W Kindle, of course, so my future purchases will probably be the cheaper unillustrated collection. I did go back and look at the illustrations on my computer in color, but they’re not worth the extra money to me. They might be to you….

The islands of Wefrivain thrive on inequality and division. They are populated by humanoid shelts (think the fauns and satyrs of mythology, but with more variety in their non-human half) and unified only by the heavy-handed wyvern cult that has rooted out and persecuted all other religious expression. The dominant species are the Grishnards, griffin-shelts, with other panauns (shelts with paws instead of hooves) living as second-class citizens. The various species of fauns (hoofed shelts) suffer a far worse fate, nearly wiped out on most of the islands save the one that is kept as a game preserve, and even there facing the constant threat of being hunted and eaten. Not surprisingly, there’s a spirited resistance group of pirates and other similar parties fighting to overturn the social order. Each of the varied islands is an isolated kingdom, beholden and answering only to wyverns and their ageless High Priestess.

Gerard Holovar is the High Priestess’ newest Captain of the Police, promoted from the ranks of the Temple Watch navy after a particularly spectacular capture of a pirate vessel. Gerard is tasked with finding and destroying Sky Town, the rumored headquarters of the resistance, but for that he will need the help of Silveo Lamire, his former commander who has tried to kill him on multiple occasions…..

As I said above, I’m conflicted on this one. In the plus column, the world was pretty well fleshed out and seemed pretty real given it’s premise. I even have to grant that the parts that creep me out make a fair amount of sense, given the animal-based biology of the characters and society. But…it’s so disturbing! Now, the characters in the story are humanoid descendants of carnivorous and herbivorous beasts respectively, so the dynamic remains unchanged from ages past. I get that, really I do. But any story where sentient beings are being eaten by other sentient beings just gives me the heebie-jeebies. I like Gerard, really I do. Against my better judgement, I was even growing fond of Silveo by the end of the book. But the fact remains that Gerard and Silveo are working to preserve the horrific status quo. I like them, but I can’t help hoping they fail in their quest to track down Sky Town. I suspect that this is deliberate, and my issues on this count will be resolved in later installments….

CONTENT: I don’t recall there being any profanity worth mentioning. There is a fair amount of violence, sometimes disturbing given the whole eating-each-other thing. There is also some sexual content, not too explicit this time but I gather that it gets more so in later books.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Novels, Reviews