Monthly Archives: December 2014

Review: “East Of West, Volume I: The Promise” by Jonathon Hickman & Nick Dragotta

Title: The Promise
Writer: Jonathon Hickman
Artist: Nick Dragotta
Series: East Of West (Volume I, issues #1-5)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Image, 2013

Apparently this was one of the hottest creator-owned books to come out last year, and I totally missed it. No longer! I was recently scanning the graphic novel/comics section at the local library for that eye-catching sticker designating new acquisitions for my greedy perusal, when I ran across this particular gem. Science-fiction-slash-Western, you say? Well, I doubt it can top Firefly, but I’ll give it a go. Alternate history? I like alternate history. I find alternate versions of any familiar world interesting, especially ours. The apocalypse? I love a good impending apocalypse. Probably why I watch both Sleepy Hollow and Constantine these days, among a slate of others. All of these factors together? That’s gotta be interesting….

The Four Horsemen walk the Earth, heralding the end of days. Surprisingly, however, they do not stand united….Following a staggering betrayal, Death stands opposed to his former comrades, and may just prove to be the only hope humanity has left. The forces against him are legion, including a cabal that would hasten the apocalypse, and he has few friends left standing. But one simple fact remains: eventually, Death comes to every man….

That synopsis really doesn’t do the book justice, of course. Half the fun here is slowly figuring out exactly what’s going on. That can be a little difficult at times, admittedly–the book does you no favors in terms of presenting backstory in a timely manner–but is well worth it nonetheless. It’s less alternate history than it is a future based on an alternate history, but that difference is somewhat academic. Now, what else can I say about this without spoiling it for you? It’s delightfully over-the-top, the product of numerous impulses that blend together to give a flavor that is sometimes Tarantino, sometimes Eastwood, often manga/anime/whatever-you-call-it, and always amazing. I can’t wait to read the next collection….

CONTENT: Profanity on a PG-13 level. Some brief sexual innuendo and non-sexual nudity (it’s a childbirth scene, in case you were wondering). Over-the-top, bloody violence. I’m not sure occult is the right word, but we’re dealing with the Four Horsemen here. I’m not sure what other word to use. Oh, and there are a couple Native American witches. I suppose that qualifies as well.

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Review: “Star Wars: Tarkin” by James Luceno

Title: Tarkin
Author: James Luceno
Series: Star Wars (Rebooted canon, though it would fit equally well with the Legends stuff)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2014

So, here’s the newest entry in the Star Wars publishing empire. This time we’re treated to a biography/character study of Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin, the man behind the Death Star. You don’t remember him? He was the guy in Star Wars: Episode IV–A New Hope that got to boss Vader around without getting choked, masterfully played by the inimitable Peter Cushing. Cheekbones like razor blades? Ringing a bell? If Vader is the Emperor’s crushing fist, Tarkin is his knife in the dark–deadly, precise, and without mercy.

It’s been five years since the end of the Clone Wars and the rise of the Emperor. For most of that time, Tarkin has been occupied shepherding the Emperor’s pet project: the as-yet-unnamed planet-sized mobile battle station. Keeping such a large construction project on-task and supplied is no mean feat, even for one of the Emperor’s most trusted lieutenants. Keeping it secret is next to impossible–anyone who’s paying attention knows something is going on out by Geonosis, they just don’t know what. Fortunately, most everyone with enough information to know what questions to ask knows better than to do the asking, and that’s the way Tarkin likes it. Once it’s operation, the mobile battle station will render the Empire’s rule unshakeable. Until then, the Empire’s infallibility can only be maintained by meeting any and all dissent with stiff, merciless reprisals. A new order has been born out of the chaos of the Old Republic, and Tarkin will do whatever he has to do to safeguard it and nurture it to maturity.

James Luceno is known for his incredibly detailed entries into the Star Wars mythos. Earlier endeavors chronicled the rise of Palpatine and his master in Darth Plagueis, somehow showing the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that led to basically every single Expanded Universe entry set during the period leading up to The Phantom Menace. He’s given us the biography of the Millennium Falcon (yes, you read that right). He’s given us Darth Vader adjusting to his new role in Dark Lord: The Rise Of Darth Vader. Some have criticized a few of his works as being slow at times, which I can see, but I’ve never minded–the attention to detail is worth it. Here, however, nobody has room to complain. Luceno weaves together a pair of compelling narratives, balancing them and always keeping you guessing as to where he’s going to go next. On the one hand, there’s Tarkin & Vader’s pursuit of a suspiciously-effective rebel cell. On the other hand, there’s Tarkin’s backstory, the events that forged him into the Emperor’s finest weapon.

Just as interesting as the new information it provides is the old information rehashed. Why? Because most of it comes from sources that are no longer officially canon. However, thanks to the shout-outs in Tarkin, we can unofficially assume that the events of Darth Plagueis, Dark Lord, and Cloak Of Deception all happened more or less as stated. The books themselves aren’t canon anymore (or at least I haven’t seen anything reinstating them), but the events therein contained still happened. Funny, all those books were written by Luceno….

CONTENT: PG-grade profanity. Some violence, occasionally disturbing in its ruthlessness. No sexual content.

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Review: “Rated R” by Mike Leon

Title: Rated R
Author: Mike Leon
Series: Kill, Kill, Kill
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Self published, 2014

So, I agreed to read and review this on a whim, based on the synopsis the author posted when he offered digital copies to members of one of the GoodReads communities I’m a part of. Normally I write my own synopsis, but since the official one plays such a prominent role in this review (because of the expectations it created), I’ve decided to use it instead this time. So see below:

Lily Hoffman is trouble. The teenage video clerk is deceptively intelligent, exceedingly beautiful, and boldly prepared to use what she has to get what she wants. She’s not a bad person, just the product of the horrors in her past—and those horrors are catching up with her.

Then she meets a stranger who changes everything. He shows no fear. He performs death-defying feats without hesitation. He kills with merciless indifference while growling out snarky one-liners. He is nothing short of the hard boiled action heroes in the movies Lily loves.

Of course, where there are larger-than-life heroes, there are larger-than-life villains, and the ones hunting Lily’s new friend are like nothing she has ever seen before: machine gun toting mercenaries, an invincible cannibal butcher, a ninja master, and a killer psychopath more bloodthirsty than death itself. As enemies close in from all sides, Lily’s life spirals into a catastrophe that is eerily similar to a big-budget Hollywood body-count movie. And this is one blockbuster she may not survive…

So. My expectations going into this book. Some of them turned out to be accurate–for example, I figured it would earn its title. Had I actually looked at the cover art (much easier to overlook when dealing with ebooks) this expectation would have been strengthened. Others…not so much. Based on that synopsis, I expected some sort of clever meta-fictional tale where one or more of the characters either come from blockbuster action movies or get pulled into said movies a la The Last Action Hero…or something clever like that. And I suppose this kind of works, since the book pretends to be written up as a screenplay, with setting notes at the start of each chapter and closing credits where Mike Leon does literally everything, even things that aren’t required for the production of a novel. But mostly we just have over-the-top action-movie characters existing in a world where that’s not normal. You know how you kind of accept certain things in action movies because there’s an understanding that the rules are different? Cars explode when shot, the character named Karl can be full-out hung with a mass of chains around his neck and still come charging out the building in the last two minutes ready to be gunned down for the last thrill of the film, and Jason shrugs off everything anyone ever throws at him just so the studio can make another crappy sequel. The rules are different. By and large, people in those movies aren’t surprised when it turns out that the ninja can deflect bullets with his sword, or at least don’t react by breaking the suspension of disbelief and comparing him to a movie character. Here, the characters embodying all those action movie stereotypes exist alongside-but-not-related-to the action movies from which the author ripped them. So, I was disappointed in that aspect. Oh, it was entertaining enough, I suppose, but not nearly as awesome as I had hoped. Someone with more accurate expectations would probably star it higher than I did. Also, to be fair, nothing in that synopsis was especially misleading. I apparently just read into it what I wanted to see. If you’re looking for over-the-top violence, sex and profanity, this might be for you. Me? I was hoping for something a little more interesting.

Apparently, despite not being an official series, everything Mike Leon writes features most of the same characters. Thus, this novel brings a number of plot threads from his earlier book Kill, Kill, Kill to a close. I’ve not read any of the others, but that didn’t really hinder the reading experience this time. Normally I would be compelled to hunt down the rest of the not-series, but I think this time I’ll pass.

CONTENT: As the title would indicate, there is strong, bloody violence throughout; explicit sexual content; and R-rated profanity.

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