Monthly Archives: April 2015

Mini-Review: “Star Wars–Heist” by Timothy Zahn

Title: Heist
Author: Timothy Zahn
Artist: Brian Rood
Series: Star Wars (Legends canon)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Titan Magazines, 2012

Here’s another exclusive short story from the pages of Star Wars Insider magazine! This time, Timothy Zahn serves up a short tale introducing the twin con artists Bink and Tavia from his novel Scoundrels and novella Winner Lose All. So far as I know, the only place to find this tale is in the pages of Star Wars Insider issue #138, so if you decide to try and track it down I wish you luck getting your hands on it.

Everyone knows you don’t pull a heist on board a starliner–there’s a limited pool of suspects, and nowhere to run with the loot. It’s foolish, and incredibly risky. Unless, of course, your mark doesn’t realize he’s been robbed….

All in all, not a bad tale. Bink and Tavia are interesting characters, unsurprisingly since they’re Zahn creations, and Bink manages to keep a sense of humor to her internal dialogue that’s always welcome. The plot is a little elementary, as the magazine format doesn’t really allow for the convoluted plots that Zahn is known for, but solid nevertheless. Unless you’re familiar with the characters from the aforementioned tales, though, I can’t really see this holding a whole lot of interest for a newcomer to the franchise.

Like the previous stories it’s tied to, this story is part of the now-defunct Legends canon, set sometime in the couple years leading up to the destruction of the Death Star. The specific date is never given, though the Wookieepedia biographies of the characters place these events prior to either of the other two tales. Scoundrels was set soon after the events of A New Hope, so in the interest of spacing things out I placed Winner Lose All a year before that. Continuing that strategy, in the absence of other information I’m gonna say this is probably set about two years before the Battle of Yavin (BBY, for my fellow geeks).

CONTENT: No profanity or violence. Minor sexual innuendo and flirting.

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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Angel–The Hollower” by Christopher Golden & Hector Gomez

Title: Angel: The Hollower
Writer: Christopher Golden
Artist: Hector Gomez
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Angel miniseries)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

And so we come to Angel: The Hollower, Dark Horse’s first tale focused specially on everyone’s favorite vampire-with-a-soul. The Hollower was originally published as a three-issue miniseries, available either in its own collection or in Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume IV.

According the the mythology of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the process of conversion involves a person’s soul being banished from their body and replaced with a demon. The resulting creature retains the memories and some of the emotions of that person, but without any of the pity or morality that comes with having a soul–the original person you may have known is dead and gone, and the vampire left in their place would just love to eat your face. The demon is the only thing keeping the vampire’s dead body alive and moving, and were it to be destroyed or banished somehow the body would disappear in a cloud of dust just as effectively as if a certain spunky Slayer had rammed Mr. Pointy through their non-functioning heart.

Angel, however, is a special case. After becoming a vampire he cut a swath of destruction and cruelty across the world, taking a perverse joy in torturing his victims to their limits before feeding on them or turning them into vampires themselves. All that ended when a clan of gypsies laid a cruel curse on him in vengeance for his preying on one of their own–Angel’s human soul was returned to his body, existing alongside the demon in a constant struggle for control. Even more torturous, his conscience was returned along with his soul. For the past hundred years Angel has lived a solitary existence, attempting to atone for all the pain he has caused while never allowing himself a moment of perfect happiness lest the curse rear its ugly head once again and return him  to the soulless killer he once was….

As it turns out, besides the Slayer, vampires have only one natural predator: the Hollower, a tentacle beast that exists by sucking the demons from vampires and leaving their empty bodies to disappear in a puff of dust. Sounds like a potential ally, right? Guess again. Once it has ingested enough vampires, it spews forth those captive demons once again to inhabit whatever bodies they can find, forming an army of enslaved newly-turned vampires. Angel fought the thing once before, back before he was re-ensouled, and merely managed to chase it away to feed somewhere else. Now its shown up in Sunnydale, and Angel is forced to face the possibility that this could be his final redemption, his way to escape the demon forever….unless he plays the hero and kills it before it can possess the entire town, of course.

On the whole, this was an interesting tale. There were a few inconsistencies, such as Angel stating that he thought the Hollower destroyed forever, then in the flashback detailing their earlier encounter stating that it was only injured and would someday return, but oh well. Otherwise I enjoyed it, and I’m always happy to see Spike and Dru make an appearance. The good news is that Hector Gomez’s art was stellar this time around, from Buffy to Angel’s Errol Flynn ‘stache he sports in the flashbacks, everyone was definitely themselves. The dialogue was always spot-on, and I thought Golden and Gomez even managed to nail a number of the characters’ particular mannerisms. Timeline-wise, this is set soon after the sprawling Bad Blood arc (detailed here, here, and here), or in other words somewhere in the middle of Buffy‘s third season.

CONTENT: Mild profanity. No real sexual content, but some flirting and innuendo as well as a couple instances of scantily-clad females. Violence consistent with the Buffy television show, both vampiric and otherwise. Occult-wise, these are Buffyverse vampires. I leave it to you to decide whether that counts.

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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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