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Review: “Star Wars: Princess Leia” by Mark Waid & Terry Dodson

Title: Princess Leia
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Terry Dodson
Series: Star Wars (Official Canon)
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Marvel Comics, 2015

I recently reviewed the first volumes of both Marvel’s ongoing Star Wars books (Star Wars & Darth Vader). In conjunction with those two series, Marvel is also rotating through a slate of character-specific miniseries focused on the likes of Chewbacca, Lando, or in this case, Princess Leia.

It is a time of celebration for the Rebellion. Striking from their hidden base, the brave pilots of the Rebel Alliance have successfully destroyed the Empire’s terror weapon, the Death Star. But that victory came at a terrible cost–both the pilots who gave their lives, and the very secrecy that the Rebellion depends on to keep their forces safe from Imperial attack. What’s more, the peaceful (though Rebel-friendly) planet of Alderaan was destroyed in a cruel display of the Empire’s military might and disregard for its subjects. Now, further angered by the destruction of the Death Star, the Empire has begun hunting down surviving Alderaanian refugees for reprisals. Princess Leia Organa has watched the Empire take her entire world. She’s not going to let them take her people too….

This one was….decent. The ideas were there, the characterization managed to walk the same tightrope between stately senator and reckless fighter that we saw in the films, and the art was excellently executed. The story itself though? A bit bland, a bit aimless, and a bit too riddled with plot holes. Leia sets out to gather her people and find them a safe home, and to a point she succeeds. She visits three planets with Alderaanian enclaves and evacuates them ahead of Imperial strikes, relocating them to a planet with a significant local militia that could supposedly keep them safe. But…really? You expect me to believe that this planet could successfully hold off the Imperial fleet if they put their mind to taking the planet? You could perhaps argue that such a high-profile operation would hurt their public image, but that doesn’t hold up. They just blew up Alderaan, reducing one of the major cultural centers of the galaxy to an asteroid field. We’ve not been told yet in this new canon how they spun that one in the news holos, but odds are they can do it again if they have to. Sure, the Death Star is gone, but even a single Star Destroyer could reduce all life on the planet to ash with an orbital bombardment once the planetary fleet is dealt with. A simple blockade to keep anybody from leaving, and then rain bloody hell on the entire system. I’m not advocating such a policy, obviously, but the Empire is certainly capable of such brutality. Then too, Leia visits three planets and then declares her mission a success. Are we to conclude that those are the only Alderaanians left in the galaxy? Surely not. Perhaps she simply intends to spread the word about the safe haven, allow any refugees to make their own way to safety. Which would be fine, except for the part where the Empire is actively hunting them….At the end of the day, this could have been better. Or at the very least, better explained. It really covers a lot of the same ground as Razor’s Edge back in the Legends canon, except that novel did it better.

CONTENT: Mild to no profanity. Some violence. No sexual content.

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Review: “X-Men: Magneto–Testament” by Greg Pak & Carmine Di Giandomenico

Title: Magneto–Testament
Writer: Greg Pak
Artist: Carmine Di Giandomenico
Series: X-Men
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Marvel Knights, 2009

“On Kristallnacht, my father wanted to fight. But then the Nazis might have killed my whole family. In the ghetto, I could have gutted a Nazi murderer. But then they would have killed a hundred Jews in retaliation. Two months ago, I could have pushed the Hauptscharfuhrer into the fire pit. But then they would have killed the rest of my work crew.

“So to save everyone, I did nothing. And guess what? They killed them all anyway….” (Max, issue #5)

Whoah. I mean….whoah. Magneto has always been one of the most interesting characters in the Marvel Universe, a nominal villain who seems to fight for the side of the angels almost as frequently as he opposes them. There are all kinds of Marvel villains who are irredeemable psychopaths (Carnage, Mr. Sinister, Apocalypse, the Purple Man, the list is endless), but Magneto is a different breed entirely, the most dangerous kind of villain possible: Magneto believes he is doing the right thing. His methods may be occasionally merciless, but Magneto isĀ  a man who has lived through genocide once before and sworn to never again let that happen to his people. He could not save the countless Jews who went to the gas chambers under the guns of their Nazi overlords, but he’ll be damned if he sees the same thing happen to his new brothers, mutantkind. Given the human response to fear that which is different, and destroy what we fear, Magneto has come to the harsh conclusion that the only way to safeguard his people is to install a new world order ruled by mutants. To that end, he has at times served both as hero and villain. He’s a conflicted character, forged by tragedy. And now, with Magneto: Testament, we’re given the definitive story of his beginnings, from 1935 Nuremberg to the horrors of Auschwitz….and all with an eye to absolute historical accuracy.

In 1935, Max Eisenhardt was a simple German schoolboy. Top of his class, excellent athlete, he’s even managed to catch the eye of a pretty girl. Unfortunately, Max just happened to be Jewish, and Magda just happens to be Romany. Neither ethnicity is going to be able to weather the storm ahead, when the Nazi regime unleashes their Final Solution and institutes the most comprehensive and systematic genocide program the world has ever seen. From the Nuremberg Laws to Kristallnacht, Berlin to the Warsaw Ghettos and on to death camp of Auschwitz, young Max Eisenhardt serves to give us a new lens into this horrific period of human history….and a new insight into one of the most fascinating comic characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

This should go without saying, but this is not a happy book. An important book, one that punches you right in the gut and takes an unflinching (yet respectful) look at the deepest darkness of the human heart, but not one for young children. That said, this book could provide a very compelling supplement to a high school study of the Holocaust–it’s painstakingly accurate, annotated every step of the way with endnotes containing citations for facts and elements that are incorporated into the story, and even contains a teachers guide with suggested activities. I fully intend to add it to my own personal collection at some point when I have the funds. The book is compelling, well-written, and brilliantly haunting, yet at the same time treats the real, historical people who suffered in this most horrific of periods with the utmost respect. For example, the Nazi practice of tattooing the prisoners with their identification number. Showing that number on Max’s arm would be unremarkable, aside from clearing up some of the more geeky arguments about Marvel canon since there have been several different numbers used in different stories over the years. Yet the writer refrained. “We made the decision not to show Max’s actual number in this tattooing scene. The more I read the testimonies of actual survivors, the more uncomfortable I became with the notion of giving our fictional hero a number that a real human being once bore.” (Greg Pak’s endnotes to issue #4) The creators here don’t shy away from the horror of the Holocaust, even dealing with it more in-depth than some other sources due to Max’s status as one of the Sonderkommando prisoners who had to process the bodies from the gas chamber to the crematorium, but neither do they play it for shock value. Every effort is made to preserve the humanity and dignity of the real humans who suffered and died all those years ago. I respect that.

CONTENT: Minor language. No real sexual content, though there is some low-detail nudity as prisoners are stripped for the gas chambers and Max’s uncle (implied to be a bit of a hedonist) is paraded through the streets with a sign that says “I have shamed a German woman.” The violence here is occasionally bloody, but usually restrained in its visual representation. That doesn’t make it any less disturbing as characters are murdered, groups of prisoners gassed, and their bodies piled up or incinerated. Like I said, though I recommend this book wholeheartedly, this is not for young children.

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Review: “Eye Of The Draco: Darkfall” by Kadin Seton

Title: Darkfall
Author: Kadin Seton
Series: The Eye Of The Draco
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: CreateSpace, 2013

I have to admit, this one has me a bit conflicted. On the one hand, there were a number of things that kind of bugged me about this book. On the flip side, I couldn’t stop reading it. Seriously, I read almost half of it at one sitting, staying up long after I had intended to be asleep. Add that to the fact that I only just realized that this was a self-published book, and it definitely earns its four stars. Maybe it deserves five–the things that bugged me are mostly matters of personal taste, after all, but then again reviewing is largely a subjective practice so I’m just going to stick with that rating. I received a free digital copy from the author in exchange for an honest review, but that had no impact on my assessment except to ensure that I got to read the book.

The world as we know it is done for. The Draco, alien invaders from a distant star, struck before we could react, purging the Earth of its inhabitants while leaving our infrastructure intact for their own use. Within days, most of the population was dead. Now the only thing standing between the Draco’s colonization efforts and the utter extermination of humankind are a few small resistance groups scattered here and there. Alison “Allie” Spencer belongs to perhaps the most unlikely of all of these groups–a paramilitary organization of children, commanded by a prematurely-greying nineteen-year-old, spending their days hiding in basements and by night trying in vain to figure out how to hurt the invaders. It seems an impossible task, as the Draco are all but invulnerable to our weapons, but that’s not stopping them from trying. But against the might of an interplanetary invasion force, what can a handful of kids do? They’ll be hard pressed even just to survive, let alone strike back…until an astonishing discovery changes everything….

Like I said, there were a few things that bugged me about this book. The fact that I couldn’t stop comparing it to the TV show Falling Skies, for one thing. For another, a couple high-school science geeks armed with scavenged books, electronics, and a single piece of Draco tech are able to reverse-engineer a connection to the invaders’ wireless power grid while the underground US government is as stumped as ever? That strains my suspension of disbelief. The nineteen-year-old “General” of Sector Three is starting to go grey? Did you really have to do that in order to make him distinguished enough that we readers would respect him? Give me some credit–he’s pretty bad-ass, and I liked him just fine without that incongruous detail.* Most annoying to me, personally, was the interpersonal drama being set up for the next book. I have a deep personal disdain for that most popular of devices in nominally-YA literature, the “love triangle.” Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. It just bugs me. Here, the author is setting up not a triangle but a square, possibly even a pentagram if reports of a certain character’s death turn out to have been greatly exaggerated. Moreover, the book ended on a “down” note that just left me depressed.

BUT…..

Like I said, I couldn’t put it down. The annoyances were minor in comparison with how gripping the plot turned out to be. Sure, some elements were a stretch, but I didn’t really care at the time. It mirrored some elements from Falling Skies, but I liked that show, and a number of those elements are tropes now anyway. And the “love pentagram” really didn’t come into play until the very end. Beyond that, this is hands down the most professional self-published novel I have ever seen. The cover art is far beyond what I’m used to seeing in these cases, even if the eye there depicted once again recalls the Skitters from Falling Skies. I don’t recall seeing a single typo or bungled punctuation mark in the entire book, which is sometimes more than I can say for actual professionally-published books. Most importantly of all, the book was just plain fun. Will I read the sequel when it finally comes out? Most certainly! I look forward to it, in fact….

CONTENT: Occasional R-rated profanity, not prolific but nevertheless present. Explicit but not gratuitous sexual content. Strong violence, consistent with the war being waged.

*While leading a teenage resistance to an alien invasion would most certainly be stressful, contrary to popular myth studies show zero evidence that stress causes grey hair.

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