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Review: “Midnight In The Garden Centre Of Good And Evil” by Colin Sinclair

Title: Midnight In The Garden Centre Of Good And Evil
Author: Colin Sinclair
Series: Invaders From Beyond
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Solaris, 2015

This is not how it was supposed to work. A couple months ago, Miller was knee-deep in a graduate degree studying agricultural science. Now, after a bender left him and his future father-in-law’s car upside down in a lake, he finds himself without a fiancé and cut off by his parents to find his own way in the world, working a dead-end job at a garden centre in the middle of nowhere alongside an eclectic crew of fellow misfits. Then just as Miller adjusts to his new life, starts to think the future might not be so bleak after all, that’s when the aliens show up….

Midnight In The Garden Centre Of Good And Evil is a very British book in its language and vocabulary. That’s not a bad thing, to my mind, but is something to know going in. Not everyone watches as much Sherlock and Doctor Who as I do. Equal parts comedy and horror, the book demands comparison with Shaun Of The Dead, possibly crossed with Kevin Smith’s Clerks (I can’t say for sure, not having seen that one). It’s a quick read, and I managed most of it at a single sitting–the last two-thirds, to be precise. While not bad, it didn’t really suck me in until that point. The only real complaint I had with the book is how much information is left obscure, lost between the lines. While Brackett’s establishment is undeniably shady, it took most of the book for me to connect the various offhand hints and realize that its real income is dependent on the marijuana being grown in the basement tunnels. (Admittedly, this may have had something to do with my own lack of experience with that particular plant beyond the requisite stoner characters in various films.) Plus, you never do find out Miller’s first name so far as I can find looking back. It’s not a big deal, given the first-person narration, but serves to illustrate my point. Anyway, if you’re looking for an irreverent comedy-horror combo, this just might be the book for you.

CONTENT: R-rated profanity. Strong horror violence, occasionally gruesome. Moderate sexual innuendo, mostly in the form of crude jokes made by one or more of Miller’s coworkers.

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Review: “Magic Brew” by T. Rae Mitchell

Title: Magic Brew
Author: T. Rae Mitchell
Series: The Edge Chronicles
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Original Mix Media, 2015

Alright, let’s get one thing out of the way up front. Yes, this is an Urban Fantasy version of The Warriors. If you can’t get past that idea, this book isn’t for you. Everyone else, you’re in for a treat.

Even in a city overrun with supernatural creatures, Edge is special. While elves, demons, vampires, were-whatevers and the Fae are a dime a dozen, Edge is the only Djinn in New York City. Well, half-Djinn anyway, which means the Forsaken are the only family he knows. The Forsaken take in the rejects and the half-breeds of the city, those not good enough for the purebloods that run the other gangs. They have power beyond imagining, but also their share of weaknesses—both physical and emotional. And when they are betrayed by the one man they’ve trusted above all others and lured into a trap, the journey back to their home turf may be the death of every last ­­one of them….

Like I said, this one was a pleasure. The world created here is imaginative and engaging enough to make it well worth overlooking the recycled plot, and every single character you meet is a fully-rendered person with their own personality, strengths, weaknesses, and desires. There’s Edge, obviously, half Djinn and half mystery, reeling from having his entire world pulled down around his ears. There’s Pandora, Nyx and India, three half-pixie sisters dealing with the effects of their other halves. Pandora is half Chaos demon, killing anyone who hears her voice. India is half succubus, driving everyone who enters her bar mad with desire just by looking at them. And Nyx is half Shadow elf, able to disappear and move unseen through shadows. Then you have Justice, half cherub and half Chinese Mogwai demon. I know, I thought the same thing….”You mean an angel came down here and ****ed that creature from Gremlins?” Turns out Mogwai is a generic Chinese word for demon, so that makes more sense. Less funny though. You care about every one of them. This matters, because as the body count climbs you feel each casualty as acutely as the survivors. Bottom line: if you’re a fan of Urban Fantasy (or The Warriors, for that matter) I cannot recommend this highly enough.

CONTENT: Strong violence. Some R-rated language. Strong sexual innuendo. Various occultic topics such as demons and magic, handled as fantasy.

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Review: “Red” by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner

Title: Red
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Cully Hamner
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: WildStorm, 2009

This is one of those cases where your expectations will affect your experience. I first encountered Red, as did many, through the film starring Bruce Willis.

Honestly, I loved that movie. So when the library got a copy of the comic it was based on, I snapped it up. While the movie was more or less based on this comic, it was a very different animal. They added a LOT of material, for one thing. They’d have to, given how short this was. But they also completely changed the tone. The comic was entirely straightfaced about its over-the-top violence, and there was not a joke to be had. It was all rather grim. The film was an action comedy. Both were good, but they were very different. You need to be aware of what you’re in for, and temper your expectations accordingly.

The plot? The plot is simple. I can sum it up in two sentences. The new politically-appointed head of the CIA learns the scary truth about the agency he is now in charge of and orders the death of its greatest operative, the now-retired Paul Moses. The kill squad fails, leaving Moses bloodied and on a rampage to find the men who ended his solitude. That’s really all there is to this, but it’s very well executed. Small details like Moses standing in his kitchen during a storm, reliving the lives he’s ended with every crack of thunder, or the flashbacks he experiences when he takes up a sniper rifle once again, really lend some emotional weight to a character that is not entirely sympathetic even as they remind us that he is, in fact, a self-described monster. There’s some definite political commentary here, but its more generally aimed at American foreign policy (in the guise of the CIA) than it is any particular individual. I would recommend it, assuming you can stomach the violence.

CONTENT: Strong, gory violence throughout. PG-13-grade profanity. No sexual content.

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Review: “Star Wars: Showdown On The Smuggler’s Moon” by Jason Aaron & Stuart Immonen

Title: Showdown On The Smuggler’s Moon
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Stuart Immonen
Series: Star Wars #8-12 (Official Canon)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Marvel Comics, 2015

I very much enjoyed the first volume of Marvel’s ongoing Star Wars series, but many other reviewers took issue with it for playing things safe and giving us a story like many we’d seen before. These criticisms are not completely unfounded, I’ll admit, but neither are they completely fair. Either way, this is not a problem the series has going forward…. This second volume also includes the one-off flashback story The Last Of His Breed, featuring Obi-Wan Kenobi adjusting to his exile on Tatooine.

Luke Skywalker has successfully escaped the clutches of the bounty hunter Boba Fett, but all he got for his troubles was the journal of Obi-Wan Kenobi–no small prize, but probably not all that helpful in furthering his Jedi training. So what’s the next logical step in learning about the Jedi? Try and sneak onto Coruscant to infiltrate the old Jedi Temple, of course! But when his attempt to find a discreet ship and pilot in a seedy bar on Nar Shaddaa goes horribly awry, Luke finds himself the prisoner of Grakkus the Hutt. In addition to the traditional crime and vice, Grakkus has made a name for himself as one of the foremost collectors of Jedi artifacts. Now Luke faces the battle of his life in Grakkus’ arena, billed as “the last Jedi” and pitted against a fearsome creature for the amusement of Grakkus’ fellow crime lords….Meanwhile, Han and Leia are out scouting potential locations for a new Rebel base when they run across a figure from Han’s past. Her name is Sana, and she claims to be his wife….

As with the previous volume, this was some stellar work. Jason Aaron nails the banter between Han & Leia, to the point where you can almost hear Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford delivering the lines, and Luke’s mix of cockiness and self-doubt is spot-on for his character and situation. Also of note is Stuart Immonen’s spectacular artwork. From the character closeups to the panoramic vistas, this was pure Star Wars. Also amusing was watching our entire cast wade into battle wielding lightsabers. Did Luke manage to salvage anything of value from Grakkus’ stash on his way out? I guess we’ll have to wait and see….

CONTENT: Moderate violence, not too gruesome most of the time. Mild profanity. Mild sexual innuendo and flirting.

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Review: “Star Wars: The Last Of His Breed” by Jason Aaron & Simone Bianchi

Title: The Last Of His Breed: From The Journals Of Old Ben Kenobi
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Simone Bianchi
Series: Star Wars #7 (Official Canon)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Marvel Comics, 2015

Back to the Marvel ongoings! This is a one-off flashback story featuring Obi-Wan Kenobi as he tries to adjust to his “Old Ben” persona about eleven years before the events of A New Hope. It’s issue #7 of Marvel’s current Star Wars ongoing, and will be collected in Star Wars Vol. II: Showdown On The Smuggler’s Moon.

It’s been seven years since the rise of the Empire, seven years since the death of the Jedi and the Republic. Formerly one of the greatest Jedi of his generation, now Obi-Wan Kenobi lives a life of obscurity on the desert planet of Tatooine. Where once he protected the innocent of the galaxy, now “Old Ben” forces himself to look the other way lest he draw the Empire’s notice as Jabba’s thugs extort water from the locals. All that matters is protecting the boy, Luke Skywalker, on whose unknowing shoulders rest the fate of the galaxy. But there are limits to the patience of even the greatest of Jedi….

This was a good one. The story was solid, and it’s always interesting to see Obi-Wan’s state of mind during his exile. Was this done better in John Jackson Miller’s Kenobi? Yes. That goes without saying, if only because he had more than twenty-four pages to tell his story. At any rate, Kenobi isn’t canon anymore, so we’ll not dwell on it. Simone Bianchi’s art here was stellar, I must say, and his Kenobi managed to blend Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness superbly. I would very much like to see more of these one-off excerpts from Obi-Wan’s journal appear in future issues of the comic.

CONTENT: Mild profanity. Mild violence. No sexual content.

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Review: “Star Wars: Vow Of Justice” by Jan Strnad & John Nadeau

Title: Vow Of Justice
Writer: Jan Strnad
Artist: John Nadeau
Series: Star Wars: Republic (Backup story in Star Wars #4-6)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

Vow Of Justice is a tale that ran as a backup feature in issues four through six of Dark Horse’s ongoing Star Wars comic, later retitled Star Wars: Republic. It was included in the trade paperback collection Prelude To Rebellion, and was reprinted in Star Wars Omnibus: Rise Of The Sith.

This story features a much younger version of Ki-Adi-Mundi as a recently-knighted Jedi returning to his home planet of Cerea for the first time to end the reign of a local warlord who had terrorized the region before Ki-Adi-Mundi’s departure for the Jedi Temple. What he finds on arrival, though, is not what he expected….Can the newly minted Jedi Knight hold true to the Jedi ways, or will he allow the Dark Side a foothold by taking vengeance on the raiders for their persecution of his family?

This shorter tale isn’t as problematic as the main story, even if it is fairly predictable in its conclusion. Definitely worth tracking down, especially if you’re a fan of Ki-Adi-Mundi. This story is set thirty-five years before The Phantom Menace, or sixty-seven years before A New Hope.

CONTENT: Mild violence. Mild profanity. Mild sexual innuendo, including a few scantily-clad characters.

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Review: “Star Wars: Prelude To Rebellion” by Jan Strnad & Anthony Winn

Title: Prelude To Rebellion
Writer: Jan Strnad
Artist: Anthony Winn
Series: Star Wars: Republic Vol. I (Star Wars #1-6)
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

Continuing my trek through some of the earlier Star Wars comics, we come to Dark Horse’s first ongoing series set in a Galaxy Far, Far Away. Originally simply entitled Star Wars, the series was retitled Star Wars: Republic to avoid confusion when Dark Horse began publishing a second ongoing focused in the era of the Original Trilogy films. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to refer to the series as a whole using the Republic subtitle in these reviews. This story was reprinted in the eponymous trade paperback, which also featured the backup tale Vow Of Justice, and in Star Wars Omnibus: Rise Of The Sith.

Jedi Knight Ki-Adi-Mundi serves as the Jedi protector for his homeworld of Cerea, a relatively primitive world far from the beaten path of interstellar travel. Cerea isn’t a member of the galaxy-wide Republic, but there are those who would very much like to change that–open up Cerea as a market for modern technology and exploit its unique natural resources. When violence breaks out at a pro-Republic rally and his daughter is implicated, Ki-Adi-Mundi is sucked into an investigation of smuggling, murder, and conspiracy….

This one was pretty mediocre, and doesn’t fit very well with the other stories in the same era. Partially this is a function of this story being the first published in this era, even before The Phantom Menace. When this was released, it wasn’t known that Jedi were not allowed to marry. Later the writers were forced to retcon the backstory and explain that Ki-Adi-Mundi was granted an exception to this rule based on his species’ low birth rate. While we know the Republic was growing corrupt in its final days, here it appears downright villainous. I don’t want to say that this was bad, but it wasn’t great–especially compared with some of the later arcs of the same series.

This tale is set one year prior to the events of The Phantom Menace, and occurs simultaneously with Jedi Council: Acts Of War.

CONTENT: Mild violence. Mild profanity. Mild sexual innuendo, including a couple scantily-clad women in Jabba’s court.

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