Tag Archives: thriller

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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Review: “Star Wars–Battlefront: Twilight Company” by Alexander Freed

Title: Battlefront: Twilight Company
Author: Alexander Freed
Series: Star Wars (Official Canon)Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2015

Not going to lie, I am insanely excited for the new Battlefront game. Nevertheless, video game tie-ins are always a touchy proposition. For every Halo: The Fall Of Reach there are a dozen that don’t work nearly as well. This one? This one manages to be not only a great tie-in, not only a great Star Wars novel, but a surprisingly solid military novel in general.

In a galaxy torn by war, few have seen more death and destruction than the troops of Twilight Company. Every time there’s a dirty, dangerous job to do, it seems Twilight draws the short straw. Twilight has its fair share of ideologues, same as any unit in the Rebellion, but that’s not Sergeant Hazram Namir. Namir doesn’t fight because he believes in the Rebellion, he’s not even sure he believes the Rebellion is fundamentally different from the Empire. Namir joined Twilight because fighting was all he’d ever known, and the Rebellion was as good a cause as any. Now he fights for his brothers in arms, his adopted family. Lately, however, Namir can’t shake the feeling that Twilight deserves better than he can give it….

This is not your average Star Wars novel. Instead of mythic heroes waving lightsabers in the face of capital-E Evil, Alexander Freed offers up a tale of ordinary men and women wrestling with that age-old question that eventually occurs to every soldier: just what is worth fighting—and dying—for? The result is a remarkably mature and nuanced entry into a franchise more often known for stark moral divides. The bodycount is high, which on the one hand accurately reflects the game it’s hyping, but on the other hand is odd for a Star Wars novel. Like I said, though, this is far from a typical Star Wars novel. This is a gritty, bloodstained war story that has more in common with Saving Private Ryan than it does the mythic tones of most Star Wars stories. At the same time, though, this is still pure Star Wars. It’s just that here we take the spotlight off of the more mythic characters and focus on the ordinary men, women and aliens living and dying around them in the background. If you’re after a light, cheerful read in which Good triumphs over Evil with only minor setbacks, you should look elsewhere. Bottom line: If you’re more interested in an examination of the cost of war on those who fight and die in the mud, then this is well worth the cost of admission.

CONTENT: Strong violence, occasionally gruesome, and with a massive bodycount that includes a not insignificant number of the named protagonists. Mild profanity. Mild sexual innuendo.

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Review: “Star Wars–Jedi Council: Acts Of War” by Randy Stradley & Davide Fabbri

Title: Jedi Council: Acts Of War
Writer: Randy Stradley
Artist: Davide Fabbri
Series: Star Wars: Jedi Council #1-4 (Legends Canon)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2001

Shifting gears a bit, this time out we’re visiting a setting a little closer to the events of the films. The Dark Horse Comics miniseries Jedi Council: Acts Of War takes place only a year before the events of Star Wars–Episode I: The Phantom Menace (that’s 33 BBY, if you’re keeping track). This story was published as a standalone collection, and reprinted in Star Wars Omnibus: Rise Of The Sith.

Before the galaxy was engulfed in the Clone Wars, transforming the Jedi into generals, they served to keep peace across the galaxy-spanning Republic. One such threat comes in the form of the Yinchorri, a warlike species newly accepted into galactic society. When the Yinchorri begin trying to carve out a small empire for themselves among the stars, Jedi Master Mace Windu dispatched a pair of Jedi to manage the crisis. Their mutilated bodies were soon delivered to the office of Chancellor Valorum. Now the Council must mount a full-scale expedition to end this threat to peace in the galaxy, as well as seeking to uncover just who is pulling the strings of the Yinchorri….

This was a well-executed story. It can be somewhat difficult to keep an appropriate degree of tension in stories featuring characters you know will survive based on later appearances (Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Mace, Adi, etc.), but the large cast keeps this from being an issue. Each of the characters here is well developed, and some of the new characters introduced in this miniseries would go on to become fan favorites across the franchise. The art is also of high quality, serving the story well. Is the story essential? Not particularly. It’s the first appearance of K’kruhk, though, and Randy Stradley enjoys returning to the character of Micah Giett on occasion in the pages of Tales. Plus, it’s always fun watching Palpatine’s labyrinthine plots to pave the way for his eventual rise….

CONTENT: Moderate violence, occasionally a bit gruesome. No profanity. No sexual content.

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Review: “Windswept” by Adam Rakunas

Title: Windswept
Author: Adam Rakunas
Series: Windswept #1
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Angry Robot, 2015

In the distant future, everything runs on molasses, rendering sugar cane the lifeblood of human civilization. Corporate interests control the starways, staffed by an indentured workforce, while the Union takes every opportunity to convince said workforce to breach their contracts and jump ship. Out at the edge of settled space, Union recruiter Padma Mehta is particularly eager to add new Breaches to her headcount—thirty-three more recruits and she’ll get a bonus that will allow her to buy her favorite rum refinery and retire. Of course, it’s never that easy. Santee is a backwater, barely kept afloat by the supply of molasses sent up the elevator, so when Padma catches wind of forty potential Breaches she jumps at the opportunity…right out of the frying pan and into the fire. Now she’s dodging corporate hit squads, running from the police, and wading through sewage in an attempt to save the planet from a crop-killing plague…and the corporate response that would doom every soul on Santee to a fiery death.

Windswept is definitely a roller coaster of a novel, with a breakneck pace that refuses to slow down and let you think. This serves the novel well, especially as it helps gloss over the odd plot hole or uncharacteristically foolish action a given character might take in service to the plot. (Notably, a character picks up a fallen enemy’s gun, removes the magazine and pockets it, then throws the gun itself away. Why? Because the upcoming fight scene wouldn’t be as interesting if she were armed, but that magazine is going to be essential to solving a problem in the near future…The character does at least have the grace to question why she discarded the pistol, chalking it up to sleep deprivation clouding her judgement. There’s also a jarring moment where a character announces that she’s got to be at work in fifteen minutes, then a page later reflects on the fact that she’s going to be able to kick back and relax the rest of the night.) There’s not a lot of such gloss needed, but then it may have worked and I missed some examples. On the whole, though, the book was a very fun thrill ride through a future that looks like no other I’ve ever seen. A worthy debut, and I shall watch for future works from Mr. Rakunas.

CONTENT: R-rated profanity, prevalent but not gratuitous. Strong violence. Moderately explicit sexual content.

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Review: “Star Wars–Dawn Of The Jedi Vol. III: Force War” by John Ostrander & Jan Duursema

Title: Force War
Story & Script: John Ostrander
Story & Art: Jan Duursema
Series: Star Wars: Dawn Of The Jedi Volume III (Issues #11-15)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2014

Here we go again, diving one last time into the ancient history of the Star Wars universe. Obviously, this will contain spoilers for the previous volumes of the series, Force Storm and Prisoner Of Bogan.

Jumping forward a year from where we left our heroes, we find the Tython system embroiled in  full-scale war. The Rakata have arrived in force, capturing several of the outlying planets before being turned back by the combined forces of the Je’daii and the other Tythans under the command of Daegan Lok. Wielding Forcesabers modeled on that carried by former Force Hound Xesh, the Je’daii walk a fine line in the Force, drawing increasingly on the Dark Side to power their weapons and carry them through battle unscathed. Despite the endless battles facing him and his friends, Xesh is finding himself increasingly in balance as he learns to touch the Light Side of the Force as well as the Dark, helped in no small measure by his growing relationship with Shae Koda. Fighting together the Tythans have managed to stymie the Rakatan advance, but at heavy cost. What they don’t know, however, is that the Rakata want far more than just Tython. They want the Infinity Gate buried beneath it, an ancient piece of tech that would unlock any and every world in the galaxy for conquest….

As with the previous entries, I absolutely loved this one. The one-year jump forward glossed over a number of events that I would have enjoyed getting to see, but given the timing of the license shifting to Marvel, I suspect that this was the only way to get to the conclusion Ostrander & Duursema envisioned before running out of time. I’d love to have a lot more of this series, obviously, but given that events didn’t allow that to happen, this was an incredible conclusion to the series. I would enjoy seeing how the Je’daii evolve into the order we see at the start of the Tales Of The Jedi comics, but that is naught but a pipe dream now that all the relevant media has been relegated to Legends status.

CONTENT: Some violence. Mildly explicit sexual content. Mild to no profanity.

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Review: “Star Wars–Rebels: Kallus’ Hunt” by Martin Fisher & Bob Molesworth

Title: Kallus’ Hunt
Writer: Martin Fisher
Artist: Bob Molesworth
Series: Star Wars: Rebels
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Egmont UK Ltd., 2015

Once again, here’s a short comic from the Star Wars Rebels magazine! This time we focus on Imperial Security Bureau agent Kallus. As with previous comics, this was originally published in Germany before being translated and published in the UK in Star Wars Rebels Magazine #4. I believe it’s slated for stateside publication, but I’ve no confirmation of that yet.

It’s not often we get to root for Agent Kallus, but this story offers you that opportunity and allows a deeper insight into his character. He’s still a cruel and prejudiced officer, still the man that oversaw the extermination of the Lasat, but here we see he’s also a true believer in the Empire as a force for order in a chaotic galaxy. There are Imperial officers who are corrupt and out for their own personal gain, but Kallus will do whatever is necessary to bring such men to Imperial justice.

I liked this one. It’s always a pleasure to see the Galaxy Far, Far Away become more nuanced, to get to root for the villains against even worse baddies on occasion. There’s not necessarily a lot here, but what there is suggests a rich history for all characters involved–one I hope we get to explore some other time. As usual, Fisher writes the characters spot-on so that you can almost hear their voices in your head, and Molesworth’s art is better than could realistically be expected from such a publication.

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

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Review: “Star Wars–Dawn Of The Jedi Vol. II: Prisoner Of Bogan” by John Ostrander & Jan Duursema

Title: Prisoner Of Bogan
Story & Script: John Ostrander
Story & Art: Jan Duursema
Series: Star Wars: Dawn Of The Jedi Volume II (Issues #6-10)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2013

Continuing my project to work through the backlog of Star Wars comics I’ve yet to read (or haven’t read for a long time,) we jump once more into the ancient history of the Galaxy Far, Far Away….You may recall my review of the first volume way back when, but here’s a quick recap. Over twenty thousand years before the rise of the Empire, the Je’daii and their descendants inhabit the Tython system. Instead of the polarized Light and Dark alignments seen in later eras of the timeline, the Je’daii strive for balance in all things. When the Force is out of balance, the planet itself rises against its inhabitants. Elsewhere in the galaxy, the Rakatan Infinite Empire spreads across the stars fueled by the Dark Side of the Force, finding worlds rich in the Force and stripping them for their own use. Their Force-sensitive hunters have seen a vision of Tython, and Force H0und Xesh was dispatched to find this world and guide his masters there. Xesh’s craft inexplicably crashed on arrival, killing all but the Hound himself and triggering a massive Force Storm. Now with his memories clouded by amnesia but still immersed in darkness, Xesh has been banished to Bogan until he can find balance in the Force. Also on Bogan is Daegan Lok, a mad Je’daii obsessed with a vision of invading armies carrying blades of energy and strengthened by the Dark Side of the Force. In Xesh, Lok sees proof of his vision’s veracity. The council won’t see reason, so he’s going to have to force them to take him seriously….even if he has to conquer Tython to do it!

Again, the team of Ostrander and Duursema is one of my absolute favorite in comics. I will read anything with their names on it, and have never yet been disappointed. This series is no different. Everything is fresh and different, yet you can see the future looming over the (distant) horizon at times. It’s fun to see some meat fleshed out on the bones of Star Wars‘s prehistory we’ve been given glimpses of before–the Rakata, the Kwa, etc. The similarities to other eras are fun, but even more interesting are the differences. The Je’daii are just as worried about being too in tune with the light as they are the dark, and if it takes channeling some anger to ignite a Forcesaber, well, they really want that energy blade to work. It’ll be interesting to see how this all wraps up next volume, as I suspect that the vision for this series was cut short by the impending move to Marvel. There were a few minor inconsistencies though. It was implied early on that only certain species were visited by each Tho Yor, and that there were a limited number of these ancient vessels. This volume, we have members of other species in the Tythan system. Not a problem, per se, but how? Also, Hawk Ryo seems a bit ambivalent on what he saw in the Rift. At times he admits to sharing Lok’s vision, then other times denies it with a passion. A relic of a rewrite forced by the impending loss of their license? Maybe. Without giving spoilers, the first scene here with Trill and her Rakatan boss is inconsistent with the revelation near the end of the book. Again, I suspect a shift in direction mid-series to accommodate the shorter run.

CONTENT: Some violence. Mild profanity. Mild sexual innuendo, including scantily clad females of various (mostly humanoid) species.

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Review: “The Rewind Files” by Claire Willett

Title: The Rewind Files
Author: Claire Willett
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Retrofit Publishing, 2015

Time travel stories are the bomb, especially when they’re done well. On that note, you should read this one.

Sometime in the twenty-second century, humanity discovered time travel. Predictably, we set out to undo a lot of history’s more appalling moments. Also predictably, this was a horrible idea. History unraveled, and thus was born the Agency responsible for fixing the timeline. Regina Bellows is perfectly happy being a desk jockey, staying safely in the twenty-second century and watching operations in the late twentieth through her instruments as field agents patch various decaying points in the timeline…until she discovers evidence of a conspiracy deliberately manipulating the timeline for their own ends. Soon she’s on her own, back in the twentieth century, trying to figure out just what’s so important about Richard Nixon, arguably the most boring President our country’s ever had….

This was fun. If you’re at all a history buff, you really ought to read this. Obviously a basic working knowledge of mid-20th century American history would benefit you in understanding what’s going on and where the timelines are differing, but at a pinch anything you need to know can be gleaned from a quick trip to Wikipedia. The book was painstakingly researched, and that degree of care is obvious in all elements of the story. The plot keeps you moving at all times, and there were only a couple points where I saw the next twist coming. Even then, it was a matter of outsmarting the characters, seeing a consequence to their actions that didn’t occur to them at the time. The time travel mechanic is consistently applied all the way through, with only one minor potential plot hole that occurred to me later—something that could probably be explained away fairly easily, but wasn’t actually addressed. My only real complaint is that as a fan of Reagan I was slightly offended by the characterization of his alternate-history self as a warmonger and corporate stooge. For a debut novel, that’s impressive. I would heartily recommend giving this one a read.

CONTENT: Brief R-rated profanity, most of the book falls in the PG-13 range. Mild violence. Mild sexual innuendo.

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Review: “Star Wars: Shattered Empire” by Greg Rucka, Marco Checchetto, Emilio Laiso, & Angel Unzueta

Title: Shattered Empire
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artists: Marco Checchetto, Emilio Laiso (Issue #2), & Angel Unzueta (Issues #2-3)
Series: Star Wars (Official Canon)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Marvel Comics, 2015

Did you ever wonder just what happened to our heroes after the credits rolled and The Return Of The Jedi was over? Yes, yes, I know, they foiled an invasion by the Ssi-Ruuk. But that was the alternate universe of the Legends canon. I’m talking the new, rebooted canon leading up to Disney’s triumphant (we hope) entrance into the franchise. Well, wonder no more! Marvel has brought us Shattered Empire to answer some of those questions and help set the board for Star Wars–Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Now, I know this is a four-issue miniseries, but I want you to try something. Instead of thinking of it as a unified story, think of it as a themed anthology, a collection of shorter tales all featuring the same main character with numerous side characters along for the ride and all loosely tied together by a common end goal. If you can do that, this earns the four stars I took the liberty of giving it–possibly even a fifth. If you can’t, if you go into this expecting a single unified story, that rating probably seems incredibly generous as the episodic plot rambles all over the place and sprawls out over a three-month period with sometimes little connective tissue between adventures. So please, go into this book with the proper expectations, because it really is worth the read.

Our story opens during the climactic moments of The Return Of The Jedi. While Luke engages his father in an epic lightsaber battle and Han’s commandos prepare to destroy the shield generator protecting the second Death Star, the Rebel fleet battles for survival between the Imperial Navy’s hammer and the Death Star’s anvil (or is that the other way around? Doesn’t matter, moving on.) Our protagonist, Shara Bey, is an A-Wing pilot caught in that battle, while her husband Kes Dameron is with Solo’s strike team on the surface. Following the battle, they get a brief respite during the victory celebration, but then it’s once more into the breach as comm traffic reveals a holdout Imperial base on the far side of the planet. Striking that base reveals a sobering fact: the war is far from over. The Emperor had a slew of contingency plans, and the Imperials control the airwaves. Palpatine may be dead, but most of the galaxy doesn’t know that. We then jump to several weeks later, as the Rebels work hard to liberate world after world. Off the front lines on light duty after her fighter is disabled, Shara accompanies Princess Leia to Naboo on a diplomatic mission to gain allies for the fledgling New Republic. Unfortunately, as the Emperor’s homeworld, Naboo is one of the prime targets of Operation Cinder, the Emperor’s program of vengeance from beyond the grave….Meanwhile, Solo’s strike team takes on an Imperial Security Bureau black site. Finally, we jump again to about three months post-Endor, as the grave reality is finally settling in for everyone involved–despite their recent victories, there is no end in sight for the ongoing war. Struggling with the question of whether or not to muster out and settle down with her husband and son, Shara joins Luke Skywalker on an undercover mission to recover an artifact of the old Jedi Order.

Like I said, if you come into this with the proper expectations, it’s solid gold. The writing is top-notch, and the art is incredible. In the middle the series gains a couple backup artists, I assume to help with backgrounds and such given the compressed publication schedule (the whole thing was published over the course of a month and a half), but it was surprisingly not an issue. The whole book is full of delightful blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gems, such as a sly, almost imperceptible reference to the fan theory that the Ewoks were serving roast Stormtrooper at their celebration party, a brief exhibition of Leia’s fledgling Force sensitivity as she feels “cold” when crossing paths with Maul’s imprint, and another semi-appearance of Commander Beck from Han Solo’s Smuggler’s Run (also by Greg Rucka, now that I think of it.) The ties to The Force Awakens range from the obvious (Poe Dameron is the son of Shara and Kes) to the more foundational, such as the war not ending where we all assumed it did. Bottom line: Find this, read it, and enjoy it. Just know what you’re in for.

CONTENT: Moderate violence. Minor to no profanity. Mild sexual content (Shara and Kes wake up together in one scene after one of their rare chances to be together.)

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Review: “Hellboy Vol. VI: Strange Places” by Mike Mignola

Title: Strange Places
Writer & Artist: Mike Mignola
Series: Hellboy
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2006

“Don’t mess with me, lady. I’ve been drinking with skeletons.”

Seriously, how many characters do you know who could deliver that line in all seriousness? Pretty much just Hellboy, which goes quite a ways towards explaining his appeal. The entire series is so….over the top, ridiculous, ambitious….not really sure of the best word to sum it up, but you have to admit it’s pretty great. This time around in The Third Wish, Hellboy is pitted against the Bog Roosh, an undersea witch who wishes to save the world….by ending Hellboy once and for all. Sure, Hellboy has rejected his birthright as Anung Un Rama, the Right Hand Of Doom and devoted his life to saving the world, but so long as he exists someone could use the power of his hand to loose the Ogdru Jahad and burn the world. The Bog Roosh would end this threat once and for all. Then, in The Island Hellboy washes up on a forsaken island and is given a lesson in the origins of the world and all things that culminates in his death. Kind of. Maybe. Guess we’ll have to wait for the next book to see how that works out.

I won’t pretend that I understood everything that happened here, but I don’t think you’re meant to. Mignola is giving you an inside look at the creation of his world, true, but what is left out is as relevant as what is shown. We’ll see where the path Hellboy is set upon leads, I suppose. The book is filled with scattered moments of Hellboy being delightfully himself, and that is most definitely worth the rest of what is undoubtedly one of the darker entries in this series so far.

Content: Minor language, some stylized violence and gore. Little to no sexual content. A fair amount of occult content, however. In Hellboy’s world, everything supernatural would seem to exist in….well, not harmony, but a unified worldview. This includes the Christian God and the Devil as well as more Lovecraftian things such as the Ogdru Jahad. God and the Church have power, but there are other things abroad in the world that have power as well and were old long before Christ was born in his manger. Hellboy is brought to Earth from another plane–implied to be Hell–in a dark ritual performed by Grigori Rasputin. He later tries to use Hellboy as the focus of another ritual to free the Ogdru Jahad (similar to H.P. Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones) and bring an end to the world as we know it. One of the short tales implies that Hellboy himself is the son of the Devil and a mortal witch. Ghosts, vampires….the Beast of the Apocalypse…..

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