Saturday, 30 May 2015

Hawkeye Vol 1: My Life As a Weapon by Matt Fraction

Hawkeye Vol 1: My Life As a Weapon written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by David Aja, Javier Pulido and Alan Davis is the first collection of the most recent Hawkeye run and collects Hawkeye Issues #1-5 and Young Avengers Presents #6. The latter was a bit random and was actually set before the Hawkeye issues focussing on Kate Bishop rather than Clint Barton. The Hawkeye issues involve both characters.

The breakout star of this summer's blockbuster Avengers film, Clint Barton - aka the self-made hero Hawkeye - fights for justice! With ex-Young Avenger Kate Bishop by his side, he's out to prove himself as one of Earth's Mightiest Heroes! SHIELD recruits Clint to intercept a packet of incriminating evidence - before he becomes the most wanted man in the world. You won't believe what is on The Tape! What is the Vagabond Code? Matt Fraction pens a Hawkeye thriller that spans the globe...and the darkest parts of Hawkeye's mind. Barton and Bishop mean double the Hawkeye and double the trouble...and stealing from the rich never looked so good.

The art style in Hawkeye is quite stylised, especially in the use of colour. There were a lot of pages that were predominantly purple or orange, with a few exceptions. It was quite effective and evoked a very specific tone, quite different to the more conventional superhero comics I've read. I suppose that's mostly because Hawkeye (both Clint and Kate) don't have superpowers, only fancy gadgets. In that respect it kind of reminded me more of James Bond than, say, the MCU movies. Not because Clint is a secret agent assassin, but because he's basically human with some fancy tech (and the tech is arrows rather than other stuff).

On that note, it was also nice to see actual consequences for getting hurt, something that's pretty uncommon in superhero stories (again, because Clint isn't a superhero and gets hurt like a normal person). Clint spent a lot of time recovering in hospital, which was nice to see (even if it was still a bit realistic, hey it's better than nothing). Also, Kate was more likely to save the day than be treated like Clint's apprentice, which was definitely nice to see.

Most of this volume was comprised of one-issue story-lines that were loosely linked. Despite how short each arc was, they didn't feel rushed or anything. The last two Hawkeye issues were a two-arc story, involving SHIELD, international travel, bad guys from across the Marvel universe and Kate being awesome.

Clint Barton is not my favourite avenger and the main reason we bought this volume was because it was like half price and we knew it had a lot of Kate Bishop in it. I didn't hate Clint, but I didn't find him super exciting to read about either. I was basically in it for Kate, which probably shouldn't surprise anyway. That said, if you have any interest in either Hawkeye, this is probably the comic series for you.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Marvel
Series: Hawkeye ongoing series, Volume 1 collecting issues #1-5
Format read: Digital
Source: Marvel iPad app

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Young Avengers Vol 1: Style > Substance by Kieron Gillen

Young Avengers Vol 1: Style > Substance written by Kieron Gillen and illustrated by Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton collects issues #1-5 of the Young Avengers ongoing series. It is not, in case you were wondering, about the Avengers in their youth but about a group of teens(ish) who have superpowers and form their own world-saving gang. Even if the big bad in this volume is accidentally of their own making.

Legacy isn't a dirty word...but it's an irrelevant one. It's not important what our parents did. It matters what WE do. Someone has to save the world. You're someone. Do the math. The critically acclaimed team of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie reinvent the teen super hero comic for the 21st century, uniting Wiccan, Hulkling and Kate "Hawkeye" Bishop with Kid Loki, Marvel Boy and Ms. America. No pressure, right? As a figure from Loki's past emerges, Wiccan makes a horrible mistake that comes back to bite everyone on their communal posteriors. Fight scenes! Fake IDs! And plentiful feels! (aka "meaningful emotional character beats" for people who aren't on tumblr.) Young Avengers is as NOW! as the air in your lungs, and twice as vital. Hyperbole is the BEST! THING! EVER!

This comic had a very YA feel to it, much like Ms Marvel, but unlike any other comic series I've read so far. And really, the fact that the blurb mentions Tumblr should probably be a hint of the demographic they're aiming at. So if YA and teen stories are your thing, this is probably the comic for you. Although I'm not sure how old some of the characters are... I'd guess early 20s for some of them?

So basically this is the story of a group of super-powered teens getting back together as an evil-fighting team. The arc starts with Kid Loki trying to convince them all to come back to avenging, and ends with a crisis pulling them all together. And there's some "whoops I screwed up and now the world is in danger" in the middle there.

The presentation style of the comic is very up-beat and modern as well. The vocabulary is very now (well, Marvel-Earth-now, anyway, with StarkPads instead of iPads for example) and the creators have done some interesting things with layout. Some of the pages were quite experimental/unconventional in how they told the story and I think this fitted in well with the overall modern tone of the whole comic.

Young Avengers was a fun and entertaining read about a character set I mostly didn't know anything about before picking it up. (Obviously I know who Loki is and I'd also heard of Kate Bishop/Hawkeye, but that's it.) Recommended for anyone wanting to bring some YA and youthful fun to their comics reading experience.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Marvel
Series: Young Avengers, ongoing series, Volume 1 containing issues #1-5
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Gift from a friend

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Avengers: The Enemy Within by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Avengers: The Enemy Within by Kelly Sue DeConnick is the third volume of Captain Marvel collected issues. It's a crossover event, though, so it collects Avengers: Enemy Within #1, Captain Marvel #13, Avengers Assemble #16, Captain Marvel #14, Avengers Assemble #17, and Captain Marvel #17 in that order (and yes, that's skipping two issues of Captain Marvel which are apparently collected in an . Because comics weren't confusing enough. The story follows on directly from Captain Marvel Vol 2: Down, which I have reviewed here.

Vicious echoes of the Avengers' past are cropping up all over Manhattan...but Captain Marvel, grounded since a recent and mysterious power loss, refuses to be left behind. Who is the sinister figure behind these incursions, and what does it have to do with Carol Danvers' mysterious condition? And the most disturbing question of this villain even real? Or just a figment of Captain Marvel's increasingly deadly imagination? Be here as Carol Danvers demonstrates that you just can't keep a good Captain down!

There is kind of a gap between the last two issues collected here, which is probably not surprising since there are indeed two missing issues. It really felt like it jumped between those two and I really wanted to know what happened in the interim. So I got myself a Marvel Unlimited subscription to find out. This review includes all the remaining issues of the 2012 Captain Marvel run and also Avengers Assemble #18 because that helped explain WTF once the Infinity event struck and messed everything up. (This is the point at which I realised the whole purpose of Marvel comics is to trick you into buying/reading more Marvel comics. And also, events are silly.)

Anyway. The story in The Enemy Within follows on from everything that was set up in the first two volumes of this run. I was actually surprised at how much it all tied together, particularly with the latter part of Down, which I suppose isn't that surprising. It also harked back to events in In Pursuit of Flight, which probably shouldn't surprise me since both were connected to the origin story of Carol's powers. It continued the somewhat heavy tone from Down and culminated in a pretty epic series of battles for the Avengers and a very significant stand-off for Captain Marvel herself. It was also my first introduction to Wasp who I now want to know more about. She can line up behind Spider-Woman.

The two-part story in issues #15 and #16 (or three-part story if you count Avengers Assemble #18 which I thought really helped with the context) is set entirely during the Infinity event which involves Builders (aliens) trying to kill everyone. There wasn't a huge amount of character growth for Carol in it (but a non-zero amount) but it did give some context for the references to the Builders which crop up in the later run of Captain Marvel. It was basically fighting aliens in space. About what you'd expect. (And for the record, Avengers Assemble #19 tells Spider-Woman's side of the story during Captain Marvel #16.) It doesn't tie in very strongly with Issue #17, so I can see why they left it out of the main collected edition (the two issues are apparently in Infinity Companion, though). It did make me feel like the event ruined the flow of the story a bit, which I suppose is also why it was left out of the collected volume... but I'm a completist.

Issue #17 takes us back to the Captain Marvel we've come to know and love. In a longer-than-usual issue, we see her struggling to re-learn her lost memories, hanging out with Kit, her biggest fan, and worrying about where to live after the earlier events in the volume. This is also when she moves into the Statue of Liberty as we see in the later volumes. It was a nice little story to round out the volume, and happier note to end on.

Obviously if you're a fan of Captain Marvel, I definitely recommend getting your hands on this volume. It completes an unfinished story and brings more of the Avengers into the story of Captain Marvel, if that's your sort of thing. It deals with some heavy issues, much more so than the later books if those are all you've read. Also, I wouldn't particularly recommend reading this volume without reading In Pursuit of Flight and Down first.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Marvel
Series: Captain Marvel, Volume 3 of 3 before the soft reboot of 2014.
Format read: Digital
Source: Marvel Unlimited, because I couldn't wait for the out-of-stock trade to arrive

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Captain Marvel Vol 2: Down by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Captain Marvel Vol 2: Down written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and illustrated by Dexter Soy and Filipe Andrade is the direct sequel to In Pursuit of Flight which I have previously reviewed. This volume collects the comic issues #7-12.

Marvel NOW! Captain Marvel goes head to head with...Captain Marvel? Former Captain Monica Rambeau returns, but what's her problem with Earth's new Mightiest Hero? What threat is lurking below the ocean's surface? And can both Captain Marvels stop it before they get ship wrecked? Then: Carol finally returns home, but is changed. What is weakening Captain Marvel's powers? How will the lifelong high-flyer react when she discovers that she can no longer fly?

This volume starts with an entertaining two-issue arc featuring Carol teaming up with Monica Rambeau to find missing ships and then fight a monster. I've never heard of Monica Rambeau before but after having read this arc I want to know more about her. As far as I can tell she's never had a stand-alone title, just been in a bunch of Avengers comics, which is disappointing (but do correct me if I'm wrong). The only thing I didn't enjoy in this issue was the stock standard description of Monica's powers, which includes the mistaken belief that neutrinos and electricity are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Sigh. I suspect comics aren't the place to be worrying about physics, but I can't help myself. There's also the issue of Carol needing oxygen in this run, where she didn't in the later run, but I'm holding out hope for that issue to be resolved in the final volume of this run. (Haha, well it might be.)

After that we have a much heavier arc, set entirely in New York. Carol acquires a grad student minion, we see her cat for the first time in this run and Carol has to deal with some serious issues. Also, obviously, fight some bad guys and save some days. But really, compared with the general upbeat nature of superheroes saving the day, this was definitely less cheery. Which isn't a bad thing, it was just a bit unexpected, although maybe it shouldn't have been since the previous volume wasn't exactly a laugh-riot.

But the worst thing is, it ended on a cliff-hanger! And the next volume, which I have ordered, is out of print and won't be in stock for at least two weeks! What am I supposed to do?! Sadface.

Anyway, I definitely recommend Down to any fans of Captain Marvel, because, duh, Captain Marvel. For new readers, it's probably better to start with the previous volume, In Pursuit of Flight, but there shouldn't be too much confusion starting with this one if it happens to cross your path first. I will now desperately await the next volume, which is called Avengers: The Enemy Within (but is really Captain Marvel Vol 3, because why should comics chronology make any sense?).

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Marvel
Series: Captain Marvel volume 2 of 3 in that sequence. Collects issues #7-12
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: All-star Comics in Melbourne

Friday, 22 May 2015

Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely

Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely is an anthology of stories about historical women who were not content to leave the status quo be. The stories cover pirates, queens, nuns and warriors and come from a variety of authors, many of whom I've reviewed here before.

Warriors, pirates, murderers and queens...

Throughout history, women from all walks of life have had good reason to be cranky. Some of our most memorable historical figures were outspoken, dramatic, brave, feisty, rebellious and downright ornery.

Cranky Ladies of History is a celebration of 22 women who challenged conventional wisdom about appropriate female behaviour, from the ancient world all the way through to the twentieth century. Some of our protagonists are infamous and iconic, while others have been all but forgotten under the heavy weight of history.

Sometimes you have to break the rules before the rules break you.

This was a fascinating collection of women, many of whom I hadn't heard of before, or didn't know much about before reading. The collection is framed by two stories of the women and children of Henry VIII, about whom I probably knew most before reading, which give a pleasant effect of tying the collection together.

My favourite stories were "Bright Moon" by Foz Meadows,  "Neter Nefer" by Amanda Pillar and "Due Care And Attention" by Sylvia Kelso, all very different tales — especially the latter — which are a good example of the breadth of the collection.

The only thing negative from which the collection suffered was a tendency for some of the stories to fall into a pattern of recounting their subject's life events. Sometimes this was done to fill in gaps, sometimes not, but it resulted in more telling rather than showing and came across as a bit dry at times. On the other hand, this was made up for by the stories which threw us into key events in a more active way.

Overall, interesting and fascinating are the two words that best describe this collection. I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to dip into the lives of a variety of historical women. Although it's not technically a speculative fiction anthology, I strongly feel it will appeal to readers of spec fic as well as readers of main stream and historical fiction. As always, some notes on individual stories follow.


Queenside by Liz Barr — A scene among Henry VIII's women.

The Company Of Women by Garth Nix — Bees and Lady Godiva and unpleasant magic.

Mary, Mary by Kirstyn McDermott — A tale about Mary Wollstonecraft's life, especially her darker moments. While interesting, I found it a bit too depressing to really enjoy.

A Song For Sacagawea by Jane Yolen
— a poem or, I suppose as the title says, a song.

Look How Cold My Hands Are by Deborah Biancotti — An account of the end of Countess Erzébet of Báthory, the most prolific known female serial killer. Interesting and dark.

Bright Moon by Foz Meadows — My favourite story so far. About the Mongolian princess who refused to marry any man who couldn't beat her in wrestling.

Charmed Life by Joyce Chng
— About the empress who discovered silk to make women's lives easier.

A Beautiful Stream by Nisi Shawl — I think this story could've been tighter. Although I got the drift — a wartime spy fearing those around her might be used as leverage — I found it difficult to follow.

Neter Nefer by Amanda Pillar — the story of Hatshepsut taking the throne, told front eh pint of view of her daughter. An enjoyable story and one of my favourites.

The Dragon, The Terror, The Sea by Stephanie Lai — Chinese pirate lady who commands a large fleet. She tries to stop opium taking over China but fails obviously. I liked this one.

Due Care And Attention by Sylvia Kelso — A lady doctor and much angst about speeding at the turn of the century. A very fun story. (Alarming how recently the benefit of putting cold water on a burn was discovered.)

Theodora by Barbara Robson — The story of a Roman empress, framed by a historian's scathing commentary of how she was bringing down the Roman Empire (by, y'know, being nice to women and stuff). An enjoyable read.

For So Great A Misdeed by Lisa L. Hannett — a rather long story about an island of woman who had several husbands, all of whom died. Although the length was necessary to cover all the key events in her life, it felt a little drawn out.

The Pasha, The Girl And The Dagger by Havva Murat — A girl is abandoned by her father for being born a girl but secretly rescued by her aunt. She grows up to be a kick-arse knight.

Granuaile by Dirk Flinthart — Irish pirate queen who has a run in with Poseidon.

Little Battles by L.M. Myles — A story about Queen Eleanor at age 70, who was still kicking are. A nice tale about a lady who knew what was what.

Another Week In The Future, An Excerpt by Kaaron Warren — Written in the style of Catherine Helen Spence who wrote a book about time travel into the future (1988), this considers the same character going another 100 years forward. The foreword explains that it is written as though the author wrote it in the final years of her life when she was feeling less hopeful about the world. It’s a very engaging and interesting read. I liked it more than I expected to from the description.

The Lioness by Laura Lam — story about a French pirate queen and a young man that crosses her path.

Cora Crane And The Trouble With Me by Sandra McDonald — told from the point of view of Cora's diary, languishing forgotten in some archive. Quite a clever way of telling. I enjoyed it.

Vintana by Thoraiya Dyer — A queen of Madagascar who olives both her husband the king and her lover. Set at a time when French Christians were insinuating their way into the king's graces and the traditional ways were under threat. A good read.

Hallowed Ground by Juliet Marillier — A having reached old age reflects upon her life and upon new hardships she and her sisters face. A very enjoyable story.

Glorious by Faith Mudge — A story about princess Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn, and her life in the confusing English court (and out of it) of the time. An enjoyable read. 

4 / 5 stars

First published: March 2015, FableCroft Publishing
Series: No
Format read: ePub
Source: I received an eARC but I ended up reading the nicer-formatted backer epub edition which I received for backing the Pozible campaign of this project last year
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Captain Marvel Vol 1: In Pursuit of Flight by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Captain Marvel Vol 1: In Pursuit of Flight written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and illustrated by Dexter Soy and Emma Rios is the origin story of Carol Danvers taking on the mantle of Captain Marvel. Chronologically, it comes before the other trades of Captain Marvel that I've reviewed, which were volumes 1 and 2 of a series reboot, the purpose of which is beyond me. But this is the place to start if you want to read about Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel (formerly she was Ms Marvel, but that role has been taken up by Kamala Khan).

The "Mightiest" of Earth's Mightiest Heroes is back! Ace pilot. Legendary Avenger. One hundred percent pure bad-^&*. Carol Danvers has a new name, a new mission - and all the power she needs to make her own life a living hell. As the new Captain Marvel, Carol is forging from a challenge from her past! It's a firefight in the sky as the Banshee Squadron debut - but who are the Prowlers, and where has Carol seen them before? And how does secret NASA training program Mercury 13 fit in? Witness Captain Marvel in blazing battlefield action that just may change the course of history! Avengers Time Travel Protocols: engage!

This is not your standard origin story because Carol Danvers was already a superhero before she became known as Captain Marvel. In fact, the story starts with Carol and Captain America fighting some monster before she's actually made a decision on the name. (Captain America in fact suggests using the moniker of Captain Marvel.) After a bit of existential angst, she makes the decision and the story continues.

The main plot involves time travel and revisiting people and situations of the past (World War II and the 60s). It's all a rather clever way of filling new readers in on Carol's backstory while also providing a new story. Also, I feel sorry for the new comic creators who have to stick to decades old cannon that can be incredibly cheesy.

On a different note, I really didn't like the art of the first four issues, especially in issue #1, I think it toned down a bit as it went along. It was just not to my taste with the style of detail and shading and actively put me off. Good thing the story was interesting enough to keep me reading.

As has been established in other reviews, I love Captain Marvel and so it should not come as any surprise that I enjoyed this volume. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the others I've read, but at the same time I'm glad to have actually seen some backstory instead of having to infer it. I would recommend it to anyone interested in Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel; it's a pretty sensible place to start. I will definitely be reading the sequel ASAP.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2012, Marvel
Series: Yes. Start of Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel. Volume 1 of 3 in that run. Contains issues #1-6
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Non-evil empire online bookshop

Monday, 18 May 2015

Veronica Mars: Mr Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Veronica Mars: Mr Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham is the second in a two-book deal of Veronica Mars books. I reviewed the first book here. Although the mysteries are technically self-contained, the books do follow sequentially from the TV show, movies and each other. I would not recommend reading Mr Kiss and Tell without having consumed the previous cannon. A central part of the story harks back to the season 2 episode "Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner" and the events that culminate in "Donut Run" (also season 2). I had the soundtrack of the former episode playing in my head for a disturbing amount of Mr Kiss and Tell.

The Neptune Grand has always been the seaside town’s ritziest hotel, despite the shady dealings and high-profile scandals that seem to follow its elite guests. When a woman claims that she was brutally assaulted in one of its rooms and left for dead by a staff member, the owners know that they have a potential powder keg on their hands. They turn to Veronica to disprove—or prove—the woman's story.

The case is a complicated mix of hard facts, mysterious occurrences, and uncooperative witnesses. The hotel refuses to turn over its reservation list and the victim won’t divulge who she was meeting that night. Add in the facts that the attack happened months ago, the victim’s memory is fuzzy, and there are holes in the hotel’s surveillance system, and Veronica has a convoluted mess on her hands. As she works to fill in the missing pieces, it becomes clear that someone is lying—but who? And why?

I had mostly stylistic objections to the first book, which you can read about here, and while they still apply to this second book, I think the prose became a bit smoother and less jarring. Of course, that could also be a combination of fewer characters needing to be introduced for the first time and my getting used to it, but I think there was actual improvement. The only writing thing that particularly bothered me was the prologue which was very tedious to read. It featured a random guy finding the unconscious victim and very strongly followed the trope of random by-standers finding a body that is so common at the start of crime shows. It was never a thing in the Veronica Mars TV show, though, so it bothers me a bit that it has become a thing in the books (the first book also had people discovering a crime had been committed, but since there was no body it felt less noticeably like a trope).

There are a few other differences to the first book. First, there are some chapters from Keith Mars's point of view, who is off on a side quest relating to the sheriff elections held at the end of the book (he's not running in them, though, so it's not quite a season 3 finale all over again). We also see more of Logan, who was physically absent for the whole first book but is now back on shore leave. Both of these — the focus on other events in Neptune and the stronger focus on other areas of Veronica's life — add to the emotional impact of Mr Kiss and Tell in a way that was absent in Thousand Dollar Tan Line. The nostalgia surrounding the victim (as in, the fact that her and Veronica's paths have crossed before) also helped with that. There were some great lines where said character tells Veronica what she was thinking when certain TV events took place, which we only ever saw from Veronica's point of view in the show.

The book ended in a way that really makes me want more Veronica. I don't particularly care in which medium that takes place. I'd settle for another book (right now there are no book deals on the horizon, as far as I can tell) or happily take another TV series or movie, so long as whatever it is follows on sequentially from Mr Kiss and Tell. Give us more Veronica!

In my review of Thousand Dollar Tan Line, I recommended the book to Veronica Mars fans and also non-fans who enjoy crime/mystery books. A similar recommendation stands for Mr Kiss and Tell, although I'd strengthen it a bit and say fans will probably enjoy it more. If you like Veronica Mars but were a bit turned off by the first book, definitely still give this one a go.

4 / 5 stars

First published: January 2014, Allen & Unwin (Australian edition)
Series: Veronica Mars, book 2 of 2 books (and a move and 3 seasons of TV)
Format read: Paper!
Source: I think I bought it in Target because it was so cheap.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Rat Queens Vol 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'rygoth by Kurtis J. Wiebe

Rat Queens Vol 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'rygoth written by Kurtis J. Wiebe and illustrated by Roc Upchurch and Stjepan Sejic is the second collected volume of Rat Queens, containing issues #6-10. I previously reviewed the first volume here, and questioned whether I was sufficiently interested in the story to continue. Part of what convinced me to read on was the fact that the artist changed over part way through Volume 2.

This booze-soaked second volume of RAT QUEENS reveals a growing menace within the very walls of Palisade. And while Dee may have run from her past, the bloated, blood-feasting sky god N’rygoth never really lets his children stray too far.

This volume picks up right where the previous one left off, with the Rat Queens and friends waking up after their celebratory "we won a fight" orgy. They're sent on another, fairly easy mission, while trouble brews in the background. It isn't long before trouble catches up to them. And it's pretty apocalyptic trouble, on a city-scale at least.

While I did find Rat Queens faintly amusing, I thought the volume started a little boringly and ended a bit confusingly (a monster causing hallucinations didn't help on that last point). We did learn more about the backgrounds of the main characters, which was my favourite part, but it didn't make up for my general meh feeling about the whole thing.

Overall, I didn't hate Rat Queens, but I also didn't love it. I felt more ambivalent about this second instalment than I did the first and I don't think I'll be continuing with it. It's just not for me. That said, I don't think there's anything actually bad about it, so I'm sure others will enjoy it, if the jokes and subgenre are more to their tastes.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2015, Image Comics
Series: Rat Queens Volume 2 (issues #6-10) of ongoing series.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 15 May 2015

Tsana's May Status

Has any month this year not been a weird month? I don't think so.

The end of April saw the Defying Doomsday Pozible campaign finish up. We successfully funded (WHOO!) a few days before the end and we are now accepting submissions featuring characters with disabilities, chronic illnesses and so forth surviving the apocalypse. If you missed the hubbub, here is the Defying Doomsday Round-up post which lists all the stops on our blog tour and some other stuff. Maybe there was something you missed.

On the reading side of things, I've gotten into comics a bit harder than I particularly planned to. Turns out they can be addictive. And they're easier to fit in around other things like slushing. For now my plan is to post comic reviews at most alternating with books, which I've mostly stuck to. If you don't like comics, well, suck it up. It's my blog and I will post what I want to.

What Have I Read?

A lot of comic books and a reasonable number of novels.

Currently Reading

I've just started reading Glenda Larke's The Dagger's Path, the sequel to The Lascar's Dagger, which was awesome and I feel a bit bad not having read the sequel as soon as it came out. I'm not very far in yet, but I'm sure I'll be posting the review soon enough.

I'm sure I'll end up reading some more comics. I have a few trades/collected volumes still waiting for me. Then at some point, possibly next month, it depends, I'm planning on getting a Marvel Unlimited subscription for a month or two and reading as many comics as I can in that time. We'll see what happens.

And of course I've also been reading slush.

New Booksies

More new books than I realised, but a lot of them were comics. (And turns out you can get comics for review too, a section of NetGalley I hadn't ventured into before.)
  • Young Avengers Vol 1 by Kieron Gillen, gift from a friend
  • The Wicked The Divine, Vol. 1: The Faust Act by Kieron Gillen, bought from All-Star Comics in Melbourne, recommended by same friend
  • Captain Marvel Volume 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More by Kelly Sue Deconnick, as above but also influenced by my enjoyment of (the new) Ms Marvel. Already reviewed
  • Captain Marvel Volume 2: Stay Fly by Kelly Sue Deconnick, also as above, already reviewed
  • Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines, bought because it was on sale at QBD
  • A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, as above
  • Captain Marvel, Vol. 2: Down by Kelly Sue Deconnick, because Carol Danvers is awesome, bought from All-Star Comics in Melbourne
  • Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas, spotted it for cheapsies in either Target or Big W and it seemed like a good opportunity. I've already reviewed the first Veronica Mars book and the review for this one is coming tomorrow.
  • Rat Queens Volume 2 by Kurtis J. Wiebe, from publisher via NetGalley
  • Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: In Pursuit of Flight by Kelly Sue Deconnick, ordered online because it was sold out in All-Star
  • Pretty Deadly Volume 1 by Kelly Sue Deconnick, as above
  • Wayward Volume 1: String Theory by Jim Zubkavich, from publisher via NetGalley, already reviewed.
  • Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction, purchased digitally because it was like 40% off.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham is a direct sequel to the Veronica Mars movie, picking up the story about two months after the end of the movie. I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've consumed something that continued the cannon in a completely different medium. (I know Whedon did that with comics after Buffy/Angel and Firefly/Serenity, but I haven't actually read those.) It was a strange experience, especially since many of the characters came with actors pre-visualised in my mind. Note that this review contains spoilers for the movie and minor spoilers for the TV show.

Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She's traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case.

Now it's spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is no simple missing person's case; the house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica's past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

It was a strange experience switching media, but even with that the characters and dialogue (including Veronica's inner monologue, though this was less distinct than in the show/movie) were spot on. And continuity-wise, everything was perfect — and I say this as someone who has practically memorised the TV series, I've watched it so many times.

The setting of Neptune is the darker, grittier setting we encountered in the movie, rather than the slightly less depressing setting of the TV show. But this also makes sense since we're thrown into Veronica's life only two months after the end of the movie. On the other hand, I found some of the descriptive passages a bit jarring and ended up semi-involuntarily skimming over them as I got into the book. For a start, describing characters I already know the appearance of from seeing them on TV was dissonant; while not inaccurate, they were generally not how I would have described the same characters, so it was off-putting. There was approximately the same amount of description for every character we meet, which was also a bit weird. I personally don't think appearances are terribly important in books in most circumstances. I tend to forget them as soon as I read them which, admittedly isn't relevant in this case. But generally, beyond knowing who Veronica is talking about when she spies dirty blond dreadlocks amid the crowd, I just don't think it's important. The fact that it was the same amount of description each time just felt so formulaic as well.

The only time I thought the description came close to being appropriate was when places were being described. Especially when it came to the kinds of settings that Veronica had to pay close attention to, such as the hotel room she was searching for clues. That said, there were still a few times when I thought the setting description also veered into too-much territory.

If this wasn't a Veronica Mars book, I definitely wouldn't be tempted to pick up the next one. The writing just wasn't up to stylistic scratch compared with what I normally read. However, it is a Veronica Mars book, which means it comes with built-in affinity for the characters and their stories. Also the snarky dialogue we've all come to know and love. So it's from that perspective that I will be reading the next book while the characters are still fresh in my head. If I hadn't bought the next book already and was forced to either wait or decide to fork out money right now, I also might not have bothered, but here we are. I recommend The Thousand Dollar Tan Line to fans of Veronica Mars and, separately, fans of crime/thriller books who aren't familiar with the show. For fans, reading the book without having seen the movie would be a risky prospect. For non-fans, there might be a few missed references, but as far as I noticed most references to past events were explained succinctly on the page.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, Allen & Unwin (Australian edition, obviously)
Series: Veronica Mars, first book of two so far, sequel to the TV show (3 seasons) and movie. Sort of stands alone but definitely reads better if taken as a sequel.
Format read: Paper! *gasp*
Source: A physical bookshop

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Wayward Vol 1: String Theory by Jim Zub

Wayward Vol 1: String Theory written by Jim Zub and illustrated by Steven Cummings and John Rauch collects the first five issues of the ongoing comic book series. I previously posted a short review of Issue #1 and when I saw Volume 1 on Netgalley, I couldn't resist.

Rori Lane is trying to start a new life when she reunites with her mother in Japan, but ancient creatures lurking in the shadows of Tokyo sense something hidden deep within her, threatening everything she holds dear. Can Rori unlock the secrets of her power before it's too late?

After a half-Irish, half-Japanese girl moves to Japan to live with her mother, she quickly crosses paths with weird supernatural happenings and discovers that she herself has some supernatural powers. In her quest to try to understand what's going on, she teams up with some other powered teens (or are they really teens? I'm not sure about one of them). On almost a whim they decide to seek out some weird supernatural happenings, not content to wait around.

I quite liked Rori and her friends. As well as Rori's ability to see some sort of magical strings (hence the title), there's a girl with an affinity to cats and anime hair, a schoolmate with powers, and the fourth member of the band who seems to be a random bystander/victim, but I'm assuming there's more to him than we've seen so far.

The story stars to deal with some heavier issues, like Rori's mum having to work long/strange hours to make ends meet and self-harm. Obviously, Rori's struggles to fit into a new school in a new country also come up, but those kind of take a back seat to the supernatural stuff going on. I've read elsewhere that the Japan presented in Wayward is en pointe, but having visited the country only once almost a decade ago, I can't really comment.

The story in this volume has a pretty definite arc with a significant climax and a bit of a cliffhanger ending. I'm definitely going to want to read the next volume in the series to find out what happens. It's tempting to just get the next few issues that are already out, but I will be strong and stick to my rule of reading comics in collected volume form only. I would definitely recommend Wayward to anyone interested in the setting and/or stories about teenagers with superpowers. I suspect that covers a reasonable portion of my readers.

4 / 5 stars

First published: April 2015, Image Comics
Series: Wayward Vol 1 of ongoing series, collecting issues #1-5
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer is the first book in a trilogy that tells a fairly self-contained story. Written as a sort of journal by a member of an expedition to a mysterious location, Annihilation is a surreal book.

For thirty years, Area X, monitored by the secret agency known as the Southern Reach, has remained mysterious and remote behind its intangible border– an environmental disaster zone, though to all appearances an abundant wilderness. Eleven expeditions have been sent in to investigate; even for those that have made it out alive, there have been terrible consequences.

‘Annihilation’ is the story of the twelfth expedition and is told by its nameless biologist. Introverted but highly intelligent, the biologist brings her own secrets with her. She is accompanied by a psychologist, an anthropologist and a surveyor, their stated mission: to chart the land, take samples and expand the Southern Reach’s understanding of Area X.

But they soon find out that they are being manipulated by forces both strange and all too familiar. An unmapped tunnel is not as it first appears. An inexplicable moaning calls in the distance at dusk. And while each member of the expedition has surrendered to the authority of the Southern Reach, the power of Area X is far more difficult to resist.

It's quite a short novel but it was not exactly what I'd call a quick read. The prose is on the denser side, but never too heavy. It's the kind of book you have to pay attention to while reading, because if you zone out a bit you can get lost quickly. Hence, not a good book to read on a plane or while jet-lagged... which means I put it down a bit in the middle while I was travelling and recovering from same. It actually wasn't at all hard to get back into, though. Surreal but accessible, is what Vandermeer pulls of with Annhilation.

The story is about a group of explorers, for lack of a better word, sent into a mysterious landscape where things aren't what they seem. Their job is to observe and report back. For the purposes of the expedition, supposedly to help them do their jobs, the members of the expedition have forsaken their names and are referred to only by their professions. We see everything from the point of view of the Biologist and don't know much about the other members other than their occupations and their gender (all female).

The book starts with not too much weirdness other than, well, the existence of Area X. The weirdest thing we learn in the beginning is that hypnotic suggestion was required just to cross the boarder. We also quickly learn how much influence the Psychologist can exert on the other members of the expedition. Especially when the weirder stuff starts happening and the Biologist find herself looking at some of the weirdness from the outside.

It's an interesting book and I found it a compelling read. It is ultimately self-contained although there are a lot of unanswered questions which I assume will be addressed in the sequels. I'm not actually sure if I'll read the sequels. It's not a matter of not wanting to so much as a matter of having too many books to read. It doesn't quite beat out the other books I have waiting.

That said, I would highly recommend Annihilation to anyone who is looking for a thoughtful, mysterious and weird read. If you don't usually enjoy weird or surreal reads, I'd still suggest giving it a try because it's quite easy to follow, even if not everything is ultimately explicable.

4 / 5 stars

First published: February 2015, Harper Collins (actually a source of much confusion for me since I could've sworn I saw it for sale at LonCon last August, but maybe those were advance copies?)
Series: Yes. Book 1 of 3, Southern Reach trilogy
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 8 May 2015

Captain Marvel Vol 2: Stay Fly by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Captain Marvel Vol 2: Stay Fly written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and illustrated by Marcio Takara, David López and others is the sequel to Higher, Further, Faster, More and contains issues #7-11. It picks up right where the previous volume left off with Carol and friends in space. I kind of think the blurb is a bit spoilery, but the fun is in the reading, not necessarily in the not knowing what to expect, right?

Captain Marvel’s space adventure with her pet cat, Chewie, continues! But when they have an unexpected alien visitor, Carol learns that Rocket Raccoon was right: There’s more to Chewie than meets the eye! Chewie is a Flerkin…and a mom to hundreds! Is this the end for Carol and her pet? Then, Carol has her hands full with a special guest-star from the X-Universe: rock and roll maven Lila Cheney! And Christmas comes to the Carol Corps as we celebrate 100 issues and nearly 50 years of Carol Danvers’ high-flying adventures!

But after tracking Captain Marvel and Tic for weeks, the Haffensye Consortium has finally caught up to them both! Carol was barely able to survive the last time she squared off against the Haffensye — will the astronomical Avenger be so lucky again?

Where the previous volume was all one story arc, this volume is contains three. There's a two-issue arc featuring Rocket Raccoon's shenanigans and a large number of cats — 118 to be precise — as the cover fairly accurately depicts, then there's a one-shot on a planet where everyone speaks in rhyme which is a bit weird, and finally another two-issue arc involving Carol's old enemies (about whom read anything else) and a Christmas special. The last arc in particular involves some characters I'm not familiar with and, as I said in my last review, I'm hoping reading the Carol as Captain Marvel origin story set of volumes will clear that up (c'mon mail, you can do it).

So obviously I liked the first story arc best because of all the cats, obviously. I'm still not a fan of the raccoon, but he was less annoying in this issue and had a better dynamic with Chewie, Carol's pet cat, after some initial terribleness. And there's a swarm of kittens so I really don't see what's not to like. Also tentacles and pocket dimensions, thrown in for good measure.

The middle issue is just weird. Carol and Tic follow Lila Cheney (who is a character in other Marvel comics, I think?) to a planet where everyone has to speak in rhyme. It was a super weird issue and reading it just before bed made my thoughts try to rhyme which was also a bit weird. The final arc was more fun, taking us back to what Carol's friends on Earth were up to via a letter she gets. We get to see Spider-Woman dealing with a plague of super-rats, which was entertaining and made me want to read Spider-Woman. The letter leads Carol to pay Earth a quick visit and the 100th issue (I assume that's 100 issues of Carol Danvers) was a Christmas issue with a kind of weird deus ex machina resolution.

I enjoyed this volume and will definitely be picking up more of Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel. I'm still waiting for the first of the earlier series to reach me, and I'm looking forward to Volume 3, whenever that comes out.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: April 2015, Marvel
Series: Captain Marvel (2014) #7-11, (Volume 2 of ongoing)
Format read: Paper!
Source: All Star Comics in Melbourne

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

A pocketful of issues

Mostly thanks to Free Comic Book Day downloads on Comixology, but also thanks to a few other sources, I recently read a bunch of free-floating issue #1 comics. Also because I was jetlagged and Comixology suddenly seemed like a good idea. I might not want to give the evil empire money, but where's the harm if it's free downloads?

Anyway, so I'm posting short reviews of the issues I read. I'm also dividing them into three categories of interested-in-reading-on-ness.

Definitely going to buy the trade paperback

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (Marvel)

This was an issue #1 that a friend bought as a floppy and let me read while we were hanging out. It is awesome. Squirrel Girl can talk to squirrels and has a tail and super strength (the proportional strength and speed of a squirrel)! In this new comic series she is off to college, disguising her tail by tucking it into her pants. Everything about this series looks awesome, including the voice and the art. I am very much hanging out to buy the trade volume when it comes out (though it looks like I'll be waiting till September).

Bitch Planet #1 by by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro (Image)
This has been on my radar for a while but I wasn't sure whether it would quite be my thing. It definitely is. I don't think describing it as "Orange is the New Black in space" is inaccurate. There's a lot of very positive female representation, especially from a body-positivity sense, although the setting is aggressively misogynistic. I mean, women are sent to a prison planet (hence the title) for minor crimes such as not being perfect wives or daring to age. It was quite horrifying, actually, but I'm confident this is going to be a great series and I look forward to the trade coming out in July.

Considering Reading On

Wayward #1 by Jim Zub and Steve Cummings (Image)

An Irish-Japanese girl moves to Tokyo to live with her mother. While still very jetlagged, she wanders around the city, runs into a band of ruffians and also a swarm of cats. The ruffians turn out to be evil turtles and our heroine is rescued by a superhero girl and also discovers super powers of her own. It caught my fancy and I am definitely interested in reading more, just not quite as urgently as the two books mentioned above. Mind you, the first volume is already out, so I might pick it up impulsively if I see it reasonably-priced. Also cats. I want to know more about the cats.

Trees #1 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard (Image)

Set a decade after aliens come to Earth and leave mysterious cylindrical towers all over the place ("trees"), this series looks like it will be looking at the ongoing consequences in a variety of places around the world. Just in issue #1 we see Rio de Janeiro, Manhattan, somewhere polar, and a weird Chinese artists' enclave. So it seems like it will be a fairly diverse story and, of course, the premise is pretty interesting and I'd like to see where they take it. I'm leaning towards wanting to read this one on more than an impulse buy level.

Batgirl #1 (New 52) by Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes (DC)

Promising and whether I keep reading will come down to laziness (or lack thereof). I know they've just rebooted this character too with a new costume (better, though the old one's not that bad) so I'm a bit torn as to whether I'd want to keep reading this version or start with the new one. That said, they did a pretty good job of dealing with the fact that the character spent three years in a wheelchair. Insofar as you can ever magically cure a disabled character well, this could have gone a lot worse. She remembers and acknowledges her time in a wheelchair (and gets rightfully annoyed at her new house mate for suggesting that being in a wheelchair is the worst thing ever) and also suffers from PTSD from the incident which caused her injury, another nice touch. Having written all that, I am definitely interested in continuing this story.

Shutter #1 by Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Duca (Image)

A woman whose father was some sort of possibly-supernatural/superpowered Indiana Jones type character (except an explorer) is lamenting her father's death a decade previously and gets attacked my supernatural monsters. Promising but no idea where it's going. I am intrigued and would be interested in finding out. If anyone has read more of this series, feel free to chime in. It's another one where the first trade is already out, so I might impulsively buy it if I see it, but I'm less certain than with the above two.

Not Interested in Continuing

Alex + Ada #1 by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn (Image) — Not the worst thing ever but not for me. Dude whose grandmother gives him a female robot for companionship. Eh.

Roche Limit #1 by Michael Moreci and Vic Malhotra (Image) — Too much man pain (even though turns out one of the main characters is female) and baffling physics. Might have potential, but I'm not going to bother to keep reading.

Planetary #1 by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday (DC) — I feel less strongly against this one than the two above. I didn't actively dislike it, but I didn't feel it brought anything particularly new or exciting to the table, so I'm not interested in pursuing it.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Abducticon by Alma Alexander

Abducticon by Alma Alexander is a book that tickled my fancy when I first read the blurb. What's not to like about the idea of a science fiction convention that gets abducted by aliens?

It's the Friday before a science fiction convention weekend. Hundreds of fans are lined up at the registration desk. The posters for the Media Guests of Honor aren't done, there's a problem with the Program Booklet, the Author Guest of Honor has gone AWOL, and the coffee in the Green Room is DREADFUL. The convention chair's boyfriend has just smashed up his car.

And now the entire hotel has been kidnapped by time traveling
androids. At least something is going right.

Welcome to AbductiCon.

This book was pretty much what I expected it to be. It's a fun and very, very geeky story about some of the people who attended a small, local (US) spec fic convention, a few innocent by-standers and the handful of aliens that throw their weekend into disarray.

There are several point of view characters and the story is split between them, depending on who is in the right place at the right time. A few notable characters are the con chair, a few others of the con committee — including one that got left behind, much to his confusion — and a few guests. There are also the aliens, of course, but they are never point of view characters. Their role is mainly to instigate events and be mysterious. They do have an agenda, but it takes a back-seat to the humans simply trying to cope with the situation, until near the end.

I found the book a funny and entertaining read. I would say if the premise tickles your fancy, then definitely pick this book up. If you have little to no interest in SFF fandom or conventions, then this is probably not for you. I enjoyed it and I think it was a good book to read while travelling.

4 / 5 stars

First published: March 2015, Book View Cafe
Series: No.
Format read: eARC
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Captain Marvel, Vol 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More written by Kelly Sue Deconnick and illustrated by David Lopez

Captain Marvel, Vol 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More written by Kelly Sue Deconnick and illustrated by David Lopez is the first volume in the second story arc/sequence starring the new Captain Marvel (the first sequence thingy had two volumes and included her origin story and I haven't read it as of this writing). A friend recommended starting with this volume (and described it as "Captain Marvel in SPACE", which is accurate) but there were a few characters that were obviously in the earlier comics that I wasn't familiar with. Now I want to go back and read those two earlier volumes. (I should also admit that part of the reason I decided to start here is because the Volume 2 immediately following this one has a swarm of cats on the cover...) Goodreads leads me to believe that this is the first volume of the 8th... volume of Captain Marvel stories. The Carol Danvers version of Captain Marvel seems to have begun with the 2 or 3 volumes of the 7th... volume. (Wow, turns out you have to be quite awake to understand comic chronology.)

Hero! Pilot! Avenger! Captain Marvel, Earth's Mightiest Hero with an attitude to match, is back and launching headfirst into an all-new ongoing adventure! As Captain Marvel, a.k.a. Carol Danvers, comes to a crossroads with a new life and new romance, she makes a dramatic decision that will alter the course of her life - and the entire Marvel Universe - in the months to come. But as Carol takes on a mission to return an alien girl to her homeworld, she lands in the middle of an uprising against the Galactic Alliance! Investigating the forced resettlement of Rocket Girl's people, Carol discovers that she has a history with the man behind the plot. But when the bad guy tries to blackmail Carol and turn the Avengers against her, it's payback time! Guest-starring the Guardians of the Galaxy!

To summarise my review: Captain Marvel is awesome and she should have all the movies. ALL. THE. MOVIES.

This was my first exposure to Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers or otherwise) unless you count Tumblr fanart. Turns out, she's incredibly awesome. Basically, Captain Marvel, aka Carol Danvers, is night impervious (bullets bounce off her, she doesn't need to breath in space — and can magically talk in space without a helmet...), can fly, and shoots energy/fireballs from her hands. AND she has a pet cat which she takes to space with her. WHAT is not to like? Seriously.

As I'm sure you can tell, I have a new favourite superhero. I'm not sure I had a strong favourite superhero before (but right now Ms Marvel is probably number 2), but I do now. I am lacking a bit of background on her, so I'm sure I missed some references at the start (and there were a couple of characters who I had zero context for) but the actual story made sense the whole time. Captain Marvel is sent to a "poison planet" whose inhabitants are all getting sick but don't want to evacuate. Along the way she runs into the Guardians of the Galaxy (exactly like the movie set of characters) and the annoying raccoon is mean to her cat. (I already didn't like the raccoon from the movie, so this is just another point against him.)

The main action in this volume's story arc is Captain Marvel saving the planet in a roundabout way — a lot is made of the fact that just because she's an Avenger doesn't mean that her mere presence is magical or wanted. Although she enjoys punching people in the face, the day-saving has to be a little more indirect than that. And the important thing is, the cat is unharmed. (The cat is, in fact, on the cover of Volume 2.)

I loved Captain Marvel and highly recommend her to anyone who likes superheroes, kickarse women, or cats. I'm not 100% sure that Higher, Further, Faster, More is the absolute best volume to start with, but it's not a bad place to come into Captain Marvel's story. I will definitely be reading more Captain Marvel.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, Marvel
Series: Um. Captain Marvel (2014) #1-6, (Volume 1 of ongoing) and the third volume since Carol Danvers became Captain Marvel.
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: All-Star Comics, Melbourne