Category Archives: books

They Are The Night: Batwoman, Batgirl, and Red Robin Swing Into Action

About two years ago, Grant Morrison did the unthinkable: he killed Bruce Wayne. Okay, okay…he sent him back in time or some weird shit. It doesn’t matter. The end result was the same. With no desire to read about a Batman who was not Bruce Wayne, I packed a suitcase and left Gotham City, vowing not to return until Bruce did. Well, the day has finally arrived, Bruce Wayne is returning to his rightful place in the here and now.

Unfortunately, a lot’s been going on in Gotham City since I left. There’s a new Batgirl. Tim Drake has abandoned the Robin identity and become Red Robin. And, who’s this mysterious new vigilante calling herself Batwoman? If I’m going to start following Bruce Wayne’s adventures again, I’d have to familiarize myself with the new status quo in the Bat-Family. With that in mind, I spent a large chunk of yesterday reading Batwoman: Elegy, as well as the first trades of Batgirl and Red Robin.

Batwoman: Elegy

by Greg Rucka (writer) and J.H. Williams, III (artist)

We first met the modern Batwoman in the pages of 52, however a lot of her backstory wasn’t revealed until she became the featured hero in Detective Comics. Elegy collects the first seven issues of Rucka/Williams run. I have to say, of the three trades I read, this one may be my least favorite. Of course, when something like this is your least favorite thing you read in a day, it’s still a pretty damn good day.

I’m just not a fan of the whole Religion of Crime thing that DC has going on these days. And, since a lot of Batwoman’s time seems to be geared towards fighting this organization, you can understand why I didn’t completely love this trade. I did enjoy the flashbacks that explored Kate Kane’s childhood, time at West Point, and eventual transformation into Batwoman. I think Kate is a great addition to the Bat-Family, the DC Universe, and the general world of comics. I love that her dad–the Colonel–is serving as Kate’s Alfred. I’d also like to think that in her new ongoing series, Batwoman will have a werewolf sidekick.

Batgirl: Batgirl Rising

by Bryan Q. Miller (writer) and Lee Garbett (artist)

That image pretty much says it all. Former Robin and Spoiler Stephanie Brown takes over the mantle of Batgirl in a new ongoing series. While I didn’t hate Cassandra Cain (the previous Batgirl), I positively love Steph. Always have. Steph’s Batgirl is a throwback to the adventures of the first Batgirl, Barbara Gordon–and it’s fitting that Babs appears in this first trade to mentor the newest Bat. Between hiding her double life from her mom and trying to juggle being a college freshman and a costumed crimefighter, Steph’s Batgirl reminds me a lot of Spider-Man, and that’s a good thing. And, as much as I hate that little shit Damian Wayne, I love the antagonistic pseudo-sibling rivalry between Steph and the new Robin.

Red Robin: The Grail

by Chris Yost (writer) and Ramon Bachs (artist)

I love Tim Drake. He was “my Robin.” But, I guess no one can be a Boy Wonder forever. So, when Dick Grayson becomes Batman, he chooses Damian Wayne as the new Robin and tells Tim that Robin is “Batman’s student” and he sees Tim as “his equal.” Convinced that Bruce Wayne is still alive, Tim becomes Red Robin and goes on a globetrotting quest to prove that his former mentor isn’t actually dead. While Tim adjusts to his new identity (“What should I call these things? They look like ammo belts. Utility straps?”), he must decide whether or not to accept a deal with Batman’s greatest enemy–Ra’s al Ghul.

Red Robin: The Grail shows Tim using his strengths–his intellect and keen detection skills–but it also shows him struggling with maturity, as both a person and as a hero. With Bruce returning, I’m not sure what role Red Robin will play in the Bat-Family, but I’m excited to find out.

And the Winner of Two Free Max Barry Novels Is….

amorporchoco–who, when asked about the worst job they’d ever had, wrote:

I spent a few weeks of the summer before my senior year building a fence in the Arizona summer sun. The thing about building the fence is that it involved digging 2-foot deep holes in caliche, this dense clay that pickaxes get stuck in. Overall, it took about an hour a hole and at over 50 holes it was a great time for minimum wage.

I’d offer to send you a post holer (for digging holes for posts), but I’ll just send you a copy of Max Barry’s Jennifer Government and Company, instead.

Just email me your address and let me know where to send ’em.

Max Barry Giveaway

It’s time for a little spring cleaning. And, I thought what better way to free up some shelf space than to have a little giveaway.

I’ve got two Max Barry books–Jennifer Government and Company–looking for a new home. Check ’em out*:

Taxation has been abolished, the government has been privatized, and employees take the surname of the company they work for. It’s a brave new corporate world, but you don’t want to be caught without a platinum credit card–as lowly Merchandising Officer Hack Nike is about to find out. Trapped into building street cred for a new line of $2500 sneakers by shooting customers, Hack attracts the barcode-tattooed eye of the legendary Jennifer Government. A stressed-out single mom, corporate watchdog, and government agent who has to rustle up funding before she’s allowed to fight crime, Jennifer Government is holding a closing down sale–and everything must go.

With broad strokes, Barry satirizes corporate America in his third caustic novel, taking aim at corporations that turn people into cogs in a machine. A bitingly funny take on corporate life by the author of acclaimed bestseller JENNIFER GOVERNMENT. Nestled among Seattle’s skyscrapers, The Zephyr Holdings Building is a bleak rectangle topped by an orange-and-black logo that gives no hint of Zephyr’s business. Lack of clarity, it turns out, is Zephyr’s defining characteristic. No one has ever seen the CEO or glimpsed his office. Yet every day people clip on their ID tags, file into the building, sit at their desks, and hope that they’re not about to be outsourced.

============================================================

If you think these books sound like something you, or someone you know, would enjoy reading, just leave a comment telling me about the worst job you’ve ever had (or just say “hi”). A winner will be randomly selected after midnight on Friday, March 19. That’s right…you have a little less than a week to enter.

Get to it. Tell your friends.

Sorry, only US/Canadian residents are eligible.

* Synopses courtesy of Barnes and Noble.

Top 10 Books of 2009

It is once again time for the Internet–that glorious collection of tubes–to overflow with “best of” lists. This year, I actually kept a list of every book I read, which caused an interesting problem when it came to picking just ten to include on this list. So, because I am the king of this little kingdom, I’ve decided to cheat. If I happened to write a review of a book during the year, it will not appear on this list and will, instead, appear as a link at the end of this post. It’s good to be king.

What follows is a list of the ten (remaining) books that I read this year and thoroughly enjoyed. And, like always, they were not necessarily published in 2009, I simply read them in 2009. So, in no particular order:

1. Hunt at the Well of Eternity, by Gabriel Hunt

I grew up on the Indiana Jones movies. I love ridiculous globe-trotting adventures of a pulpy nature. That’s what this series, from the good folks at Dorchester Publishing, is all about. If you’re adult enough to realize that sometimes a book can just be a rippin’ yarn without trying to teach you anything, then follow treasure hunter Gabriel Hunt as he straps on his Colt revolver and rescues damsels, punches thugs, and searches for the Fountain of Youth.

2. Dull Boy, by Sarah Cross

Dull Boy is the story of Avery Pirzwick, a typical teenager who just happens to have superpowers. As he learns to deal with his abilities, Avery is unwittingly drafted into a team of similarly gifted teens. Cross is obviously a hardcore comic fan and not just following along with the latest popular trend, and it shows in her writing. If you like YA fiction or superheroes, you should read this book. Stat.

3. The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, by Robert E. Howard

I really love Howard’s Conan stories, so I was looking forward to checking out one of his other characters. Solomon Kane, the Puritan swordsman, is a great character: equal parts Conan and The Man With No Name. The only problem I had with this collection was the lack of variety in the stories. Kane is a wanderer, but the bulk of the stories take place in either England or Africa.

4. City of Ashes, by Cassandra Clare

The second book in Clare’s Mortal Instruments trilogy (or, is it a tetralogy now?). Clary Fray–who continues to be one of my favorite characters in modern literature–is still trying to find her place in the world of the demon-slaying Shadowhunters. If the angsty teen love triangles aren’t for you, the Buffy-esque humor and action scenes will probably make up for it.

5. Turn Coat, by Jim Butcher

The latest book in Butcher’s Harry Dresden series. Get used to seeing these books on my end of year list, since a new one comes out every year and they continue to be awesome. This time around, Harry finds himself trying to save the reputation (and life) of someone who has made most of his adult life a living hell.

6. Death of a Doxy, by Rex Stout

Rex Stout, Nero Wolfe, and Archie Goodwin never disappoint.

7. Black and White, by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge

An interesting counterpoint to Cross’s Dull Boy, Black and White is set in the near future, where superheroes are trained, branded, and owned by corporations. Jet is the hero of New Chicago; Iridium is a wanted vigilante. But, these two rivals used to be best friends. Alternating between Jet’s POV and Iridium’s, the narrative bounces back and forth from the present to the past, when hero and villain were both students at an elite academy for superheroes-in-training.

8. The Last Oracle, by James Rollins

Another in Rollins’s Sigma Force novels. This entry finds the scientist-soldiers of Sigma facing a radical faction within the former Soviet Union that’s intent on bringing forth a new Russian Renaissance, even if it means irradiating the world’s leaders with the remaining fallout from Chernobyl. There are also gypsies, psychic twins, and a chimpanzee with a brain implant.

9. Heretic, by Bernard Cornwell

For my money, no one writes historical action scenes like Cornwell. The final book in his Grail Quest Trilogy is just as action-packed as the first two volumes. Heretic follows Thomas of Hookton on his reluctant quest for the Holy Grail, but does so in a thoroughly realistic manner. While Cornwell’s characters may believe that the Grail is real and possesses supernatural powers, he never once lets that hocus-pocus invade his historically accurate prose.

10. The Lightning Thief & The Sea of Monsters, by Rick Riordan

         

Riordan’s series about Percy Jackson is not a rip-off of Harry Potter (or, if it is, than the Harry Potter series is a rip-off of Oliver Twist). Percy isn’t a wizard, he’s a demigod. That’s right, Mavis, a demigod. He’s the son of Poseidon, the motherfucking god of the earth and sea. Percy (short for Perseus–yeah, he’s not sure why either) fights monsters, goes on quests, and trains at a summer camp called Camp Half-Blood. There’s a lot of fun world-building going on in this series to explain how gods and monsters from Greek myth are currently residing in the United States–Mount Olympus appearing atop the Empire State Building? Hades ruling beneath Los Angeles? Sure, why not. If anything, I’d say that these books are more like a middle grade version of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods than the story about the Boy Who Lived.

Very Honorable Mentions:

My Soul to Take, by Rachel Vincent

Magic Lost, Trouble Found, by Lisa Shearin

The Codex Alera series, by Jim Butcher

 

I May Be Delusional…But, At Least I’m Happy

This new Sherlock Holmes movie is a bad idea.* There. I’ve said it. It just looks horrible on so many levels. Holmes doesn’t jump out of windows. He doesn’t get chained to a bed naked. He doesn’t toss about double entendres.

Anyway…despite the fact that the very thought of this movie causes me to vomit forth fiery gouts of scarlet rage, the universe sees fit to bombard me with posters, trailers, and (if I’m not mistaken) some bizarre Tac0 Bell promotion. There’s really only one way to handle this. Deception.

In the interest of my own sanity, whenever I see Robert Downey, Jr. (aka Mr. Awesome) and Jude Law (aka that pansy-ass cowardly deserter from that Mountain movie)…

…I will simply replace them with two actors who could actually do Holmes and Watson justice:

Jeremy Irons:

And David Thewlis:

*: Though, to be fair, any Holmes other than Jeremy Brett’s Holmes is a bad idea.

Dear Hollywood: Stop Doing It Wrong!

So it seems like names are already being thrown around for Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit. I’m sure the studio has already compiled a list of actors currently appearing in teen dramas on The CW to compete for the role of Bilbo Baggins.

We can all agree that there’s only one person out there who can play Bilbo (played in Jackson’s original trilogy by Ian Holm)…

And, that person is…

Rome, Tolkien Style

I have a problem with fantasy. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I think what I really have a problem with is epic fantasy.

In theory, I should love anything with magic, swords, monsters, and ridiculously heroic types. In theory. But, much like Communism, I find that epic fantasy works much better for me in theory than it does in practice. Thankfully, when I need a magic or monster fix, I can go to urban fantasy; if I want to read about a bunch of guys hacking at each other with swords and spears, I’ll pick up a historical novel or one of Robert E. Howard’s Conan collections. So, what the hell is wrong with epic fantasy?

Most of the epic fantasy that I’ve tried to read falls into one of three categories. First, the author has clearly scanned Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and simply ran a find-and-replace on some of the character and place names. Second, the author has pulled together transcripts from several games of Dungeons & Dragons and is using them as “research.” Third, the author tries to do something so “different” and “unlike everything that has come before” that it becomes too convoluted to even begin to read. There are exceptions, of course. Personally, I enjoyed the first Dragonlance trilogy. I also really enjoy Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series. And, apparently, I really love Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series.

I’ve been irrationally obsessed with a devoted fan of Jim Butcher for a few years, ever since I read his first Harry Dresden novel, Storm Front. I won’t go into just how much I love Butcher’s private eye and professional wizard. I won’t. Suffice it to say, it’s enough that when I found out that Butcher also had a series of “epic fantasy” novels, I was significantly intrigued. Intrigued enough to run out and buy the first two books in the Codex Alera series, but still reticent enough that they remained untouched for over a year. Last week, I finally picked up the first book in the series, Furies of Calderon, and immediately hated myself for waiting so long.

The first thing that stands out about this series is the setting. Most epic fantasy that I’ve read is set in a world that is loosely based on Europe during the Middle Ages. However, Butcher’s Alera is patterned after the Roman Empire. Or, to be more specific, a Roman Empire that has had one thousand years to evolve and develop, creating something that’s a blend of both Roman and Medieval politics and society. Alera is a realm of Lords, Senators, Citizens, and Centurions. The Aleran countryside is divided into Steadholts, large farms akin to the feudal estates of Europe.

The magic found in the series is unique, as well. It’s not the usual wizened old guy with a beard and a floppy hat or some staff-waving mumbo-jumbo. I’m not even totally positive that it can be classified as magic. The Alerans possess a seemingly innate ability to control the elements or, more specifically, the spirits–what the Alerans call furies–that inhabit the elements of earth, wind, fire, water, wood, and metal. Most Alerans become skilled in manipulating one or two elementals, aided by personal furies who act like familiars. In addition to being able to control the physical aspects of a given element, furies also bestow certain super- or preternatural abilities upon their wielder. For example, those who possess watercrafting abilities can use them to heal, read emotions, or alter their appearance, while earthcrafting can grant increased strength, tracking skills, and the ability to inspire lust in others. And, like a game of rock-paper-scissors (or Battle Beasts), specific elements can negate or counteract another.

In the first book of the series, Butcher introduces readers to Tavi. Tavi is a young man living on his uncle’s Steadholt in the Calderon Valley–sight of a great battle between the Alerans and the Marat, a savage people who bond with wild animals the way Alerans do with furies. Tavi is your typical fantasy hero. He’s intelligent, loyal, brave, and has an uncanny ability to get himself into and out of trouble. Tavi stands out because, unlike everyone else in Alera, he has absolutely no furycrafting ability. Everyone, including Tavi, view this as a huge handicap. Of course, this wouldn’t be an epic fantasy novel unless Tavi learns that he can overcome his apparent weakness and tap into his own strength and intelligence.

Just like the Dresden Files, Butcher’s Codex Alera series doesn’t shy away from the usual tropes of the genre. Butcher is a self-professed fan of traditional fantasy literature, and his love for the genre is evident in this series. Codex embraces and plays around with the motifs of fantasy literature without insulting them. There’s a lot of Frodo, Wart, and Harry Potter in Tavi. These similarities might lead some people to criticize the character, calling him stereotypical or clichéd. These people need to pick up a dictionary and look up the word archetype, and then commit ritual suicide to atone for their stupidity. As a fan of Butcher’s other series, I think Tavi is an interesting counterpoint to Harry Dresden. In Harry’s world, he’s the one with the power, while his friends have to get by in the real world like everyone else; in Tavi’s world, everyone has power and he’s forced to stumble around, grasping and groping, like someone locked in a dark room.

Furies of Calderon does an admirable job establishing this new world, from the decent and hardworking steadholders to the backstabbing skullduggery and political infighting of the Lords and Senators. And, as always, Butcher manages to excel at both life-and-death combat and lighthearted personal moments. There are a few bumps along the road, though. Some of what the furies are capable of doing doesn’t always seem to fit logically with their given element. Also, it sometimes falls victim to bouts of Tolkienitis, stringing together a bunch of words to make a more fantastical word to describe something fairly common in the real world, or using a completely fabricated word for something rather than the perfectly good English word that we’ve all agreed upon. There’s even a siege towards the end of the novel that was very reminiscent of the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers–but, that’s okay since that was my favorite part of Tolkien’s trilogy.

Minor quibbles aside, as soon as I finished Furies of Calderon, I immediately picked up the second book: Academ’s Fury. And, it’s entirely possible that I’ll need to run out and buy the third book before Christmas.