Category Archives: reviews

“We Have to Astonish Them”: Revisiting Astonishing X-Men

The gang over at Fantastic Fangirls declared September to be Revisit Month. With so much new stuff coming out every damn day, I don’t always get a chance to go back and re-read favorite books; however, as luck would have it, I happened upon the Astonishing X-Men Omnibus and couldn’t resist giving Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s epic run another read.

I remember when I first heard that Whedon would be writing X-Men. I was pretty much on board before I finished reading the sentence. Then I found out that Whedon’s team would include Kitty Pryde–neither that fact nor my reaction to that fact should surprise anyone who’s been paying attention. All I had to do was sit back and wait.

Astonishing X-Men came along at a time when I had all but given up on the X-Men. But, as a Whedon fan, I figured I couldn’t go wrong checking out the first issue–even if it meant putting up with Emma Frost (more on that later). I wasn’t disappointed. And, even when I was disappointed, I felt Astonishing X-Men was still better than a lot of other books I was reading. Now that I’ve read the entire run again, I can say that the thing holds up. In fact, it’s possible that I enjoyed it even more the second time.

Since I already sort of knew what was going to happen–mutant cure, Breakworld, Cassandra Nova, S.W.O.R.D.–I was able to focus more on the smaller things. The character moments. Case in point: I hate Emma Frost. A lot. She was the villain in the very first X-Men story I ever read and, no matter how heroic she may or may not be these days, when I look at her I see a villain. However, when Whedon pairs Frost with Kitty Pryde (who, coincidentally, shares my feelings towards Miss Frost)–

–the resulting scenes are pure gold:

(I could easily sit here and do nothing but post images from Astonishing X-Men of Kitty being awesome…but, I won’t. I swear. Moving on…)

Whedon probably could have swept in and done whatever crazy-ass shit he wanted with this book. He’s a name. The book would probably sell solely on that. However, Whedon–a geek at his core–found time to pay homage to the history of these characters, whether it’s the return of the Fastball Special:

or a nod to a classic panel from Uncanny X-Men 132:

Of course, that isn’t to say that  Astonishing X-Men didn’t bring anything new to the table. There was Danger–the physical embodiment of the X-Men’s Danger Room–a storyline which left me somewhat cold during the book’s initial run but was slightly less annoying when it was just a small part of the larger narrative. There was the whole thing about Cyclops losing his powers and essentially becoming Wesley from the later seasons of Angel:

I’m still trying to figure out exactly why this happened. Scott’s lack of control over his incredibly destructive power has always been an important part of who he is as a character, especially when it plays off of the fact that Scott is a huge control enthusiast, so not being in control of his own power must really suck for him. But, I don’t really see that happening this time. Really, the only reason I can think for this to have happened in Astonishing was to have Scott run around with a gun for a while and then to have an awesome four-page-long optic blast:

But, I think the greatest thing that Whedon and Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men brought to the table can be summed up in two words: Abigail Brand. The agent in charge of S.W.O.R.D., another of Marvel’s Amazing Acronym Agencies, Brand’s tasked with keeping Earth safe from alien threats. Also, she apparently has a thing for furry blue guys:

I’m really amazed at how much more I enjoyed Astonishing X-Men the second time. I honestly thought I had experienced maximum enjoyment the first time around…but, I was wrong. Sure, like everyone else, I loved Wolverine’s time as Percy Dovetails (MOOSE!!) and the reunion of Kitty and Colossus choked me up more than a little bit. And, yes, the ending positively killed me. But, something just didn’t click when I was reading it in single issues–a huge chuck of which came out bimonthly. No. I wasn’t truly astonished until I was able to sit down and read the story from the first page to the last in a single (well, okay, double) sitting.

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.

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

 

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.

They’re Giant Robots…Get Over Yourself

(DISCLAIMER: What follows are my opinions on a movie. You are welcome to have your own opinions and to disagree with mine. You are not welcome to treat your opinions as fact in an attempt to tell me that I am wrong for liking what I like. General Internet douchebaggery is no longer welcome in my corner of the world. Respectful debate and discussion are, as always, welcome. Violators will be flayed.)

I’m just going to get this over with right now–sort of like ripping off a band-aid–so, here goes: I loved Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Loved it. It was awesome. It was two-and-a-half hours of nonstop fun. Fun, people. Was it a great movie? Hell, no. Was it a good movie? Eh…probably not. But. It. Was. Fun.

prime

I don’t know about you, but I’m incredibly shocked that this movie, which was directed by Michael Bay, looked like a Michael Bay movie. Damn. Never saw that coming. It’s like this one time, when I went to a sushi restaurant and the waiter brought me a bunch of raw fish. What was up with that? There was nothing going on in Revenge of the Fallen that Bay hasn’t done before in pretty much every other movie he’s made. The only problem is that the Transformers are sacred to some people…and, to be honest, nothing is sacred to Bay. Bay doesn’t give a shit about what people expect. He just does things because he thinks they’re funny or awesome and, you know what, he’s usually right. Bay is an auteur in every sense of the word. I have no idea why Bay thought a tiny robot humping a hot girl’s leg was funny…but, dammit, he was right. That’s why he’s Michael Bay and I’m not.

This movie was not perfect. But, nothing is. As my good friend, Mr. Data, once said: “Believing oneself to be perfect is often the sign of a delusional mind.” However, this movie was a blast. I laughed for almost the entire two-and-a-half hours. I don’t care if I was laughing with the movie or at it (and Bay doesn’t care, either), but I laughed. I forgot the annoying, soul-crushing abyss that is work. I forgot the troubled economy. I forgot the fact that NYC has had a grand total of two sunny days in the last three weeks. I forgot all of this and just had fun, like pretty much everyone else in the packed theater. I mean, c’mon, how can you not laugh when one character shows another character a film that was supposedly made in the Thirties…and it’s in color? That’s funny shit, cats and kittens.

I know a lot of fans are upset because these Transformers are radically different from the Transformers they know from television and comics. Well…um…which ones? I’m G1 guy. I watched the show when it was originally broadcast in the early-eighties. I bid farewell to childhood innocence when Optimus Prime died in 1986. I collected the Marvel comic (which, by the way, had a continuity separate from that of the cartoon, yet I was still able to enjoy it). Then, “my Transformers” went away. Everything that’s come since–with the exception of Beast Wars/Machines and some of the comics–has not thrilled me. So, should Bay have been forced to use the G1 characters for my benefit? No. And it would be silly to expect the filmmakers to pick any of the other pre-existing continuities to blindly adapt for the new movies.

Now, about the acting. I know that hating on Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox has become almost as popular as pretending that a dearly departed pop star didn’t rape young boys, but enough. I happen to like LaBeouf quite a bit. He was Louis Stevens for god’s sake, it’s not his fault that he’s been cast in two different geek-centric franchises, neither of which could have possibly been good enough to satisfy the angry nerd-quakes that ripple across the Internet. As for Megan Fox…well, she’s not my cup of tea–but, neither are about 89% of Hollywood “It Girls”–and, maybe she should think a little longer before she says things to the press, but otherwise, who cares? There’s also been rumblings about John Turturro. A lot of people “feel sorry for him.” Why? Look at him…he’s had more fun in these two Transformers flicks than he’s had in his entire career. Show me one other movie he’s been in where he gets to run around in a banana hammock? It’s okay for that Borat jag-off, but thrown in a few giant robots and it somehow becomes humiliating?

And, you know who I could watch for hours on end? Ma and Pa Witwicki. Those two characters are hilarious. Do a direct-to-DVD movie about Kevin Dunn and Julie White’s suburban empty nesters and I’ll eat it up. With a spoon.

Like I said before, this wasn’t the best movie I’d ever seen. It certainly wasn’t the Transformers movie I would have made…which probably explains why I’ve stopped getting those phone calls from big Hollywood studios. Yes, the story was retarded and, at times, a little jumbled…but, at least a goal was set and attained. That’s what movies need, folks: a fucking goal. Something (anything) needs to be accomplished and either the protagonists accomplish it or they don’t.

I do, however, have the same problems with Revenge of the Fallen that I had with the first Transformers movie. First of all, the Decepticons continue to be way too grey and pointy to be even remotely discernible from each other most of the time. The Autobots? Cool, man, I can tell them apart. Not so much with the Big Bads. Someone get those guys an Earth-based alt mode, please;  a little splash of color, a wheel here, a door there, some kind of identifiable markings. Secondly, at least in my opinion, there’s a lot of unnecessary robots running around: Tiny little bug things…way more construction vehicles than I’d ever thought possible. I think it goes back to my recognition issue. Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ironhide, Ratchet: I know these names. It doesn’t matter what they look like, I’m already on board with these characters. Jolt? Skids? Mudflap? I know these characters exist in some continuities, but I’d have been happier if they were called–oh, I dunno–Wheeljack, Windcharger, and Cliffjumper. I also wouldn’t have said “no” to the inclusion of Shockwave, Rumble, and maybe Blitzwing or something…y’know, names I’d recognize. However, I did finally get Soundwave; too bad he was kinda lame. Oh well. But, none of this impeded my ability to enjoy the movie. Why? Because it was FUN.

A final thought: A lot of the negative reviews for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen seem to revolve around the idea that the movie is stupid and, therefore, anyone who would enjoy “a movie like this” is unintelligent. Well, all I have to say to that is “Fuck you.” You don’t have to like the movie, that’s cool. What you do have to do is respect the people who liked it. It’s their opinion, which is equally as valid as yours, professor. There are scads of movies out there that I wouldn’t see, even if you forced me at gunpoint. But, other folks seem to like them, and that’s enough to justify their existence to me. At no point, while earning my two degrees, was I asked what kind of books, movies, music, or TV shows I preferred. Probably, I’m assuming, because that shit has nothing to do with someone’s intellect. There should be every conceivable kind of movie being made. Options, people. Options. Just because you don’t like something, doesn’t mean that you should keep those who do from enjoying it. Also, just because someone doesn’t agree with you, it doesn’t make them stupid, unintelligent, or uneducated. Want to know how I know this, Mr. and Ms. Reviewer? Well, it’s simple: even on my worst day, I’m still smarter than you. And furthermore, I am confident enough in my intelligence that I don’t need to flaunt it or pretend that I am somehow above “the masses.”

I Scream, You Scream: A Review of MY SOUL TO TAKE

My exploratory expedition into the land of YA urban fantasy continues with Rachel Vincent’s My Soul to Take. I was lucky enough to pick up an autographed ARC of the first book in Vincent’s new YA series, Soul Screamers, at Book Expo.

MSTT

Something is wrong with Kaylee Cavanaugh

She doesn’t see dead people, but…

She senses when someone near her is about to die. And when that happens, a force beyond her control compels her to scream bloody murder. Literally.

Kaylee just wants to enjoy having caught the attention of the hottest guy in school. But a normal date is hard to come by when Nash seems to know more about her need to scream than she does. And when classmates start dropping dead for no apparent reason, only Kaylee knows who’ll be next…

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I have a confession to make: I don’t like teenagers. I never really cared for them when I was one, and now that I’m slowly making my way through my thirties, I like them even less. For this reason, I tend to avoid stories that are strictly teen-centric. Unless, that is, they are grafted onto something “weird.” You’ll never see me watching The O.C., Gossip Girl, or Beverly Hills 90210, but I never missed an episode of Buffy, Roswell, or Veronica Mars. That’s why I like YA urban fantasy. It’s much easier for me to read a book about teenagers if they happen to be fighting demons, faeries, or grim reapers.

That brings me to Rachel Vincent’s My Soul to Take. From the blurb above, I think it’s safe to assume that you’ve all figured out that Kaylee is, in fact, a banshee–or, to be more accurate, a bean sidhe. A teenage bean sidhe, living in Texas. Yeah…that’s why I love urban fantasy. I love the way authors mix standard fantasy elements–whether it’s vampires, demons, faeries, or wizards–with the “real, modern world.” The worldbuilding aspect is my favorite part of urban fantasy, seeing how the author fits these two pieces–the fantastic and the mundane–together.

Anyway, Vincent’s first Soul Screamers (God, I love that name!) novel is amazing. My Soul to Take is an origin story, introducing us to Kaylee (love that name, too!), her family and friends, and the newly-discovered “hidden world” she inhabits, including the rules regarding bean sidhe and death. Unlike standard folklore, Vincent portrays the bean sidhe as a race that includes both men and women, with each gender having specific powers and abilities. And, since the bean sidhe are closely tied to death, Vincent gives us a glimpse of the delightfully bureaucratic “collection agency” known as Death, complete with interns and regional reapers.

Ideas are all well and good, but if an army marches on its stomach, a novel marches on its characters. I don’t care how interesting a world is or how cool a concept may be, I’m not going to get very far without great characters. Kaylee is a great addition to my list of spunky, smart-mouthed heroines. I love Kaylee’s dad, Aiden, and her Uncle Brendon (I’d love to see a separate series where the two brothers travel around fighting evil…sort of like Supernatural: All Growed Up). Then there’s Sophie Cavanaugh and Nash Hudson, two characters who could have easily been little more than ciphers. Sophie is Kaylee’s cousin–a bubbly, blonde dancer. While she can occasionally be an out-right bitch, Sophie isn’t just another “mean girl.” She isn’t an inherently bad person, she’s just someone who’s used to getting what she wants–from her parents, from her teachers, from boys–making her a perfect foil for Kaylee, who pretty much has to work for everything. Plus, there’s a great running gag about the teachers at their school assuming that Sophie and Kaylee are sisters, which doesn’t sit well with either of them. That leaves Nash Hudson, the “hottest guy in school” mentioned in the blurb above. When Nash is introduced, he’s set-up to be the stereotypical alpha-male high school jock…but, dammit if Vincent didn’t make me like the kid. In the span of about five pages, Nash goes from being the book’s douchebaggy Parker Abrams to being the supportive and trustworthy Riley Finn.

So, yeah, I loved My Soul to Take. If you’re a fan of YA fiction or urban fantasy, you should totally check it out when it’s released in August. As for me, I’ll be patiently awaiting the release of My Soul to Save.

I Think I Still Prefer Robert Hays

This past month, the Fantastic Fangirls challenged themselves and their readers to try something new.  I decided to give DC’s Starman a go.  I was only familiar with Starman as a guest-star in numerous DC comics that I’ve read over the years (the team-up Starman had with Batman is the one that sticks out in my mind the most), but I’ve heard some good things from various people about the book.  People with fairly varied taste in comics all seem to like Starman…so, what the hell was I waiting for?

I tracked down a copy of Sins of the Father, a trade that collects the first six issues (#s 0-5) of Starman, written by James Robinson, with art by Tony Harris.  Now, while I didn’t really dislike the book, I can honestly say: I just don’t think Starman is for me.

SINS

In theory, I should have loved Starman.  Starman is one of DC’s legacy heroes, and I love DC’s legacy heroes.  Whether it’s the Flash family, the Green Lanterns, the Arrow clan…I love ’em all.  But, something about the Knight family just rubs me the wrong way.  Ted Knight was the Golden Age Starman, protector of Opal City.  After he retires, his oldest son David inherits the mantle.  Then there’s Jack, the youngest of the Knight boys.  Jack is a stereotypical ’90s disaffected youth.  He runs a junk shop and doesn’t understand why his older brother runs around in long underwear.  Since this first trade is the origin of Jack as Starman, it doesn’t take long for David to be offed and Jack and his dad to get into that whole “I don’t wanna follow in your footsteps, I want to live my own life!” cliche.  Skip ahead, skip ahead, skip ahead.  Jack accepts his place as his father and brother’s successor and even realizes that when he was a little kid he really idolized his dad and wanted to be Starman.

I think one of the problems I had with Starman is that–at least for the first few issues–none of the Knights were the least bit likable.  In the beginning, Jack was kind of an obnoxious little prick who, whether he did it intentionally or not, never missed a chance to take a dig at his brother’s choice of vocation and, by extension, the work his father did back in the day.  David wasn’t around that long, but he came off as the type to rub his father’s love and attention in Jack’s nose every chance he gets.  And Ted?  Holy Jesus, Ted Knight makes Bruce Wayne look like Father of the Fucking Year.  After David gets killed, someone attacks both Ted and Jack.  Ted ends up in the hospital and, when his surviving son visits him, he basically yells at the kid for boring him with the story of his own survival while poor, poor, Plot Devi–err–I mean, David is dead.  That’s some good parenting right there, kids.

I did, however, really dig The Shade, an immortal shadow-manipulator who’s tangled with both the Silver and Golden Age Flashes before retiring to Opal City.  He’s in Opal because it’s “quiet.”  This is true, in essence.  Several characters mention that Opal City has almost no crime, especially nowhere near as much crime–regular or super–as either Metropolis or Gotham City.  Why, then, does it even need a costumed hero?  Anyway, the Shade just kind of wants to be left alone.  But, if something’s going down that may disturb the peace and quiet of his city, he’ll grab his top hat and walking stick (no shit, he has those) and get his hands dirty, which is how he ends up helping Jack track down the people responsible for his brother’s murder.

Then we have the O’Dares, a family of Irish cops.  The O’Dare brothers–and sister, Hope–have sworn to protect Starman, after Ted saved their father’s life back in the day.  In theory, I dig this kind of honor.  There’s a certain Old World nobility to it…or, maybe it just reminds me of a Wookiee Life Debt.  So, after all is said and done, the characters I like most in Starman are a family of Irish cops and a semi-reformed super-villain.

Maybe, at some point in the future, I’ll revisit Jack Knight and the Starman series.  But, until then, this is the only Starman for me: