Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Review: Justice League: Cry for Justice Issue 1

Puttering Plot but packed with B-List Heroes and Extras (4 stars)

The mini series, Cry for Justice, reflects a wonderful theme of heroics and what the obligation of heroics entails. The comic starts off with a collective meeting of super heroes including Hal Jordan, Superman, Supergirl, the Green Arrow, the Flash, and others. With despair over the friends they have lost in the battle against evil this body starts to fracture about how they should push back and take the fight to their enemies; obviously with Superman taking the side of protecting and "fighting the good fight," so to speak.

The Green Lantern and the Green Arrow splinter off to take the fight to their enemies instead of waiting and responding. James Robinson does an excellent job of painting the camaraderie and friendship between the two Green Heroes, and alludes to a collective past history. Issue 1 of Call for Justice shines in the character relationships and interactions but it falls short in direction and plotting. By the end of the issue there has been little to no development of the master plan of the apparent antagonist Prometheus. The storyline jumps all over the place and follows several heroes and their personal call for justice and gives a little insight into how each character ticks. These scenes include the opening scene with Green Lantern and Green Arrow, Ray Palmer and the Atom, Starman, and Congobill.

While the plotting and direction drags in this opening installment there is definitely a feeling of the larger scope of good versus evil on the horizon. On its own right, the storyline is certainly not the strength of this issue, but the cast of characters and the way they interact with each other is the shining beacon. The illustrations by Mauro Cascioli are beautiful and realistic. For readers that enjoy the realistic touch with the edgy feel this is a good comic to fall into.

In addition, Cry for Justice issue 1 is packed with additional materials including writer James Robinson's commentary on the series, some panel sketches, and an origin story of CongoBill. While the Origin story is extremely short (only two pages) it contains a nice short story of how CongoBill came to be supplemented by some beautiful illustrations of the golden gorilla. Robinson makes it clear that he is interested in spotlighting some less famous heroes in this series so there should be some expectation for future Origin stories in the remaining issues. Interestingly enough, Robinson states that his desire with CongoBill is to bring him more mainstream and get him known simply by Bill; which becomes apparent in Issue 2 when Bill introduces himself. The commentary really adds to the entire experience.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Monday, February 15, 2010

Review: Death of Superman

Title: Death of Superman
Author: Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway
Copyright: 1993
Publisher: DC Comics
ISBN: 1563890976

Notes: First graphic novel adaptation of the Death and Return of Superman. Includes crossover issues from Superman, Superman: The Man of Steel, Adventures of Superman, and Action Comics.

The Death of an American Icon - 3 stars - a book review

In 1992 DC Comics killed off the superhero who brought comic books to their glory days. In a similar fashion, the death of Superman brought thousands upon thousands of new readers to the genre since Superman had become an American cultural icon. While short lived, this collection of comics represents a turning point in the comic industry, where no superhero was safe any longer. Shortly thereafter, DC Comics pulled a similar "stunt" with their other flagship hero, Batman, with the Knightfall story arc. Regardless, what transpired in the pages of these comics would be talked about for years.

Introduce Doomsday, a mysterious and sinister alien killing machine, with one thing on his limited mind: destruction. After escaping from being buried beneath the Earth's surface for who knows how long, Doomsday stages a one man mayhem show across half the United States.

Doomsday first faces off against the Justice League of America, quickly leveling them to nothingness, rendering them obsolete with his power and strength. Their combined powers do little to stop Doomsday, who time and time again proves he cares nothing for anything, killing birds in the palm of his hand and strangling a deer for no reason. What happens next would be the fight of the century against this beast and America's cultural icon, Superman.

The Death of Superman story arc is long in the action scenes and short in the storyline.
Absolutely no information is given about Doomsday at this point and the only focus of the remaining storylines is stopping him from destroying Metropolis (and everything else in his way). There are a few brief moments of reflection among minor characters about how Superman saved them or what Superman means to them. The virtue of the mysterious nature of Doomsday is appreciated, since it adds to his allure as a supervillain; similar to the recent movie, The Dark Knight, and the villain Joker. The reader is absolutely unaware of any motivation, making Doomsday that much more treacherous. Readers wouldn't find out about the history of Doomsday until the Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey story arc published in 1994.

While Superman is one of my personal least favorite heroes, this collection is a must read for the same reason it sold out overnight with a starting number of published issues that had never before been dreamed. With Superman being such a cultural icon, watching his fall is a must anyone. The action is unparalleled as it had to be since the stakes had never been higher. How do you create a monster worthy of killing a Superman? The satisfying answer is in the Death of Superman.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Review: Daemon by Daniel Suarez

Title: Daemon
Author: Daniel Suarez
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: Dutton Adult

Notes: first book in a series, followed by Freedom.

Intriguing and Exciting Beginning; Story Comes Off the Track at the Midway Point - 3 stars - a book review

Daemon has an irresistible premise: upon the death of computer mastermind, Matthew Sobol, a computer virus type is released that wreaks havoc on the technology based world. Spread out (unknowingly) over thousands of computers, Sobol's Daemon is constantly checking online news websites for key words and phrases which, when triggered, unleash a new plague of technological insanity including stealing stocks and major business' money, recruiting members to his cause, and releasing alternative media. With Sobol already dead, it becomes increasingly impossible to stop the mayhem as everything is already in motion and nobody is directly controlling the direction of the Daemon.

The first half of the book is a wonderful techno thriller. During this early stage of the book, Suarez gives sufficient pertinent information about the inner working of the Daemon searching news sites and the logical progression of what terror is unleashed. The reader has full knowledge of each step of the Daemon's "thought process" and, although some suspension of belief is necessary, everything makes sense. Unfortunately, once the Daemon becomes so big and powerful; and a chunk of time elapses without any information provided to the reader, the book becomes much more of suspension of all belief. Whereas the first part of the book the reader feels like he/she is in control and knows everything that is going on, the last half of the book there is so much going on behind the scenes with only minor (and insignificant) views of Sobol's "army" doing things they don't even know why they are doing them. Each person in Sobol's "army" has no clue what he or she is doing, only a brief piece of the puzzle (i.e. take this mechanized part to location X). While this story telling mechanism works to push the story, it loses emphasis with the reader as to the power of the Daemon brainchild Sobol. At the beginning of the book I thought Sobol was a pure mastermind supervillian genius. By the end of the book, I really did not care much for the dead architect as the story shifted dramatically from a techno thriller to a simple action adventure story of nearly impossible proportions.

The characters in Daemon are unique and suffer many trials and tribulations. The best characters were the ones who thought they were in control and making headway towards stopping Sobol's Daemon only later to find out they were only a pawn in the master plan. The emotional responses in these characters were written well, and the characters had my full empathy.

Daemon, for the most part, is a tightly written techno thriller. I may be a bit too critical because I recognize how difficult it can be to accurately and completely write about the exponentially expanding influence of the Daemon; I only wish the entire book was a solid as the beginning. If you are looking for a solid techno thriller from beginning to end you might look elsewhere; however, if you like techno thrillers and action adventure you have come to the right place.

You might also check out Peacemaker, by Dan Ronco, for a similar techno thriller on the doomsday scenario with technology leading to societal downfall.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Review: Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Title: Deadhouse Gates
Author: Steven Erikson
Copyright: 2005
Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 0765348799

Notes: Second book in The Malazan Book of the Fallen series.


Getting Better, but Still an Unsatisfying Return on Investment - 3 stars - a book review

Having been utterly amazed by the world building and utterly disappointed in the story telling of Gardens of the Moon, I started Deadhouse Gates. Had it not been for the epic world building and the positive opinions of people whose reading tastes and preferences generally aligns with my own I would have stopped right there with the Malazan Book of the Fallen. All over the internet almost everyone agrees that Gardens of the Moon is the weakest of the series, and that after you read Deadhouse Gates or (in some opinions) the third book, Memories of Ice, you will be hooked. Generally speaking, upwards of three thousand pages is a hefty undertaking, especially considering the return on investment is not so apparent. I have to say that Deadhouse Gates was a considerably better told story than its predecessor; but I'm not sure at this point if the time and energy spent was equivalent to the output received from Deadhouse Gates.

The first (and most obvious) thing to note is that this book starts a whole new storyline on an entirely different continent than the events that occur in Gardens of the Moon. This tactic works well because it establishes how epic and vast the worldly struggle is. The problem, of course, is with Erikson's writing style it is a huge personal struggle to get engaged with the new characters and the background of the area. If you enjoyed the confusion from Gardens of the Moon of being dropped in the middle of a sweeping landscape of political turmoil and magical/metaphysical trouble then you have that to look forward to again; although Erikson has definitely improved in area of character introductions. Some might be frustrated that it took 650+ pages to finally understand who the characters were in Gardens of the Moon and now they aren't in the second volume. If the third volume really plants me into this series (as it supposedly will) then having the multiple plotlines spanning multiple books will be a solid victory in establishing this series as an epic wartime dark fantasy series.

I thought the plotting of Deadhouse Gates was better than Gardens of the Moon and the storyline/character motivations were much more real and believable. In fact, I believe that Coltaine, the commander of the 7th army, is the most fascinating character of the series thus far. I was engaged with his hard nosed, duty stricken nature, cursed by both his objective of saving 30,000 refugees and his location in the heart of a savage desert. In addition to the plotting, the writing is so heavy and almost cumbersome to read at points. It takes a lot of focus and energy to read Erikson's writing.

I think the most significant struggle with Erikson's series is not that the book is not descriptive; it is ripe with description; the struggle is that it is descriptive in the wrong areas. There is still too many random occurrences and/or knowledge of the world, magic, culture, and army hierarchy that feels like it should be basic knowledge to the reader; but it isn't. I find that overall the sheer lack of information (that supposedly all comes to light in later volumes) is simply more frustrating than the benefit I received from the epic world building and the few extremely fascinating characters. A reader should not have to read seven massive tomes and over 5,000 pages to fully appreciate the first 650 pages of the series; and if a reader doesn't mind doing that or being confused, lost, or overwhelmed more power to him or her; but, I still cannot in good faith recommend this series to anyone outside the die hard fantasy junkies.

The cover art is wonderful and the maps, Dramatis Personae, and glossary are welcome additions to the overall purchase.

Am I planning on reading the third installment, Memories of Ice? Yes, although at this point I feel it would have to be an unbelievably spectacular experience in order to make the return on this reading investment worthwhile.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Kindle Cost Savings Analysis Update: Reflecting the $259 Price Tag

The Amazon Kindle 2 was lowered in price a while back and I am finally updating my cost savings analysis to reflect the "new" $259 price tag. As I mentioned in the previous cost savings analysis, there are plenty of other non-tangible reasons to purchase a Kindle (or any e-reader) including wasting less paper, convenience of book access, and size. I created a spreadsheet that can be easily modified to book reading preference which will illustrate some rudimentary cost savings with some basic assumptions. The previous Kindle cost savings analysis can be found here.

Photo courtesy of Kindle 2.0 product page

Cost Savings Analysis One:
Hardbacks purchased at Amazon
List price: $27.95
Hard Back discount: 40%
Kindle 2.0 start up cost: $259.00
Equivalent Kindle book price: $9.99
Shipping cost: $3.99
Break even point (without shipping): 15 books (previously 53)
Break even point (with shipping): 12 books (previously 34)

Cost Savings Analysis Two
Paperbacks purchased at Amazon
List price: $7.99
Kindle 2.0 start up cost: $259.00
Equivalent Kindle book price: $6.39
Shipping cost: $3.99
Break even point (without shipping): 47 books (previously 65)
Break even point (with shipping): 162 books (previously 255)

One thing to keep in mind is the numbers proposed should be considered averages or assumptions. Obviously, it also depends on book buying patterns. I, for one, rarely buy hardback books. I may work on my spreadsheet more if I have nothing better to do than create Excel formulas that would project semi-random purchases of hardbacks (or paperbacks).

Food for thought.

As a side note, AMZN stock is currently at $133.52, thus my hypothetical investment would have yielded me a net profit of $8,512 so far.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Amazing Avatar

If you haven't seen Avatar yet, I don't even want to know you. I took off work Friday morning and went and saw it with my wife. We went to the 3D version; but not the IMAX version. My wife tends to feel a little sick at certain movies with a lot of camera movement (i.e. Terminator Salvation) so went to the 3D version only. I'll probably go back someday (soon) and check out the IMAX on my own.

Needless to say, Avatar was an amazing experience. It almost lived up to the epic trailer; and, had the trailer been only slightly less epic the movie would have exceeded my expectations. As it stands, Avatar met my expectations in every single way.

The Colonel was classic in his warmongering ways and his dialogue was priceless. He was easily my favorite character. The main characters associated with the Avatar program were all believable and well done. The world building was nothing short of incredible.

If you haven't seen Avatar yet, you are doing yourself an injustice. My wife loved it and she typically is not a fan of the science fiction/fantasy genres. After the movie ended I started thinking about the entire world of Pandora and the wealth of storytelling that could occur. There could easily be a great, long running science fiction/fantasy fiction series with the world and the cultures. I wish it was...

Good viewing,

Plants and Books

Friday, November 27, 2009

Most Epic Movie Ever?

If, somehow, the upcoming movie Avatar bombs in the box office, it will still have had the most epic movie trailer... ever.

Good viewing,

Plants and Books

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