Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Embrace the Night" by Karen Chance

Title: "Embrace the Night"
Author: Karen Chance
Details: Cassandra Palmer series, Book 3
Pages: 400
Publisher: Roc

“Embrace the Night” by Karen Chance is the third installment in the Cassandra Palmer series and like the previous two books, shows us a day in a clairvoyant’s life, who yet again manages to get stir riots and tangle herself in a web too closely knit to even cast a warding spell.

This time we find Cassie in a rather larger mess than the usual. Her to-do list involves an ongoing series of suicide missions to stay alive, while her list of arch nemesis keeps growing and growing. After the news of Cassie’s claiming the title, powers and responsibilities of the Pythia, ultimate clairvoyant and a big thing in the magical community, a power play erupts with fractions from the Circle of mages, the Vampire Council, the Dark Fey Court and even the gods wanting her either dead or under their control. Determined to maintain independence Cassie solves her problems by making deals, which cost her a lot and may shorten her live indefinitely. The search for the Codex Merlini to break the geis spell set by Mircea, which mutated into an uncontrollable force threatening to kill both, plunges Cassandra into a very dangerous to the time line time traveling, where a lot of secrets are revealed. The myserious past of her guarding and always pissed off battle Mage Pritkin is revealed as well as ambushes and people from Cassie’s past appear she never expected. A novel with a major boom in the story department.

As usual Miss Chance has vacuumed insane quantities of story arcs, which can never be interpreted fully in the reviews, ever, but as a whole I have to say that once the chess table has been set, the players and strategies introduced, it’s a lot easier to follow what happens and by now the readers are expecting the fast pace. The major strengths in the Cassandra Palmer series are ever present. We watch Cassandra struggle with each task at hand. Each new deal she closes opens a new one, which pushes her to her limits and beyond, forcing her to grow. The theme in “Embrace the Night” is maturing, showing Cassie gradually acting as the Pythia rather than experiencing the power burst. The story progresses by itself without something ever being forced. The choices she makes and the consequences from them no matter how viewed are the only ones to make, thus offering us a real organic feel and a domino effect on nitroglycerine. Since the series deals with time, we finally glimpse into Cassandra’s life on the streets, thus adding another dimension to her personality. The same goes for Pritkin too, who suddenly picks up importance and is revealed to be so much more.

But the biggest treat comes during the adrenaline scenes, when we the readers are treated to a more thorough look through the magic of this alternative world. The limelight falls on time traveling and manipulation as the main power of the Pythia. Time is all not that simple and messing with it can be tricky. Cassandra learns that the hard way. Ley lines make their appearance here as well and an ancient spell, which can mean the doom of humanity. On the funny side though, we get to share a laugh with a wicked fashion designer’s enchanted dresses and Cassandra’s miserable attempts to reconcile with her inner grace.

“Embrace the Night” is definitely a tangled novel, unlike any other so far in the urban fantasy genre and a worthy sequel to the first two in the Cassandra Palmer series. I had a really great time, the point I wanted to write fan fiction. Giving the series a try is essential.

What Other People Are Saying:
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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Movie: "The Strangers"

Genre: Horror
United States, 2008 U.S. Release Date: 5/30/08
Running Length: 1:25
Cast: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Gemma Ward
Director: Bryan Bertino
U.S. Distributor: Rogue Pictures

As far as I am concerned the horror industry has been stacked more times than a vampire in Buffy, The Vampire Slayer series. There is always a new titan boogeyman to come and scare the living hell out of people, yet the usual outcome is a tickle in the chest and a what-the… facial expression. When “The Strangers” popped up advertised as “a couple in a solitary house, where things go horribly wrong”, it didn’t arouse much interest, but I watched it despite myself guided by the shiny name of Liv Tyler.

“The Strangers” is a very Spartan horror movie, edging more to the suspense genre, and uses the simple formula: a fighting couple + three weirdoes in masks + torture porn = dread + screams. Somehow that worked nicely. After the late reception of their friends’ wedding and a miserably failed marriage proposal, James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and Kristin McKay (Liv Tyler) drive back to their remote summer villa to lick their wounds and kill off the awkward tension between them. However they have no idea that the tension might end up killing them.
One psycho blond girl (Gemma Ward) asking for non-existent people and a joyride for Speedman to clear his head, we witness Tyler’s coronation as scream queen, when things go horribly wrong. We have the usual scare techniques: vanishing silhouettes, rapping on the windows, knocking on the doors, disappearing phones and ominous messages. Late in the movie the psychos enter stage right armed and freaky and the whole house receives a redecoration in red.

What I enjoyed in the movie was the concept of fear. Most people fear the unknown. It has been always so. It’s always been the faceless shadows that made your blood turn into popsicles and we have our confirmation of the same maxim. You don’t have zombies or monsters or freaky magic, what you get is human nature at its worst and the fact that neither one of the characters saw it coming, from where, why and who, makes it scarier. By erasing identities the movie has the power to place the viewer in the characters’ places, since the theme is pretty universal. The feeling of dread is ever so present and half of the time you are ready to scream, but scare doesn’t come and you just have to sit and watch and wait. Torture porn for the viewers as well as for the characters.

But as people mention in reviews, the stake made it halfway through the roasting process. The film critics are in complete dissonance, of what the movie is: masterpiece of horror or utter crap. New York Times calls it “A Crescendo of Intimidation”, while the Times UK comments: The usual stupidness ensues. “Stay here darling with the axe-wielding psychos while I go and get help,” says Speedman. Ugh. The apple of content lies within the characters and their reaction to the situation and its circumstances. First of all the whole relationship drama, the movie wastes around 45 minutes for is irrelevant for the plot, furthered nowhere, thus an irritation. I usually wouldn’t mind the victim to experience a meltdown, lay on the ground and hand the killer the weapon of choice, but I certainly don’t like people, who are attempting to save their lives and all they do is screw up every other time. It’s not plausible to think with survival instinct and all, arm yourself and then lose your weapon, composure or split up and not deciding that a nice old ambush would solve their problems.

As an experience “The Strangers” offers quite the breath stopper, but once the adrenaline rush passes you think on plausibility, it’s not as great as you thought. But we watch movies for experience right, so who cares.

Additional Reviews:
~ New York Times ~ The Hollywood Reporter ~ ReelViews ~ Daily News ~ San Francisco Chronicle ~ Washington Post

And the trailer of course:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"Days of the Dead" Blog Tour: Kick off with some magic

October is the most spiritual month since the dawn of religions, hosting celebrations of All Hallows Eve, Halloween and Dia De Los Muertos, which all in their essence honor the dead and are rumored to be the time the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest. What better time to host a blog tour dealing the dead. I am quite pleased to be the first blog on Gail Z. Martin’s crusade called “Days of the Dead Blog Tour”, where she will talk, promote and explain the inner mechanics of her Necromancer Chronicles and the world of her books.

So to set the mood my “Interrogate the Author” virtual chair becomes “Mister Markov’s Magic Mausoleum” to host Gail and the magic of her writings properly. And since many other blogs have had the opportunity to discuss her works, I will look at Gail’s work from another angle, from behind the scenes as some people say. I want to learn what makes her world tick and how she constructed the home for her characters and their adventures.

So stay tuned for a thrilling ride through the creative process behind the Necromancer Chronicles and you can have the chance to win your own signed copy of the “Blood King”.
Let’s get started now, shall we.

Harry: As we all know The Necromancer Chronicles are heavily populated by people with magical talents, enchanted objects, dangerous magic and creatures. Some writers start a story with the world and through world building built a story of grandeur to match. Others figure out the story first and then pluck randomly at their imagination to create a world and then work out a symbiotic relationship. How was it in your case?

Gail: I’d say that the major characters became clear to me first, and then as I got to know them, I learned about their world and their stories. I will form a clear mental image of the character and then ask him/her questions about what they’re doing, what they like or dislike, what they will do next in a given situation, how something works in their world. I find that by doing that, my imagination works more organically in the story setting than if I sit as an outsider and try to figure out the plot from a mechanical approach.

Harry: What was your first encounter with magic and how did you become hooked of the mystical arts? Do you by any chance have any particular religion in mind while devising the mythology of the Winter Kingdoms?

Gail: I have loved stories about magic since I was a kid. One of my favorite TV shows as a pre-schooler was Dark Shadows, a 1960s soap opera about a family of witches, werewolves and vampires in New England and its hero, Barnabas Collins, who had become a vampire and desperately wished to be human again. When I was about six years old, I bought a book of regional ghost stories while we were on vacation and re-read it until the cover fell off. From then on, I read anything I could about ghosts (reportedly true stories, not fiction), magic and vampires. It sometimes got me into trouble. I went to a very strict parochial school growing up and had to hide these interests. Once, I checked out a book from the library called “A Cavalcade of Witches” and the teacher had a fit! (Far from being a grimoire, it was a children’s book of not-so-scary Halloween stories.)

As for any basis in real life, I intentionally do not base the mythology of the Winter Kingdoms on any particular real religion because I wanted to be free to explore ideas without anyone emailing me to correct me on points of dogma. Having said that, I have been a long-time reader of folklore, mythology, spirituality, the paranormal and theology for cultures across the world and a broad range of religions, and I am always struck by the parallels among ideas. So I draw from those commonalities—the threads that seem to pop back up in almost all cultures even though they are separated by time and space.

H: Now let’s get straight to the point. In your blog you say that the majority of what you devised as a religion for the Winter Kingdoms has been extracted from a different mesh of cultures. Can you share the recipe with us and list some examples what piece came from where and served for inspiration? Perhaps the scrying of Kiara something similar with the duty of the oracle in Delphi?

G: There isn’t really a “recipe” so much as a fascination with archetypal elements and characters. The mythology I draw from isn’t just Greco-Roman, it includes Celtic, Norse, Germanic, Native American, Eastern European and Asian. I’m just blown away at how the same stories and characters show up in all those very different cultures—as if there is really something to the idea of a shared subconscious. I’ve been influenced by Carl Jung’s work as well as that of Caroline Myss, both of whom identified archetypes and their deeper meanings. So while there isn’t a “recipe” per se, I feed all of this raw material into my mind and then allow my imagination and subconscious to blend it. I usually go to bed thinking about the next scene I’m going to write, and I try to give it over to my subconscious to work on while I’m sleeping. It’s amazing how well that works for me. When I sit down to write, plot twists and dialogue just starts to flow that I had not consciously identified prior to beginning to type.

H: Now let’s get to the good stuff. Namely the goddess and her many faces. Now why did you choose a female deity and how did you decide to split it into two pairs of four faces, each opposing each other. And did you know from world mythologies that in China gods did have four aspect or that there were gods in India like Kali, who was both creator and destroyer of worlds? How does a goddess with eight aspects exist? Does she shift from one to another or are they like eight pieces of a whole with a hive mind? Can two faces be in the same place at once and what can possibly be the outcome from that? Of course I also want to ask how such different in their mentality nations adopted a single religious concept, although they worship different aspects. Have the Winter Kingdoms been one before to know there is one goddess in eight disguises.

G: You’ll actually see more about the Lady and find out about the beliefs that preceded her in Dark Haven and book 4. So maybe that’s something to look forward to!

Why female? Well, having grown up in the American/European tradition of a patriarchal view of the Deity, the whole thought process around a female deity is interesting because of the potential differences. There are a host of characteristics we often don’t ascribe to a male deity because of perceived gender roles, although an incorporeal being can’t really have gender as we know it. (That’s a metaphor that has been taken way too seriously over the past few millennia.) The rituals, the design of sacred spaces, the concept of monuments would all be different with a matriarchal deity. I wanted to explore that.

Yes, I’m aware of those multi-faced goddesses from history, as well as many others that had three faces. They were inspirations, but the Lady isn’t meant to be any of them. The Aspects of the Lady are the face of the Deity needed to speak to that person or people based on where they are and what they can accept. Consider that within any organized religion, there is such a broad spectrum of differing views on what the Deity is like that an outsider might wonder if they are all talking about the same being. And within any single religion, practitioners may differ with each other to the point of violence over what appear to be insignificant details in the perception of the Deity.

Each Aspect is as real as the others according to the way reality is perceived by the person or kingdom. And the Aspect manifests itself in reality through the perceptions, actions and repercussions of the actions of its followers.

Think about this. One person can be a mother/lover/wife/daughter/friend/employee/boss/neighbor. Which is the real person? The answer is—it’s all one person, differently perceived by people whose needs, maturity and relationship vary. A small child can’t imagine that “mommy” has a first name and a life other than being that child’s mother. Hopefully an adult child can understand that mother has an identity and a life beyond the role of parent. Which is the “real” mother? It depends on the perception of the viewer, but the woman herself didn’t change.

In the Winter Kingdoms, there were old ways before the Goddess. There were other understandings of a female deity as well as male animal spirit gods. When the Winter Kingdoms were conquered by outside forces or when one group inside the kingdoms prevailed against another, the beliefs of the victor forcibly overwrote the beliefs of the loser. But in fiction, as in real life, giving lip service to a “new” god doesn’t mean the old practices or beliefs really change. I’ve always been fascinated by the stew that makes of real world traditions where so many very, very old elements remain up to the present day with a thin veneer that makes them acceptable to the current dominant power structure.

H: Now as we have covered the deities, let’s move onto magic and its users. How does magic work in your world, how is it explained and perceived. From what I could extract from your stories it usually runs in the family and can skip generations? How does a magical gift manifest, is there any logic or is it random. Is it a blessing from the goddess or simply a talent? What’s in a spell and do different magical talents require different casting?

G: Magic is a natural force, like magnetism or gravity. It is morally neutral. Whether it is good or bad depends on what you do with it. There are rivers of magical energy called the Flow that lace across the world on which mages of power can draw—either consciously or subconsciously. There is a limited amount of magic a mage can do drawing from his/her own life energy.

The core ability to use magic is genetic. You have it or you don’t. That makes it stand to reason that it would run in families, but (to use modern terminology unknown to the Winter Kingdoms), it could be latent or recessive. Obviously, it can pop up in a “new” family if new genetic material is introduced, whether the parents knew about their magical genetics or not. (I’ve deferred to modern wording for clarity—the characters would see this entire process as much more mysterious and capricious.) So while magic is a genetic predisposition, it can be perceived by its owner as either blessing or curse depending on how it affects his/her life. (In Nargi, for example, having magical talent will get you either killed or forced into the Crone’s priesthood. Probably a curse. Elsewhere, it opens opportunities if it doesn’t make you dangerous enemies.)

As for spells—as Royster once tells Tris, a spell is just a way for a mage to remember the sequence of what to do. Someone without magic could repeat it all day long and not have anything happen. While magical power is an inborn talent, like perfect pitch, it takes a lifetime to learn how to use it (similar to learning to play a musical instrument). With magic, there’s the additional caveat that if you use it unwisely, you can end up dead or possessed by dark forces.

H: Have we seen all the magical disciplines in your world and will there be more? Also what are the laws and principles, physically and ethically that the spell casters use. I also have noticed some talents come in cycles like a time where summoners have been many and now have perished. What sets the rules to this domination of a talent at certain times?

G: There are four basic traditions of magic, based on the four classical elements—earth, wind, fire, water. There are related offshoots, such as healing and psychic skills (reading runes, scrying and clairvoyance). Some of the royal families have a limited type of inherited magic that seems to go along with investiture with the crown and manifests in useful things such as truth sensing, weather magic, scrying, and prophetic dreams. As you can see in the books, no magic is 100 percent reliable and any attempt to predict the future is especially subject to problems.

There is really only one magic, but the ability to use magic tends to align itself with one of those elements. (So is it really a limitation or a perception that, when believed, becomes limiting? Hmm....that could be interesting.) As for laws and principles, the essential law for ethical magic using is “do no harm.” So an ethical magic user won’t abuse his/her power to dominate someone, curse or kill except in self defense, mislead, defraud or take advantage. An unethical magic user is only out for self interest and will use his/her power to cheat, possess, alter memory, kill or steal. In blood magic, the life energy of one person is forcibly drained for the advantage of the mage. Often, this kills the unwilling “donor.” At best, the “donor” becomes an energy food source. That’s why blood magic is condemned by all ethical mages—but it persists because it is effective in the short term and someone who is obsessed with power, vengeance or personal gain will not let ethical considerations get in the way.

I haven’t really gotten into the concept of types of magic being cyclical in terms of there being a lot of one kind of mage at one time and then fewer at another. If that were to be the case, I’d expect it would have a genetic component to it, the way animal populations fluctuate based on temperature, magnetic field distortion and famine. I think we’ll see more along these lines when I get to explore the time of the Mage War, when Tris’s grandmother was a young mage.

H: I am also curious about the vayash moru aka the vampires. Why did you involve one of the most popular and modern supernatural icon into such a world? Do you plan into transferring other well known creatures back? How do the vayash moru fit in this world, what is their role and how did they officially came into existence? How are they blessed from the Dark Lady and what is her plan for her children?

G: Vampires are really as old as recorded human stories. My understanding is that there are tales in every culture, and what’s interesting is that the tales have an uncanny similarity, even though they originated among peoples who at the time were completely out of touch with each other due to geography. They’ve always fascinated me, so I wanted to write about them. And with a main character who is a necromancer, it seemed like the undead should have a place between the living and the dead.

How do they fit into the world? They have always been there. I haven’t done the origin myth yet, but I probably will at some time. New vayash moru are brought across in the conventional manner—by being bitten by a vayash moru and then drinking the blood of that vayash moru. So you can be bitten and not be brought across if there isn’t an exchange of blood. It is an intentional act. For the first several lifetimes, there is a very strong bond between maker and fledgling, to the point where if the maker is destroyed the young fledglings will also die and will psychically experience the maker’s death. As a vayash moru grows stronger, the fledgling usually wins his/her independence. Sometimes this involves destroying the maker and surviving that destruction. Sometimes makers and fledglings can coexist in more of a family situation.

What’s unique in the Winter Kingdoms is that, at least in the more tolerant areas, vayash moru can continue to live among mortals, be part of their mortal families, even remain with a mortal spouse or partner without repercussion. Of course, there are areas, such as Nargi, where the vayash moru are hunted and persecuted. But in Dark Haven, we’ll get a look at an area where the living, the dead and the undead peacefully coexist in an intertwined social matrix.

The abilities and limitations that come with being vayash moru is the Dark Gift. It is seen as both blessing and curse. The vayash moru, if they retain faith at all, often gravitate toward the worship of Istra, the Dark Lady. While a vayash moru could certainly worship whatever Aspect he/she chooses, including the Aspect most popular in their birth lands, over time, the Dark Lady’s role as protector of the outcast seems to appeal to vayash moru, as it does to mortals who find no other home. So while most mortals may refer to Istra as the Demon Goddess, we’ll see in Dark Haven that the vayash moru know a very different side to her as a protectress of the persecuted.

H: As a finishing touch I wanted to ask you, what your personal favorite magical ability is and what powers you would want to command.

G: Well, from a practical side, as a mother with three kids, I’ve always thought that teleportation or the ability to be in more than one place at the same time would come in handy! Actually, all magical powers, at least to my way of thinking, come with a tremendous burden and responsibility, so I’m not sure that I envy any of them. I’ve talked with friends who have different degrees of clairvoyance or other psychic talents, and while I am in awe of what they sense, I don’t envy them the burden. So I guess I’ll just have to settle for multi-tasking!

And there you have it people. More thorough than this you can’t possibly get and as you can see Gail sets for some more practical than showy. My personal choice, would be the power to control and transmute soil, sand and rocks. Or may be cast lighting. But before listing every magic ability, let’s get to the good stuff here. Pen down a comment what you enjoyed in this interview most by October 31st and hope that the spirits at midnight like your comment best, for one person will be chosen for their comment. And one more thing. If want to know what happens during the next six days of “Days of the Dead”, this is Gail’s official blog schedule courtesy of “When Gravity Fails”. Tune in and keep commenting.

Oct. 25 Temple Library Reviews templelibraryreviews.blogspot.com/ (Bulgaria)

Oct. 26 When Gravity Fails, www.SolarisBooks.com (UK)

Oct. 27 Pat’s Vampire Notes patricias-vampire-notes.blogspot.com (US)

Oct. 28 Boris Legradic (Bulgaria) http://borislegradic.blogspot.com
Wayne Kelly (Canada) www.onairpublicity.com/blog

Oct. 29 Shelfari.com (US)

Oct. 30 Speculative Horizons (UK) speculativehorizons.blogspot.com
AsIf DreamHosters (AU) www.asif.dreamhosters.com

Oct. 31 Chronicles of the Necromancer Blog.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Review: "Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse"

Title: "Wastelands: Tales of the Apocalypse"
Editor: John Joseph Adams
Pages: 352
Publisher: Night Shade Books

“Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse” has been the first anthology presented to me and a very big burden, since reviewing a book consisting of twenty three stories and do it the right amount of justice is a hard task on its own. But I clench my teeth and prepare for the feat by laying down the first words of the review: You need to read this anthology…

Death has occupied the top ten lists of all human fears for the better half of the time since it dawned on our species we are mortal and since then a lot has been speculated what happens after death. Do we just decompose into the Earth and become one with the ecosystem? Do we sit on metal scales and wait for a ticket either to heaven or hell? Do we just drift around as a ball of light or we just get reborn? Death has inspired many artists and writers, posing the same questions and with this anthology this isn’t any different. But instead of death of the individual the twenty three writers involved pose the question: What happens when a world dies?

Twenty three stories of various lengths examine different angles, causes and effects on the world, stress on the environment, society, human drama or sheer survival. Earth turned to a glowing nuclear night lamp in the solar system, done. God taking all of his children and leaving the planet a barren park, also done. Humanity reduced to idiocracy by man’s best intentions and forced to extinct by a genetic fluke, done and done. Whatever apocalyptic scenario you can think of and the casualties thereof, has been incorporated here.

“The End of the Whole Mess” by Stephen King is rightfully chosen as the heading story, since it is the only one to portray the events building up to the end of the world. The apocalypse in this story is man-made plan to turn the world into an utopia gone wrong and it follows the old proverb that the path to hell is paved with good intentions and warns people of ever attempting to alter the world.

The majority of the stories focus on the psychological effects on both individuals and as a society and nations. “Salvage” by Orson Scott Card follows the path of a man in a ruined city mostly under the waters of an overflowed Salt Lake whenever belonged to as he searches for a place for himself, where he could fit. “The End of the World as We Know It” by Dale Bailey shows an even grimmer story of the sole man to ever wake from the night’s sleep and his silent alcoholic breakdown into oblivion. “Mute” by Gene Wolfe targets another group of survivors and portray the adaptation to minor siblings as they have to face the reality they might be the only humans left in the world. Of course there are sheer survival stories like “How we got in and out of Town Again” by Jonathan Lethem, which shows how much humans are willing to subjugate to in order to receive some small meals and a place to stay overnight. “When Sysadmins Ruled the World” by Cory Doctrow toys with the idea what happens when the Internet is the only thing to survive a nuclear wave, which destroyed the world and the people who survived the teams behind the Internet.

My favorites personally lie in the twilight zone, when authors speculate about how the human race will handle the effects of the apocalypse physiologically. And there is a wide diversity of such titles. The central theme in most of these stories are the dehumanization of the human race. “People of Sand and Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi is the grimmest of all, because the humans of the new world are rational and high technological, but feel nothing emotionally or physically for they have changed their body to regenerate amazingly fast and can eat soft materials like sand and rubble. “Dark, Dark were the Tunnels” by George R.R. Martin although its morbid prognosis how life under the Earth’s surface, when the surface is a nuclear waste land, it abides the laws of evolution and amassing what the life in darkness requires, nature has rolled its dice.

Of course there are some positivity that a bright future is possible after the end as nature has shown us, everything is a cycle and after a great fall there are always chances for things to pick up. “Waiting for the Zephyr” by Tobias Buckell carries the spirit of adventure and freedom and proposes a chance to detach oneself from the painful past and start anew with more perspective in a desert world. “Artie’s Angels” by Catherine Wells aims to underline to the readers that even under the most degrading of circumstances the human soul can carry a pure spark of nobility, generosity, general philanthropy and compassion and that to preserve the image goodness one is compelled to lie in order to show that good is rewarded, when reality kills it off.

These are just around the half of the stories between page one and 344, all worth reading and experiencing as they try to explain the past, reason with the present and regain enough of their sanity to look up to the future.

What other people are saying:
1) Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews
2) Graeme's Book Reviews
3) SF Signal
4) Quiet Earth
5) Book Spot Central

Monday, October 20, 2008

Comic Book Week: The Aftermath

Now after the fun time I had compiling the reviews for Comic Book Week I went on to search for information on the Internet on comic books and well as it turns out a lot of people dedicate their time to this particular medium and it's been an awesome train ride. I even got urban fantasy author CE Murphy bound by her word to descrive how cool it actually is to write her own comic book series and that post will come and smack you up out of nowhere, but before that let me overload your senses with links.

BlackGeekdom has been referred to me by a very good friend and it always feature trailers, posters and news concerning comic book franchise, the only distinction being that the focus falls on the racial minorities portrayed in such works of fiction. A really interesting find, although the comment posting option has been neglected.

Variety here is a bit of a mystery since it offers a distinct amount of materials on music, movies, books and comic books and to me it slightly looks like a review and multimedia amazon. It has volumes of information and could be useful. Check it out.

The Comic Treadmill is solely devoted to comic books, excessive information about them and has been doing so without a break for five years. It's a whole new universe out there and if you plan to submerge in this world fully, this is the pond you have to jump in with stones strapped to you.

Now Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin is a quite the bizzare find and I can only squee, because it hosts posts with the crazy 50's and 60's comic book art, which look more like the cartoons on the Sunday newspaper entertainment page. Funky and so retro.

These are mostly blogs. On a whole new level are the sites dedicated to promoting, reviewing and overloading your senses with comic books. These are to be called the titans in what they do and without explaining what they do here are the links:
1) IGN Comics
2) Newsarama
3) Comic Book Resources
4) CC2K [which is a bse site for much more outside the medium, all pop culture though]

And to conclude here is the list of the free online comics I follow almost regularly!
1) Ctrl+Alt+Del [when people who game come with too bright of ideas, fun and obnoxious slaughter ensues in a demented mind]
2) Earthsong [a very original fantasy with the cast of different races that makes sense and builds to an interesting situation]
3) Least I Could Do [when an average woman's man has the resources and the bright ideas of an eight year old, hilarity and obscene scenrios ensue]
4) Errant Story [a blast to read, literally]
5) Nuklear Power: 8 bit Theatre [for all the people who like stabbing and killing huge numbers of people and make jokes about it, oh it's a D&D parody too, so definitely read it]
6) One Liners [offensive, but enjoyably twisted]
7) One of Those Days [when a girl has to deal with an unpredictable curse]
8) VG Cats [major laugh and mildly twisted, but you probably got that already]

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Comic Book Week: "Runaways"

For the last post in the Comic Book Week I have prepared a review on an ongoing series by Marvel called “The Runaways”, which have been launched since 2003, amount to 30 issues until the end of volume two and have won multiple awards. Volume three has launched since August 27th 2008.

Due to the spanning story arcs in these thirty issues, I will keep the content to bare minimum, bringing only the essence of the story and why it deserves all excess attention. As genre, “The Runaways” is teen drama with superpowers. A group of six teens find out on a meeting of their families that their parents are villains called the Pride, who wish to bring down the apocalypse upon Earth and rebuilt it with the power of ancient Biblical giants. Volume one deals with the teens forming a group called the Runaways and fight their parents, ultimately leading to the deaths of the Pride and their leader Alex Wilder, who in the end has betrayed his team.

What grabs from volume one is the diversity between the six members of the Runaways and the six families in the Pride. Niko Minoru is the daughter of dark wizards and possesses the Staff of One, which can cast spells with a trigger command. Molly Hayes is a twelve year old mutant with super strength and invulnerability and is daughter to telepaths. Gertrude York has a telepathic link to a dinosaur brought from the future by her time traveling parents. Chase Stein is the son of evil scientists inventors and operates their gadgets and is the team’s getaway guy, while Alex Wilder leads the team and has no superpowers. The last member Karolina Dean is a solar power alien being, who can create force blasts and fields, can float and is glowing like a kaleidoscope.

The series overall is humor laced, the call of the Runaways being “Don’t Die” and puns and funny references popping every page, while all the characters learn to work together and get likewise in funny and dramatic situations. Every super team that travels with a leaping mechanical frog, reside in a fallen underground manor is one people must read about. Immediately after the Pride has been killed and exposed, Captain America has the team split and spread to social services, foster homes and camps for mutant children. Volume two marks the reunion of the team as the fight with the new villains of L.A of plunging the city in chaos, the one thing the Pride did well. Along the way new team members join the group like Victor Mancha, the son of Ultron, Xavin, a super skrull in training, and Klara Prast a chlorokinetic like Poison Ivy from 1907. Usually the acquirement of new members comes at the death of another to keep the number, which has grown drastically by the end of volume two.

Untypical of most super hero teams, the Runaways break most of the clichés connected with the myth. First of all there is no spandex and hidden identities involved, although volume one featured the group adopting alias, which they later dropped. The ratio between males in females is also switched the majority of the hitting force being female, something untypical in most popular superhero teams. The story lines are toned down and don’t all involve saving the world on regular basis, but more like taking one villain at a time and resolving the issues between team members. The characters themselves bicker, fight argue and resemble nothing to the well trained fighting machines out there.

Fresh angles involve the lesbian tendencies of Karolina, who ultimately involves with Xavin, her betrothed fiancé, who changes his gender to her liking. Homosexualism hasn’t been dealt with in many comic books before and definitely serves to make the characters more complex. Another interesting moment to note is that most function of the characters are unfitting of their personality. Niko is the most emotionally involved and needy of everyone, but still manages to lead the team usually alive out of a mission, while a twelve year old girl is the brawn of the group. I can go on and on about what makes the series, so great, but you have to read all the stories of writers Brian Vaughn for most of the series, Joss Whedon from issue 24 to 30 and now Terry Moor for volume three and artists Adrian Alphona, Michael Ryan and Humberto Ramos, for volume three.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Comic Book Week: "X-Men: PhoenixWarsong"

“X-Men: Phoenix Warsong” is a five issue limited series released 2006 to follow the ever successful Phoenix saga. Chronologically it follows the Endong miniseries, where the Phoenix force resurrects Jean Grey again and hunts down Cyclops led by Grey’s feelings. However this time Jean Grey is not the target, Emma Frost has to face a painful truth and more about the Weapon X program is revealed. Due to the complexity of the storyline this review will definitely have major spoiler moments.

The series begins with fragments of the Phoenix force making contact with the Stepford Cuckoos, which have been reduced from quintuplets to triplets. At first they develop the power to levitate, which was viewed as a normal secondary mutation, but when the girls burst out in flames and speak of being life and death itself, things go downhill. The mystery over the girls suddenly increases as the two deceased sisters Sophie and Esme raise from the dead. Emma discovers that her ovary has been used by Doctor Sublime to create a thousand clones of herself, all identical, five of which were the Cuckoos. On the other hand it is revealed the Cuckoos have metal in their bones and communicate with some sort of a binary code, thus processing heavy loads of information.

A team of X-men is dispatched at Sublime’s secret laboratory after tracking the sisters with Cerebra. In the meantime Celeste becomes the dominant mind and thus the host of the whole Phoenix fragment, while her sisters have been trapped into machine that wires them to all of their sisters, thus activating them. Doctor Sublime informs the X-Men that the Cuckoos were designed as the perfect weapons to erase all mutants from the earth and an army of Cuckoos called the Thousand-in-One. But Celeste still maintaining her individuality works with the X-men to short circuit all of the girls. The crisis overcome, the Phoenix is split between the three original sisters and encased in their hearts, now made of diamonds.

To tell the truth, I was torn between “Endsong”, featuring the resurrection story of Jean Grey, and “Warsong” series, since Jean Grey is one of my personal favorite characters, but considering the fresh angle of the latter and the sheer volume encompassed in just five issues I knew this was the winner. The Phoenix saga has spanned for quite awhile now Jean Grey being the white phoenix, the good phoenix, the dark phoenix, dying and coming back. In the end Marvel decided to freshen up the story line by adding new elements to the mix. After Emma Frost experiences the host relationship with the Phoenix, we see new hosts. The Cuckoo sisters are relatively new characters and people haven’t seen much of them and this is so to say their first apocalyptic major story line.

This series has five major strengths. 1) Tyler Kirkham’s (Also Here)artwork is one of the most exceptional and detailed example of why I love comic books and how I usually visualize stories, either from novels or for writing. 2) The new hosts have been very unlikely, but a very pleasant choice for the readers can experience the hivemind communication and relatiosn between the three sisters. Having such power and switching it before settling for a dominant mind has been interesting. 3) The Cuckoos’ origins as Weapon XIV. Honestly as far as the Weapon X program goes its highest achievements have been Wolverine and Sabertooth and X-23, although she is meant as a clone of Wolverine. 4) Having Emma Frost as their DNA mother, which leads to the finale where they develop the same secondary mutation to change into a diamond shape and encasing the Phoenix force. 5) The awesome reference to the Stepford Wives by Ira Levin and the fight for individuality, which is being lost. Although the sisters have always wanted to be understood and escape their visage as ice queens, in the ultimate end, when they turn their hearts to diamonds they became hollow and soulless, obedient and emotionless, the perfect humans in any way, the perfect machines as well. Obedient and detached. Thank you writer Greg Pack.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Comic Book Week: "Fray" {Buffy in the Future}

Comic books run on ideas from a lot of mediums from computer games such as the Lara Croft series and World of Warcraft, from books like the Dresden Files is and the new trend in acquiring ideas is to use TV shows. The earliest example to really pick up is “Fray” by Dark Horse. This eight issue limited series published 2002 is based on the Buffy verse. Creative team of Joss Whedon, Andy Owens and Karl Moline spin some mojo on what the Slayer might be in the far future.

In a nutshell, “Fray” poses the question “What if Buffy was meant to awaken several hundred years in the future?” The Slayer in this case is Melaka Fray a 19-year old chosen as the new slayer, centuries after Buffy had done her job and all of the magic and demons have disappeared. However she hasn’t had the physical link with her ancestors and to push her education and fight the new rise of the vampires, a trainer is called, but this time not from the Watchers, but from the demons. Urkonn looks like a Diablo in miniature. I doubted that eight issues were enough to cover the whole ordeal, which was season one of the show aka Fray getting into the mechanics of her new destiny, train, face her first fears, overcome them and then stop the world from going on a trip to hell. Mister Whedon did it snappy and although it made sense, I would have wished the final battle not to be as easily fought and with a heavier outcome.

Of course every hard core Buffy fan knows that not so much plot is the strength as the mythology and mainly the action scenes. I think “Fray” offered Whedon a totally new frontier to explore his own universe. First off, the world as a setting is every bit dystopian and futuristic as one can expect with radiation having hit humanity hard. Looks do not fear people anymore since most have many deformities anyways. Vampires are reduced to lurks, thought by society as defected blood junkies, and people with extraordinary strength are a fact due to steroids. On this background Fray’s heightened strength, dexterity, healing factor and speed are nothing to be admired and don’t cause much of a ruckus. There’s no magic and pretty much any known information about the past is unknown for the lower circles, to which Fray belongs.

Another very interesting moment is the fact that the slayer has a twin. Now this may be a great spoiler alert for anyone to enjoy the evil scheming and the plot, so I will be very vague about it. In her essence a slayer is the strength of thousand bodies, at least my definition, and the strength of the experience of all the rest before her. One without the other doesn’t do well on their own, so what Whedon does is cut the link and give a piece to each of the twins. For me it was an interesting and gratifying experience to see this theme integrated, so I will refrain from spoiling it too.

I couldn’t find much on the artists, which is a shame really, but as far as my opinion goes “Fray” exudes a vibrant and electric feel of colors to present this cyberpunk story. This is a Buffy spin-off and as far as the show goes it’s more like a funny fantasy show with horror elements and the comic book carries the spirit. As a conclusion this is interesting to read, not bad and certainly a different side from the slayer universe.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Comic Book Week: "Hack/Slash"

To continue with the morbid presence of horror in the comic book industry I have chosen a Devil Due Publishing title for this post. “Hack/Slash” is an ongoing series, which started out with tie-ins with other titles in the publishers and one shot test drives until the fans demanded more and from May 2007 “Hack/Slash” has become a series with 15 issues so far. I personally have had the opportunity to read up until issue 12.

As the title suggest violence is not far away and if you don’t mind movies like the Saw series, then this is just up your alley. The heroine is Cassandra “Cassie” Hack and she is a slasher of slashers. If you wonder what a slasher is, here is my definition: impulsive, insane and therefore totally twisted serial killers, who are into the pain of their victims. Having been raised by the Lunch Lady, a slasher with an affinity into butchering people that annoy her to meat products, it’s safe to say that Cassie is not on the bright and sunny side of the world. Armed with a club, a loud mouth and an attitude she takes on to kill all the other psychos out there. On her mission, assistance comes in the face of Vlad, the Meat Man, who is a deformed hulk wearing a gas mask and two former slasher victims saved by Cassie.

The series are too early to string the clues from every issue into a bigger plot, although questions about Cassandra’s missing father pop up and how he is connected with the government. Along the way though we get a lot of blood and some pretty original ideas incorporated into Cassie’s missions. True to the horror genre to involve the paranormal Cassandra Hack faces demonic rockers, who have sold their souls for fandom and offer virgin sacrifices to the old ones to fornicate. Attempt at tentacle porn ensues as well as Elvis and a talking demon dog trying to finish Cassie off. In further issues we have a zombie Ms. America involved in a hot tub club with lesbian college girls imitating Elizabeth Bathory, who bathed in blood.

The creative mesh of such popular elements is definitely refreshing, as the popular comic book crossovers have shown the formula as profitable. Literature, TV and comic books have shown the necessity of a very strong woman, because men like hot women with weapons to do martial arts and be violent. Ms. Hack is the wrestler version of that ideal and simply watching her handle men, women, alien Cthulhu gods and even children with a baseball bat is a treat like no other. Cassandra puts pretty much every other power house heroine to shame and even Buffy, yes even her. High tolerance for pain, having a mother as serial killer, possibly asexual or a lesbian and she has homicidal dreams about armed dairy products.

Tim Seely is the man behind the gruesome idea of the whole twisted Beauty and the Beast killing duo series and to think this man started as a children books’ illustrator. His hobby does involve watching slasher movies and compiling his ideas for the story. The artists totally evade me, but as it would seem every issue has a new face. Some of the names are Emily Stone, Stefano Caselli and Fernando Pinto, but although the crew shifts, the grungy kill-them-all-in-explicit detail remains, which is the heart of the story. Be sure to check it out.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Comic Book Week: "Marvel Zombies"

The fascination with zombies from the early 1980s hasn’t faded at all and as the CGI movie technology progresses so do the means to make zombies scarier. Zombie movies have flooded the big screen ranging from the serious “Diary of the Dead” and “Resident Evil” to the comedies “Dance of the Dead” and “Shaun of the Dead” and the what-were-they-thinking titles like “Zombie Strippers” and “Strippers vs. Zombies”.

The wide interest towards the living dead has caught with Marvel and the result is the Marvel Zombies world launched from 2005 with various limited series, covering various time strips of the zombie contamination and the apocalyptic consequences. Since the overall strip of time concerning the events has been cut into four miniseries, I will give the content in a nutshell. Chronologically speaking, the events begin with the crossover “Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness” as Ash Williams from the series Army of Darkness arrives from a different dimension to prevent the spread of zombie plague. He ultimately fails. Then follow “Marvel Zombies: Dead Days” basically marking the first hours of the contamination and the last attempts of the human resistance. Also a failure.

However these series are prequels to the originally published in 2005 Marvel Zombies volume 1, which pretty much presents the world as infested with superhuman zombies as they fight for the very last humans. Their new source of food comes as Galactus decides to consume Earth and in all round battle the zombies feast on his flesh only to gain intergalactic traveling powers, with which they set off to satisfy their hunger for flesh. Volume 2 posted 2006-2007 picks up the story forty to fifty years after the zombies have left Earth. Whatever survived on Asteroid M have returned to settle the ruins of New York, but as luck would have it the cosmic zombies return and battle for survival starts again. This time however the zombies fight among each other, because a small fraction have lost their hunger for flesh and act rationally, trying to repent for their atrocities. The end is bad for the zombies, even the good ones.

The popularity in the series lies within many factors. Psychologically speaking there exist a primal need to feel scared beyond the boundaries of the mind. The more scared you feel, the more alive you fear. It’s pure sadomasochism, but it has been successfully applied in the rocketing the horror genre to the nine circles of hell. As technology progresses and CGI can make our worst fears possible, our imaginations become more and more colorful. People want blood, gore, death and violence in high definition and Marvel Zombies presents the perfect opportunity for all the grown fans to enjoy a primal fantasy. Hero against hero, stripped from all honor in a cannibalistic lust to eat and convert and then kill so that more could be available. The mature content is really liberating for fans, who have waited for their heroes to drop the chivalry code and get dirty.

Tightly connected to that is the Closet Villain Syndrome. The idea of such symbols of human hope and goodness in the world, even if fictitious, to be double agents, go berserk like Wolverine, become possessed like Jean Grey becoming Dark Phoenix and Peter Parker becoming Venom for awhile or simply melt down like the Scarlet Witch in the House of M; excites the audience and fans. Bringing in a disease that equalizes all of their moral features and brings them down to a bestial level is the perfect solution. The experience is full, when the reader meets the psychic torment of the heroes once their hunger subsides for a short period and they reflect on the people they have killed, when their purpose is to preserve. Quite controversial and heartbreaking.

The creative team of writer Robert Kirkman and artists Sean Phillips and Artur Suydman provide you all of that mixed with quirky zombie punch lines to lighten up the mood and the most detailed art to go along. The art is superb in terms of being really eerie and blood stopping, which works perfectly for the topic at hand. The covers for each issue are done by Arthur Suydman. My personal favorites have been added to the review.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Comic Book Week: NYX

NYX is a limited series by Marvel handling homeless mutant teenagers and their hardships on the streets of District X, New York City; the district with highest mutant count I the Marvel X-Men universe. Although planed as an ongoing series, NYX concluded at issue number seven. The creative behind it are writer Joe Quesada, currently editor-in-chief of Marvel, and artists Joshua Middleton and Rob Teranishi. Currently the series are re-launched, but about that on a later date.

After witnessing her father’s death, Kiden Nixon grows up as a white trash, sort to speak, never interested in what happens around her and in a conflict with the world. Things just go out of hand, when she develops the mutant ability to fall out of time and enter a new time strip, where everyone is too slow to notice her. The accident leaves her teacher Cameron Palmer shot, thus ruining her psychic health and leading her to an attempted suicide. Something Kiden prevents by listening to her dead father’s apparition. In a similar method Kiden helps X-23, who in NYX is a hooker, escape a crime scene thus getting her pimp pretty much angered and on their heels. The last to join the fugitives is Tatiana, who has the power to change into any human/animal hybrid by touching the animal’s blood. Now the chase is on and X-23’s pimp has called Bobby Soul, a man with a special talent. All there is left is to watch how the four have to survive on the streets until the crisis is solved and they find the answers to the questions in their life that keep torturing them.

The strongest quality of the series is the contrast between most of the X titles on the market. While the X-Men are all about fighting world domination, surviving impossible threats, spandex, jets, and mansions and in between romances, NYX shows the streets and life as the ultimate enemy. The characters are left outside a controlled environment to train and mature in their own powers and have to experience the bigotry and racism first hand. When they become extermination targets there is no HQ to delay the verdict, there is no back up team, there are no bad dreams, only reality. The characters have to find places to sleep and food to eat without money.

As suggested the series is darker on the survival aspects and deeply psychological as well. Kiden deals with the trauma of seeing her father murdered in front of her, which led to the falling apart of her family and as the story progresses she has to deal with his apparition leading her to new people to say. Cameron has to live with the thought that both Kiden’s mutant abilities are the reasons for her life being destroyed and saved. Thus she is torn between resentment and gratitude as well as overcoming her mutant prejudices. Tatiana must overcome the nature of her powers which imply using the blood of an animal to shapeshift, an act of cruelty she incapable of since she loves animals. X-23 is well violent in her inner dealings, but the focal point here is facing one’s greatest fear and conquering it. Old as the world theme, but certainly efficient and always current.

As far as the art goes, Joshua Middleton has a certain distinct quality, which makes his art really noticeable. Compared to others the best term I can think of is ghastly ephemeral, especially coverart. The figures are like pale apparitions that are to disperse even at the slightest tremble in the air. Although this doesn’t quite prevail all the time, his way of drawing is very distinguishable and I will leave it at that since I am not as articulate in art criticizing as with plot and story. My concluding words are that the series is a must if you like your story gritty and dark.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Comic Book Week: "The Umbrella Academy"

The comic book industry has contributed to the fantasy genre in one way or another, if people are willing to look through mediums. Thanks for the spandex clad superheroes, which make the majority of the titles, the fantasy in contemporary settings has become popular and high profile TV shows and movies have appeared, not to mention the rise of the urban fantasy genre. So as a tribute to this medium, I decided to host a Comic Book Week.

The selections for this week are random, but have one thing in common, namely to entertain in a different set of genre ranging from the weird to the horror and the tragedy and hardships of life. “The Umbrella Academy” is a limited comic book series published by Dark Horse, which ran for six issues and even won an award for best miniseries.

The fact that the man behind the world of “The Umbrella Academy” is Gerard Way, the frontman of “My Chemical Romance”, peaked my attention towards the series, apart from the stylish cover art and the capturing title. Such a transition from medium to medium is not an everyday occurrence on its own, so it is always refreshing to see what a rocker would do given the opportunity. To aid him in the task is Gabriel Ba, one of the most notable Brazilian artists to be published outside his country. The result is a weird steampunk world transported straight from Smashing Pumpkins’ video “Tonight, Tonight”.

The Umbrella Academy is basically the superhero training facility by alien entrepreneur Sir Reginald Hargreeves, meant to save the world from a still unidentified threat. The seven children admitted to the training are spontaneously born children to women with no signs of pregnancy and have developed in time superhuman abilities in different spectrums. Only the Vanya is left without any powers and thus with no respect from her siblings. In time the group has disbanded due to sibling rivalry and dysfunctional relationships only to reunite once their father Sir Reginald has died and new enemies have emerged. The limelight is occupied by the Orchestra Verdammten, musicians with criminal pasts, and Vanya, who under the conductor’s ministrations unlocks her hidden potential and rises as the White Violin. With her ability to combust things by playing her violin she is feared to bring down the apocalypse.

I found the world rather enjoyable and a reference can go out to “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, both movies and comic books, which have the same although milder steampunk elements. Aliens walk among us such Gustavef Eiffel alongside talking chimps like Dr. Pogo. The setting always contributes to the experience, but in comic books it’s the characters with greatest role. I have to say that unlike most heroes Gerard Way has given powers to the worst of human kind’s personality traits and I can even sense a slight reference towards the Seven Deadly Sins, although it’s still an unproven theory of mine. The most satisfying theme to be explored here is the so called Unsuspected Villain Metamorphosis, where the most unimportant member surpasses the heroes and decides to annihilate them.

Another aspect concerning the experience from reading this series is the art. Although the cover artist is James Jean, whose work is eerie beautiful, Gabriel Ba manages to capture the feel of the story. When it comes to comic books, the visual stimulation of how you perceive a story plays a great deal on a subconscious level. I am not the one to know how one artist’s style is different from the other, but all I can say for Gabriel’s line work is that it resembles an old movie tape. You keep waiting for the boxes to role and the character to turn to life. At least this is how I perceived it. In a way he resembles Mike Mignola for the way he keeps the imperfections in the characters and details and lets his work be more sketchy like unlike the clean and smoothed and greatly detailed practice in comic books like Michael Turner, quite the opposite and yet very satisfying.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"The Last Plague" by Glen E. Page

Author: Glen E. Page
Title: The Last Plague
Pages: 440
Publisher: Synergy Books

“The Last Plague” by Glen Page is the opening novel in a series, which presents a new scenario on the Biblical apocalypse and offers a great treat to all conspiracy theorists out there. I enjoyed this novel although it took me around 200 pages to get into it, which is saying much since the novel is 440 pages all in all. But let’s start at the beginning.

My opinion on the cast of characters and their connection to each other is that “The Last Plague” resembles a mystical soap opera with a great roster and a thick web linking everyone to everyone else. In the fashion of conspiracy theories there is nothing normal in how they are connected, usually by death or some mission against another character. Personally I was confused most of the time who was who, did what and wanted to kill who and for what reasons. The main storyline revolves around Dr. Douglas Hunter, who after operating a young girl with a ripped abdomen, one ovary missing and the other hard and black, begins to investigate the mysterious circumstances of her condition and how she was found on old Yankee Road all alone. Needless to say his innocent enough research on the matter attracts the military’s attention. General McFarland works for the Sprudith organization, Children of Satan, interested in the found girl. Each step down the road for Douglas involves more people with their own agendas: friends, family, spies, Biblical prophets, mountain people with special gifts and the Sprudith, deadly adversaries. Against all odds Doug and his team solve most mysteries surrounding the case and the Doctor has to face that his involvement was destined one way or another.

It’s all pretty enigmatic the way I presented the plot, but alas the subplots spin round and round, so this is as clear as it gets for now. My particular problem with the novel concerned the character introduction. I am not used to get hit out of the blue with a new character, when a new chapter begins. It’s not that it’s not possible for such an introduction to work, but considering the lack of explanation of why this man or woman has entered the stage puzzled me. I had some moments to put the book down and register the new presence. Also my main reason not to get in the novel as fast as otherwise and finish it weeks before. Once all have been brought to the game, around page 200 or something the novel is easier to comprehend in that particular aspect.

Something similar is concerned with the flashbacks. I am not sure whether this issue is due to the incompetence of the author himself or the editor. If you are willing to buy this book, then you have to be prepared to read up until a point in the present and then after the next line slip back in time. The first time it happened I thought I skipped a page or something and yet there it was, the flashback didn’t start with a new paragraph. For some reason some flashbacks are divided properly and so are changes into subplots and other characters, but then again the remaining pop up with no identification. As a reader I like to be swept by the story and forget when I started reading, which is damn hard, when I have to stop rewinding and explain what happened a line ago.

Of course these are technical aspects, minor things for tweaking, but as it turns out spoil the story enough. It’s sad when something so small can make reading the first half of the book painful for the brain. But do not think that this is a negative review. I am just ranting about the headaches I had early on. “The Last Plague” is an opening novel in a series, which means it’s bound to be a bit slow with setting the stage, introducing the characters, foreboding the apocalypse and all. You get the best of a soap opera, conspiracy theory, Biblical and Indian folklore, plus CSI. What more can you actually want?

Although Page’s prose is not something extraordinary or remarkable, the dialogues between his characters engross the reader. At least this happened with me. For one thing their topics went to riddles, medical mysteries, world war two and apocalyptic hints, so it’s rare to fall asleep reading this. At one point I thought he was overdoing the whole murky act in the story. When too many events occur and leave only questions, the reader is bound to get lagged or something. Thankfully this hasn’t been the case. Page managed to create a reasonable balance between subplots and tied the knots at all the right places. CSI is the best term to have used here, since it’s methodical crime solving that unlocks the whole story further down the road.

I am not sure whether the genre expects will name this fantasy, but for me it has enough paranormal to call it that. The Sprudiths and the Mountain People are tribes, which have the same gifts to bend space, but stand on polar sides of morality. Another attribute of theirs is that they have wolves and tigers as familiars. Both serve their gods, Lucifer and well God and both are engaged in a battle, the biblical battle between good and evil. It may sound standard, but mixed with all other components, the world building makes an enthralling tale. Biblical characters also appear in the novel as immortals, who have awaited the omens for the apocalypse to take action. What makes them compelling is their engagement with the characters. In most books gods, entities and immortals are devout of any interaction. They exist for their cause and they do not show any emotional connection to the players in the game. In “The Last Plague” it’s worth to mention that such characters from Sprudiths, Mountain People or the immortals are more connected with the world of the living. They love, they have conflicted pasts and had to make tough choices. In the end even villains are stuck in the grey zone.

As a conclusion, “The Last Plague” is an entertaining title, once you overcome the technical obstacles. The Biblical Apocalypse has been done many times before and yet this one presents in a new light, stretched between human drama, medical horror and mystical powers. I wouldn’t mind reading the next installments.

PS: In order to keep the review at a length, which is not boring for people, I myself know that too much rambling can lead to a very bored articled reader, so I omitted most of the details to avoid turning the review into a short story.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Top 10: Female Hotness in Spandex, Leather and Superpowers

A while back I had the pleasant request to post an article from AskMen.com about a top 10 rank list of the hottest female vampires to hit the screen ever. Up until know I never thought of ranking anything, but if AskMen.com can do it all the time, it’s time to kick butt here on this stage as well. So I turned to the one thing I loved so much and could rank, hot women in spandex or leather with super powers. However I knew that not all people would read so much comic books and I decided to cast a Top 10 of actresses to portray either a heroine or villainess in a big screen movie. The criteria is recognition to the public, actual hotness and the ability to portray the role.

10. Mina Harker: Victorian Vixen. Movie: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Actress: Peta Wilson.

As you have seen Mina Harker is definitely not dressed in leather and she doesn’t portray the typical superhero. She is just a different species, but featured in the comic book series and the 2003 motion picture, Mina Harker, created by Bram Stoker for “Dracula”, is a Victorian age savior of the world from evil. What made me feature her was the play mostly. Peta Wilson does a striking job switching from a reserved and polite lady and a very violent vampire. Who doesn’t love a chick that can scale walls, fly and call a flock of bats.

9. Elektra: Spiky Red. Movies: Daredevil & Elektra. Actress: Jennifer Garner

The concept of a woman in smoking red or black as it happens leather and fork weapons is hotter than hell itself, since you get a mega pack. She can stab, pierce, slash and whirls around and around, which gives a pretty good visual on how hot her body is. Jennifer Garner did quite the show kicking ass, but I thought her character was way underdeveloped. Plus there was that stare like a wounded animal, which crashed the style of Marvel’s most lethal and cold blooded assassin. It’s true you simply can’t bear to hurt a woman looking like she has lost her newborn, but it’s very untypical for such a character.

8. Mary Embray: Um, the Immortal version of Ms. Marvel? Movie: Hancock. Actress: Charlize Theron.

Mary Embray doesn’t exist really outside the movie Hancock as a character, which is kind of sad. The comic book universe might have used her. This position is an exception from the rules for this rank list, mainly because a woman lifting a truck, because a superhero hobo is running on her last nerve is sexy. Charlize Theron manages to portray the superhero woman’s scorn and thus earn her spot on number eight.

7. Invisible Woman: Transparent and Hot. Movie: The Fantastic Four 1&2. Actress: Jessica Alba

Jessica Alba should have played the female version of the Human Torch, because she is smoking. I have to admit that she has enough sex appeal to give away to the needy. She even played the character right, but the ass kicker of Sue is under question here. Being invisible is cool and so are force fields, but it saddens me to see that in general she is just sweet and defensive, when all her talents can be used in such violent ways. Referring to the force fields that is. Yes, that may be so, but Sue is devised to be the American Sweetheart in the superhero world, the reason Jessica is stuck on spot number seven.

6. Storm: Sizzling. Movies: The X-Men series. Actress: Halle Berry

Halle Berry has an affiliation to superhero roles as it would seem by her incarnation as Storm and Catwoman, Patience Phillips. However seeing that Catwoman is Selina Kyle, I voted in favor for the white haired mutant. One of my favorite characters ever created I was disappointed to see her role in the X-men movies reduced. The plot centered more around Jean Grey, so it’s understandable that most characters would be underdeveloped. However even if the role was small and not as power boosted as I would have liked, Halle Berry handled the task formidably. Her position here is cemented with the CGI scene with the cluster of tornadoes, which blew my mind away. I would wish her fly and do the human lightning rod gig as well, but may be another movie.

5. Lady Deathstrike: The Adamantium Manicure. Movie: X2: X-Men United. Actress: Kelly Ann Hu

Okay, so she had no back story in the second movie and all she did was come on the stage, shred Wolverine to pieces and then die by his hand. That really doesn’t earn much points for actor skills, but considering her role Kelly Ann Hu portrayed a mindless killing machine with ice cold beauty and as we have seen over the years Asian woman, who know martial arts are always a force to be reconned with, especially when they have blades protruding from their finger tips. As far as the character is recognized I am not sure whether there is a major uproar around Deathstrike, but I am sure the movie boosted her a lot. Number five is well deserved.

4. Mystique: Scally but Fun. Movies: X-Men series. Actress: Rebecca Romijn

The X-Men universe offers a great choice of women with power rather than any other comic book series. Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Ironman and so on have always been valiant knights saving their Louis Lanes, Marry Janes and what not. So most naturally the X-Men movies will provide a decent number of characters involved. Mystique is one of them. Rebecca Romijn promises an unforgettable performance, which leaves you with open mouths. Mystique is known to be a Machiavellian, but Rebecca’s bitchier vixen with reptilian behavior take on the character Mystique takes on a new level of evil ass-kickery. Her character in the movies is controversial since she is deadly, ruthless and yet loyal, which brought her end in the third movie. And Rebecca was hot in her demise.

3. Jean Grey: Quantum Physics in Leather. Movies: X-Men series. Actress: Famke Janssen

Jean Grey is limitless power and as much as I telekinesis the saint aspect of her personality is not that compelling. However when the Phoenix came into the game and suddenly Jean Grey was all red and pyrokinetic, I was ecstatic, because Jean killed around five billion people in the comic book, while in the movie she turned schizophrenic and joined Magneto. I fancy heroes turning villains and thanks to the CGI team Famke aced the transformation and did unspeakable things. For this third place is secured for her. The red leather outfit couldn’t replace the missing flames in the movies, but gave the much needed villain aura.

2. Liz Sherman: Inferno Tempered. Movies: Hellboy 1&2. Actress: Selma Blair.

Liz doesn’t have a fancy name, doesn’t wear spandex, isn’t Marvel, yet she managed to land a place so high on the rank list. The Hellboy movies definitely made her character recognizable, although slightly modified to the movies’ needs. Liz is one of the few women pyrokinetics and her usual melancholy self mixed with a short temper for contrast make her a ticking time bomb. Selma Blair resembles Liz physically and has the voice and facial expression to breathe life to how Liz should be felt by people. She is most notable for her self-ignition, where she becomes something like a human torch which explodes to a nova. Spectacularly handled in the movies so far, which makes Liz hot, both literally and metaphorically speaking.

1. Catwoman: The Latex Kitty. Movie: Batman Returns. Actress: Michelle Pfeiffer

Let’s first start with the costume, which although resembles the comic book version is latex, tattered and screams insanity. Catwoman has never been so deranged and unpredictable. Michelle nailed the part. Playing, when your body is denied any freedom by the tight almost vacuumed suit, is a feat on its own and then incorporate the trademark metal cat claws, the whip, the feline movements and add instable behavior. In the DC universe Selina Kyle is a human with no super powers. She has to rely on herself to succeed and for a woman with a cat obsession to avoid most attempts to be captured by Batman, who has fancy gadgets, makes her the ultimate masked woman in leather to ever appear on the big screen. Thus number one is for her.

A Side Note: I would have personally enjoyed if movie makers decide to add the Scarlet Witch, Sister Grimm, Poison Ivy (ignoring the Uma Thurman catastrophy), Emma Frost and Harley Quinn in future projects. I am sure that those movies will be blockbusters, because people love a scantily clad woman with super powers.
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