Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Book & DVD Set

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Book & DVD SetBatman: The Dark Knight Returns Book & DVD Set by Frank Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought The Dark Knight Returns animated film, part I & II, when they released, and wishlisted the Deluxe Edition for a couple years without hitting the button on it. When I found this gorgeous hardcover of the 30th Anniversary Edition + the Deluxe Bluray, on sale at a local retail store, I couldn’t resist.

I’ve read the paperback GN many times and watched the film many times, but last night I enjoyed the seamless whole for the first time: 2 1/2 hours of Frank Miller awesomeness in one of DC’s best animated film ever made. They’ve done a lot of films in the last 4 years, a lot of excellent ones such as Batman: Year One, Justice League: Doom, and Gotham Knight. But none received the quality of TDKR in my opinion.

The HC book is gorgeous. The paper is of higher quality than the PB and the boards and spine are solid. Inside the back cover are 3 discs. Since I already have parts I & II on my “DC shelf”, I don’t mind shelving this edition with the film inside. It’s a really terrific item for any fan.

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Review: The Walking Dead 100 Project

The Walking Dead 100 ProjectThe Walking Dead 100 Project by Robert Kirkman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Robert Kirkman and Skybound team up with the Hero Initiative to present 100 all-new covers envisioning the horrors of the bestselling The Walking Dead.

This art book features brand-new pieces by The Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard, Paolo Rivera, Ryan Ottley, Rafael Albuquerque. This book will never be reprinted and all proceeds go to the Hero Initiative and comic book creators in need.

This is a fairly quick perusal and a MUST for fans of The Walking Dead comics. I’ve been reading the large hardcover books and found this limited-edition book of “covers” really enjoyable. It’s an art book with no text, no stories of any kind, alternate covers for issue #100. Enjoy!

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Review: Suicide Squad, Volume 1: Kicked in the Teeth

Suicide Squad, Volume 1: Kicked in the TeethSuicide Squad, Volume 1: Kicked in the Teeth by Adam Glass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurb: As a part of the acclaimed DC Comics–The New 52 event of September 2011, writer and co-creator of the CW show Supernatural Adam Glass rolls out an all-new team of death-row super villains recruited by the government to take on missions so dangerous-they’re sheer suicide. The story begins with the Suicide Squad defeated, imprisoned and being interrogated about their newest mission. Harley Quinn, King Shark, Deadshot and company must make it out alive without revealing who’s pulling the strings behind their illegal operations. Who will be the first to crack under the pressure? More importantly will they make it all out alive?

This might be summed up as an art book with some words here and there as there isn’t much of a plot happening that would surprise you in the least. Then again, we’ve all read the Superman baby-crash-lands-on-the-farm story a hundred times and it’s still entertaining now and then. Even when Zack Snyder does it (ugh).

Despite the no-surprises launch story being predictable, I did enjoy these first 7 issues enough to give this a “Hey, I’m okay,” rating (reminiscent of Dr. Bartholomew Wolper). But this isn’t Frank Miller. Maybe it makes sense hiring Adam Glass to write this with his Supernatural background and these characters being… uh… criminals. Not so much, now that I think about it. Where’s Enchantress? That’s right up his alley. Was she in this book? (Just checked, because I couldn’t remember…no). One good thing about this book is a lot of this material was used for the Suicide Squad movie. A lot but not all. There’s no Croc here, it’s King Shark (which is an utterly stupid character that should have been killed off instantly).

The final story is the Harley Quinn origin story with lots of Joker. It was entertaining but it’s the same old story. That’s okay. That seems to be what rabid fans want, retelling the exact same stories over and over (with Collectible Issue #1) every few years, but with new artists. I don’t fault DC for doing that. After all, I don’t WANT them to change their characters. But, I do with they would get on with the story. In the good old days when I was young, these comics were numbered in the hundreds. Now, every 3 years they have to reboot everything because the writers run out of ideas.

I did not like this enough to buy Volume 2. I thought at first that I’d collect this comic because I didn’t read it at all in 2011 when the New 52 launched. But no, it’s not interesting enough to me. I will read Harley Quinn’s own series but this isn’t good enough to keep my interest. I would much rather read an anti-hero book like Birds of Prey.

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Review: The Walking Dead, Book Five

The Walking Dead, Book FiveThe Walking Dead, Book Five by Robert Kirkman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurb: This hardcover features another 12 issues of the hit series along with the covers for the issues all in one oversized hardcover volume. Perfect for long time fans, new readers, and anyone interested in reading a zombie movie on paper that never ends. Collects The Walking Dead #49-60.

It has been fun to see how the AMC series follows these books (and how badly it has NOT in many cases). Rick losing his hand to the governor, for instance, and Lori AND the baby dying in the governor’s attack did not happen in the series. (By the way, that was the previous book, not this one). In this book, the group meets up after having fled the prison and Dale begins to seriously question Rick’s sanity and leadership ability and wants to take Andrea and get away from him. They meet up with Abraham and his redneck “scientist”, and again and again, Rick is an idiot and he gets people killed or seriously screws up the group. I’m with Dale. Rick is insane and they should have left him long ago to save their own lives. They address this quite a bit in the series as well, so kudos to AMC for generally following Kirkman’s story.

I’m reading these beautiful hardcover books sequentially after having bought the first six smaller paperback graphic novels. There are about twenty books in this set so I have quite a ways to go. It is consistently good quality writing and art and sometimes extremely violent. But, the best thing about this series is the character development. These people seem like real people, like this is their story. That’s a testament to Kirkman’s skill as a writer. So, even a lower-quality run within this series is better than most comics. And this is a long-running series that will not get a reboot. Which, if you’ve read any of my comic reviews, you’ll know that’s a pet peeve of mine. This may be one of the few comic series that has continued to run without interruption.

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Review: No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old MenNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Marvelous. I enjoy it more after every read and do not get tired of it. I’m using Mccarthy now as a model to improve my own writing. And I just realized I’m overdue for a proper review of this book since I’ve read it three times in as many months. First, as a refresher, here’s the plot summary which I do for any new reader perusing the reviews.

Blurb: Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, instead finds men shot dead, a load of heroin, and more than $2 million in cash. Packing the money out, he knows, will change everything. But only after two more men are murdered does a victim’s burning car lead Sheriff Bell to the carnage out in the desert, and he soon realizes how desperately Moss and his young wife need protection. One party in the failed transaction hires an ex-Special Forces officer to defend his interests against a mesmerizing freelancer, while on either side are men accustomed to spectacular violence and mayhem. The pursuit stretches up and down and across the border, each participant seemingly determined to answer what one asks another: how does a man decide in what order to abandon his life? A harrowing story of a war that society is waging on itself, and an enduring meditation on the ties of love and blood and duty that inform lives and shape destinies, No Country for Old Men is a novel of extraordinary resonance and power.

Why do I love this book? My introduction to Cormac McCarthy was The Road in 2012. I saw the film and liked it and heard the novel won a Pulitzer and wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Well, my curiosity was sated but reading only caused confusion. How was it that this bizarre novel full of grammatical and punctuation errors was so famous? WHY were people raving about it? WHY did it win a Pulitzer? With such lack of concern for the English language.

It’s as if McCarthy grew tired of the language and wanted to ignore all the restrictions to storytelling so he dropped all punctuation and grammar and used simpler language to increase the reader’s immersion.

It worked but it’s still strange. Why would a publisher take on a book like that? Aren’t we all required to follow English writing standards? Apparently that’s just a suggestion, not a rule. Writers of fiction have been bucking the rules for decades with fragments and McCarthy takes that a few steps further. (I recall the first time I wrote a fragmented sentence, emulating a famous author, and that made me feel like a criminal).

No Country is similar with very little punctuation or followed rules of grammar. He writes what he thinks and there’s no stopping the narrative for things like apostrophes or quotation marks. That works in a simple story. Let’s be clear on that much: This book is a simple story with simple dialogue and only two characters at a time conversing. So, he gets away with it due to simple scenes. This would not work in a multi-layered novel or any scene with three or more. McCarthy might attempt it but the narrative only works because two people are present in any given situation.

I find the conversations enjoyable. These characters are without malice and I find that very refreshing. After reading convoluted crap from others (I won’t name names out of respect but I’m talking about sci-fi here, mostly). A small-town sheriff and his deputes in a situation they can’t quite comprehend and doing their best to cope with it. It’s very enjoyable. The narrative moves along without tricking the reader or messing with the plot to present a surprise ending. The writer doesn’t lie to his readers. So much of that in popular works today. Outright lies that the author would then blame you for misunderstanding in the end. No, no, no, I don’t buy that, and such stories (I WILL name one here for illustration purposes: The Maze Runner is a good example) will disappoint if you stop to think about how you were manipulated as the reader. Not with creative or crafty writing but with deception for the sake of deception. (Oh, you didn’t see that coming, dear reader? Shame on you!).

None of that from McCarthy. I could describe him as writing for his grandkids. Get it? He loves his readers. He loves you while you are reading his book. He won’t lie to you. He’s a straight shooter and his word is his bond. No oaths required. That is what I find refreshing and enjoyable. Contrast with, say, Patrick Rothfuss. I can use him as an example since I recently read The Name of the Wind and it made me really angry because he lied to his readers…in the intro, in the premise, everything about the story was a bait-and-switch. Argue with me if you want but that’s how it is. And that’s how McCarthy calls it–as he sees it.

Now, one drawback worth noting. His characters are fairly simple in their motives and behaviors. They are all the same character with different motivations driving them to behave differently. That is due to the culture presented: Every person in the story is from the same general area (west Texas). Including Anton Chigurh, the insane assassin. Despite having an accent (in writing here–I’m not speaking of the film), he wears crocodile boots and fits in just fine around Texans and Mexicans. His name alone indicates he’s from elsewhere. So, all of the characters are identifiable and fairly local so the plot is not overly complex or layered. You won’t run into Irish gun runners or anything like that. The uniformity of the characters does make the dialog easy to adapt to and pleasant to read. Your mind doesn’t have to shift gears.

I think there’s much to be said about simplicity of writing. McCarthy is a master storyteller and I’m listening.

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Review: The Walking Dead, Book Three

The Walking Dead, Book ThreeThe Walking Dead, Book Three by Robert Kirkman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Outstanding storytelling that completely eclipses the AMC series (filled with YA/teenage plot devices). The characters here are fascinating and complex, flawed, selfish, and stressed out beyond belief, so they make a lot of mistakes. But in the series, it seems the staff writers and actors took a page out of the first comic and ran with it, ignoring all character development that took place after that inaugural episode. For instance, Rick still wearing that idiotic sheriff costume (years later), and Carl still sporting that damn hat and redneck hair, which he does NOT do in the comic.

The AMC producers are clearly not including Kirkman. In fact, I’ll bet he’s involved in name only. I sort-of enjoyed the first 5 seasons. They didn’t compare to these books at all, and many scenes were too staged and unlikely, but still, I watched. Now, that season 6 cliffhanger, and season 7 opener, were so UNWATCHABLE that I quit watching entirely. As far as I’m concerned, the show ended with the death of you-know-who. Better yet, the series ended with season 5, because 6 wasn’t much better than 7. And maybe I feel this way only because I’ve been reading the comics for so long?

Why does that matter anyway in this review of book three? It’s crucial to compare and contrast because the show is so popular and is likely to affect one’s opinion of the source material. The quality of the writing and art in this book and the others is OUTSTANDING. But be warned: If you read a few of these books, you’re possibly going to hate the show. It depends on each person, obviously. I sort of liked the show about 50% of the time up to season 6, and then just couldn’t stand it any more. Because I had read this book and the others! Just something to think about. You might actually enjoy the show more if you don’t read these books. Because the quality of the storytelling here is so much better.

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Review: Redshirts

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This is a DNF-quality novel that I read to the end in order to figure out why it won a Hugo. I’ll never know.

Why do I despise Redshirts? First of all, my initial impression was spot on. This is the calibur of fan fiction. Scalzi is not even TRYING to hide the fact that it’s Star Trek satire, which is tired and hackneyed. Scalzi takes it into an even more-unlikely realm by suggesting the characters are alive in another universe. GIVE ME A FREAKING BREAK, Scalzi. That’s a load of garbage and you know it. And you were bestowed a Hugo for this steaming pile of crap. (Kudos to SFWA for seeing it for what it is and not making the same political mistake).

Why do I hate it? Why? I don’t hate Scalzi, but I do not like his literary smirk. Everything he writes is to be read with a grain of salt. It’s ALL comedy. Even the badly-reviewed Old Man’s War: People, this is sarcasm directed against science fiction fans. THAT is why I hate it.

No, I take it back, I do hate John Scalzi’s work, entirely. Not just Redshirts. The more I think about it, the more I’m realizing Old Man’s War and everything else he’s done is a great big middle finger directed at all sci-fi fans everywhere. And now that–somehow?–it was taken seriously and given awards, he’s sitting back with a smug smile on his face, thinking, God, these people are stupid.

They might be, but I know sarcasm, pal. And it’s not funny. What’s your problem, anyway? Why do you hate sci-fi? I wonder about your childhood… I’m going to shelf this under SELF-HELP and FANTASY.

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Review: Roverandom

RoverandomRoverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Adorable children’s story by the master of fantasy. The reader level is a bit high for young children and the scenes a bit too immature for the teen reading level (or a gifted reader), but it was just right for me reading to my girls who enjoyed it. It is about 120 pages.

Blurb: Rover should never have bitten the wizard’s trousers. His punishment was to be transformed into a toy, and now he is forced to track down the magician so he can be returned to normal. His adventures will take him to the moon and under the sea, introducing him to many fabulous – and dangerous – creatures.

Inspired by the loss of his own child’s favorite toy, this charming tale was written by J.R.R. Tolkien long before The Hobbit, yet remained unpublished for more than 70 years. This new paperback edition includes a full introduction and detailed notes about the story.

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