Friday 25 December 2015

Book notes: Star Wars Legacy and more

Star Wars Tales, Vol. 6 (Dark Horse Comics) by Jeremy Barlow. Last and weakest of the series. Too glum, too serious, and too little of the major characters, so that it could try to stay in continuity more. A lot less fun than any of the previous books. ***

Star Wars: Crimson Empire III: Empire Lost (Dark Horse Comics) by Mike Richardson, Randy Stradley, Paul Gulacy, Michael Bartolo and Dave Dorman. The third adventure of Kir Kanos, former guard to Emperor Palpatine, is the first to include Luke, Leia and Han (who seem rather tetchy), but it’s the usual story of imperial remnants fighting the new republic and each other. Often hard to tell what’s happening in action scenes. ***

Star Wars: Legacy, Vol. 10: Extremes (Dark Horse Comics) by John Ostrander, Jan Duursema, Brad Anderson and Sean Cooke. Takes the series up to its cancellation with issue 50, though volume 11 continues the story by collecting a mini-series. All the plotlines that have been running keep on running. Cade Skywalker continues to draw on the power of the dark side to fight his enemies and help his friends, while the Sith, former emperors and the remnants of the alliance jockey for galactic power. Readable without being all that exciting. ***

Star Wars: Legacy, Vol. 11: War (Dark Horse Comics) by John Ostrander, Jan Duursema and Dan Parsons. Burdened with much recapping in its early pages, the miniseries collected in this volume still does a surprisingly good job of roosting all the pigeons that flapped around in books one to ten. Cade Skywalker confronts the dark side of the force, the new alliance goes for broke, and the Sith reveal their terrible new weapon. I never grew to love this series, but I read one volume after another, and that tells its own story. It’s essentially a thousand-page Star Wars graphic novel. How could I not enjoy it, at least a bit? ***

Star Wars: Legacy, Vol. 5: The Hidden Temple (Dark Horse Comics) by John Ostrander, Jan Duursema and Dan Parsons. The story steps up a gear, but Cade is still an unpleasant protagonist with terrible hair and Darth Krayt seems more like a He-Man villain than something from Star Wars. I’ll keep reading, but only because I bought the whole series in one go. ***

Star Wars: Legacy, Vol. 7: Storms (Dark Horse Comics) by John Ostrander, Omar Fancia, Jan Duursema, Dan Parsons and Brad Anderson. More adventures in the post-Luke future of Star Wars. An imperial knight helps the Mon Calamari fight back against the Sith, underwater, and Cade Skywalker continues his aimless, charmless meanderings around the galaxy. ***

Star Wars: Legacy, Vol. 8: Tatooine (Dark Horse Comics) by John Ostrander, Jan Duursema, Dan Parsons and Brad Anderson. The most obnoxious brat in comics turns to ripping off pirates but they get wise to his force tricks and his stay on Tatooine ends up being longer than planned. Elsewhere in the galaxy far, far away we see how a Mandalorian (like Boba Fett) came to join Rogue Squadron, and what happens when his vengeful ex-wife finds him there. ***

Star Wars: Vector, Vol. 2 (Dark Horse Comics) by Rob Williams, John Ostrander, Dustin Weaver, Jan Duursema and Dan Parsons. The second half of a crossover between four ongoing Star Wars titles. This contains one story with Luke Skywalker set during the rebellion, and one set over a century later with Cade Skywalker. The connection is a long-lived former Jedi, Celeste Morne, who is bonded with the Muur talisman and the Sith consciousness within it. As well as volume two of Vector, this also stands as volume four of Rebellion and volume six of Legacy, a bizarre set-up that left me searching fruitlessly for the latter after having bought the other ten volumes in a sale. In this book Cade teams up with a trio of Imperial Knights and Celeste Morne to make an assassination attempt on Darth Krayt. It’s okay. ***

Merry Christmas everybody!

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Krampus | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Killjoys beware: this holiday horror surprises with positive message, tender moments.

A colleague expressed reservations about Krampus. How could I, he wondered, want to see a horror movie that ostensibly spits in the face of the Christmas holiday spirit?

As it turns out, this individual is way off the mark. Yes, Krampus is billed as a horror film. Yes, the demonic title character is, if you’ll pardon the expression, the polar opposite of Santa Claus. At first glance, Krampus seems little more than sprinkling some red and green on the typical B/slasher film in which a savvy monster gradually picks off unlikable or shallow characters.

Friday 18 December 2015

Book notes: Nexus, JLA, Orbital and more

JLA, Vol. 5 (DC Comics) by Mark Waidand Bryan Hitch. A disappointment. I love the JLA, and Mark Waid has written some terrific comics, but this just doesn’t work. The stories lack decent villains, and the heroes have lost all the sharpness of the Grant Morrison run. I don’t know what went wrong here. **

Nexus Omnibus 4 (Dark Horse Comics) by Mike Baron, Steve Rude and chums. Much more fun than previous volumes. Nexus himself is far less tortured and conflicted, and heads back to the bowl-shaped world to find a god who might be able to prevent the collapse of Gravity Well, an unstable power station built on a black hole that could destroy the solar system. A band of youngsters from Ylum become huge rock stars, jockeying begins for the presidential elections, and the three girls who pledged vengeance after Nexus executed their father continue their search for enough power to kill him. The backup stories are now all about Judah the Hammer, a huge improvement. The artwork and design is as ambitious and colourful as the stories. My favourite Nexus book yet. ****

Nexus Omnibus 5 (Dark Horse Comics) by Mike Baron and chums. Horatio Hellpop has had enough of being Nexus, and leaves Ylum to find himself. So the insane alien Merk grants his power to other candidates, including three vengeful sisters and a musclebound professor. Les Dorscheid’s colouring maintains a consistent look despite a succession of guest artists, but with Steve Rude largely absent this book isn’t as stylish or distinctive as earlier collections. ****

Nexus Omnibus 6 (Dark Horse Comics) by Mike Baron, Hugh Haynes and chums. Alien taskmaster the Merk made Stanislaus Korivitsky the new Nexus, but it’s a poor choice: he likes the killing way too much, and when the Merk’s power runs out Stan will team up with the Bad Brains! Original Nexus Horatio Hellpop will have to come out of his retirement to take him down. The art on this one has some very shaky moments, but once Hugh Haynes becomes the regular penciller it settles down a bit. Reading these six omnibuses has been a terrific experience, watching Ylum develop into a full-blown society, inching its way forward, making mistakes, trying to balance the varied demands of a growing population. A great science fiction adventure. ****

Orbital, Vol. 1: Scars (Cinebook) by Sylvain Runberg and Serge Pellé. A pair of novice special space agents are despatched to Senestam, a moon of Upsall, to resolve the conflict between human colonists and the aliens of Upsall, who would quite like their moon back now that valuable minerals have been found there. Excellent art, and an interesting story, but it is bafflingly split across two slim volumes and the matte printing is unattractive. ***

Orbital, Vol. 2: Ruptures (Cinebook) by Sylvain Runbergand Serge Pellé. The story concludes. £7.99 seems like quite a lot for a 56pp comic. ***

Queen and Country: The Definitive Edition, Vol. 2 (Oni Press) by Greg Rucka, Jason Alexander and Carla Speed McNeil. Collects three excellent stories about spy Tara Chace and her fellow Minders in the SIS. Like the MI:6 equivalent of Spooks. *****

Friday 11 December 2015

Book notes: Empowered, Alien Legion, All You Need Is Kill, and more

Alien Legion Omnibus, Vol. 2 (Dark Horse Comics) by Alan Zelenetz, Larry Stroman, Frank Cirocco and chums. An okay book of science fiction war stories, with an admirable tendency to kill off its cast and explore the effect that has on the others, but… high heels on the new female recruit’s battle armour? What were they thinking? And some of the poses she appears in are ludicrous. ***

All You Need Is Kill (Haikasoru) by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. An sf take on Groundhog Day, it’s neat and thrilling without making tons of sense. Filmed as Edge of Tomorrow, where Tom Cruise plays a journalist who appears for just a second in the book. Here, it’s a soldier who keeps dying and waking up again, and gets better and better at fighting. ***

Black Hat Jack (Subterranean Press) by Joe R. Lansdale. Western adventure. ****

Elvenquest, Series 3 (BBC Audio) by Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto. An Audible collection of the Radio 4 series. The questers continue to search for the fabled sword of Aznagar, and come pretty close to it a couple of times. Along the way they’ll meet a wizard who seems rather a lot like Tony Blair, meet the father of Dean the dwarf, and fight Lord Darkness in single combat to decide the fate of the realms (or at least one of them will, and not necessarily the best equipped for the job). Always very funny. ****

Empowered, Vol. 5 (Dark Horse Comics) by Adam Warren. Bondage-prone superhero Emp learns more about mysterious Mind—, who stays up in the D10 orbital station to avoid living with everyone’s thoughts. Still a very saucy comic, and of course that’s much of the appeal, but the superhero stuff gets better and better. ****

Empowered, Vol. 6 (Dark Horse Comics) by Adam Warren. Emp grows into her role as a superhero, getting used to her new clinging abilities and even showing some leadership potential after she learns the secret of what happens to dead heroes and their powers. Villain Deathmonger is gathering and enslaving their remnants. Very funny, except when it means to be serious, and it keeps improving. The caged Demonwolf who sits on Emp’s coffee table is my favourite tamed baddie since Baytor (“I am Baytor!”) in The Demon. ****

Empowered, Vol. 7 (Dark Horse Comics) by Adam Warren. Ninjette has to deal with a team of bounty-hunting ninjas who want to take her back to the clan she fled with good reason. The book skips about in time to show us the fight, and her training with Emp, and a bathtub conversation with the caged Demonwolf, who for once stops talking like an angry Stan Lee to tell her how he really feels. There is also karaoke. The ongoing storylines progress at a snail’s pace, but it’s still a great book. The friendship between Emp and Ninjette is as sincere and meaningful as any I’ve seen in superhero comics. ****

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Inspirational series closes with a fizzle.

In Mockingjay – Part 2, the fourth and final installment of the hitherto superb The Hunger Games series, something slips. The viewer feels disconnected from the characters. Their dialogue sounds contrived and melodramatic. The emotional investment in the fate of Panem seems tempered. When characters flee from life-threatening dangers, they appear to jog rather than sprint.