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Comic Review :’The Long Halloween’ by Jeph Loeb

Acknowledgments where they belong. I picked up this particular graphic novel after a Batman: The Long Halloweendiscussion on the current TV show Gotham in which it was suggested that The Long Halloween was one of the biggest influences on The Dark Knight movie we all know and love. After reading it in two sittings I can both that the influence is obvious and that it is worth reading on its own anyway.

Representing one long story arc that takes place over a single year The Long Halloween pits Batman against a killer called Holiday. Holiday is something unique as he/she is targeting members of Carmine Falcone’s criminal enterprise; leaving a question of why this vigilante is better or worse than Batman. The question comes from Gordan himself; is Gotham attracting a different sort of criminal because of Batman’s presence? The Long Halloween also acts as something of an origin story for one particular villain. I won’t name who but from the first appearance I was waiting for the eventual ‘snap.’

This was a strong overall story that in my mind was somewhat hampered by its episodic nature; it felt like the series of short comics it was. On the one hand this lead to some very cool appearance by almost the entire Batman villain pantheon; or at least all those that a novice like myself would know. As a showcase I doubt there is a much better representation. Both the Joker and Catwoman are woven into the story several times with great effect.  Selina Kyle especially shined in this run more than a match for Bruce even without her other moniker.   I also appreciated the way the art worked with Catwoman and Poison Ivy; allowing them both to be sensual with resorting to fan service.

On the other hand the story could have been pulled off just as effectively with about half of the cast. Several of the villains seemed to be present only to knocked off my a checklist; showing up an disappearing without contributing the story in any fashion. If I had the collection in individual comics rather than a single bound collection I would discard about six issues before passing it on to the next reader—and they would get the same story I did in a lot less jarring format.

Several plot lines needed to be tied up by the end of the story arc and the conclusions were something of a mixed bag. The villain creation story was exactly how it should have been as was the final twist on the Holiday killer itself. But there was a collection of villains who made a final appearance that I really didn’t see the need for. Sadly this included a very unsatisfying end to Catwoman’s otherwise excellent story.

I wasn’t into superheroes much as a kid but Batman will always be cool. This is the comic I have read that actually focuses on the dark knight but I am more than willing to start catching up.

Tough Travels – Bugs

tough-traveling

Each Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is BUGS

BUGS- Not in the Tough Guide but it should be. Let’s all find anything creepy or crawly, big or small, six legs, eight legs, or more. Bugs, bugs, bugs.

Make no mistake I love bugs. I worked a pet store in college and was the guy who took out the tarantulas and scorpions (and snakes, but that is a different list). If I see a spider in my house I ‘escort’ it back outside. Sure crickets can piss me off at times, and mosquitoes get swatted on site, but for the most part I think bugs a great thing. Especially in my books.

Plus I can think of nothing better than yummy bugs to get us all in the mood for Thanksgiving (those of us in the U.S. at least).

Starship TroopersStarship Troopers – Robert Heinlein – Oh, hell, ya, space men in armored suites jumping around a blazing a swarm of killer space bugs. Sound familiar to anyone? I think it is safe to say that this was one influential book.   Sure it goes off on a political bend for a while but I never stopped loving this book.

Ignore the movie. It was fucking horrible. And ignore people who claim it was actually an amazing satire of the book itself; there are some great ‘news stories’ that did the satire thing very well but they were hidden in a crappy movie that took all the life out of the book.

I want my starship bugs to be intelligent, build ships, and sound like frying bacon when they tunnel through the ground to swallow up space marines whole.

God’s War –Kameron Hurley – Bug Punk is a thing because Hurley made it so. Ironically I went into the book thinking bugs were going to be bad; instead they are just the thread that holds the world together. Bugs used for healing, bugs used for magic, bugs used as fuel. Even vehicles are bug carapaces filled with bug parts.

Eventually reading Hurley books forces a person to answer very important questions. Which would freak more people out? Being forced to live hand in hand with all the creepy crawly things like they do in God’s War? Or watching out for carnivorous plants like in Mirror Empire?

Empire in Black and Gold – Adrian Tchaikovsky – Has anyone done one of these Tough Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt, #1)Travel posts and immediately wanted to reread one of your choices? That is what I have going here. I love this series but have only read the first four books. Because the series currently doesn’t have a publisher on this side of the ocean! WHY.

Here the people are bugs. Or rather aspects of them, or kin to them. Or something, it seems confusing but it works. So the beetle-kin are industrious and the mantis-kin are solitary warriors and the damn wasps are a dominating, swarming force. And they start off with a simple basic formulaic fantasy book that fools the reader by being different; then careens off into one heck of a series. AT LEAST WHAT I CAN READ OF IT IS!

Perdido Street StationRabindranauth said I could have Slate Moths so I am putting Slate Moths on my list again. Because I like them.

Codex: TyranidsWarhammer 40k/Starcraft –I put these together because their bugs are the same. Both rip off Starship Troopers to some degree by having hulking space marines gun down raving hordes of bugs. In Warhammer 40k they are called Tyranids and they are scary damn things. Huge hive ships roam space and consume any matter they can get; they use that to make more Tyranids.

As for the Zerg, well they were my weakest race. I was a stim-marine drop ship guy if I had my way, though the Protoss brute strength got me quite a ways up the ladder. But if I had to play Zerg I made good use of those defilers. Dark Swarm for the win!

Harry Potter – I know you are all going to include the big spider thing in the woods. As such I wasn’t going to use anything from HP. But my wonderful wife pointed out that Rita Skeeter could turn herself into a fly. So there, a bug.

This week wasn’t too hard, let’s keep it easy.

Join us next week as we look at HIGH PRIESTS

HIGH PRIEST is nearly always evil, either on his own account or on behalf of the dark lord.

Surely we can find a few of these?

If you have a topic you want to see us cover, or if you have an entry for next week’s post but don’t have your own blog to put it on, please head over to the main Tough Traveling page and fill out the form at the bottom.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at any time, and please check out my fellow travelers!

Fantasy Review: ‘Unholy War’ by David Hair

Unholy War (Moontide Quartet, #3)Three books into a war spanning two continents- where the hell are you?

For reasons I can’t figure out David Hair’s epic series is flying somewhat under the radar. The Moontide Quartet has everything I am looking for when I want a truly epic feel and Unholy War is a very worthy continuation of a good thing. After a strong but uneven opening book the last two books have been very consistent; lots of action, smart political plays, and a few surprises no matter how vigilantly one watches the text.

I continue to be impressed by the way Hair takes some very familiar, almost trite, ideas and spins them in a new way. Not in a trope bending fashion, that doesn’t really explain it. He built a fantasy version of the crusades, hardly an original through in fantasy. But Hair refused to take the easy route and make things as simple as Us vs Them, Black vs White, or dare I say, Christian vs Muslim. No single culture monoliths are present; even within groups are being forced by circumstance to fight alongside each other divisions work deep.

Made even better by scattering the point of view characters all over the map; there is no right side to this conflict for a reader to gradually start rooting for. Perhaps a reader’s cultural biases may have them thinking one side or the other is showing backward thinking but the narration itself is completely neutral. And if one ‘culture’ shows you it’s worse side in one chapter then be assured a chapter soon after will have you realizing they represent only a fraction of that sides actually beliefs.

So if there isn’t a correct side to root for where is the reader’s emotional involvement to come from? The characters of course. Some to root for, some to root against, and some that you just can’t help to follow even if you are not quite sure how you feel about them. Even characters of whose chapters I wanted to skip in earlier books are must read at this point; a major thing in the series favor is there is no POV that is noticeably weaker than the others. Gyle, spy and wannabe puppet master is by far my favorite to read about; not a nice man but always involved.

This is a middle book in a four part series and as such spends a lot of time moving its pieces around. Almost everyone is on the move; some lags occur during the travel times. If there was anything that annoyed me it was the insane rate that our major characters started ‘hooking up.’ Perhaps I am over stating it but three or four of our major characters found another major character to ease the journey a bit (wink, wink, nudge nudge). Basicaly if you found a male and a female together for more than a chapter expect a sex scene (got tired of winking, subtlety is not really my thing).

Epic fantasy is not dying my friends, it is just moving in new directions. Here is a book (not the only book but a great example) that proves that fantasy can have a basis in medieval ideas and still remember to give a role to women and non-white cultures. And yes it still has cultural oppression, racial biases, and hellish situations for the downtrodden. But it also has signs of growth, diversity, and people of all walks carrying their own agency.

This was a book that needs all eight hundred pages to follow its multiple viewpoints. There is some foreshadowing that is hard to ignore; I would be shocked if a few storylines don’t end up exactly as I envision. But there are so many moving pieces that guessing the whole story is proving to be impossible; and if the final book proves me wrong on the threads I think I have then so much the better.

4 Stars

Copy for review provided by Jo Fletcher Books.

Fantasy Review: ‘Full Fathom Five’ by Max Gladstone

Third in the series but I think it may be the best one yet. The world is starting to tie together Full Fathom Five (Craft Sequence #3)in lots of interesting ways. This time we are taken to a city that wants nothing to do with the gods and deathless kings that rule other parts of the world; religion is not snuffed out but rather minds are reprogrammed the right way by giant stone terrors known as penitents. Rather than gods or goddesses this is a land of idols; keep some of the benefits but none of the pesky will that deities tend to have.

Alternating between two characters, a street rat that who befriends a hidden angel (that’s what I am calling her at least) and a priestess who watches the death of a god she helped create. One remembering a dead god who should have never existed, the other mourning one that died under seemingly normal circumstances.   Eventually they are tied together by a poet who’s rise to fame can only be described as a minor miracle- in a land where that should be impossible.

Some series makes the reader fall in love with the world and this is no exception. This strange semi-urban setting Gladstone lays out continues to impress. Many of the larger concepts important to Full Fathom Five were laid down by earlier books; human soul as currency, necromancer lawyers, and living gods remain important. Each city visited so far have interacted with gods in different ways but the deities presence are strongly felt in each of them.

Better still is the way Gladstone continues to give an entirely new cast with each outing that immediately catch my interest. This is a bold approach, we know people often invest more in characters more than they do in authors, to start over each time is not an easy trick. Kai the priestess and Izza the thief show that this approach works though. We follow them for different reasons; Kai seems more important to the larger picture of the city but Izza acting a priestess of gods that shouldn’t exist provides the earlier hook into the world. It allows a slower set up for Kai, who eases into her role, because Izza’s path is action packed from the get go. Of course as the story goes on we find they both have equally important parts in this play.

Everything I have said complementary about previous works in this series still apply; imaginative, deep, smart, and wonderful. Seeing characters start to show up from the previous books is feels natural; life is moving forward and all that. The Craft Sequence is one of my favorite series going these days, I can’t recommend it enough.

4 Stars

Thank you to Tabitha for letting me read her copy!

Comic Review: ‘Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery’

Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & SorceryAn all female mercenary company gets sent into a trap and almost die to a nasty troll. They must get to the bottom of a conspiracy that threatens their town in their own way; finding joy where it can be found, drinking whenever possible, and kicking ass better than anyone around.

If more comics were like this one I would read more comics. Or maybe more comics are like this one I should be reading more comics. Either way Rat Queens is certainly a comic I will be wanting to read more of. The classic fantasy setup made it a perfect fit for someone who typically isn’t a comic reader.

It reminds me of the webcomics I used to try to keep up with before life got in the way only…better. Obviously better polished in art and editing than the amateur efforts of love those represented.   But over all just a strong collection that both mocks and works within the fantasy feel. Not quite pure parody, though plenty is present, as it also sets up a longer term story arc. At its best when the characters’ wit was on display; this is one awesome collection of badass women. Lucky for me there was almost never a time where one of the characters wasn’t cracking me up, so it was at its best often.

There is simplicity to comics that novels can’t match; a plot with an awful lot of complexity is showing up in a relatively short span. Romantic relationships, family dynamics and a whole lot of action were put on display crisply due to a wonderful mix of art and conversation; what I loved was this felt like a single work rather than art haphazardly added to a writer’s musings.

If you are wondering if you should read Rat Queens ask yourself a few questions. Would I like a diverse cast of awesome women kicking ass? Do I find humor in dark situations and gallows style joking? Have I ever wondered what a female troll looks like? If a fantasy dwarf shaves off her beard would I find her attractive? If you are thinking yes to any of these questions (or just wondering what the hell is with the dwarf beard thing) then get right on it.

The last time a comic was must read for me was Sandman and that was ten years ago. I promise as long as Rat Queens keeps up this pace I will be eying the collections’ release dates.

Tough Travels – Missing Heirs

tough-traveling

Each Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is MISSING HEIRS

MISSING HEIRS occur with great frequency. At any given time, half the countries in Fantasyland will have mislaid their crown princess/prince.

I have no intro to give you so let’s jump right to it.

Wyrd Sisters (Discworld, #6)TomjonWyrd Sisters – Oh those meddling witches of Lancre. A young baby is thrust into Granny’s arms just ahead of the pursing soldiers. After a short demonstration to the soldiers of what leads to a long life (i.e. not messing with Granny) she finds herself holding a young prince in her arms.

What to do, the kid isn’t safe in town.   So he sent to live with some traveling actors and the kingdom is forced to live with a nasty Duke/Duchess combo. All the witches have to do is wait eighteen years for the kid to grow up and they can work to put the rightful heir back on the throne. Of course, Granny isn’t known to be the most patient of people…

CarrotDiscworld by Terry Pratchett – Yes I can put Pratchett on my list twice. Just like in last year’s Barney Awards there are things I am allowed to do just because. And Carrot is a special case because he is not exactly missing. One of the most visible and well known people in the entire city he was adopted by dwarves who found him (and this strangly solid sword) after an obvious violent run in that left him alone. He just happens to have a birth mark that people find VERY interesting. And the resemblance to kings of old is uncanny.

Strange thing is at one point in time the possible proof of his royal linage was brought out. Unfortunately some careless oaf lost it. Now who was it that last had the papers in his hands?

SageThe False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielson- Sometimes a missing heir is just an excuse. The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy, #1)Nobleman Conner plans on taking full advantage of a young prince’s death by finding several lookalikes and training them to be the Prince. As Sage soon finds out, Conner is playing for keeps.

He has to do everything he can to become a prince no one has seen in years, all the while trying to stay one step ahead of Conner’s plans for him. Because if he is going to be Prince, puppet is not going to be his other title.

EveryoneA Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin – You read that right. Every single named character in the book is most likely the long lost descendent of either the Barratheons or the Targaryens. If you start off assuming that, and that if you like the character he/she is about to die, then you are properly prepared to read the series.

Stardust[Spoiler] Stardust by Neil Gaiman – Hidden right in plain sight. In Stardust [spoiler] is part of the game of the dying king decides to play. [spoiler] first is seen as a [spoiler] and others are completely unaware of [spoiler]’s role. So when [spoiler] and [spoiler] are off doing [spoiler] then [spoiler] [spoiler] [spoiler] [spoiler] [spoiler].

It really is a good book, and the movie was better than I expected as well. Especially the addition of [spoiler].

With that I must quit because this is a rare week where I can’t think of a single one I left out. Hopefully others we strong or we may see the same four on everyone’s list. Naw, my fellow travelers never fail to amaze me with their awesome knowledge.

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Join us next week as we look for BUGS

BUGS- Not in the Tough Guide but it should be. Let’s all find anything creepy or crawly, big or small, six legs, eight legs, or more. Bugs, bugs, bugs.

If you have a topic you want to see us cover, or if you have an entry for next week’s post but don’t have your own blog to put it on, please head over to the main Tough Traveling page and fill out the form at the bottom.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at any time, and please check out my fellow travelers!