Book Review – Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne [No Spoilers]

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We move steadily towards The Force Awakens with a new answer to an old question: how did Luke Skywalker learn how to make that lightsaber jump off the floor of the Wampa’s cave? While there’s a lot more to Heir to the Jedi than that, it’s one of best the questions at the core of a good story that gives us a sort of midterm progress report on Luke between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.

Heir to the JediHe’s Lieutenant Skywalker when we catch up with him, and the Rebellion is out looking for a place to set up shop. In the meantime, the Rebellion finds itself short on contacts, and short on cash, and short on intel, so Luke gets dispatched on his own to solve all three problems. Thanks to some good plot structure from author Kevin Hearne, the book neither gives Luke too much to do, nor does it read like a three-act play; the solutions to the Rebels’ problems comes through Luke’s ability to relate to new people and new situations.

As the story reads mostly like a manhunt/rescue/fight-and-flight narrative, the locations that Luke visits with his new compatriots aren’t as memorable as Tatooine, Hoth, Bespin, or Dagobah, that really doesn’t undercut the story–Luke is a hero between stages of his development, so the sense of malleability with the setting as the plot moves from station to station doesn’t reduce the quality of the plot in any way. More, they provide a range of challenges to Luke at a point at which learning to grow in the Force toward Jedi-hood seems impossible. The book isn’t all about these worries, but Hearne does a great job of weaving Luke’s thinking into and out of that concern.

The supporting cast is interesting, mainly because of the math-reasoning Givin spy around whom the plot revolves. There’s some great science in this piece of science fiction, and Hearne makes use of his imagination and develops an interesting race of beings that serve an important role in explaining how the Rebel Alliance continued to gain support and power after the destruction of the first Death Star.

All in all, I enjoyed Heir to the Jedi as much as I have each of these first three LSG-approved Star Wars novels, and with the focus on the post-Clone Wars era being the chief work of the LSG, it’s good to see them fitting the pieces together so expertly. It’s been quite a long time since Luke Skywalker went on an adventure quite like this, and Kevin Hearne does a great job of bringing the character and situations back to life in true Star Wars fashion.

–  Vandal

Review! Lee Child’s ‘Running Blind’ (Jack Reacher #4) [No Spoilers]

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The Reacher books just keep getting better. What strikes me most about the books, now that I’m about a fifth of the way through the whole series, is how different each of them is from the others. We’ve had small-town rackets, crazy militias, Vietnam-era cold cases, and now, a bizarre serial killer mystery crossed with the bad blood of inter-governmental agencies working with each other. And a pretty solid argument against home ownership, if I’m being totally honest.

Running BlindWhat doesn’t change is the quality of the novel. The consistency of the manner in which Lee Child builds the character of Jack Reacher from novel to novel is the sort of consistency that not only builds a fan base, but also allows for the stories to communicate about different issues of interest to Lee Child. Because we like Reacher so much, we come to care about, and learn about, those issues as well. Running Blind seems to be interested in the ways in which people circumvent bureaucracy, tell lies (though I suppose all the Reacher books are interested in this), and use systems of doing things against themselves to pursue a personal agenda. Reacher gets trapped in between local police, New York City racketeers, the FBI, the Air Force, the Army, his girlfriend, and his own yard. The suspense to catch the killer gets intensified by all of the red tape, and as the killer continues to strike, Reacher’s reflections on his own life circumstances give rise to the intense build-up to a resolution that contains a few really satisfying shockers for the reader.

At this point, there’s not reason to doubt each Jack Reacher book will bring more justice, more logical reasoning, more intense situations that seem to have no apparent solution, and more great tales. It’s hard to imagine wanting to read something other than Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books right now, as entertaining and engaging as they are. By the time I’m done with them, it will have been too soon.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
8/10 – I’ve never read a more satisfying or interesting series of thrillers than the Jack Reacher books.  Lee Child has created a character who is part comedian, part superhero, and part social commentator.  Running Blind is the best of the books yet and leaves you wanting to see what kind of trouble Reacher gets himself into next.

– Vandal

Review! Lee Child’s ‘Tripwire’ (Jack Reacher #3) [No Spoilers]

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Jack Reacher digs deep into the past–his own and his country’s–and what we get this time around is an urbane mystery that develops and burns slowly, but contains more great Reacher moments and the best, most awesome conclusion that Lee Child has yet given his readers.

TripwireThis one carries forward from Die Trying somewhat, as Garber and Reacher’s past relationship takes the form of the inciting incident for this story. From there, we travel deep into America’s military culture, visiting cities across the country, visiting different military structures and getting a glimpse into how Jack Reacher might have operated as an MP. There are some great chase sequences in New York City, some slow games of conversational chess in St. Louis and in Texas, and a lot of interesting insight into the Vietnam War. There’s a mystery about a missing solider that Child gives to us as a sort of inherited questline for Reacher and that also doubles as a romantic subplot, and when it all comes together, Child has given us a great mystery for Reacher to solve, a few superb action sequences (Reacher goes shopping for guns and pizza at the same time), and even a bit of a setup for where we’ll find Reacher when the next novel opens.

The most impressive aspect of this book, however, is in the the way that Child makes use of the details that he establishes early on in the book throughout them. What seem like cursory, setting-friendly details, like the idea that Reacher has drifted to Florida to dig swimming pools by hand, are used steadily throughout the story, the cause of a series of effects that range from humorous to crucial. What makes Child such a good storyteller, aside from the total appeal of Jack Reacher, is that he builds complex stories with simple prose. He makes use of the details expertly and weaves a story that not only builds the legend of Jack Reacher, but also has the reader focused on the next adventure.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
8/10 – Tripwire adds to the adventures of Jack Reacher with another, different sort of situation that is part history, part overcoming the monster, and part romance that stands up easily with the first two and sets the stage for what is sure to be yet another terrific Jack Reacher from Lee Child.

–  Vandal

Review! Lee Child’s ‘Die Trying’ [No Spoilers]

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Lee Child isn’t content to establish a formula with his Jack Reacher series, and in Die Trying, he gives Jack a new set of challenges to meet, a less twisted mystery to solve, but a far more brutal adversary to defeat.

Die TryingWhat I liked most about this story was the inside-out flavor of the storytelling. Child strikes this clear contrast to the detective story that Killing Floor tells, as Jack’s chief job is to protect and be protected by a female character who in no way resembles the damsel in distress. Child’s portrayal of Holly Johnson might be the best writing and characterization that Child has accomplished over the early course of the series (aside from the establishment of Jack Reacher himself, the clear foundation on which the stories rest), as she stands as tall as Reacher throughout the entire story, not just as a female version of the tough government/military agent, but as a key component to the story’s resolution.

The story itself is dramatic, exciting, and well-paced. Rather than tracking down a group of killers, Jack instead is presented with a terrific rival, face-to-face, from almost the start. Beau Borken is a memorable villain whose depravity Child develops as strongly as any of the two protagonists, a psychotic pseudo-prophet reminiscent of famous cult leaders whose aims are equally as disturbing. Child makes great use of any familiarity that the reader might have with secessionist militias to build the conflict, hallmarking it with some more genuinely disturbing acts of violence and allowing the brutal efficiency of Reachers’ intellect and reason to pave the way to a fantastic, exciting conclusion.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
7/10 – This second adventure of Jack Reacher’s echoes the first on only the right notes, and while the inevitability of Reacher’s triumph undercuts the suspense to some extent, there’s something to be said for the reliability that Child establishes in just the second book in the lengthy, successful series.

–  Vandal

Review! Superman, ‘H’El on Earth’ [No Spoilers]

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Note: This review covers the DC Comics collection of the entire “H’el on Earth” storyline, and reviews the 4-5 issues each of SupermanSupergirl, and Superboy that were part of the crossover.

So the first year of Superman family storylines were pretty problematic.  I’ve not read any Superboy comics, but both Superman and Supergirl had all kinds of inconsistencies, with DC’s flagship character basically fighting a bunch of space monsters month-to-month and, at one point, going bungee jumping with Lois Lane’s sister. His cousin Kara Zor-el came to Earth, also fought some space monsters, but had some interesting character stuff happen–include a sweet subconscious fight with a dragon–and ultimately came out better in the end.  With all of the space monsters unconscious (with even more on their way), the Super-family comes together to confront H’el, another superpowered “last” survivor of Krypton with two objectives: 1) to hit on Supergirl as much as possible, and 2) to bring Krypton itself back from the dead.

H'el on Earth 1

Superman, Supergirl, and Superboy throw down against the Kryptonian astronaut H’el in the Super-family’s first crossover event of New 52.

STORY AND SCRIPT
The premise of this crossover is simple: H’el, a Kryptonian astronaut who has come to Earth to steal both Superman’s cousin and his collection of space artifacts so he can fuel a machine to go back in time to prevent the destruction of Krypton.  This “fuel” comes in the form of the Earth’s sun, so Superman and his “family” fight to stop him.  Overall, the story comes off as unremarkable with its fairly stock Superman premise, mixing a threat against the Earth with some Kryptonian lore, and unfortunately, it evolves in a pretty traditional manner as well.  There are a lot of fights, some interesting cameos from a handful of Justice League members, and a few flashbacks to the Krypton That Was.  I regard the pacing of the story as neither a strength nor a weakness, as the most successful parts of “H’el on Earth is in a few character moments.

The first of these is the appearance of Lex Luthor.  If you’re not reading Action Comics, this is the first time you’ve seen Lex Luthor post-Flashpoint, and he’s awesome.  Calm, self-assured and totally opposed to Superman, he works as kind of an oracle in his half-issue appearance in the middle of the crossover.  His insight into the H’el situation, and the creepy feeling you get that he’s not telling you everything he knows, presents the kind of Lex Luthor that would force a Superman to elevate his game and perhaps show a little character development.

The second of these high points is the character development that Supergirl undergoes as a result of her fight with and against H’el.  She’s been presented by her creative team(s) as a trauma survivor, displaced and in shock on an alien world with all the power of Superman for the first year, but after her run-in with the Silver and Black Banshees, she has enough connections to Earth to make her role in this story interesting.  By the end of the collection, it’s clear that the Supergirl we’ll be seeing in the next arc will be a different, more developed sort of heroine.

H'el on Earth 2

Kenneth Rocafort’s detail-rich artwork makes Lex Luthor’s mysterious appearance even more memorable with a wide range of facial expressions and panel shapes.

PENCILS AND ARTWORK
This is where the different issues in this collection really separate themselves.  Mahmud Asrar and R.B. Silva submit good work, but the arrival of Kenneth Rocafort onto the scene as the artist on Superman is a welcome alternative to the inconsistent artwork in the book during the first year.  Having left Red Hood and the Outlaws to join Lobdell, Rocafort’ gives Superman and his suit of Krpytonian armor a detail-rich makeover.  Lois Lane is striking in her supporting appearance, and Supergirl hasn’t looked better in the New 52.  Lex Luthor’s manic genius is alive, and I found myself wishing that he would take up the mantle of super villain and turn Superman back into the hero that started it all.  Looking forward at seeing Rocafort’s work in the next two volumes of Superman is a very positive thing, and the final issue of this collection is better than its abrupt conclusion thanks to his contributions.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
5.5/10 – For readers of Supergirl or Superboy, this collection will come as more necessary than for readers of Superman or Justice League, as Superman’s role in this story is exactly what we’ve seen up to this point.  Lobdell et al. tell a familiar, unremarkable Superman story that goes on a bit longer than is necessary thanks to a lot of fights.  Still, there are some moments that work okay, and after finishing this volume I’m very excited to see where Michael Alan Nelson and Mike Johnson take the Supergirl series from here on out.  Superman fans will likely find something to enjoy here, but this collection is far from a must-read for most.

– Vandal

Discussion! Mou’s September Backlog

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Like the rest of the Battlin’ Backloggers, I have a lot of pop culture of the geek-variety to keep me occupied until the fall TV season hits full-force in about a month. I’m eager for the returns of Arrow (which I’ll be blogging), Sleepy Hollow, The Big Bang Theory, Castle, and Supernatural, and I’m anticipating the launches of The Flash, Constantine (which I’ll be blogging), Gotham, and Gracepoint (Hey, David Tennant!).

In the meanwhile, here’s what’s on my plate:

Dark Places 1BOOKS
I’m currently reading Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller, the first of the canonical Star Wars novels since the Disney absorption, and The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. J.K. Rowling, a good, old-fashioned murder-mystery with a private investigator whose name recalls the best of Rowling’s Harry Potter monikers—Cormoran Strike. (I have literary tsunami brewing in my head that combines the worlds of Strike and Potter; trust me, it would totally work. Just imagine: a murder in the Muggle world with ties to a wizard and Strike must consult with a certain Auror with a lightning-bolt scar—please, Jo, please!) I must confess that I’m also flirting with another Gillian Flynn novel, Dark Places; Gone Girl has more than convinced me that she’s a contender.

SSoSH 1COMICS
Grant Morrison’s Multiversity has begun, and I am currently awaiting the publication of The Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors of the Counter-World, which features a pulp-retro (retro-pulp?) take on the Justice Society of America, the first-ever comic book super-team. This high-powered gathering will include Doc Fate, Lady Blackhawk (along with her squadron of Blackhawks), the Mighty Atom, the Immortal Man, and Abin Sur the Green Lantern. ‘Sounds like a whole lotta fun to me—and I’m not a huge fan of Morrison’s work. Too, I’ve also got a stack of Nightwing trade paperbacks to read. I’ve not been putting them off, but they’ve sort of held their respective places in the to-read pile as other things have come and gone. There are also a couple of issues of the Geoff Johns/John Romita, Jr. Superman to get to. Johns is tough to beat, and Romita, Jr. knows how to tell a story with sequential art—a master of the craft, he is.

Who 8 PosterTELEVISION
I’m all over the eighth season of Doctor Who right now and dreading the possible loss of Clara Oswald in the Christmas special. As I understand it, I’m in the minority as a Clara fan, but I’ll make no apologies for adoring her and hoping she stays longer. My all-time favorite companion is Donna Noble because (a) Catherine Tate (C’mon, people!) and (b) she challenged the Doctor. Her journey was often sweet and funny, but its conclusion was very sad. Sigh. Now, I’m thinking more Martha Jones would’ve been nice. Oh, well. I could write about the winning qualities of each companion, but there’s little time for that. Outside of my weekly visits with the Doctor, I’m enjoying a primarily TV-free end-of-summer as September winds down.

– Mou

Discussion! Vandal’s September Backlog

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We have less than one month before every night of the week becomes flooded with TV that all looks so great.  What follows is how I’ll be filling the hours before premiere week:

John Jackson Miller, STAR WARS: A NEW DAWN
Disney/Lucasfilm kicks off their mega-reboot of the Star Wars universe begins not with a TV show or a movie, but with a book–the first book ever to be considered ‘canon’ in the ongoing battle between good and evil.  Star Wars: A New Dawn tells the story of the first team-up of Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla and contains a nice foreword by Dave Filoni in which he explains the degree to which the creative teams, as well as the Lucasfilm Story Group, has changed their regard for the non-film media.

Destiny Is LiveBungie & Activision, DESTINY
I waited to buy an Xbox One for a game that was going to be worth it, and I’m betting my money and time on the game that has been at the center of the industry’s hype over the past year (sorry, Titanfall).  After playing the Beta in July, I can’t imagine the game won’t be a colossal hit, or a ton of fun.

Geoff Johns, JUSTICE LEAGUE, VOL. 4: THE GRID
As we readers of the trade paperback variety get closer to the day when we will finally read Trinity War in all its apparent glory, this collection from Johns and Reis will bring us right up to the brink of that huge crossover event.  As I maintain that this book has been the best of the New 52 across the board, I’ll be reading this one as soon as it comes out on September 16th.

Wes Ball & James Dashner, THE MAZE RUNNER
After being totally hypnotized by the trailer in August, and as there’s almost nothing else interesting coming to theaters in September, I’ll be stopping in to see how they bring another popular YA book franchise to the big screen

Teaser PosterBruno Heller et al., GOTHAM (FOX)
It’s an interesting take on the World’s Most Popular Thing, and I can’t tell if it’s going to be a big-concept police procedural or some kind of urbano-gothic Smallville.  What they’ve shown looks great, and as a Batman guy outright, I’ll not be hesitating to check in with my superhero’s new TV show (even if I have to admit that the other two guys over on The CW have shows that look more interesting right now).

October is going to be a crazy TV-heavy month for us here at the Backlog (we have some pretty ambitious plans for you readers), and things in the geekosphere are holding steady.  Thanks for a great first month!

– Vandal