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! Justice League: Trinity War [No Spoilers]

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So here it is: the first major, Earth-Prime-wide crossover event of the New 52, and it did not disappoint. Trinity War is a huge story, and while it’s not quite a war, the conflict between the heroes–that’s pretty much all there is here–is very compelling storytelling, with Johns in control as usual and the characters moving toward something bigger still.Trinity War was everything I was hoping it would be, and stands tall as Johns’ best work as a writer since he became CCO of DC Comics. I could not have been more pleased.

Trinity WarFirst off, I’d like to address the characterization that the writers use in building this narrative, as there are some striking moments of interaction and dialogue that elevate this crossover in the way that big stories should. Most excellent in this vein are the dialogues that take place between Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman as they confront the danger that Pandora’s return brings to a world now under the protection of the Justice League. It’s a culmination of the experiences we’ve shared with them as readers, both in the stories (the adventures against Darkseid, Graves, and Atlantis) as well as the implicit battles that have taken place in the in-between times. They seem seasoned, mature, and serious about their responsibilities. The other figures that populate the story (and there are a LOT of them) all operate off of the leadership that DC’s trinity brings to the conflict, and the way in which Johns centers their decision-making on what the Justice League should and should not do really allows the War to reach full boil. The sense of teamwork, then of separation, and then the final meet-up when all of the hidden figures step out from behind their respective curtains could not have been more pronounced, measured, and in the end, effective. This conclusion–even though it’s not really a conclusion at all–I found extremely satisfying. In terms of storytelling, Trinity War is a masterful achievement.

The artwork is likewise terrific, but as multiple artists work to tell the graphic side of the story, the most stunning work goes to Ivan Reis in the work that he contributes to the story’s most dramatic moments (including one particularly serious conversation of the like I mention above). The final issue, however–the story’s best moment, as it should be–contains four splash pages that just arrested my page-turning tendencies and forced me to take stock of the artistic value of a high-concept, high-quality story like Trinity War. The detail, as it has been since he inherited Justice League from Jim Lee after issue #12, has never been sharper, and the manner in which he narrates the final showdown of the arc is the best and most breathtaking artwork that DC Comics has published since September of 2011. These pages worked together seamlessly to bringTrinity War to its close, and expectations and excitement could not be higher for where the Justice League is headed from here.

The whole story succeeds on so many levels that the weaknesses, absolutely present, seem an exercise in taking the story too seriously. I’ll not remember any of them when I think back on reading this collection, nor will I notice them when I consult this volume in preparation for reading the next big thing from DC Comics, Forever Evil , when it reaches trade paperback. Johns, Lemire, Reis, Finch, et al. have done such a terrific job with the first huge-concept story of the New 52 that I continue to make reading their and their co-workers’ publications with great enthusiasm.  Backlog Priority – 9.5/10

– 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! Earth 2, Vol. 1: ‘The Gathering’ [No Spoilers]

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Zany antics abound in our first glimpse (sort of) of the New 52 Multiverse, and James Robinson and Nicola Scott give us a weird, quasi world government, a lot of saint language to celebrate the fallen Trinity (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, of course), and a new use for a B-list villain that can only provide just the right degree of adversity to bring together, hopefully, the fledgling team of new “Wonders” to protect the world.

Earth 2 Vol. 1It sounds like a scaled-back mega-plot, and to some extent, that’s exactly what it is. The plot revolves first around the Earth-2 version of Darkseid’s Parademon invasion, the tragic aftermath that martyrs a more-experienced trio of Wonders than the Earth-Prime version we encounter in Justice League, Vol. 1: Origins , and a struggle that unifies a trio of apostate and new metahumans, including a college-age Jay Garrick (the Flash), a Hawkgirl on the run from the World Army, and a brand-new, totally different Green Lantern. Robinson hurries to fill in a lot of the gaps in the 5-year jump forward in time that comes as part of this catch-up volume, and as such, the size of the conflict that the story centers on never feels quite as big as they want it to be. Ultimately, we can be sure that there is much more to come, a larger conflict and a more robust roster of Justice League members (or whatever they’re going to be called) in the issues to come, but as that’s the expectation that we take away from the story, the end of this first arc falls somewhat flat.

The artwork, however, is stunning. Nicola Scott sketches up a beautiful, detailed world with expressive, easy-to-follow action sequences and impressive settings, especially on splash pages or other large panels. She also gives the story some of the most expressive facial models that I’ve seen in a while, especially in issue #1, as the entire issue revolves around the final moments of Darkseid’s invasion. The drama of that issue lends most of its power to the art of Nicola Scott, as does much of the overarching narrative.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
7.5/10 – Even as the storytelling stumbles towards the end of the collection, the artwork gets better and better, and as such, is worth checking out.

– 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! Batman/Superman, Vol. 1: ‘Cross World’ [No Spoilers]

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I should really only give a five-issue trade three stars on principle–and, in this case, it’s only really four issues, as the fifth is a measly backup issue that offers very little by way of necessary information–but the work of Pak and Lee in terms of crafting a stylish, self-reflective story is far better than the publishing practices of DC. Batman/Superman, Vol. 1: Cross World is a great-looking piece of comic storytelling that sheds some light on a forgotten chapter of the New 52: the first meeting of Batman and Superman.

BvS V.1The story is fairly simple: during their first fight, Batman and Superman are teleported to Earth-2 where they participate in a battle that takes place prior to the events of Earth-2 #1 . They learn about the friendship, teamwork, and personal lives that in no way resembles the Earth-1 relationship; more accurately, it shows the presence of something that they both consider absent. It works as a sort of prequel to the events of both Justice League and Earth-2 , as well as an interesting, comic-familiar story that deals with themes such as choice, friendship, and time.

But where this volume really stands out is in the artwork of Jae Lee. The sharpness of the pencils are unlike anything that you’ll find anywhere else in comics. There need be no comparison, as none seems necessary–the style and symmetry of the artwork is breathtaking, engrossing, and tells the emotional story of the two most popular figures in modern mythology as well as the short, punctuated narrative style of Greg Pak does. It is impressive work, and a welcome, alternative voice to the widespread offerings centered on Batman and Superman.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
8/10 – 
Batman/Superman, Vol. 1: Cross World may not tell the most impressive story, but the manner in which it is told makes it a standout volume and a great place to launch a series that focuses on Clark and Bruce’s friendship. The manner in which it informs many other New 52 titles likewise makes this a book that the majority of comics readers will enjoy thoroughly.

– 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