Friday, April 20, 2018

AGENT G: SABOTEUR ebook and AN AMERICAN WEREDEER IN MICHIGAN audiobook now available

Hey folks,

I'm pleased to say that we've got two new releases which I think you will love. The first is AGENT G: SABOTEUR, the sequel to one of my favorite creations, AGENT G: INFILTRATOR. Cyborgs, gadgets, spies, and assassins once more get brought together for this work.


Agent G has left the service of the International Refugee Society, the world's biggest provider of murder for hire, in order to work for the United States government. Unfortunately, they are sending him after his former employers and they know him as well as he knows them. The clock is ticking, though, until the Society's remaining leadership starts eliminating their opponents and attempts to seize control of the Presidency. A traitor is also providing them with all the information they need to survive until their puppet is in power. Will G and his allies survive the purge?
 

Sometimes, it doesn't pay to be a cyborg spy.

Available on Amazon.com


We're working on the audiobook.


The second is the audiobook release of AN AMERICAN WEREDEER IN MICHIGAN. The sequel to Jane Doe's first adventure is now out and done by the awesome Arielle Delilse.

Life is not easy for the world's first weredeer detective. A simple hike turns into a media circus when Jane Doe, her best friend Emma, and a pair of monster hunters find a mass grave. Determined to find the parties responsible, Jane soon discovers a sinister cult leader has decided to make Bright Falls, Michigan the home of his corrupt religion. 
 

As if this wasn't complicating her life enough, Jane also has to decide whether or not she wants to begin a relationship with FBI Special Agent Alex Timmons or local crime lord Lucien Lyons. Both men are determined to get to the bottom of the crime she's investigating but may be distracted by their own agendas--as well as their love for Jane.  

I love the fact I got a chance to write follow ups to two of my favorite characters. Both characters will be guest starring in my big multiversal crossover TOURNAMENT OF SUPERVILLAINY.

Available on Amazon.com

Friday, April 13, 2018

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands review


    I'm actually a huge fan of Tom Clancy, which is kind of oft-kilter since he's the original "Dad's thriller" author who created a genre defined by America being under threat by any number of increasingly ridiculous threats. I'm particularly fond of the excellent marketing he did before his death, creating the character of Sam Fisher, the Rainbow Six series, and Ghost Recon. Still, there's one thing about the man's legacy which leaves me kind of iffy and that's the fact despite being no more realistic than your average James Bond movie, they tend to be taken as more "realistic" than your average shooter.

Hundreds of fun missions in pseudo-South America.
    This is no better illustrated than by the Ghost Recon: Wildlands game where you take place in Bolivia, a nation of 11 million people, and see the entirety of the population are either enslaved peasants or members of a Mexican drug cartel. Really, Ubisoft, you couldn't even let the Bolivians have their own cartel? They used to be third in the world for cocaine production and now they have to outsource their supervillains? Mind you, in real life, they legalized coca (not cocaine) production and basically won their War on Drugs where other countries still struggle but that's not the premise of the game. No, in this country, they're utterly boned and have been effectively turned into a narco-state. When doing this sort of thing, I think it's better to take the Far Cry route and make a fictional nation. They could have named it New Bolivar or Cocaineland or something--Tom Clancy "realism" be damned.

    The premise is that a U.S. embassy has been bombed by the Santa Blanca cartel. They're a Santa Muerta worshiping cartel headed by, for all intents and purposes, Batman's Bane (who doesn't sadly wear a luchador but has a cross tattooed on his face). It has effectively conquered Bolivia and runs the country like one of Saint's Row's archvillains. You have to eliminate his carnival of crazy badasses before moving against him and freeing Bolivia from the iron-grip of the cartel....except not.

     Politically, a game set around a bunch of US Special Forces working for the CIA going on a campaign of anti-narco terrorism could be highly controversial even without setting it in a real life nation. Famously, George H.W. Bush decided to take the War on Drugs literally and thousands died in the conflict against genuinely bad dudes (sadly, many of them not at all bad). A lot of people dismissed the game as being propaganda as a result--which is bad because while this is a deeply silly game about fighting narco-supervillains, it's also surprisingly well written with a lot of nods to the fact the War on Drugs may be unwinnable even in a world of Hydra vs. the A-Team-level cartoonishness. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Tom Clancy's Clear and Present Danger. A book which did NOT turn a real life country into a caricature of narco-terrorists vs. heroic Americans.

Worst car driving in gaming--and it's BETTER than it was.
    Clear and Present Danger basically amounts to a stand-in for Pablo Escobar murdering the President's best friend (who was laundering money for them) followed by a terrorist attack against several American officials. This causes the President to sign off on a bunch of American Special Forces teams to privately go into Columbia and murder the hell out of a bunch of cartel bosses. It quickly turns into an enormous disaster as the government has taken on more than they can chew and the cartels retaliate. The movie makes it an even bigger scandal as the President's men attempt to sweep the soldiers in Columbia under the rug.

    Ghost Recon: Wildlands is never better than when it analyzes the complicated and morally ambiguous politics behind the War on Drugs. As cartoonishly evil as the Santa Blanca cartel is, it's also got plenty of grey figures like a CIA doctor betrayed by her employers, a native coca grower criminalized for making the same plant his ancestors have for 8,000 years, and the fact the poverty of the local communities is something the charitable arm of the cartel does more for than the government ever did. You don't expect that from something where the majority of the cartel worship the Angel of Death to a Temple of Doom degree (including human sacrifice).

Some of the characters have fascinating backstories.
    But how is the game? Pretty fun, actually. It's not great, to be honest. The car driving in this game is absolutely awful with the machines being barely able to stick to the road. You can either go in guns blazing or stealthfully, eliminating people one at a time. The game resembles Just Cause 2 only with an artificial multiplayer (I don't play with other people) and it doesn't take much to put down the various sicarios you face throughout the game. The missions get a bit repetitive but are broken up with quite a few very entertaining ones like filming a general's tryst with a prostitute where he admits to stealing a cat's prosthetic leg. I admit, by the end of the game, I was mostly just using the drone to mark targets and eliminate them before sneaking in.

Fast cars on dusty dirt roads and hills. Weee...not.
    I had a huge amount of fun stomping around Faux-Bolivia, shooting up the cartel's numerous fortresses and completing the innumerable sidequests for the local communist resistance. The exploration of the vast map is something I've enjoyed for weeks as I love the fact the "cartel heads" information gradually opens up as you collect information as well as explore new provinces. It made me go out of my way to pick up every little piece of intel I could. Not all of the Cartel underbosses and buchon are identified so you need to interrogate people to find out who they are as well as what they're up to.

    Still, I feel like the game is a bit dated and could have been done a bit better in terms of performance. The tactical portion of the game mostly consists of sending off your little drone, marking targets, and then having your invisible team mates eliminate them all. That is, unless you're like me and just want to slaughter everyone Call of Duty style. Except, that's a terrible idea and I've been revived by my teammates hundreds of times. I think the game would have benefited from a few more side-activities or perhaps the inclusion of more enemy types like animals. Honestly, most of my complaints could be summarized as "make it more like Far Cry except with better driving."

El Sueno is like Killbane from Saints Row 3. High praise!
     The environments are beautiful and it's a wonderful playground for our activities. If I have a complaint, the environments are a bit hard to traverse whether in vehicles or on foot. There's a lot of travel which has to be in this game and I hate to come back to it but the bad vehicle handling hurts my enjoyment. On the plus side, Ubisoft seems to be interested in supporting this game and has added everything from Predator to Splinter Cell.

   Much of the game is the usual Ubisoft grind. You scour the map for collectibles because that's the only way you can raise your skill set as getting the ability to use a grenade launcer, plastic explosives, or fly a drone all depends on having enough resources. This means quite a bit of the game is grinding. That is, if you want to play with all the special toys. The honest-to-God's truth is that you could probably finish the game without any of the special toys as the enemies mostly die when you shoot them once or twice. Still, I must have done hundreds of cargo heists and rebel operations in hopes of getting those toys--which is terribly addictive. I wanted to extend out the experience as long as I could.

Needed more nods to the book.
    I'm reminded a bit of the game Mafia III that overdid its grinding in order to take down the various mob bosses necessary to remove its Big Bad from power. Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a lot like that in its format but doesn't end up overstaying its welcome like Lincoln Clay's adventures did. Many times you're required to capture rather than kill cartel bosses, interrogate others, sabotage events, or steal vehicles. These managed to break up things so its not just a constant series of "infiltrate X, kill Y."

    My biggest surprise is the fact I think the game has one of the best casts of characters in the past few years despite the fact you rarely get to interact with them. The villains are a diverse bunch of interesting characters with most having distinctive personalities and a few of them surprisingly sympathetic. I also very much liked the main character, Nomad, who is a customizable character that still exudes a detached badassery as well as cynicism about the whole mission he (or she) is on. Karen Bowman, your CIA contact, is a sociopath driven insane by her time down in Bolivia but that just makes her even more determined to destroy the cartel. I also loved the casual chatter between your squadmates about everything from Bolivian history to how much they'd love to steal some of Santa Blanca's hot rods for themselves. The bittersweet ending is also great, showing there's no easy answer to cocaine trafficking.

    In conclusion, I recommend fans of the game pick it up but not to think it's going to be a gamebreaking example of the genre. Still, I enjoyed the journey through the heavily fictionalized Bolivia and shooting the hundreds of drug-cartel members I faced. I also thought the characters were all very well-designed and suitably theatrical. I wouldn't mind another game starring Nomad, his team, and Kate Bowman.

8.5/10

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Broken Nights: Strange Worlds review


    BROKEN NIGHTS: STRANGE WORLDS is the sequel to Matthew Davenport's BROKEN NIGHTS. The previous book ended with a bang, causing the creation of an A.I. as well as the transformation of Jason Night into the Guardian. After six months, he's almost cleaned up crime in his city when things go completely pear-shaped.

    I love Matthew Davenport's neo-pulp style and have read his other works like the TESTAMENT OF ANDREW DORAN and THE TRIALS OF OBED MARSH. As a superhero author myself, I like the exaggerated realism he adopts for his Broken Nights books. They started off as something which could plausibly happen in the real world and have since moved on to be something which increasingly resembles a typical comic book universe.

    I like Jason and Amy Night's relationship with the conflict Jason has with acknowledging his newly uploaded sister as the same person he grew up with being a story I think could have been stretched out across the entire story. I also like Jason's relationship with new superheroine Coven and would be interested if they continue to make their relationship closer and whether that's possible given the nature of her powers.

    I also appreciate that Jason and Amy don't spend too much time disbelieving in magic once they get an eyeful of its literal existence. It requires a paradigm shift of their mostly-scientific minds but they don't hang onto dogma in the face of evidence.

   The Guardian is a great character because Jason Night is a straight-up hero but he's living in "our" world and slowly discovering it's a comic book world (and always has been). The dissonance between those two realities is something that makes a lot of the book's more interesting themes. What would you do if you found yourself in a world where magic is real or the government really was working on super-soldier projects? You'd maybe freak out a little, wouldn't you? Jason isn't quite the everyman he was in the previous volume, having stolen a small fortune to support his "hobby", but I still find him a great viewpoint character for the medium.

    Part of what I enjoyed about the book is when the Guardian finally fights a superhuman foe for the first time, he gets his ass kicked and finds out that, no, he's not going to be able to just "Rocky" his way up and beat the guy on a rematch. No, it turns out that some opponents really are just way out of a character's league and they have to fight it with other people or figure out a way to not fight it at all. It's a nice change of pace from the way comic books usually go.

    Samson is a bit of a one-note character but I was pleased to see another villain's return who manages to serve as an excellent Lex Luthor to Jason's working class Batman. I hope the plot with them will be resolved in the next volume, though, because I wouldn't want them to overstay their welcome.

    In conclusion, this is a great sequel to the original book and something I'll be picking up the third volume for when it gets back. This is an excellent book for people who love superhero novels and I hope the authors continue the series for many books to come.

9/10

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Far Cry 5 review


    This is easily my favorite of the past few Far Cry games. I eventually warmed to Far Cry 3, I loved Far Cry 4 with some caveats, I hated Far Cry: Primal (to the point I didn't review it), and I've really loved Far Cry 5. I will say, though, this is a game which had the misfortune to be released at a time when everyone is trying to make everything about the Trump election. There's some digs against Trump in the game which are hilarious but they're good-natured South Park-esque digs while the politically discourse lately is far more angry.

    The premise for the game is you are a nameless, voiceless Montana Deputy who you can make a character for. You and the US Marshal's office have been called in to arrest Joseph Seed, leader of the infamous Eden's Gate cult that has recruited a good half of Hope County, Montana into its ranks. This attempt, clearly based on the raid on the Branch Davidians, goes horribly wrong and you find yourself waking up a few days later to the county under the cult's control. Cut off from the rest of the United States, you must build a resistance to take back the county.

Yeah, this will go well.
    I've seen a lot of reviews attempt to unfavorably compare the game's "commentary" to Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. The thing is, W:TNC didn't have any political commentary on the present, it just so happened to state killing Nazis is a good thing and the fact America has a racist past/present it has yet to confront. That's not commentary on the present but a rather universal theme which just so happened to be politically relevant (unfortunately). Far Cry 5 has a lot of political commentary on it but it's not the commentary which Polygon apparently wanted and missed out on some very interesting themes.

    The big thing, for instance, is the fact Far Cry 5 is a love letter to rural Americans. You know, those people who voted roughly half the "correct" way but have been demonized as a vast collection of MAGA-hat wearing racists who have ruined this country. I say this as a left-leaning frothing crazy liberal who lives in said area that is demonized--so you can imagine I'm a bit sympathetic to the game. This is a game where the doomsday preppers and poor working class of America aren't the bad guys and it seems like this burned out the brain cells of a lot of reviewers.

Peaches is the best Cougar ever.
    Far Cry 5 is a story about the monster truck and Nascar loving gun-toting rednecks of Montana getting attacked by an evil cult and fighting back. It's the kind of game premise which eagerly adopts themes from "Red Dawn" and doesn't exist in the easy political spectrum of "city folk good", "country folk stupid." Given the amount of flack the game has taken from both sides of the political spectrum, the fact it's got black rural Americans working alongside white ones makes it a reminder of an America I grew up loving. Because, honestly, can't we all join together against the comically evil drug-addled terrorist organization?

    Honestly, I feel bad about killing the Eden's Gate cultists at time because they're such an entertaining bunch of evil doers. John, Faith, Jacob, and Joseph are hilariously over-the-top parodies of how cults recruit people. The sad fact is, they're not actually that far from some of the cults which exist in rural America. People I've actually had to deal with and are prepping for doomsday with lots of guns. It makes me wish there was an arrest option for them like in Battlefield: Hardline or a non-lethal set of takedowns like in Mafia III or Deus Ex.

    Still, the game is fun and has a lot going for it in making sure you experience all the various facets of it. Like previous Far Cry games, taking various outposts away from the bad guys is a big part of the game but there's also a variety of other missions. The game encourages you to use a variety of vehicles and missions. It also replaces the "Tower Mechanic" of previous games with simple exploration ala Fallout 3 and New Vegas.

Montana is absolutely beautiful.
    Indeed, the game feels like Fallout at the best of times where you're wandering around the beautiful Montana landscape and stumbling across ambient storytelling like the cult having murdered a family along with their pets, a father begging his daughter to come back from the cult only to be murdered, or a bunch of doomsday preppers who built a big bomb shelter stocked with food only to get murdered for it. You'll use everything from cougar bait to Molotov cocktails to SMG to carve your way through the baddies.

    The story sometimes goes off the rails, like the fact you're captured like eight times by the Eden's Gate cultists in order to get some face time for the bad guys, but this is a small price to pay for good storytelling. I was particularly fond of Faith, the lone female cult leader, and actually came to sympathize her before the end. Joseph, himself, seems like the least interesting of the quartet and that's a shame. The ending of the game is also confusing and poorly-done but it's hardly the first game which threw in an unneeded twist at the end.
Faith is an awesome character.

    Still, this is just a plain fun game and that is the standard by which I judge my games. There's endless number of things to do in the game ranging from riding planes, helicopters,and  jet skis to shooting down all of those. You can fish, hunt, and blow things up with the best of them. This is the definition of a wide-open sandbox game and there's very little "filler" like collecting feathers (okay, there's some of that too like bobbleheads and comic books but that's just standard in these sort of games).

    The tone of the game is a bit wild but that's to be expected from Far Cry games, to the point they're sort of their own genre nowadays. One mission can have you find out about how the Father murdered his own newborn daughter because she was born disabled, convincing himself it was God's will, while another mission might include punching insane drug addicts into a fire pit while on super-powered meth. I was hoping for some more Assassins Creed and Watch_Dogs references but, sadly, there doesn't seem to be any and I doubt the three universes are still the same by the end.

     Gameplay wise you have a higher reliance on companions, more lethal enemies, and more lethal A.I. I died a lot during this game compared to Far Cry 3 or 4 since there's a lot more enemies in body armor or guys who can shoot you in the head. You also don't have multiple health bars but just one with med-kits being the only way you can heal in combat (you do have natural regeneration this time around). The lack of towers to climb means exploration on foot and talking to the locals is a brilliant idea and benefits the game tremendously. Your A.I. companions aren't gamebreakers but I really enjoyed when my pet cougar accompanied my sniper in wiping out attacking enemies during outpost assaults.

Yeah, five cops can take on an army. Smart, US Marshals.
    Do I have any complaints about the game? If there are, I have only a few nitpicky ones. The hunting in the game is nerfed with crafting no longer being a major part of the game. This is a shame because I feel like if there's a game where you should hunt cougars, bears, or moose to make weapon sheaths then this is the one. I also don't much care for the Skill Perk which requires you to use a bunch of weapons and achievements to get Perks versus just accumulating experience period.

    In conclusion, this is pretty awesome all round. It's a work which has a political stance but it's one which isn't "Trump bad" as its sole statement but a more universal theme about radicalism, gun culture, freedom, and extremism. There's even the somewhat questionable but still perfectly valid idea that it's sometimes best to leave alone situations which could potentially explode. It's also just a game where you can experience Good vs. Evil gameplay in a story which is just plain silly. You can have both as Far Cry the series has shown repeatedly. Play Far Cry 5 for the fun and don't worry about the politics.

9/10

Sunday, April 1, 2018

13 Superhero Novel Recommendations

    Superheroes are a medium that should go hand in hand with books.

    They just don't.

    It's such a visual medium that we innately associate them with comic books, even though they've since gone on to be part of television, movies, and video games. Literature has never really had its superhero success, however. The closest thing it had was the 30s pulp era when comics didn't exist yet but we had people like the Shadow or Doc Savage. The great literary superhero just sort of never happened as fantasy and science fiction became the mainstays of genre fiction.

    That doesn't mean that superhero fiction doesn't exist, of course. Far from it. There's a thriving independent superhero scene with a few major publishers having dipped their toes into the setting. I, myself, was surprised to find out that I was selling ten times the number of all my other books combined with the Supervillainy Saga. People just loved the adventures of Gary Karkofsky a.k.a Merciless the Supervillain without Mercy.

    Since that time, I've benefited from being sent and reading the works of many other superhero writers. Some of it I've purchased myself and others were gifted to me by people in the business. Some of it was great and others less so. I've probably read more than a hundred novels in the genre since releasing my own. But how does one separate the creme of the crop from the less awesome? Well, for that I've decided to release a top thirteen of my favorite superhero novels for you guys to look over.

    Obviously, this is not something that can cover the entirety of prose superhero fiction as a whole but is designed to share some favorites of mine which I've picked up over the years. I think everyone who gives them a chance will like them and be enriched for the experience.

13. The Reluctant Hero by S.J. Delos


    I'm always a sucker for a good redemption story and I'm very fond of this series by S.J. Delos. I very much enjoyed the adventures of Crushette before she becomes the superhero Kayo (K.O). The books are written for an adult audience and the opening is really harsh, more The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo than Batman, but I really came to love how she rose up above her circumstances. The book is a bit on the "indie" side of formatting but I don't hold that against it.

12. Renegade X by Chelsea M. Campbell


    In a city where everyone with superpowers is given a mark that shows them to be a "villain" or "hero" depending on their lineage, the son of the world's greatest supervillain is displeased to find he has an "X" that shows tendencies toward both. Determined to discover the no good hero who knocked up his mom, he proves to be an obnoxious but lovable protagonist. Sort of like Draco Malfoy with more charm. I really enjoyed this series for its not-too-serious take on the genre.

11. Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn



     This is a book I went back and forth on rating higher in the list because it's a lot of fun but very, very silly. It's the story of two Asian American women living in San Fransisco as well as their lifelong friendship. One is the city's biggest superhero and the other is her overworked publicist. Unfortunately, their dynamic of "all take and no give" is disrupted when the former breaks her leg and the other has to fill in for her with her newly discovered fire powers. It's a story with love, movie obsessions, friendship, and murderous demon-possessed cup cakes.

10. Forging Hephaestus by Drew Hayes


    Forging Hephaestus is a story about supervillains who have established an uneasy peace with the heroes. It's allowed them to become fat and lazy as well as avoid the worst psychopaths who might threaten the world to run free. Unfortunately, this peace has left extremists on both sides uneasy and they've begun to plot against it. Overall, this is a huge (700+) pages work that was a bit slow at times but is still among my favorite superhero reads. The characters are stock archetypes but that just makes them all the easier to understand and project on.

9. The Omega Superhero and Superhero Detective by Darius Brasher



    The Omega Superhero and Superhero Detective novels are two four book (so far) series which I have to give major props for. They establish a setting and proceed to build upon it from two different perspectives. Theodore Conley is Kinetic (later Omega), a 17 year old idealistic superhero with the potential to be the next Superman-level big leaguer. Truman Lord, by contrast, is a hydrokinetic private detective who has seen the worst of the superheroes as well as the supervillains. The books are entertaining as all get out and ones I think are great for those looking for classic heroism under scrutiny.

8. Broken Nights by Matthew Davenport



    What if Batman didn't have any money? That's the easy way to describe the adventures of the Darden Valley Guardian. As a hobby shop owner with his computer whiz sister, he opens the story trying to catch some thieves in his crime-ridden hometown only to fall off a building. He gets better but the story has a nice "Heroes meets Batman" feel that I think makes it one of the most enjoyable stories on this list. The sequel, Strange Worlds, just dropped and I think people looking for an easy and entertaining read should pick this one up.

7. Velveteen Vs by Seanan Maguire



    Seanan Maguire remains one of the best writers for short enjoyable urban fantasy and superhero works I read. However, I remain most addicted to her Velvteen Vs. series. Following a young girl with the power to animate toys who grew up to be a bitter ex-sidekick that hated the corporation who exploited her image, Velveteen Vs. is a series about growing up as well as all the regrets you might be stuck with even in your twenties. It's also got the first volume of short stories online for free.http://seananmcguire.com/velhome.php

6. Wearing the Cape by Marion G. Harmon


    Wearing the Cape is one of my all-time favorite superhero series. Part of this is due to the fact it stars a clear stand-in for Supergirl, a protagonist who used to be all but forgotten until her unexpected new series. Hope Corrigan is blessed with the powers of a flying brick in a world full of superpowers created by an event called the Breakthrough. The first book in the series is easily the best but I've enjoyed most of the series as well as its spin off around artificial vampire Artemis. What can be said about a book with a villain named the Teatime Anarchist, a villain who is genuinely terrifying?

5. D-List Supervillain series by Jim Bernheimer



    I freely admit I'm biased here since I know Jim Bernheimer in "real life" and he's a publisher of mine so take this recommendation with a grain of salt. Despite this, I feel the need to recommend the first bit of superhero prose fiction I've read. Cal Stringle a.k.a Mechani-Cal is a low-level supervillain who everyone makes fun of. However, when the apocalypse happens due to a supervillain's mind-control experiment goes out of control, he's one of the few people in the world unaffected. Cal saves the world but finds out humanity may not be willing to accept him regardless--or at least give him all the fame and fortune he believes he deserves.

4. Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines



    Like peanut butter and jelly, some things are just inherently good together. In this case, it's the zombie apocalypse and superheroes. In this case, the premise of Ex-Heroes is that the zombie apocalypse has happened and while the heroes weren't able to stop it--they have created a little protectorate for the survivors of humanity in the ruins of Los Angeles. The personalities in this book are great and while the first book has some iffy moments, they are mostly retconned away to create a really fascinating collection of ideas for how survivors would deal with being utterly dependent on heroes.

3. The Wild Cards universe as conceived by George R.R. Martin



    George R.R. Martin conceived the Wild Cards universe to be a open-world collection of short stories to write around superheroes created by the "Wildcard" virus. It grew into something deeper with a metaphorical analysis of the AIDs virus, treatment of gays, and society from the late seventies through eighties. It's since been revised and has analyzed many other fascinating other real-life things. The R-rated stories follow numerous oddball and outcast chaarcters who have tales that go in odd directions.

2. The Reckoners Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson



    What if Superman was evil? That's a very common storytelling trope but Brandon Sanderson does it better with the very act of gaining superpowers being something that drives you insane. The Reckoners are the last line of defense for humanity as the rest of the world has fallen under the control of the evil superheroes who dominate the planet. It is an excellent trilogy that I loved from beginning to end.

1. Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman



    We finally reach the last of my recommendations with my favorite superhero novel. Doctor Impossible is mentally ill. He is an evil genius. Literally. As a sufferer of Malign Hypercognition Disorder, he is unable to stop himself from trying to take over the world. The heroes aren't much better off and we get to follow the background of their lives.

Honorable Mentions: Crimson Son by Russ Linton, Superhuman by J.A. Cipriano, Kid Sensation by Kevin Hardman, Villains Pride by Michael Gibson, Sad Wings of Destiny by Thom Branan, Blackjack by Ben Bequer, and SCPD by Keith de Candido.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Black Panther (2018) review

  

    So is the Black Panther any good? *sarcasm* Yes, this movie needs my approval to become a success *sarcasm*. Really, I don't feel like reviewing this movie at all because everyone who is going to have seen it has probably done so already. It's a movie which has surpassed Titanic and the Avengers or will soon enough. It's certainly changed the dynamic of a lot of people's perceptions regarding black-led superhero films (which I respond to with: wait, did just forget Blade existed?). Still, I feel like I'd be denying my fanbase if I didn't do a review of the film. So, what did I think?

Great characters.
    It was okay. Not great. Better than Doctor Strange. Not as entertaining as Thor: Ragnarok. It's kind of a bizarre situation as Black Panther is now a cultural icon with ludicrous things like the movie being attacked by Forbes magazine for taking away viewers from white-driven movies. Yet, really, I think my biggest objection to the movie comes from the fact I'm a Black Panther fan. Yes, of the comic book character.

    I was a big fan of the interpretation by Reginald Hudlin and Christopher Priest. That version of the Black Panther heavily influenced this version but this is just different enough to be not quite as interesting to me. Again, nobody in the world is going to care what my blog has to say on the subject and I'm glad everyone else in the world mostly seems to like this story. It's a phenomenon and, like Avatar, if you like it then you like it. Still, I'm not afraid of critiquing something that's popular and if you're interested in hearing my thoughts then read on.

Wakanda is awesome.
    The premise of the movie is T'Challa is ascending to the throne of Wakanda in the aftermath of his father's death in Captain America: Civil War. He manages to deal with early challenges well but things go completely off the rails when his unknown cousin, Eric Stephens a.k.a Killmonger, comes to Wakanda in order to claim the throne via Necromonger-esque challenge. T'Challa survives, barely, and must make a Rocky-style comeback to reclaim his throne before Killmonger unleashes Wakandan technology on the world in an attempt to create a global revolution.

    Like the comic (and Avatar for that matter), Black Panther is fundamentally an anti-colonialist movie but actually stars real people. Killmonger has the plan of creating black liberation throughout the world by arming oppressed peoples with advanced Wakandan technology. He believes it will create a Wakandan empire, which basically is a very intelligent and well-thought out jab at American foreign policy where plenty of groups were given weapons by the USA that turned out to not want to be our friends.

    However, I had a lot of issues with the story because Killmonger's plans are so poorly thought out and driven by his rage that it contrasted against a lot of points which the movie is trying to bring up. The film chastises Wakanda for being a nation that remained in isolation for centuries when the slave trade as well as other criseses were occurring but portrays it as a utopian nation otherwise. There's a lot of really good moments, like the fact Wakandans don't see other Africans as their problem, but these are hurt by the fact the movie is forced to gloss over the larger issues in order to get to the next action scene.

Killmonger is excellent.
    Still, I have to give Michael B. Jordan credit for creating a character where the shortsightedness and lack of planning for a supposed genius is entirely justified. Killmonger came to Wakanda in hopes of finding a home and a sympathetic ear for his pan-African crusade as well as wars of liberation. Instead, like many revolutionaries throughout history, his one-dimensional black and white view of history as well as politics meets deaf ears. Rather than try to see the perspective of his opponents, he simply dismisses them as evil.

    Much of the comic Black Panther's story is driven by the dramatic irony of the fact T'Challa is a reformer and man with slightly more respect for the outside world than your average Wakandan (which is to say any at all). While the story touches on the idea T'Challa is going to bring Wakanda into the greater global community, this occurs at the end of a longer character arc that I think would have been a better focus of a movie than the existing story where he finds out his country is not as picturesque as he thought.

I want a Wakandan plane.
    I also admit I wasn't a big fan of the changes to existing Black Panther supporting characters. The transformation of Everett Ross from a somewhat bumbling bureaucrat who is, fundamentally, a good man to a very competant CIA agent somewhat warps the narrative around him. Sort of like turning Jimmy Olsen into a CIA agent in Batman vs. Superman. I also am probably the only person who prefers the Dora Milaje plot as unwanted fiances of Black Panther to maintain a peace. The movie versions are certainly badass and awesome but I'm a sucker for stories about unrequited love. What did I think about Shuri? I had no complaints about her and actually prefer her to the comic version--T'Challa should totally give the kingdom to her.

    The movie is beautiful from start to finish and does an excellent job of making a fantastical place real. Wakanda is not so much believable (when it starts with a cloaking field to keep it hidden--you've already left the realm of that description) but it is authentic. The choice of attire, architecture, and statements give a sense of how this nation might have been created. My view being that it was once a much more cosmopolitan culture with influences from all of Africa but which turned inward centuries ago.

T'Challa has a secret to share.
    In a real way, I think my biggest issue with the movie is T'Challa is the straight man for more interesting characters to bounce off of. I say that with all respect to Chadwick's Boseman, who does an immensely good job in every scene he's in. Still, I can't help but think Black Panther is a character who works better as an older more proactive character than one who is just starting his career as here. Still, T'Challa is on an arc throughout the story and completes it in a way which is both interesting and not at all superficial.

    Sill, the action in the movie is tremendous and visually stunning from beginning to end. Black Panther easily sells that he might be the single greatest fighter in the MCU and that's before Killmonger manages to one-up him.  I just prefer genius chessmaster T'Challa to the one in the movie.

    8/10

Darkrise (Rhenwars Saga 4#) by M.L. Spencer review


    DARKRISE is the fourth volume of the Rhenwars Saga (technically third with a prequel). The premise of the books is a ragtag band of misfits were given the task of saving the world from the God of Evil and a natural cataclysm of anti-magic a 1000 years ago--then botched the job horribly. Now the world is divided between the light and darkness with the two sides viewing the other as purely evil with themselves as the good guys in a typical fantasy way. The books play a lot with typical tropes of the genre and actually have their protagonist switch sides midway through the story.

    The premise of this book is Darien Lauchlin, the most powerful mage alive, has sold his soul to the God of Evil in order to free his lover from damnation. This resulted in him being given the job of making sure said God of Evil's followers are able to evacuate from a horrible disaster--which, notably, is not a terribly evil thing for said god to do. Unfortunately, his former friends and colleagues want nothing than the genocide of the refugees. Darien wants a peaceful solution for the million+ people as well as his former comrades but that seems impossible. Meanwhile, Naida and Quinlan are trying to figure out a way to prevent the end of magic and the death of everyone who uses it.

    M.L. Spencer is one of the best grimdark authors of the 2010s and has managed to establish a world where you don't need gratuitous amounts of violence, swearing, or sex to be dark as hell. Her books thrive on a more cold uncertainty about what is the right thing to do and the perhaps chilling idea that there often isn't a moral answer to problems and many people who claim to be righteous are going to be doing so in order to justify atrocities. Heroes of the previous books become monsters here but the only thing which has changed is the humanization of who the violence is being done to. It's akin to doing 3 books about the people of Gondor and Rohan then switching to the genocide of Mordor's people.

    An amazing job was done with the development of Darien as a protagonist. He started as a man who was willing to do anything to protect his people and, well, he's still that same person but his attitude has switched. The depth of his betrayal by Meiran is an interesting subversion of the usual "power of love" trope in fantasy. He was willing to sacrifice everything for the woman he loved, only to find out she immediately turned on him when she thought he betrayed their political cause. Meiran is the second major female love interest in the series to prove to be an awful-awful person and I'm starting to wonder if Spencer has a fondness for tearing apart epic love affairs.

    Indeed, the only real critique of the book I have is the fact the romance deconstruction kind of flows through the entire book. Darien is only slightly less attractive to women than Daniel Craig and has seemingly every female in the novel want to sleep with him. These are ALL toxic relationships of various kinds and the healthiest one being where they realize Darien can't return their feelings before moving on. It's an interesting display of anti-romanticism and helps ground the book in a world where everything looks like it's a typical fantasy world but the truth is much darker.

    This is the penultimate volume of the Rhenwars Saga and the set up for the finale is coming soon. I'm anxious for it as I think this is probably one of the best sagas to come out of fantasy in the past decade, especially since it didn't take years to write. It has its flaws but the story is moving and the characters interesting with a real set of themes behind the action. The fact it was all done as an indie fantasy novel budget and was self-published is the biggest surprise of it all.

9.5/10