The Ultramarines are the premier Space Marine Chapter in Warhammer 40,000. Over the years, they have been built up as a Chapter that other Chapters aspire to be like, for they are the best example of everything a Chapter should be and could be. Sometimes that has been executed well, sometimes not, and often times the fandom has portrayed them as far too… vanilla, too boring because of their straightforward nature, whether in the lore or in the tabletop gaming rules. And designers and writers have often tried to change that around as well, to mixed success.
In 2012, if I recall correctly, Black Library launched its first Space Marine Battles novella, Catechism of Hate, which focused on one of the Ultramarines’ defining hero, Master of Sanctity Ortan Cassius, and the story focused on one of his missions against the Tyranids. And then late last year we had Spear of Macragge, which continued the story of the Second Company and its efforts to defeat the Necron legions on the world of Damnos as told in the Nick Kyme’s novel Fall of Damnos. Having just recently finished reading both novellas, I can say that they are both fantastic,and well worth the time spent reading them. They portray very different attitudes to war among the Ultramarines, and cover a broad range of characters, mixing some really great stories with really good execution.
Black Library has had a fairly strong audio range for several years, thanks in part to the excellent work done on the Horus Heresy audios. Two years back the publisher began releasing short 8-10minute audios as well, in addition to its longer range, and they too proved fairly successful. First with Big Finish and then with Heavy Entertainment, several characters and stories have been brought to audio life by the publisher, whether we talk Warhammer 40,000 or Warhammer Fantasy Battles, and it has been a truly great experience, with very few missteps along the way.
Joining the publisher’s ever-growing audio catalog is this month’s The Tranzia Rebellion radio play. Where this is now audio format differs from the usual audio dramas and audiobooks is that there is absolutely zero narration. Everything is with the characters with no narrative commentary or some such. The first two episodes, penned by C Z Dunn (formerly editor at Black Library and now working for the parent company Games Workshop) and produced by Heavy Entertainment, are really good. They are scene-setting installments of course, but still they quickly establish the characters and the story, with the voice-acting being diverse and enjoyable.
Thankfully, I’m finally settling back into the groove with comics reading and, most importantly, comics reviewing, as I managed to review a fair bit of titles this week and even caught up with reviewing some previous titles that I’ve unfortunately had to neglect for one reason or another.
The surprise hits of this week were Cartoon Network: Super Secret Crisis War: Billy and Mandy #1 from IDW Publishing, Wolverine Annual #1 from Marvel Comics and Vampirella #3 from Marvel Comics. The surprise flop of the week would be Batman: Eternal #20 from DC where the title seems headed downwards just when it was getting once again, and The Wicked + The Divine #3 from Image where the title took a nosedive this week after a second issue that was really good. No graphic novels again sadly, though I hope to correct that that this week. I hope..
There’s no beating around the bush on the fact that in the last year or thereabouts Jeff Parker has emerged as a really talented writer for me, especially with his work on Aquaman. After Geoff Johns left the title he took over and started his run with a bang that can be heard every time a new issue comes out. He has done much to connect Aquaman with other superheroes in the DC universe and has also expanded on the nature of Atlantis and its many secrets, which have been peeling back one by one of late. In one of his recent mini-arcs, he focused on the Giant-Born of Greek mythology and promised a pairing of Aquaman with Wonder Woman no less!
In the recent Aquaman Annual #2, we get to see Diana and Arthur take on a group of Giant-Born in Carcasonne, France and then later a team-up of Diana and Mera as they take on a second group. The first pairing is the main focus of the story here, and while it is quite an aside and thus a perfect fit for an annual-style issue, I still loved it because this is a team-up that is executed really well. Some of the pending story threads from the main arc are addressed here as well, which was a plus. The Diana-Mera team-up was rather cool too and allowed Jeff to focus on the particular nature of both heroes. And as for the art, it was fairly good, with only a few minor flaws.
Black Library’s Horus Heresy range has been notable since its inception to turn out some really high quality audio dramas. James Swallow began the great trend with his various Garro audio dramas, spinning out of his novel The Flight of the Eisenstein and other authors since have taken great steps forward with the format as well. Some along the way haven’t been as good as I wanted them to be, but by and large, the Horus Heresy audio drama range is quite a good one and I would definitely recommend readers of the novel to experiment with these and give them a chance.
One of the latest audios in the series is Templar by John French, which focuses on the Imperial Fists First Captain Sigismund as he leads a strike force of Imperial Fists against traitorous Word Bearers within the Sol System itself. Sigismund has largely been a background character in the series thus far, but under John French, I think the character is set to become a major player, as he should be, given how large a character he is in the lore. Produced by Heavy Entertainment, this is one of their finer audio dramas for Black Library, and voice-actor Gareth Armstrong remains as great as ever.
A few days ago I did my best of 2014 list for the novels I have read in the first half of this year. That list followed the same format that I have been using for 2 years now, but with this new list I decided to make a big departure, owing to how many comics I’ve been reading in recent months, often 80+ comics in a single month! That’s crazy.
So, with the books already having been covered, I now delve into my favourite monthly comics of the year. The next post will be at the end of the year for the second half of the year.
You can check out my top-of-the-month lists on my Reading Awards page and this list is both an extension, and a continuation of what goes on there.
Let’s see what makes the cut and which comes close then!
This post is coming in at a slightly later time than I’d prefer, about two weeks late at least, but I guess I can’t really “complain” when the lateness is due to my own wedding which took place exactly two weeks ago on the 5th. It has certainly been a very busy and intense time, what with being engrossed in all the marriage stuff and then even after that there’s been one thing after another. Reading time has definitely suffered greatly, which makes me a little sad considering how much I love reading, but eh, all for a good cause really.
With half the year now over, it is time to do the first of my “Best of the Year” posts, for the period 1st January to 30th June. There’s been a ton of books that I’ve read in this period as usual, and I made a very strong effort to read more tie-in fiction than I usually do, so the list is most assuredly going to reflect that. Tie-in fiction is a very important part of the publishing industry I feel and it always deserves some recognition. Now if we could only get an award started that celebrated tie-in fiction and all would be alright with the world. Or so my thinking goes.
Let’s see what makes the cut and which comes close then!
Another week of heavy comics reading, and to think that just three days ago I was concerned whether or not I’d even be able to read 15 comics! How quickly things change, and for the better, in this case. It has been quite a good week this time with several new experimentations among other things.
The surprise hits of this week were Chew/Revival #1 from Image Comics, Doc Savage #1 and Vampirella #1, both from Dynamite Entertainment. The surprise flops would be Amazing X-Men Annual #1 and Guardians of the Galaxy Prelude #2, both from Marvel Comics, and Godstorm: Age of Darkness from Zenescope Entertainment. Comics that I expected to be great, such as Angel & Faith Season 10 #3 from Dark Horse Comics and Original Sin #3 from Marvel Comics, and Green Arrow #32 from DC Comics, were absolutely solid and continued a very strong run ever since I started reading the title last year.
More than any other author at Black Library presently, it seems that David Annandale is by far one of the busiest of the lot, if his output in the last couple years or so is any indication. Multiple short stories, a novel, multiple novellas. And his work has been seen digital-to-print republication. For me, he has certainly emerged as one of the best of the bunch, owing in part to his technical writing and his characters and plots of course. It also helps that in much of his work he has chosen to write about factions and characters that usually don’t see the light of day otherwise, much.
About ten days back or so I mentioned in my review of Forge Master that it was part of a trilogy of novellas about the Overfiend of Octavius, an Ork Warlord who controls one of the biggest Ork empires in the galaxy. Where Forge Master was the capstone to that trilogy, Shadow Captain is the middle narrative and is told from the perspective of the Raven Guard rather than the Salamanders. And the events in this novella take place just before the events of Forge Master. Just as with it successor, Shadow Captain proved to be a most entertaining read, and it shined the light on another of my most favourite Space Marine chapters.
Earlier this year, Dynamite’s Warlord of Mars series of comics based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ many John Carter novels celebrated the landmark #100 issue, which brought three really different and interesting stories that added significantly to the continuing tale of John Carter, Dejah Thoris and the world of Barsoom, which we also know as Mars, the Red Planet. One of the stories in this issue was Mark Rahner and Jose Luis’ “Stay” in which Woola tries again and again to keep safe John Carter from whatever he is up to but is forced to sit by the side every time by the Warlord of Mars. It was a fierce and intense story that really touched a chord with me, in part due to Luis’ amazing work.
And then this week I saw that Dynamite had released a new Barsoomian series that continued from where that story by Mark Rahner left off. John Carter is now missing and so is an artifact from the treasure vaults of the city of Helium. It is up to Dejah and her son Carthoris to clear John Carter’s name and to find him before others who are convinced of his supposed treason get to him. When I’d finished Stay I had no idea that there would be a continuation, but Mark Rahner and Jethro Morales do exactly that and they do it in style as well.
Raymond E. Feist’s Magician remains, to this day, one of the finest examples of traditional epic fantasy that I’ve read. When I started out reading epic fantasy/space opera back in freshman year of high school, it was one of the very first books I read, soon after J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and soon after Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance Chronicles. That was a really great time for me, because I was discovering so many great books one after the other, and there was something about the adventures of Pug and Tomas and their friends that really drew me in to this world that Feist had created.
Magician is primarily the tale of two boyhood friends’ rise to power from extremely humble beginnings, one the son of kitchen servants to a frontier (but politically powerful) Duke, and the other an orphan with none to claim him. Tomas and Pug experience some really extraordinary adventures in their rise to power and together they become embroiled in some really amazing and epic events that date back to thousands of years in their world’s past. Full of exciting action, interesting characters, a really epic plot and a truly wonderful setting, Magician is a must-read massive novel as far as I’m concerned.
Michael J. Martinez debuted last year with his novel The Daedalus Incident. The book had a bit of a rough time around its release since the publisher Night Shade Books went under and was eventually bought up by Skyhorse Publishing and Start Publishing. The release was delayed and when it finally arrived, it quickly became a hit, as far as I’m concerned. I’d read the book much earlier and I had enjoyed it quite a bit, so I followed all the news with an interest. A shame that the book was delayed so, but the end result was positive, so that’s the silver lining. Michael wrote a really fantastical novel that merged the fantasies of alchemy and the Age of Sail with space opera and the sequel was something that I looked forward to a great deal.
The Enceladus Crisis is the second novel in Michael The Daedalus series and if anything, it is a better novel than The Daedalus Incident. Michael continues the story of Lt. Cmdr. Shaila Jain as she is finally given her dream job of commanding a ship of exploration to the Saturn system and at the same time we also touch base with Captain Thomas Weatherby who is now a much respected captain of His Majesty’s Royal Navy. But in a twist, while only two years have passed for Shaila Jain and her friends in the near-future, in the alternate reality of Thomas Weatherby almost two decades have passed, and the worlds of these two explorers and heroes are set to collide once again for a very dramatic showdown in the end.