The first time I ever ran into StarCraft was in one of the two gaming magazines I got as a kid, many, many years ago now. I recall reading a review of the game in the magazine and thinking, “I’d like to play that”. But that didn’t happen until I got into college. And you know what, I loved the game. It was sort of similar to WarCraft (strategy games were all similar to me back then) but more nuanced I suppose. Then the obsession went further in junior year of college when my friends and I played the StarCraft board game on weekends and had a ton of fun playing it. It wasn’t until just three years ago though that I read my first StarCraft novels, Graham McNeill’s I, Mengsk and Keith R. A. DeCandido’s Nova that I truly fell in love with the setting.
And that brings me to Firstborn, the first novel in Christie Golden’s Dark Templar Saga, which I finished reading a couple days ago. It is my first StarCraft fiction in three years, and it was as great an experience as I, Mengsk was. It isn’t as rooted in the original lore or even the games as that novel, but it does some amazing work to expand on the setting and the lore. I haven’t kept up with the game unfortunately, so I don’t know how the bits of lore in this novel came about and whether Christie has shepherded it all, but I don’t care either way, because Firstborn was ultimately a fantastic novel that much to increase my fascination with the Protoss and the mysterious Xel’Naga.
Space opera is a genre that I really love reading about. Space opera mixed in with horror however isn’t exactly something that I run into a lot. In recent times, the only such story that I recall reading is Caliban by Garth Ennis and Facundo Percio, and that is pretty damn good. Last month’s Deep Gravity #1 started off on a very science fiction-y note with a very strong space opera outlook, but there was always an element of horror there, of mankind fighting off against monsters that went bump in the day. I loved the first issue, which I read last week, and was looking forward to reading the second issue.
At the end of Deep Gravity #1, we saw something really shocking happen. Deep Gravity #2 picks up right from there and tells the story of the crew of the Vanguard as the survivors try to make sense of what has happened, even as the ship continues to break down around them. The story is all about confronting limitations and beating them. Mike Richardson’s story, with Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman’s script, is as compelling here as it was in the first issue, and the art by Fernando Baldó is similarly excellent here, really capturing the horror and desperation of the situation the characters find themselves in.
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.
After a very, very short arc set in space and featuring some truly madcap adventures, Silver Surfer and Dawn Greenwood returned to Earth so that Dawn could come back and Norrin could have a bit of a breather as well. But things turned out to be rather weird when strange things began happening at Dawn’s home, the Greenwood Inn, and when Dr. Strange and Hulk showed up as well. Dan Slott and Mike Allred have been afire with this new series kept getting better and better, and at such a young stage too. In many ways, I think this is exactly the kind of Silver Surfer comic I’ve been wanting forever, though I could do with something a bit more serious as well.
The best way to describe this series and even this issue is that it is all light-hearted fun at its core. Dan Slott weaves in a lot of fun jokes throughout the issue and he keeps things easy and chill despite the momentous events happening. We finally get to see just what it is that is going wrong at the Greenwood Inn and beyond, and see a fun team-up between Silver Surfer, Dawn, Dr. Strange and Hulk. The particular twist here was a good one, and with respect to the art, Mike and Laura Allred have delivered some of their best work with this issue.
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..
Due to going on a vacation towards the end of July, I fell behind on Future’s End, and that kind of sucked in part because this is a highly rated series for me. It is a complex story being weaved together by no less than four writers and covering dozens of characters, so it is kind of easy to get lost but the weekly schedule helps quite a bit with that. At this point in the series, I’m looking for a sense of interconnectedness and the feeling that things are moving forwards towards some kind of a resolution. That resolution might not arrive for another month, or even two months, but that’s what I want, and fortunately, Future’s End #13-16 provide exactly that.
These four issues deal with the many secrets being kept from the many characters in this series. Such as what is really happening in the subbasement levels of Cadmus Island, or who sent Lois Lane a bunch of artifacts that have led her to uncovering some big secrets and even come face-to-face with a stark reality of her alternate life on Earth 2, or what is going on with the masked Superman and why he acts like a jock these days, or the reality of who killed Stormwatch back in the opening issues. The writers turn out some fairly good material here, and with artists like Patrick Zircher, Art Thibert, Scot Eaton and Jesus Merino, the artwork is in good hands here.
When I began my “25 Series To Read In 2014” reading challenge this year, I was intending to cover Lost Tribe of The Sith. And then just last week, or the week before that, I discovered that it wasn’t a series as much as it was a collection of short stories and I was like, uhm… well…., so I rethought the whole thing and added the Fate of The Jedi series to the challenge instead. From what I’ve heard from a lot of friends who are dedicated Star Wars fans, this particular series has a, let’s say, not-so-good reputation. So I decided to take up that challenge because I wanted to get a bit more current with my Star Wars reading, and this seemed like a good place.
Fate of The Jedi #1: Outcast presents a very bold new vision of Star Wars that really might not be for everyone. When this novel begins, the galaxy far, far away has changed considerably since I was last in it. Jagged Fel is now the ruler of the Imperial Remnant. Former Imperial Natasi Daala is now the Chief of State of the Galactic Alliance. The Jedi are a force directly under the aegis of the GA, with much of its freedom curtailed, and so on. To be honest, I loved all of this. Yeah, sure, it was all really weird at first, and I still can’t accept that Daala of all people is now the leader of democracy in the galaxy, but yeah, this was actually quite a fun book!
Being a fan of mecha space opera anime, when I watched Knights of Sidonia back in May, I got really excited, more so because the first two episodes set a good tone for the series and while a bit flawed, showed a lot of promise as well. I discovered the show thanks to SFF author and friend Django Wexler, and I can’t thank him enough for introducing this anime to me, for it captures a part of the same sense of wonder and excitement that I’ve seen in Gundam SEED and Gundam 00 among other mecha anime. The future of Knights of Sidonia, or Shidonia no Kishi as it is called in Japanese, is a bleak one but there is some indeed.
I fairly enjoyed the first two episodes, and expected the next few episodes to continue along the same route while also addressing some of the flaws I found in the show. And you know what? Episodes 3-5 have totally blown me away. The story has only gotten better and along with it the characters. The world of Knights of Sidonia is greatly expanded on in these episodes and I loved every moment. I was hooked with these episodes in a way that I hadn’t been with the first two. What’s better than that, really? I can’t think of anything, to be fully honest here.
Being on holiday the last week of July and the first week of August meant that I missed out on quite a few comics and that even the next week after that was mostly trying to stay ahead of all the great comics coming out, which didn’t work out as well as I wanted it to since I missed some pretty big comics, such as last week’s Captain Marvel #6. With Captain Marvel being one of my favourite new books from Marvel, that had to be corrected soon as I realized my oversight and since Ms. Marvel #7 came out this week, I thought it would be fun to do a joint review for these two titles, which are linked together in far too many ways to count.
Captain Marvel #6 brings to a successful close the first arc of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s rebooted Captain Marvel. Last we were with Carol Danvers, she had decided to take on Json’s invasion fleet single-handed. She proved her heroism in that moment, and Kelly Sue set the stage for a really emotional and heroic ending. This time, we see how all of that plays out and how Carol does end up beating J’son at his own game. And the artwork is pretty good too, in keeping with the rest of the series.
Ms. Marvel #7 on the other hand is all about continuing the team-up of Kamala Khan and Wolverine as the two of them taken on The Inventor and his crazy meta-alligators. Wolverine was the first special guest-star on the series in the previous issue, in the flesh that is, and the pairing was a great idea because as Wilson said in an interview, Wolverine struggles without his healing factor while Kamala has it. In this issue, we see their pairing come to an end for the moment, though there are more avenues open now, with a great ending and the artwork by Jacob Wyatt and Ian Herring is even more gorgeous than before, though the final three pages are not so good.
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.
Earlier this year, the comics writing duo of Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman became two of my favourite writers because of their work on Star Wars: Legacy II, which chronicles the life of a distant descendant of the Solo-Skywalker clan, Ania Solo and the times she lives in. The two of them told a really involved story featuring Ania, and the first two volumes of the series are among my top favourite reads of the year, by far. That’s why when I heard that the two of them were going to be working on some original stuff for Dark Horse, I got really excited.
Deep Gravity #1 pretty much meets my expectations and then some. It tells the story of human colonisation and exploitation of a distant planet and it retains many great elements of classic space opera matched with some more modern stuff. As the first issue, this one is just setting the scene for now, but Corinna and Gabriel have done some pretty damn good work here, and I’m going to be sticking around for a couple more issues at the least, no question. And as for the art by Fernando Baldo, Nick Filardi and Nate Pieko, that too is pretty impressive and has a pretty fitting feel and atmosphere.