Twelve Kings In Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Book Review)

Author Bradley P. Beaulieu is one of my favourite writers in recent years, thanks to his 2012 debut The Winds of Khalakovo from Night Shade Publishing. It was a pretty good year for the publisher, and we got lots of great debuts at the time, not the least of which was this incredible Russian-esque fantasy from Brad, which told an epic struggle between several noble families navigating the politics of the land. It was a very refreshing read for someone like me who grew up reading the more traditional fantasy settings, and Brad’s style in particular was one of the selling points as well. I have yet to read the third and final novel in the trilogy but after having just read Brad’s latest, I certainly itch to read more of his work, so soon perhaps.

Twelve Kings In Sharakhai is the first novel in Brad’s new series, The Song of The Shattered Sands. It is a very different novel in almost all sorts of ways, and that distinction certainly helps in the enjoyment of the book, though that is by no means the only thing. The setting is far grander this time, I think, for it deals with the past having an effect on the present and what that can mean to the future. The sins of old come to bite back, and it is up to a young girl named Çedamihn to challenge the authority of the Twelve Kings and have her vengeance on those who have wronged her and her family.

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The Terrans by Jean Johnson (Book Review)

Towards the end of last year, Jean Johnson brought her Theirs Not To Reason Why military space opera series to a close in a grand fashion with Damnation, the fifth and final novel in the series. In this series, she introduced an amazingly detailed setting where our hero was a psychic soldier who takes on the entire known galaxy and reshapes it to battle a menace that no one else could even fathom. It was a fantastic series and by the time I was done reading it, I wanted to read more. But the series was done, and all that was left was the promise from Jean that this year we would go back in time to the First Salik War, the interstellar conflict that put Earth on the big stage and which ultimately segued into the events of Theirs Not To Reason Why.

The hero of The Terrans is a former regional politician named Jacaranda MacKenzie who is selected to be the political ambassador of humanity’s first deep foray into the rest of the galaxy, as the United Planets Space Force launches a massive first contact project on the back of several precognitive visions experienced by numerous powerful psychics. Yep, psychics affirming a first contact mission. We know from Jean’s previous series that this setting is populated by numerous psychics of various abilities, and that is something that she does a great job of in this new series, introducing us to many of the pros and cons of such people, especially within the context of a first contact mission.

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Adventures in Magic the Gathering: Battle For Zendikar Previews

So the ongoing PAX Prime 2015. That’s something that has been happening for a few days now. Now, my interest in PAX Prime is limited only to what news I can get about Wizards of the Coast and Magic the Gathering, so naturally, the ongoing Magic the Gathering World Championship and the much-hyped (with good reason!) Battle for Zendikar Preview Show are something I’ve been keeping an eye on. I’ve seen most of the day 1 competition so far, and its been exciting to a degree, but the BFZ Preview Show is where the real fun is at and that’s what I’m gonna talk about in this write-up.

BFZ Art

Hosted by Wil Wheaton and Ashly Burch, the show kicked off last night and over the course of the roughly 40-min show, we got tons of information about the upcoming set (and block), which also included some fantastic new cards that are bringing back old mechanics while also giving new twists to them. Having just finished watching the entire Preview Show, with guests such as Doug Beyer of the Magic creative team, Mark Rosewater of the design and development team and Graham Stark of the Friday Nights fame, I can say with all honesty that it was an amazing experience. When the Battle For Zendikar set rolls out on October 2nd, it is going to be a hell of a lot of fun!

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Tales of Honor: Bred To Kill #1 (Comics Review)

Tales of Honor is the adaptation of David Weber’s Honor Harrington novel series and is written by Matt Hawkins, who is one of my favourite writers in the biz, and is drawn by Linda Sejic, an artist I don’t have much of an experience with, but love her work nonetheless. I’ve read a couple issues of the previous Tales of Honor volume, and even the recent FCBD issue, not to mention that I read the first novel recently as well, so I’m pretty well-versed with the setting and the characters, and going into this new arc, that’s a good thing since I can orient myself that much quicker.

Tales of Honor: Bred To Kill #1 picks up sometime after the recent war with the People’s Republic of Haven in the Basilisk system, and it has Honor coming back during some downtime from her job as the Captain of the HMS Fearless in order to discover the whereabouts of a missing relative. As the start to a new arc, Hawkins and co-writer Dan Wickline quickly establish the titular character’s “need to knows”, and move on with the meat of the story, which proves to be fairly interesting, and the corresponding art by Linda stands out as well, easily on par with some of the other top-notch stuff I’ve seen of late from various creators, including Linda’s husband Stjepan who is at the top of his game right now.

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Sensation Comics #33-35 (Comics Review)

DC’s Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman got off to a really great start last year, but somewhere along the way, it kind of lost its momentum with some really odd stories that seemed to be shoehorned in, for no reason at all. And that’s kind of why I felt turned off from the experience of reading the comics, and even writing the reviews, because I didn’t want to review what I saw as less-than-expected. There were some good stories in the middle, sure, but mostly, it was all just rather boring.

Thankfully, issues #33 through #35 provide something of a revival in that respect. Some of the recent stories have been really good, and I think that it is this arc, Vendetta, that puts it all into perspective. Written by Josh Elder, this arc is all about a fateful encounter between Diana and Ares, set against the backdrop of a racial civil war in a war-torn African country. It feels simplistic at first, but it has a great message, and that’s the true value of it. The art by Jamal Igle, Juan Castro, Wendy Broome and Deron Bennett is also fairly decent, though it could use some improvements.

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John Carter: Warlord of Mars #5-6 (Comics Review)

It is all well and good to have your hero triumph over villains who just aren’t on the same level as him. It is always thrilling to have Superman go up against low-key baddies, for example, but the true thrill only comes when he goes up against Darkseid, Brainiac or Lex Luthor, say. The same holds true for John Carter as well. It is awesome to see him fight against rogue Tharks and the other dangers of Barsoom, but when he is faced with another superhuman like Captain Joshua Clark, that’s when things get really interesting.

Having seen how their rivalry came about in the previous issues, and just why Clark hates Carter so much, issues #5 and #6 get down into the nitty-gritty of their final battle against each other, to decide who is the better man after all. And writer Ron Marz certainly doesn’t pull any punches in that regard. He keeps everything focused on the end-goal, and ends the first arc of the series on a great note. Similarly, artists Abhishek Malsuni and Roberto Castro do their best and the art on the series is as good as it was in the beginning.

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Masks 2 #1 (Comics Review)

Just as Dynamite is no stranger to crossover event comics, it is also no stranger to team-up style comics, of which the publisher has done quite a few in recent years. Masks is once such title. It came out in 2012-2013 and it brought together many of the publisher’s various pulp action heroes such as The Shadow, Green Hornet, The Spider, and others. I never read the title then, as I wasn’t really into either pulp comics or Dynamite in general back then, and that’s kind of something I regret at this point, given how strongly some of these characters are in their solo series.

Masks 2 came out last month with its first issue, and it kind of proved to be a slam dunk for me. I’m of course familiar with Green Hornet and Kato from the unfortunate Seth Rogen movie, and the other characters like Shadow and Spider I’ve read about in some other titles like Justice Inc. and The Spider, whereas the others are all new to me. And that’s part of the fun of this first issue, that you get to see and meet so many different personalities. Cullen Bunn does some great work setting up the main conflict of the story here, and Eman Casallos’ art seems to hit the mark as well, capturing the feel and tone of the era quite well.

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Swords of Sorrow #1 (Comics Review)

Dynamite Entertainment is not a publisher to shy away from doing crossovers and events every now and then. Sometimes you have crossovers such as Tarzan and John Carter, or Red Sonja and Witchblade or even Sherlock Holmes and Red Sonja and Vampirella all together fighting against a Hyborean villain of all things. I love reading crossovers and event books, primarily for the reason that they always have an exciting cast of characters where I’m not really familiar with many of them. Tarzan? Nope. Witchblade? Not at first. Vampirella? Not really. And Dynamite has a good track record with these things, so it makes for a much better experience that way too.

And the latest crossover/event from the publisher is Swords of Sorrow, a massive event that brings together heroes and villains from across worlds and timelines in an all-out battle. You have characters such as Red Sonja, Vampirella, Dejah Thoris, etc fighting to defend all of reality against Hel, Purgatori, Chastity and others. This could all be easily summed up as a feminist crossover given the incredible number of (great) female characters represented, and both the writing by Gail Simone and the art by Sergio Davila is absolutely top-notch.

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Supergirl Pilot (TV Show Review)

Last year DC/WB announced that Supergirl aka Kara Zor-El would finally be making her way back to live-screen this year, with the character getting an ongoing show on CBS, which is part-owned by CW, the network that airs the hit-and-successful superhero shows The Flash and Arrow with a joint spin-off Legends of Tomorrow launching later this year as well. As a huge fan of the unfairly maligned Supergirl movie with Helen Slater, this was great news for me, especially since I love the character, and because the current creative team on the Supergirl comics is also just totally rocking it right now.

Through all the casting information and plot details that were revealed about Supergirl, it came across as a decent addition to the DC/WB television DC universe, and I was certainly excited by the prospect. And then just a few days ago we had what was an awesome 6-min trailer that introduced Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers aka Kara Zor-El aka Supergirl. The trailer had some flaws, but it was promising, and I couldn’t wait to see more. Which I did last night since the pilot episode got “leaked” onto the internet everywhere, and I saw for myself just how good this show was really going to be, and that the trailer didn’t do the show enough justice.

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The Flash Season 1 Eps 21-23 (TV Show Review)

Since October last year, this has been coming, the end of one of the best shows on television in the last five years. Something that a lot of people hoped would be great, but doubted would actually get to that stage. But CW’s The Flash beat pretty much every expectation that fans had of it. It breezed by, changed the landscape, and maintained one hell of a consistency week after week. Sure, there were the occasional silly things such as the Bug-Eyed Bandit and what not, but by and large, and for me at least, The Flash was so much better of a show than Arrow, and I don’t say that lightly.

In episodes 21 through 23 (“Grodd Lives“, “Rogue Air“, and, “Fast Enough“), we see some of the most incredible moments of the show as yet. The first of those is pretty obvious. Gorilla Grodd was hinted at as being a villain on the show since the pilot and much of my fascination with the show was because of that expectation, which this episode met in a really great way and did justice to one of my favourite villains from the DC verse. The second switched things around a bit when Barry got Snart and his gang involved in his fight against Harrison Wells, with some truly tragic results, but which also solidified his moralities. And then, and then we have the finale from last night, which was beyond incredible. I had such huge expectations from the finale, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. It was what fans needed and deserved after a season’s worth of trust and promise.

Note: This review contains some major spoilers for all three episodes, though I’ll try to keep things simple for the finale.

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Ms. Marvel #13-15 (Comics Review)

Last time we were with Kamala Khan aka the new Ms. Marvel, Loki crash-landed a prom party and she rightly schooled him for his scheming and planning, in addition to some great heroics in general. That’s one of the most endearing things about the title and the character because G. Willow Wilson has made Ms. Marvel into a very fun and relaxed title that occasionally deals with real world issues but never gets too heavy with the allusions so that you go and think “geez, not this again”. More than a year on since release, and Ms. Marvel is still one of the best titles on the shelves, and for good reason!

Taken together, issues #13 through #15 of Ms. Marvel are about Kamala exploring more of her Inhuman legacy and also learning more about herself and fighting against everyday challenges borne out of the patriarchal bias of society. G. Willow Wilson has taken a somewhat similar line before, using Kamala’s adventures as social commentary in one way or another, but she really hits it out of the park with these three issues, and the art by new-to-series Takeshi Miyazawa impresses as much as that of Adrian Alphona before, making for a very seamless transition.

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Black Widow #16-17 (Comics Review)

The previous issues of Black Widow have been pretty spectacular, as has been the norm on the title since its launch early last year. Natasha’s investigations into the organization CHAOS that has been causing all sorts of problems for SHIELD of late yielded some surprising results back in #15 and it made for a really interesting change of pace as far as the story was concerned. It also gave artist Phil Noto a chance to really go to town with the visuals and none of that seems to be headed for a slowdown in any way.

The two most recent issues, Black Widow #16 and Black Widow #17 are all about what CHAOS really is and what plans they have for Natasha and others like her all over the world. The reveal about CHAOS is something that really twists the head in ways you wouldn’t expect. Nathan manipulates the story in a really deft way and he shows some really mad skills as he has Natasha navigate the web of lies and half-truths being peddled by CHAOS. Supporting him, Phil also does a pretty incredible job and though some of the scenes were a bit more low-key than usual, his own mad skills were never in doubt I’d say.

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