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Conan Vol. 2: The God In The Bowl and Other Stories (Comics Review)

With Conan Vol.1: The Frost Giant’s Daughter and Other Stories, Dark Horse embarked on a bold strategy where the classic Conan stories were shaped anew, with writer Kurt Busiek putting together a continuous narrative that charted the rise of Conan from a simple Cimmerian warrior to the King of Aquilonia. With the addition of fantastic artists like Cary Nord and Dave Stewart, the series began well with the first volume, establishing a clear frame of reference for the characters and his adventures in a way that would always leave you wanting more.

In Conan Vol.2: The God In The Bowl and Other Stories we see more of the same as Conan now sets out for the Nemedian city-state to learn more of the world, to hone his skills as a thief and see more of what the world at large could offer someone like him. Kurt’s writing is very much on point in this volume, as it was in the previous one, and now that the Cimmerian is in more familiar circumstances, the story becomes all the more enjoyable. And along the way, artists Tom Mandrake, Cary Nord, Thomas Yeates and Dave Stewart add a particular vividness to the visual aspect, enhancing the story in every way possible.

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Conan Vol. 1: The Frost Giant’s Daughter and Other Stories (Comics Review)

Of all the heroes over the years who have left their mark on the wider world of fiction, few if any come close to the pedigree of Conan the Barbarian. Multiple movies, hundreds of comics, numerous novels and short stories. Decade after decade goes by and he is always there in some form. Dark Horse Comics, who have held the license for the comics on the character for several years now have done a great job of shepherding Conan through various iterations, whether as a young warrior first stepping out in the world, or as an aged king. That is where we start with here.

Conan Vol.1: The Frost Giant’s Daughter and Other Stories is a collection of some of the earliest Conan stories, chronologically speaking, where we meet Conan as a young adventurer who barely knows of the world outside of Cimmeria but is eager and willing to explore. Writer Kurt Busiek weaves the many stories together into a stunning narrative that is enhanced by artists Cary Nord, Thomas Yeates, Dave Stewart and others. The story is a little fuzzy here and there, but the creatives here have captured the essence of Conan really well and delivered a stunning package.

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Black Wolves by Kate Elliott (Book Review)

It has been a while since I’ve done any reviews, largely due to the fact that I’ve barely read 10-12 novels in the last one year or so. Far cry from my regular 9-11 books a month before that. Just been a long period of “don’t really care, just want time off, too much work, ugh” and so on. Getting back into reading hasn’t exactly been easy since it is as if my reading mojo is gone. But thankfully, I’ve started to turn it around of late, and one of the books I’ve had the pleasure of reading recently is Kate Elliott’s Black Wolves.

Black Wolves is the first novel in the trilogy of the same name. It follows a multitude of characters in a (low) fantasy setting and deals with the ruthless politics of a kingdom forged by the sword and inherited by weaker successors where the loyalties of good men and women are commodities. It is a very different kind of novel than I usually read, but I have a fair amount of experience with Kate’s diverse works, and Black Wolves doesn’t disappoint. It is a fun and entertaining read, though it could have used some trimming here and there to be a bit more brief.

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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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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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Death Vigil #7 (Comics Review)

It has been a good long while since we’ve had a Death Vigil release. Stjepan Sejic ended the sixth issue on a very grim note, with events heading completely downhill for the Vigil, especially Bernie, and it was a really, really bleak moment for the entire crew, especially once there was a betrayal from within. It was a grim story, but at the same time, a lot of Stjepan’s comic timing really made its presence felt as well, and that kept me chugging along. And it kept me foaming at the mouth for the next release, which was unfortunately delayed until recently.

Some personal problems for Stjepan meant that we didn’t get Death Vigil #7 until last week, and that too through his own blog rather than through the regular distribution. I won’t go into the specifics as they are kind of irrelevant to matters at hand, but suffice to say that the new issue is well worth the long wait since mid-January. Stjepan launches straight into the story and picks up the beats from where he left off, and the new issue proves to be one hell of a ride, keeping up a fine tradition that began in Death Vigil #1 last year.

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Adventures in Magic the Gathering: Sealed Draft

For the Super Sunday Series Championship 2015 in the weekend of the 24-25th January this year, Wizards of the Coast ran a slightly different limited format for part of the event: Sealed Draft. In Booster Draft, the way it works is that you draft 3 boosters to build a 40-card deck (including lands), and in Sealed Deck, the way it works is that you open 6 boosters to build a 40-card deck (again, including lands), and then you just play. But Wizards mixed the two together so that you opened 3 packs to build towards a deck, and then drafted 3 more packs to create your full pack and then go play and have some fun.

My previous experience with Limited in Khans of Tarkir block is with Fate Reforged Limited and Dragons of Tarkir Limited. They were decent experiences, but nothing particularly standout, and that’s fine with me since I look at Limited as less competitive and more for the fun of opening packs, drafting, and playing weird decks, which can sometimes work out well or just totally fall flat. So for this past weekend, I suggested the Sealed Draft format to my LGS owner. It is something that no one has played before, so I thought that it would be a great opportunity and an experiment as well. And I like to think that it worked out rather well inf act!

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Grimm Fairy Tales: Realm War #7-9 (Comics Review)

The first half of Realm War: Age of Darkness was packed with a hell of a lot of action. Writer Joe Brusha devoted a lot of time to fleshing out the post-Grimm Fairy Tales #100 world, one in which the bad guys won and took over the realms, even as the heroes rose up again to fight them, to reclaim their individual worlds. And things have certainly been downhill for them for most of the way. It was a rather classical approach, and it worked out well for me, for Brusha presented lots of fun mysteries and relationships, even as artists Sami Kivela and Maxflan Araujo went to town on the illustrations and all the cool action sequences and what have you.

But, Realm War #7 marks a turning point in that we move into the second half of this epic crossover, and the good guys are now starting to make some real headway. Despite all the adversity, all the losses and the betrayals, it looks like the good guys finally have a real chance of stopping the Dark Queen (retrospectively we know already that they win, courtesy of the other titles from the publisher, namely Grimm Fairy Tales itself). Issues 7 through 9 are full of more epic action, more character moments, etc, and it is the ninth issue that finally gets the ball really rolling, as the heroes strike out for a major blow against the villains, a definitive one in fact.

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He-Man: The Eternity War #4-5 (Comics Review)

DC’s He-Man: The Eternity War has been kicking butt since it started. Spinning out of the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series, this new book has really ramped up everything that was great about that series, and given it a new context, one that is grander and just generally more epic. While I loved the contributions from the early creative team on that series, the change of guard with Dan Abnett as writer made things so much better, and The Eternity War has pretty much delivered on everything that I could ask of it, month after month.

Issues #4 and #5 continue the tale of Hordak’s all-out invasion of Eternia as the big bad himself has come to the world now, intending on destroying his enemies in a final all-out conflict. He-Man and his sister She-Ra have done much to head him off, what with He-Man and She-Ra leading an army of Serpent Men against Hordak’s forces, even as the rest of the loyal Eternians do their own thing. But things are really heating up now, and even as one of He-Man’s oldest enemy returns, the future of the war to save Eternia is very, very uncertain, because if there’s one thing that defines this setting, it is the constant betrayal and deception that is employed by the villains.

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Witchblade #180-182 (Comics Review)

Darkness Falls was meant to be one of the big moments for the Top Cow universe a while back, given everything that was going on in David Hine and Jeremy Haun’s The Darkness: Rebirth at the time, just about a little over 2 years ago. The build-up was definitely fantastic, but then plans got delayed for some reason, and so we never really got the follow-up to Hine and Haun’s big-moment finale of the second volume of the series, up until now, and in the pages of Witchblade no less.

White writer Ron Marz began a new arc on Witchblade with its #179th issue, issues #180 and #181 are devoted to the re-energized Darkness Falls: The Death of Jackie Estacado storyline. A confrontation between Sara and Jackie had been signposted for a good while in the pages of The Darkness: Rebirth so it was rather rewarding to see it all come about finally, even though it kind of felt as if the story didn’t get the execution it deserved and kind of fell a little flat as well. But things heated up rather nicely with the recent #182nd issue, which reverts back to the new arc that Ron Marz had started, and presents a few answers to a few mysteries already introduced.

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Adventures in Magic the Gathering: MEFCC PPTQ Milwaukee

A few days ago I did my write-up of the 4th Middle East Film and Comic Con in which I talked about my experience playing in the Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier for Milwaukee. It was a huge event with some 60-62 players, and it also was the biggest Magic the Gathering event to be held in the Middle East, which in itself is a huge achievement for the game in the region. I played the tournament with a funky deck that, while not realistically competitive, was a lot of fun to play in a lot of different ways, especially given the kind of decks I faced off against.

As part of that entire play experience, there were some cards from my deck that were pretty much MVPs. Matches where these cards stuck out on the board, I was able to win most of the time, and in many of the matches I lost, I lamented not being able to draw them (except lands of course, which doesn’t really count!). I’ve talked about my deck before and even some cards that I’ve been looking forward to playing in a competitive tournament, and this was a great opportunity to find out whether or not my excitement was justified. Which it was!

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Game of Thrones Season 5 Ep 1 (TV Show Review)

The finale of Game of Thrones Season 4 came at the end of a rather troubling season in general, with the writers making some really questionable departures from the source material and the directors being a bit too convinced of their own infallibility with respect to the final product. Still, as such things go, the finale wasn’t all that bad and it ended on a fairly positive note for many of the arcs that it touched, such as where Arya ends up after she disposes off of The Hound and sets out for herself, or even Tyrion killing his father and Shae both, for betraying hmm in the worst ways possible.

And this all brings us to season 5, which began this past Sunday, and generated an immense amount of controversy from the get go, namely that the first four episodes had been leaked together from sources that HBO had sent them to for review purposes. Hardly generates confidence, that. Either way, the season 5 premiere is of the grim and somber variety. Nothing really happens in this episode other than he viewers getting to touch base with some of the storylines and seeing what consequences past events have wrought on the world of Westeros and beyond. The characters are trying to find their feet once again, and moving forward, things should be… interesting.

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