In the last ten years or so, there has been a notable shift in the genre of American television series that are being put out. Following on from the terrible events of 9/11, many networks have greenlighted spy shows focused not on traditional spy antics, but on counter-terrorism and domestic terrorism. Covert Affairs, Burn Notice, Chuck, Nikita, 24, Quantico, State of Affairs, The Blacklist, and many others. Strangely enough, many of these also star female characters, which is an interesting change from the previous era of James Bond styled shows with male characters. Focusing on one of the many intelligence agencies of the American intelligence network, these shows follow the lives of intelligence officers and experts as they head off one threat after another.
One of these shows is Homeland, starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, which premiered on Showtime on October 2, 2011 just a little over five years ago and has recently announced its sixth season, which will begin next month. I recently started watching the show, and I’ve been very impressed with it, which is probably why I binge-watched the first season in a mere three days. Danes, Lewis and the rest of the cast and crew have turned in a fantastic political spy thriller with some extremely nuanced and conflicted characters.
Note: Spoilers from the first season will be mentioned so proceed at your own risk. Read the rest of this entry
The fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000 is extremely rich and complicated. Since its inception, this creation of Games Workshop has taken on a life of its own and has spanned a variety of media in the form of movies, comics, novels, audio-dramas, and so on. Some of the best fiction has come with the likes of the Bloodquest comics or the Horus Heresy multi-media series and so on. I’ve been a fan of this setting for almost 15 years or now, and it has certainly been a journey that has had its ups and downs. Will of Iron looks to chart a bold new path forward.
Recently, Titan Comics was granted the license to publish fresh new comics in the 40K universe, and Will of Iron #1 is the first of these new stories that brings the indomitable Space Marines and their various enemies back to comics forefront. Written by George Mann, the new series focuses on one of the most secretive and oldest factions of these space-faring warrior-monks as many of their secrets are about to be exposed and their efforts to contain the spread of such knowledge begin. The first issue is a bit predictable and dry, but it is also very promising and for that I give it a big thumps up.
My first substantial introduction to the world of Magic the Gathering was through the comics written by Matt Forbeck for IDW Publishing. They introduced me to the planeswalker thief Dack Fayden through some really fun adventures across the Multiverse. Since then, I’ve taken up the game itself, and now I play fairly regularly and follow tournament coverage as well. Naturally, my interests would also lead me to other Magic fiction, specifically the novels, and I’ve read a few of them in the last couple of years, the most recent being Cory J. Herndon’s Ravnica: City of Guilds.
The first of the Ravnica Cycle trilogy, this novel follows a lieutenant of the League of Wojek, Agrus Kos, as he undertakes a murder investigation that draws him into a conspiracy that will shake up the entire world of Ravnica. As a fan of the setting, I really appreciated Herndon’s detailed descriptions of Ravnica and its many citizens, which really helped to bring the world alive in my mind. I’m not familiar with any of the characters here, but that’s the thing about Ravnica: City of Guilds, you don’t have to know anything about Magic the Gathering to enjoy it, though that does help.
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.
The Teen Titans are one of the most prominent of DC’s superhero teams, primarily because it is based around legacy superheroes such as Wonder Girl and Robin and other young heroes like Starfire and Beast Boy. Over the years, the Teen Titans have carved out quite a niche for themselves, even transcending the comics with shows like Young Justice and Teen Titans Go! which have proven to be popular as well. So it was no surprise that when DC began to roll out its series of Earth One storylines for its premier heroes like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, that they’d delve into the Teen Titans as well.
Teen Titans: Earth One Vol.1 repositions the team in a timeline that is very different from the current comics storyline. This is a trend that follows on from the other Earth One graphic novels, where the characters and their stories are reinvented and have their own continuity separate from the main comics-verse. Written by Jeff Lemire and art by the Dodson Duo, it is an interesting read that brings together some classic characters such as Raven, Cyborg, Beast Boy and others, but it also falls short by a significant margin because the story can be incomprehensible at times.
If you grew up in the 80s and 90s then you were at the forefront of the big boom in the video game industry when it comes to Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games. There were some downright amazing games in those days in this genre, particularly Age of Empires, WarCraft, StarCraft, Command & Conquer, Homeworld and countless others. The mid-to-late 90s were a great time to be an RTS fan. Many of these games left a lasting impression on me, having to do with both story and gameplay, and I remember them all fondly. If there are two games here that particularly struck a chord with me however, those are WarCraft II: Tides of Darkness and the original Homeworld, and I’ve been a fan of both ever since I got my first copies of either, about 18 years for the former and 15 for the latter. Good lord, I feel old now.
My interest and fascination WarCraft II: Tides of Darkness eventually led to me becoming a near-die-hard World of WarCraft player, and I was absolutely stoked when news came out that the series would be getting a movie franchise. And that in itself has been a long, long journey. After many false starts, Warcraft: The Beginning is finally here and it is a movie that absolutely captures the heart and soul of the 22-year old franchise. One big caveat for any WarCraft fan is that the movie plays fast and loose with the established lore, and that there are some significant changes made for the cinematic audience, but if you look beyond that, then you see something that just totally fits the aesthetics of the overall franchise.
Note: This review contains some major spoilers for the movie, WarCraft: Orcs & Humans, and some of the concurrent novels, both old and new. Proceed at your own peril.
Marvel Studio’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is the second movie in the Captain America series, is very much the best movie in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Iron Man and The Avengers come very close, but The Winter Soldier is a well-balanced mix of action and intrigue that superhero movies in general would do well to emulate. And it gets even better in comparison with its predecessor, Captain America: The First Avenger, which was a very lackluster and subdued affair with a boring villain and a boring plot. As such, the studio’s latest, Captain America: Civil War had a lot to live up too, and while it didn’t disappoint, it also left much to be desired.
Captain America: Civil War builds forward from the end of The Avengers: Age of Ultron from last year, and takes the overall story of the MCU forward in a plot that sees conflicts develop between the team members, conflicts that were hinted at in The Avengers and which are now magnified from several angles. As a pure action movie, Civil War does not fail to entertain and is right on point. But as an adaptation of the infamous Civil War storyline from the comics, it is unsuccessful and unsatisfactory.
Note: This review contains some major spoilers for the movie and even some for the original comics the movie is adapted from, so read at your own peril.
So, the big moment of the year has finally come and gone. This past Thursday, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh installment in the 38-year old movie franchise was released to great fanfare and the internet has been abuzz with speculations and discussions ever since. This is the first movie of the franchise that has been released under the auspices of Disney, which bought Lucasfilm from George Lucas some three years back, and is also the first in a new trilogy that will also eventually veer off into several spin-offs, charting a bold new era.
However, we come back to the movie itself. When Disney declared that all existing Star Wars canon outside of the movies and 2-3 animated series was now part of a discontinued universe termed Star Wars Legends, I was mad as hell. I’m a huge fan of the incredible and complex tapestry that has been woven by thousands of people in the last four decades and for Disney to disrespect that in such a way screamed foul to me. But, I was willing to give the movie a chance because when the trailers hit, I was ecstatic. They hit the right note for me and promised so much. And now I tell you whether the movie lived up to those promises.
Note: This review contains massive spoilers. Do not read if you have not seen the movie as yet.
Agents of SHIELD is a show that has had a rather roller coaster ride since it debuted in 2013. It got off to a really shaky start and didn’t get better until well into the first season, around the same time that the phenomenal Captain America: The Winter Soldier movie came out. The first season ended on a good note, and then the second season last year beat most of my expectations with how good it was and how it introduced the Inhumans to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was an excellent move on the part of the showrunners.
And now, after Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has gotten more dangerous, because people with powers are being feared all over the globe, and because the misguided actions of Skye’s mother have released the Terrigen mist to spread all over Earth. New powered people are popping up everywhere, and it is up to SHIELD to keep them safe, and perhaps even put them in the field against those who would harm them. That’s the basis for the new third season of the show, which steps up the action and intrigue to a whole new level, and is the better for it.
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.
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.
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.