Graphic Novel Review: Birthright, Volume 2: Call To Adventure by Joshua Williamson

Birthright, Vol. 2: Call to AdventureBirthright, Vol. 2: Call to Adventure by Joshua Williamson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The sophomore slump drags down this graphic sequel as it abandons its strengths and unique points in favor of a fantastical chase and action sequence that manages to not move the plot more than a hair with its final panel and yet also manages to avoid further world-building.

The first volume establish a rich, dark tone depicting the grief of a father having lost his son in the woods. As days and weeks stretch to months and even a year, suspicions rise that the father must have killed his younger child. His wife leaves him, and the law is always probing him for evidence. He almost loses his older son in favor of his growing alcohol dependency.

Then one day a crazy man is found in the woods with a sword that claims to be the lost son, grown much older in the misaligned timelines of neighboring dimensional planes.

This volume barely shows the parents and fails to further their angle. The older brother, now much younger than the man his younger brother has grown into, is on a quest with the dimension-crossing warrior. Law enforcement now chases them, as do forces from the fantastical realm whence Warrior Mikey sprang.

We know Mikey has been corrupted into a character of questionable morality, as this was established in Volume 1. The interspersed flashbacks into Mikey’s decades off-world don’t show the cause behind the corruption. All we know is that his unrevealed plans include his still pre-teen older brother.

The father was “corrupted” in very specific ways: guilt, suspicion, accusation, abandonment, and alcohol. It’s time for the series to allow the same treatment for the lost son . . .

This series is co-created by author Williamson and artist Andrei Bressan. My rating for Birthright, Volume 1: Homecoming was 4 stars.
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Descender, Volume 3: Singularities by Jeff Lemire

Descender, Volume Three: SingularitiesDescender, Volume Three: Singularities by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This fully realized sci-fi space drama beautifully realized by artist Dustin Nguyen cashes in on all of its previously offered potential with this excellent third installment. The first two volumes of this series centered on a 9-planet star system rife with humans and aliens 10 years after an unnatural apocalyptic event wasted large portions of the planets and populations. In that short-lived but huge event, planet-sized robots called Harvesters laid waste to carbon lifeforms. In its aftermath, the survivors declared genocide on all robots working and living within their interplanetary collective despite the lack of evidence that Harvesters and the system’s robots had any connection.

The story centers on a naive, pre-teenaged companion bot named Tim-22 that survived for the 10 years in a sleeplike charging state on an outer mining moon while the populous was evacuated during a poisonous gas leak. His human “brother,” Andy, evacuated, while his mother died on the moon. Tim-22 is wanted by both robot scrappers and the government for his potential link to the decade-old event.

The episode takes a smart step to the side. The component stories each tell the 10 year back story of many of the filler characters, and it’s fascinating. One could sense the richness of the world and its development beforehand, but now it’s laid out clearly and many characters have stepped up from being mere fillers. Expect the story to proceed forward again when the 4th installment comes out.

This series is highly recommended.

I’ve previously read and reviewed:
     Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars–4 stars
     Descender, Volume 2: Machine Moon–4 stars
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Gemina (The Illuminae Files, #2)Gemina by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The exciting and worthy sequel to Illuminae ably walks the fine line between stylistic consistency and narrative predictability. Like the first in the series, this novel takes the form of epistolary dossier with a smattering of emails, texts and video transcriptions. A brilliant if not ominous addition is the new heroine’s hand-drawn journal bringing a graphic element into the mix. A bullet hole through each page and an increasingly larger blood stain marring her sketches provide appropriately unsubtle foreshadowing.

The previous trilogy of protagonists [Kady, Ezra, and the existential AI–AIDAN] take a backseat to a new trilogy of sub-adult heroes. Hanna, of the aforementioned journal, is the well to-do daughter of the Heimdall Space Station captain. With all survivors of the first book crammed on the science vessel, Hypatia, due to arrive within days, the Bei-Tech Corporation plans a full-scale attack on the Heimdall and its wormhole to keep news of its atrocities from getting out. Working with her are teenaged, unregistered cousins, Nik and Ella, the scions of a mafia family. Heavily inked Nik has already done time for murder and has the survival instincts and resourcefulness to prove it. His plague-stricken cousin Ella [think: Polio] may not have use of her lower body, but she makes up for that in cyber know-how.

Whereas in the first book the Bei-Tech attackers remain largely nameless and most threats seem to come from within, this novel leans into new subgenres quite unlike the those of the first book. The first subgenre to this sci-fi is clearly Thriller as 2 dozen highly trained militants are sent to Heimdall to kill everyone on the space station and to pave the way for a drone attack to finish off the Hypatia and the Kerenza colony. A 25th operative is already working undercover on the station. A second subgenre [Horror] emerges from the recreation of the mafia family. To foster their drug trafficking, Nik and Ella’s family farms psychotropic substance-secreting, parasitic aliens in underused parts of the station. These aliens resemble four-headed hydras crossed with lamprey eels and have the cuddle-factor and predatory instincts of Ridley Scott’s aliens. What could possibly go wrong??

The huge Win in this book and series lies in the unreliable narration provided by the dossier files as emails and texts reach Facebook levels of news-reliability.

This series is highly recommended.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)Illuminae by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This brilliant, hefty tome and yet quick read turns the epistolary novel on its head by presenting a researched dossier submitted by the unnamed Illuminae about a sequence of shocking events in the far reaches of space. With a few “researcher notes” amending the files, the dossier contains intercepted memos and emails, dictations of video footage, interviews and AI internal processing.

Indubitably “Young Adult” with two teenaged heroes. Anti-authority, computer hacker Kady and her ex-boyfriend looking for a leader and a romantic reunion, Ezra, play the star-crossing ex-lovers hoping that their story can end less tragically than Romeo and Juliet’s. The tale is also “Sci-fi”, as everything takes place in a far stretch of the universe, first on an illegal mining outpost on an otherwise insignificant planet, and then later on spaceships crossing the void in order to reach a space station. The vastness of space and the loneliness therein are major themes, so too is the breakdown of civilization and order when outside of the view of the rest of humanity.

More interestingly, the subgenres of the novel defy expectation as they morph from one into another. Each holds its own quite convincingly taking the reader on a desperate ride. The first subgenre is militaristic as notions of business, government and military all roil uncleanly together. Then, an unreliable and independent AI abducts the plot. Finally, medical engineering of the nefarious, speculative sort surfaces turning the novel into a full-blown thriller.

The quick pace has the accelerator to the floor the entire time.

I absolutely recommend this is series opener and look forward to the sequels.
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Rat Queens, Volume 1: “Sass and Sorcery” by Kurtis J. Wiebe

Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & SorceryRat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Girl-Power, high fantasy comes to vivid realization under Roc Upchurch’s fun, compelling art in Wiebe’s graphic series Rat Queens. The Queens are an irreverent band of mercenaries dealing in death, mayhem and hedonism. With a bounty on their heads.

Betty, the shroom-popping drunken smidgeon [think: hobbit], is busy chasing women when not thieving and skulking. Dee, the atheist healer human, is the daughter of squid-worshiping zealots. Violet, the hipster battle-dwarf, seeks her own destiny despite her male twin’s best efforts. And, finally, Hannah, is the goth-elf mage with the heart of an S&M madame.

Money, vengeance and pleasure guide their lives in what proves to be a romp of a series.

Recommended.

 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Liberty: Deception, Issue 1 by Travis Vengroff

Liberty: Deception (Liberty: Deception #1)Liberty: Deception by Travis Vengroff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Liberty page 35 colors jpg

Stunning visuals lead the way with this dystopian graphic novel of a sci-fi off-planet society of sheltered “citizens” and starved “fringers” rumored to be barely human cannibals. The State-controlled media keeps a tight rein on its image, its heroes and its enemies of the State. It’s all propaganda with the biggest “hero” being nothing more than a glorified soap opera actor. That is, until his popularity makes him an extinguishable threat, too.

There exists a fantastic Liberty: Deception, Issue 0 showing the bleak life in the fringe. But this 1st issue follows the condemned actor using his fame and subterfuge to make his way out to the fringe. Along the way, he teams up with some of the previously introduced rogue fringers.

This series is highly recommended.
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Silent Hill: Past Life by Tom Waltz

Silent Hill: Past LifeSilent Hill: Past Life by Tom Waltz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A horror graphic novel comes to full creepy realization due to the artwork of Menton3. The idea of skeletons in one’s closet proves quite literal when the secrets from the past refuse to stay in the past.

Jebediah Foster lived a rough and bloody life out in the Dakota Territory. He killed more than a few folks [American Indians, a barmaid, a bartender et al]. Then he married, quit drinking and moved Eastward to escape his past. His very pregnant wife seems unaware of Jeb’s past. Jeb himself barely remembers it through the hazy drunken memories.

They move to Esther’s uncle’s house in Silent Hill which they inherited. Everyone they run into seems to know Jeb and a lot about him. But, he can’t quite put a finger on why they should know him and a past he’d prefer not to acknowledge. But some definitely know him–a crazy Native American woman, the sheriff, the barman, the barman’s wife . . .
 
 
 
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