A Superhero-villain Story with a Body Count: A Review of the Suicide Squad Vol. 1

In advance of the upcoming Suicide Squad film, I thought I might check out the actual comic book series, or at least the current version from the New 52 (DC’s reboot of all its properties which began in 2011).

The first trade volume, Kicked In The Teeth, is an action-packed continuous romp as the squad, officially known as Task Force X, is sent from hot zone to hot zone. Every member of the team is a criminal who has been implanted with a nanite bomb that can be activated to kill them if they get out of control. Every member is also expendable, and even in this first volume the Suicide Squad lives up to its name with at least one team member dying on every mission. New members are rotated in, but Deadshot remains leader of the group throughout the story and is the primary POV character. Naturally Harley Quinn plays a big role as well, and we get to see her origin story in this volume.

I would say that this comic is a fun read, and I will likely pick up the rest of the series in the future, but it’s also not the best story I’ve ever read. The action is great and keeps the story fun, but there is little downtime and background stories on the characters are pretty sparse outside of Harley Quinn. With so many characters in the cast and so many of them rotating in and out, it felt difficult to attach to anyone other than Deadshot, Harley, or Diablo (who also gets a fair amount of screen time).

Similarly, there isn’t a singular story thread to follow, at least not across the first volume. Some light spoilers ahead.

In the first couple of chapters we see the squad in action with one mission leading into another in which they are trying to stop the actions of a fanatical group known as Basilisk (who I guess are the DC version of Hydra and even go so far as the use the phrase “Hail Basilisk”). About halfway through this story line is dropped as Harley Quinn goes AWOL and the squad has to be dispatched to bring her in.

Granted, this is only the first volume of the story, which I believe is five trade volumes in total, but the narrative felt a little scattered. My hope is that across the total series things come together and manage to pull all of these threads together. I raise this point because I’ve read other series that treat trade volumes more like TV seasons where an arc is completed and leads into the next one over the course of however many issues are contained in the trade. That wasn’t the case here, and there are several threads left open and very little closure in this first volume.

If you want an actiony romp of a story, I think the rebooted Suicide Squad does this very well. Like I said, this isn’t the best comic series I’ve read, but it is entertaining, and I can see myself continuing with it in the future.

Bonus Section!

io9 released an article recently about the company Valiant Comics and some of its superhero properties. I haven’t had a chance to read any of them yet, but I think I’m going to be exploring them in the future, and I wanted to share in case anyone else was looking for other superhero stories to read.

Joining Pinterest and Blog Update

In an effort to expand my platform in a fun new direction, I’ve recently joined Pinterest. I’m a very visual person, and ideas for my writing are often inspired by pieces of art I see, especially things related to sci-fi and fantasy. I will also often see things in some of the games I play that give me ideas for projects I’m working on. Pinterest will give me the ability to share some of those inspirational images, along with book covers and other things related to my work in the future. Check out my profile if you use the site!

As for the blog update, I just wanted to say that in the near future I will be moving away from doing book reviews and shifting towards writing more about my own story projects. If people are interested, I may also write some posts on my writing process or the self-publishing route I’m going to be pursuing (if any of that sounds interesting, please say so in the comments!).

This isn’t to say that I won’t be writing any reviews in the future. In fact my next couple of posts will still be book reviews. But moving forward I would rather focus my efforts on my own writing rather than putting time and energy into writing reviews every single week. I also wanted to share some of the things I’m developing with all of you. I’ll be sharing write-ups of different fantastical locations that I’ve built for my world as well as some fun information on the characters I’ll be writing about.

I hope that you’ll continue to enjoy following me during this time as I start taking things in a new direction and gearing up for the release of some of my fiction projects in the near-future. Thanks for reading!

Strange and Often Stranger: A Review of Three Moments Of An Explosion

I picked this book up on a wander through Barnes and Noble. I wasn’t aware it was coming out, and I haven’t read a ton of China Mieville’s work, but I really enjoyed Perdido Street Station, so I thought I’d give his latest collection of short stories a shot. At the end of the day, I have to say it was a little hit or miss for me. I found some of the stories to be incredibly memorable or haunting, while I had a hard time engaging with others because I felt they were either too opaque in their meaning (at least to me) or had a very specialized subject matter or an off-putting writing style that made them difficult to follow.

As a specific example, Mieville has many first person stories featuring academic types, and so the tone of the story can take on a very academic feel. For me this worked in some stories more than others. The story “Dreaded Outcome” was one of my favorites in the collection and is about a therapist whose practicing theory involves her killing off people who prove to be impediments for her patients. It’s written in an analytical voice, the way you might imagine a therapist would write a journal, but the disjointed nature of a doctor seeking to cure people by being an assassin is very humorous and made the story very enjoyable for me.

By contrast, the story “The Dusty Hat” is about a world in which the elements or aspects of nature start taking sides in a fracturing political movement. While that premise is pretty cool, I couldn’t get into the story. The jargon was very heavily into the academic poli-sci world, and while I like that Mieville was creating a voice that was authentic to the character, I found the story hard to read as it felt very dry. The world of political theory, especially involving British politics, is not one that I’m very familiar with, and so I found it difficult to relate to what was going on or to find the micro-conflicts between the different people involved compelling. Perhaps if I was more well-read in that arena of study, I’d have a different view on the story.

There were also several stories that had conclusions I felt were too opened ended. I’m not the type of reader who enjoys everything being wrapped up in a “happy-ever-after”, coming together very obviously, or being in any way didactic, but some of these stories ended before I had a real grasp of what was going on. As such I didn’t feel informed enough to infer what was supposed to happen “off screen” when the story ended.

I think the strongest example of this was “After the Festival” wherein there is some sort of British ceremony in which people wear the heads of animals and are sort of taken over by the spirit of the animal. Usually they snap out of it after the festival, but this story is about a woman whose friend never recovers. He goes missing, and I felt that the story ended before the action really resolved, and I wasn’t sure what was supposed to follow.

But I feel like I’m making it sound as though I didn’t like this collection, which isn’t true. There are some really great tales in here. “Sacken” is a great horror story about the ghost of someone who was drowned in a sack that I found to be truly scary and very memorable. “In the Slopes” is about a small town where archaeologists have started uncovering proof of alien life on Earth long ago, a concept that I thought was really cool and the drama between rival archaeologists brought it to life for me.

“The Dowager of Bees” is a fascinating story about how there are secret suits that will sometimes appear in card games. When people win with these cards, they can make demands of the losers. It follows one man through the world of underground card playing, which becomes even more sinister and mystical with the addition of this supernatural element. Then there’s also “Polynia”, which is a very strange story about icebergs floating over London, but I thought it was really artfully put together and was a great fantasy story tackling our destruction of the environment.

One thing I did take away from this collection — which I already had a good sense of from interviews and speeches I’ve seen him give — is that Mieville is incredibly smart and has some solid academic knowledge across multiple subjects. I really like that he took some chances, both in terms of content and writing style, because I think that’s what short stories are all about. Even when reading some of the stories that didn’t engage me as much, his skill as a writer and his subject knowledge was very apparent.

This collection is a little different from other sci-fi and fantasy you might normally read. I think it is more literary and, at points, more academic than most other work, but Mieville brings together some really creative ideas, and I like that he has interesting things to say. I’m not sure that this is something I could recommend for everyone. It’s certainly not something I would attempt if you’re looking for “escapist” literature. But if you want something a little different, then I’d check this out.

The Shows I’m Watching and You Should Too: Blindspot

Heroes with memory loss seem to be a big thing these days. The Bourne Identity is the most notable story featuring this trope, but earlier this summer the Syfy show Dark Matter was built around a similar premise with a spaceship crew who had their memories wiped, and now Blindspot, a show featuring a memory wiped Navy SEAL, has hit the fall TV rotation.

The pilot for the series was fast paced with a lot of material to get through in an hour. Jane Doe had to be discovered, her handler FBI Special Agent Kurt Weller had to be brought in, and then they have to race to stop a plot that they decode from one of the tattoos that cover all of Jane’s body. Weller ends up assigned to Jane Doe’s case because his name is tattooed on her back (in her blind spot, get it?), and Doe proves essential to the team, at least on the first mission, by being able to speak a strange dialect of Chinese that let’s her decode a tattoo and help track down a Chinese terrorist whose aim is to attack New York City. She also showcases some kick-ass combat skills which will undoubtedly make her useful in the long run.

As an aside, it was nice to see a terrorist bomber who wasn’t a fundamentalist Muslim. Like I always say, diversity is important.

I had this show on my radar largely because I’m a big fan of Jaimie Alexander (because who isn’t?), and I was hopeful that this would be a good vehicle for her. So far I’m optimistic. Like I said, the pilot is very fast paced and as a result the character development is very economical, mostly played out through whatever could be conveyed in an action sequence rather than through long stints of dialogue. But Alexander and Sullivan Stapleton (who plays Kurt Weller) have solid chemistry, and I think they form a strong base for the show to work with. The premise is also very interesting in and of itself. The allure of the puzzle that is Jane Doe’s past and why she would have all of this information tattooed on her body is pretty compelling.

The first “case of the week” was okay but also fairly straight forward, not hugely interesting. My hope is that now that some of the necessary background information for the characters and the plot has been conveyed in the pilot, the plots surrounding the individual cases can be given more room. I expect more character development as the show goes on, and I think that will improve things as well. As Jane Doe remembers more, I think she’ll become a more compelling character, and of course her new self having to face her past (whenever that occurs) will create some interesting tension.

The trick with shows like these, and where I hope things don’t fall flat, is that the payoff surrounding the mystery of the tattoos has to be really good. It’s the sort of mystery that will keep the show compelling for a good chunk of time but could also ruin the whole thing if it’s ultimately not interesting or well executed. Hopefully the writers know what they’re doing on that front.

One smaller thing I liked about the show was actually its use of locations. The first episode took place in New York City, and the locations they used felt like real New York locations. The apartment in Chinatown they visit was appropriately small and grungy, the street scenes felt like real street scenes, and the safe house where Jane Doe is living feels like it could be a real safe house. Often shows set in New York will just go for giving the city a really glam vibe by having all of the characters live in or investigate really nice home and office spaces. As a New Yorker it was refreshing to see a show that at least tried to take a bit more realism into consideration when choosing shooting locations.

Overall I’m happy with this show so far, and I’m curious to see where it’s headed. If you want a solid action thriller in your life, I can certainly recommend this one.

The Shows I’m Watching and You Should Too: Things Based on Movies

With the fall TV season kicking off, I thought I’d take a little break from book reviews and share my thoughts on some of the shows I enjoy watching. Of course I’m excited for the return of some of my favorites like The Flash, Elementary, and iZombie, but there are plenty of new shows hitting the small screen as well. Two of these are actually based on films, which in turn had been based on a short story and a novel themselves…because apparently originality is still dead, and we’ve wrung just about all we can out of the superhero genre at this point, so why not try this?

But snarky comments aside, I actually enjoyed the pilots for Minority Report and Limitless quite a bit, and I think both shows have potential.

Minority Report takes place several years after the events of the film (originally based on the short story “The Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick). For those of you who haven’t seen it, the premise is that there are three siblings who have precognition (and are therefore referred to as “precogs”). When all three of their minds are working in unison, they are able to predict the future. A pre-crime police task force was created to stop crimes from happening based on these predictions. However, after a criminal with knowledge of the system managed to spoof it and almost frame someone else for a crime, the system was shut down.

Now, years later, the siblings have grown up. The eldest, Agatha (Laura Regan), was the strongest in terms of her gift, and she has a kind of motherly, oracle role about her. Then there are the twins. Arthur (Nick Zano), arguably the second strongest, has used his powers to become wealthy, benefiting from market fluctuations and traumatic events that he can predict. Dash (Stark Sands), who was always considered the weakest, is one of the series’ main characters. He is haunted by visions of crimes that are about to occur, and so he tries to stop them from happening. With the help of Detective Lara Vega (Meagan Good), he is able to actually do something about them.

The series is set-up to follow the standard procedural format you might expect where Dash and Vega solve crimes. However, it has also already established an overarching long-term plot. Agatha has seen visions where she and her siblings are in some kind of danger. We don’t have much in the way of details yet, but apparently the work Dash is doing with Vega could spell trouble for all of them.

I will say that in terms of writing and acting, the pilot for Minority Report is not the best I’ve seen. It felt a little bit stilted at points, but there was a lot of information to get through with all of the world building and characters being introduced. The chemistry between the leads was still good, and the premise is fun, so I think the show will have legs, especially if it can keep improving and adding depth to the characters and the world.

One of my favorite things about this show is the world building. The movie was very good at showing off some well thought out technologies, and the show appears to be following in those foot steps. For example, Vega works with Augmented Reality through the use of contact lenses that can double as computer screens and overlay information on her normal vision. The show also displays a wide use of drones from an advanced flying selfie-stick to hunter-seeker things that Vega uses to cover ground when casing a warehouse. These types of technologies are things that are being developed today and are not that far away, yet I see so many sci-fi shows not take them into account. It’s great to see a show whose writers are apparently doing some research into emerging technologies.

Another point in my book for Minority Report is that its cast is actually pretty diverse. From major to supporting characters, people from a pretty wide range of racial backgrounds appear on the screen, and I think that’s a nice change of pace from many other TV shows (and certainly most films).

I never saw the Limitless film (which was based on the novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn) because quite frankly I thought the premise was silly, but I guess it did well enough in theaters that someone thought a TV show would be a good idea. Naturally said show had to be a police procedural as well because that’s how TV works. But just because a format is familiar and a premise is silly doesn’t mean a show can’t be effective, especially when the writing and acting is damn good.

The story follows Brian Finch (Jake McDorman), a guy who has been trying to make it in the music industry but hasn’t found a break and instead is feeling the pressure of getting older and older and having nothing to show for his life. Things become more dire when his father gets sick with a disease that doctors are unable to diagnose, and Brian feels helpless both in that he can’t do anything for his father and that if his father passes he will only ever have known Brian as a failure. Feeling sorry for him, Brian’s old band mate, now a highly successful stock trader, gives Brian a pill that will give him a boost. Brian is able to diagnose his father’s illness with his new found intellect and focus, but he then becomes caught up in a web of murders surrounding the drug he was given and has to prove his innocence.

McDorman does an incredible job in the lead role and is the reason this show is worth watching. His character has a ton of internal monologues explaining what is going on and showing the viewer how he is connecting the dots. There are also a lot of flashbacks involved, some of which were to provide the character background, but some of them are humorous. For example, Brian has to pick a lock at one point, which his knowledge from the pill helps him do. But to add some flavor to scene, instead of just showing the technical aspects of lock-picking, the director also shows us a flashback to a time when Brian would have needed said lock-picking expertise, namely when an ex-girlfriend had handcuffed him to the bed, and they didn’t know how to get the cuffs off.

Jennifer Carpenter (who I still love from that one season of Dexter I actually watched) is also very good as the enforcer character FBI Agent Rebecca Harris. She didn’t have so much to do in the pilot as compared to McDorman, and the show is set-up to be primarily about Brian Finch anyway, but I’m looking forward to seeing more of her character moving forward.

Limitless strikes me as very similar to series like Castle or The Mentalist where an expert is escorted around by a female police officer or agent who can handle the action scenes while the expert does the mental heavy-lifting to solve the crime. The wrinkle and point of tension here is that Brian Finch isn’t an expert on anything. He’s only effective when he’s using the mind expanding drug, known as NZT, which I think makes his character both more fun and relatable.

If the writing can stay as sharp as it was in the pilot, I think this series will continue to be quite good. And yes, to answer your question, it would appear as though Bradley Cooper’s character is set-up for return appearances. He doesn’t play a hugely prominent role, but given the events of the pilot I have to believe that his character is tied to some of the plots surrounding NZT and that he will be showing up again.

Anyway, if you aren’t watching these shows, or if you were on the fence about committing time to them, I think both of them are worth checking out. And I think if there’s one thing to take away from this, it’s that you shouldn’t let anyone ever tell you that your fan fiction won’t sell.

Questing Fathers, Dragon Seed, and Revolutionaries: A Review of Saga Vol. V

The fifth volume of Saga, the Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples comic book epic, brings some of its ongoing quest plot lines to a close. While it does a nice job of setting up conflicts to come, this segment of the story feels like a little bit of a pause before some of the bigger action in the story hits.

As they have been doing for some time, Gwendolyn and Sophie, with the help of the Brand, continue their quest to find a cure for their friend the Will. This time they end up on a strange half-planet populated by dragons (which in this case are sort of like oversized Komodo Dragons rather than Medieval fantasy dragons), and they need to get the seed of one of the males. The plot line here does in fact end with a certain amount of success, closing the quest for the Will’s cure, but of course there are sacrifices along the way.

Prince Robot and Marko continue their uneasy alliance in search of their kidnapped children. In this arc the story delves more into Marko’s background, his history of violence, and his struggle to reconcile that with his vow of non-violence and the task at hand of finding his daughter. This is another slow questing line that focuses mostly on the development of Marko and to a certain extent Prince Robot IV.

Alana, Klara, and Hazel are still the captives of Dengo, the renegade robot who has kidnapped them and Prince Robot’s baby. This last arc is the most interesting of the three, as Dengo tries to negotiate a treaty with a group known as The Last Revolution. He hopes to end the war by allying with them, but the more he works with them the more he fears he has made the wrong decision. All of his well laid plans begin to go spinning out of control, and he has to decide how he is going to tackle the situation.

As I mentioned in the opening, this volume of the story feels a little slower than some of the others. That isn’t to say that it’s lacking in action, but I think some of the tension is cooled off by the fact that we’re seeing the end of some plot lines rather than the opening. Of course, the story does end on several cliffhangers, and the end of these threads is the beginning of some new ones.

Saga continues to deliver an incredibly high quality and engaging tale, and I can certainly say that I am far from bored by the way the story is developing. If you haven’t started the series yet, you certainly should, and if you’ve been keeping up, then you will definitely want to continue with this volume.


Here’s a link to an interview with Brian K. Vaughan about Saga: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=57233

Nobody Puts Honor in a Corner: A Review of On Basilisk Station

I picked up On Basilisk Station, the first book in the Honor Harrington series, a little while ago because I’m a big fan of space opera, and I realized that I hadn’t read anything from the Honorverse, a now classic sci-fi setting. I wanted to read something from one of the few series in the realm of space opera that so prominently features a female character. Likely due to the success of Game Of Thrones, the Honorverse is another long-lived book series being tapped for recreation in other mediums like games, comics, and film (or television), and I don’t want to be one of those saps who hasn’t read any of the books.

Sadly, for such a classic, this book didn’t hugely impress me. You may have noticed that I called this story a “space opera” in the previous paragraph, and I think part of why I wasn’t such a huge fan is because this is more accurately classified as “military sci-fi” not “space opera”. This means that the book was much more technical (think Tom Clancy in spaaaaace) than a space opera focusing on the minutiae of the technology and military life rather than that highfalutin adventure stuff. I haven’t read much military sci-fi, and part of the reason I picked up the book was to remedy that. But after reading On Basilisk Station, I don’t think I can really count myself a fan of the genre.

The novel opens with Captain Honor Harrington being assigned her latest charge, a light cruiser called Fearless that has been refitted with a strange set of weapon systems that don’t fit with the ship’s tactical role. This is relevant because it forces Harrington to come up with interesting ways to utilize the ship in naval exercises. While her initial adaptation is a striking success, the surprise attack she engineers is only useful once. When their practice partners know what to do, Harrington’s ship is easily defeated. Embarrassed by the lack of success following the ship refit she ordered, Harrington’s commanding officer re-posts her to Basilisk Station, a famous punishment assignment in the navy.

At her new station, Harrington has to win back the trust of her crew who largely blame her for their punishment. She also has to get the area under her command up to snuff, as the previous commander (an old rival of hers) has let it go to hell. While doing this, she manages to uncover a plot that threatens the star system.

The story of this novel unfolds very slowly, which I actually didn’t have a problem with. I feel like nowadays novels have to be immediately snappy and action-packed for people to buy them. Reading this book was a bit nostalgic for me, in that it took its time to get to the real action, much like other “90’s” fantasy and sci-fi books I grew up reading. That isn’t to say that the time during which the story develops lacked tension or was boring, but it wasn’t super action packed.

However, one thing I really liked about this book, is that when the pay-off comes, it is great. The final space battle is brutal, visceral, and almost exactly how I would imagine an exchange like that would take place.

What I wasn’t a huge fan of is actually what I think a lot of people would read this book for, and that was the technical aspects.

Weber gives very long-winded accounts of things like military culture and the nitty-gritty descriptions of how ships and their weapon systems work. I’m not against knowing these things, but oftentimes I felt it bogged down the action. The most glaring example was towards the end, when Harrington is finally about to engage in some space combat…and we get an incredibly long — several pages long — description of the history of hyper space travel and the mechanics of how it works. This did help explain a bit of what was going on more clearly, but I think descriptions like this could have been broken up throughout the story and integrated more naturally into the narrative to make them feel less like plunks.

I also, honestly, felt that the characters were a bit flat. Everyone on the crew of Fearless (or almost everyone) was highly competent at executing their jobs, and all Harrington has to do is draw them out of their shells and get them to work with her. The dialogue between characters felt as technical as the descriptions. It was almost always used to convey ideas or tactics or to advance a plot point rather than to flesh out the characters, and what really separated people in my mind was their specialties rather than any personality quirks they had.

There were also a lot of named characters who had bit parts and created kind of a jumble in my mind. Some of these characters were used to showcase events happening off the ship, and by doing this Weber avoids the “Star Trek trap” where all of the officers on the ship are non-sensically sent planetside on missions. However, Star Trek did this to be economical about its characters because it’s easy for viewers to be overwhelmed by a surplus of random people, and ultimately you want your viewer/reader to be connected to and invested in your leads.

I think Weber could have employed a similar economical approach. While books have more room to explore more characters due to the nature of the medium, it’s still possible to create overload. There are already a lot of characters in On Basilisk Station, as most of the Fearless officers get a reasonable amount of face time. But, especially towards the end, there are a lot of random characters who are specifically given names but who serve no real narrative purpose. They’re just red shirts, and as such not really deserving of names or real “screen time”. Of course in the real world it is important to remember and value all who serve in the military, especially those who lose their lives in action, but as far as telling a story goes, I really don’t need to know the names of every random crew member who shows up in a scene.

Overall, On Basilisk Station wasn’t my favorite book. To be fair, this was Weber’s first novel, and he has written many many books since then. Perhaps I will give Honor Harrington and/or Weber another chance in the future, but I’m not exactly rushing out to get the next book in the series. However, like I said, if this more type of technical writing is your cup-of-tea, then I think you’ll probably want to check this book out if you haven’t already.