Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease

Do you often turn people off, and you don't know why? Or make moves on women who turn out to be completely uninterested in you? Do you want to be able to get people to believe you are on the same page as them, actually say it in a way other than words? The Definitive Book of Body Language is here to help!

Here you will learn to read other people's bodies as well as their words, all that they are saying, and not saying. You'll be able to tell when people are not only not open to your ideas, but completely hostile to them, and even how you can change their minds by using a process called mirroring- but you have to be careful, as out of sync mirroring is worse than not trying it at all.

A girl may be looking at a guy, but how can you tell if she's actually interested, or merely giving him her attention? This book shows you the way. It is mainly intended for Men, as women tend to be much better at "decoding" noverbal information. But that's not to say all women completely get it, so if you're a woman, and don't always understand the emotional currents in a room, this book can also help you.

The book starts with the bare basics, and shows how handshakes can often be powerplays (overly firm grips that turning into finger-crushing pain, or the person who shakes so hard you feel that your hand is the pump handle and he expects to see water come gushing from your mouth...), and moves on from there, covering the arms, mouth, eyes, eyebrows, legs and feet, plus all-over Postures and use of the head and chin.

You'll learn to recognize false smiles and other lying behaviors and gestures, and how to tell when a man or women is really interested in someone else. In the back of the book are pictures which you can use to put to the test what you have learned.

This book is unusual, and I found it very interesting, especially the part on sexual attraction signals and mirroring. It's very complete, including smoking gestures and those with glasses. However, it would take more than a single reading of the book to really incorporate the information it imparts into practice. This is the kind of book to read more than once, to read over and over again, a chapter at a time and then go out and people-watch to see if you can put the insights to work.

While there are a number of photographs, most of the illustrations in the books are drawings, and I think they would have been better shown with real people, because real people are harder to read than simple drawings are. Drawings are okay for the first steps, but to really understand, you need to peoplewatch, and actual pictures would have conveyed what you are really going to see much better.

This book fascinated me, and I even recommended it to my boss for her management class because of the part of the book that covered mirroring, and about the placement and seating of people around a table to create intimacy and seem less confrontational. I also recommend it to anyone else who wants to understand their fellow humans better.

Wolverine: Inside the World of the Living Weapon by Matthew K. Manning

Wolverine has lived over 100 years, fought in numerous wars, made, killed and outlived many enemies, but he's still going strong. What's his secret? Or actually, secrets.

This book attempts to answer those questions, laying out Wolverine's life, allies, romances and foes, giving readers a chance to know Wolverine in his own words. This all starts off with a two-page spread of five things you should know about Wolverine: 1) His real name is not Logan, it's James Howlett. The name Thomas Logan belonged to the groundskeeper of the estate. 2) Wolverine is over 100 years old, but his mutant healing factor keeps him looking like he did in his 40's. 3) Wolverine's claws are bone, and part of his own skeleton. The Adamantium coating they boast only makes them stronger and harder. 4) Wolverine is highly intelligent, but falls prey to Berserker Rages, over which he has no control. 5) James Howlett had a friend named Rose from the time he was young. He later loved her, but she ended up dying, impaled on his own claws in a tragic twist of fate.

In addition to the story of Wolverine in the comics, this book tells us about the evolution of his character. For example, Wolverine was never intended to be fully human- he got the name "Wolverine" because he was a Wolverine turned into a human by the High Evolutionary. Luckily, that background for his character was quickly discarded. Later, they made it so that Sabertooth was Wolverine's father. That was also discarded, but apparently, in the upcoming movie, he'll turn out to be Wolverine's older brother, thought dead in the comics (We are shown the gravestone for John Howlett- his death, in the comics, drove Wolverine's mother insane, and her affair with Thomas Logan led to the death of Wolverine's father at the hands of Thomas Logan, and the groundskeeper's death at the hands of the young Wolverine.).

This book came into the library I work for tagged as a Juvenile book, and that's a good thing, because Juvie (or "J" books as they are designated) are always easier to read and generally laid out in a more straightforward, less confusing fashion than adult books. And this is definitely one of the better Wolverine books I've seen, with abundant illustrations to drool over (in some cases literally! The blue pencil sketch of Wolverine that graces the page of his sayings looks like a real human being rather than a comic book creation- and bears a strong resemblance to Hugh Jackman as well as the comic book Wolverine. Hot stuff!)

It's also interesting to be able to read parallels into the story. Wolverine likes to work with young women- and while it's funny to point out that such a connection would usually be seen as inappropriate, due to #5 in the list of things to know about Wolverine, I wondered if he was re-creating his friendship with Rose in those working relationships with young girls... I mean, Wolverine may not have remembered her for most of his life, but the emotional connection must have seemed right to him in some way. And being a close-lipped kind of guy, he probably wouldn't have said anything even if he felt that way.

I liked this book a lot, and while there have been a huge number of Wolverine Books being reprinted because of the movie, this one has been the best non-fiction one I have seen so far. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan

Another year gone, and another adventure for Percy Jackson and his friends, Annabeth and Thalia. Thalia's imprisonment in the tree was lifted at the end of the last book, and now she's helping Percy and Annabeth rescue two young Half-Bloods from military school.

Grover has been sent there to befriend, keep an eye on, and extract them, but he's having trouble doing the last one because of one of the teachers at the School, Dr. Thorn. Thorn is actually a monster, and if it's up to him the two kids, brother and sister Bianca and Nico, will die before they ever get to Camp Half-Blood.

Percy goes to help them and discovers that Dr. Thorn is actually the Manticore, and is too much for even Percy to handle. He and his friends are only saved with the aid of Artemis, who shows up with her huntresses and pulls Percy and his friends bacon out of the fire- all except for Annabeth, who is thrown over a cliff by the Manticore and thought dead and lost.

But from the comments of the Manticore, Percy has discovered that it was working for someone called "The General", who has unleashed "The Doom of Olympus", and Artemis says it is her job to hunt it. Alone. So she sends her huntresses back to Camp Half-Blood to stay in the usually deserted Artemis building (because Artemis is a virgin- she'll never have half-blood kids).

This makes her Huntresses unhappy, especially the first among them, a chick named Zoë, but when Percy has a dream about Annabeth and Artemis being imprisoned, he decides to ask the Oracle for help about what it all means. And she eventually tells them that they need to send five people out to save Artemis- Three Huntresses and two from Camp. Grover is one of the people going- they'll need his tracking skills, but Thalia is picked as the other camper, and as part of the Huntresses, Zoë chooses Bianca.

Percy wants to help rescue Annabeth, his friend, so he sneaks off after the group. And when one of the Huntresses is taken out by the Stoll brothers, children of Hermes, Percy is asked by Hermes himself to try to bring Luke, his child, back into the fold. Percy agrees to try, and Hermes helps speed him on his way to the others, who reluctantly let Percy join their group. Percy also tells Nico that he'll look out for Bianca, but according to the Oracle's prophecy, they will lose two of their group on the way there- one in the desert land, and one to a blow from his or her father. But who will they lose?. And with Thalia about to turn 16, will the prophecy be fulfilled, or will she find some way to buy the Gods more time? And just who is "the General", and what is "The Doom of Olympus"?

Another excellent book in the Percy Jackson series. In this one, Percy is here to rescue his friend Annabeth, who he may be starting to like as more than a friend. Dare he hope that she might feel the same way? But when he finds literature in her stuff that suggests she might be considering life as a Huntress of Artemis, girls who don't age and never get interested in boys, he feels awfully bad.

The Huntresses get lots of play in this book, and Percy could almost like them, if they didn't view boys as something akin to the Bubonic plague. But Percy is starting to have dreams with Zoë, where he relives something of her background, and she apparently was turned off boys by a disastrous romance with a hero... who might be Hercules. And since his point of view is from the point of view of the boy in that romance, does this mean that Percy is Hercules reborn? His defeat of the Nemean Lion gives credence to this reading. But is it really true?

The ending to this book was quite a surprise. Thalia gives the Gods more time to prepare for the coming of the Hero Half-Blood, Annabeth is rescued, and Pan is revealed to be alive... somewhere. Only two more books to go, but I can't wait! Highly recommended.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters

After a year away from Camp Half-Blood, Percy hasn't changed much. He's in another school, and ready to be kicked out. And he even has a new friend, Tyson, a large hairy kid who is big but something of a crybaby, so Percy looks after and befriends him.

When the kids at his new school attempt to kill Percy with a gang of cannibal giants during a game of Dodgeball, Tyson comes to Percy's rescue, killing one of them, and in the process, blowing up the school gymnasium.

But when Annabeth shows up, they run back to camp where they find that someone has poisoned the tree that guards the body of Thalia, daughter of Zeus, nearly killed years ago on her way into the camp with Annabeth, Grover and Luke. Luke has now defected from the side of the Gods into the enemy camp of Kronos the Titan, pitting him in opposition to every halfblood in camp. When Annabeth lets Tyson into the camp with them, they discover that Tyson isn't a human, he's actually a cyclops, who usually work for Hephestus. But they kick out their children until they can take care of themselves, which is why Tyson has been living on the street, only he'll be kicked out of camp unless he's claimed by a God. When Percy asks his Dad for help, Poseidon claims him so that Percy can keep him close by.

He's not a great fit in camp, but he's there when it is revealed that the only cure for Thalia's tree is the golden fleece, which has the power to heal and restore all plant life. But being as Percy has already had his chance for adventure, the adventure and quest goes to Clarisse, a Half Blood daughter of Ares.

At the end of the last book, Grover got his chance to go out and find the God Pan, who has been missing for over 1000 years. Percy has been dreaming about Grover in a wedding dress, and the Cyclops who is pressing marriage on him. But when he dreams that this Cyclops also has the Golden Fleece, it's up to Percy, Annabeth, and his new friend Tyson to somehow find their way to the Sea of Monsters, now located in the Bermuda Triangle, and retrieve the fleece so that the circle of power keeping the camp safe won't fall, and the half-bloods will not be slain by monsters.

To get to the Sea of Monsters, they find themselves boarding a boat called the Princess Andromeda, where Luke is the master, but he is serving Kronos. He has a golden coffin on board where Kronos' body is slowly being regenerated. But when they discover that their mission to retrieve the fleece is nothing more than a trap by Luke, will they abandon their quest? Or will they continue to get back Grover? To get into the Sea, they have to get by Scylla and Charibdis, and they'll need Clarisse's help to do that. But how will they find Grover and get the fleece before the Cyclops twigs to the fact that Grover isn't a female Cyclops wanting to marry him? And once they have the fleece, how do they keep it out of Luke's hands?

This second expedition into the world of the Greek Myths is just as exciting and interesting as the first, except that now, Percy knows he can trust Annabeth. Grover might not be there physically, but his presence in Percy's dreams ensures that he's also not out of mind, even if he's usually out of sight.

The adventure is a mix of action and terror. Percy may not be the world's greatest thinker, but he's loyal, and he keeps discovering new advantages that his parentage gives him, from not needing to breathe underwater (and remaining unsoaked when he falls into a river/stream/ocean) to knowing exactly where he is on the ocean at all times, like a GPS navigation system. He definitely has the chops, bravery included, to be the kind of hero kids like.

I like this series, and I'm sure kids would like it, too. While they might not be as up on the Greek Myths as Percy himself, this is an exciting and empowering world for kids to inhabit, and a damn fun one, to boot. Highly recommended.

Do Elephants Jump? An Imponderables Book by David Feldman

Imponderables are questions you might ask in where the answer will not be clear, no matter how much you think about them, and in which the answers are not solvable merely by cogitation (thinking).

More Imponderables are posed and answered in this, the 10th Imponderables book, from "Why was he called the Lone Ranger if he always had Tonto around?" to "Who was Casper the Friendly Ghost Before He Died?"

But Imponderables aren't merely posed and answered in this book. Past Imponderables are debated through letters to the writer from all around the country by people who weren't satisfied with the answer in a previous book to those who think that they could answer it better. And this book also contains an index to not only this book, but all previous books of Imponderables.

This book is great for people who love knowing the useless bits of information or trivia that most people don't. Some of the questions can seem like no-brainers (Like the one above- The Lone Ranger was called "Lone" because he was the last survivor of a party of Rangers which included his brother. He was shot, but nursed back to health by Tonto, who the Lone Ranger had saved as a boy. But also, Tonto wasn't a Ranger, so the Lone Ranger worked as the only ranger in the group.)but others do make you wonder about them even as you read the answer.

Best of all, the answers are written in a non-boring way, and the writer tends to go straight to the source for the information, making sure it is usually inassailable and free from error. Not always, but almost always. (If it was always correct, there wouldn't be so many writing to discuss it!)

Any Imponderables book is sure to be entertaining, and this one is no exception. With interesting questions, and lots of fun in the answers, this is a book that will engender lots of thought as well as interest. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Percival, known as Percy, Jackson, doesn't have much luck with schools. He's ADHD and Dyslexic, and has a history of being kicked out of every school he's been to. Now, he's attending a school for disruptive kids and it looks like he won't be staying here long, either.

On a class trip to the Museum of Natural History in New York City, one of Percy's fellow students, Nancy Bobofit, picks a fight with him and his best friend, Grover, that ends with her somehow in the fountain at the food court. Then Mrs. Doods, the Pre-Algebra teacher, takes Percy away to disipline him and turns into an ugly, wizened, flying woman with a voice like nails on a chalkboard. And it seems like she is going to kill him.

At the last minute, Percy has a vision of being tossed a pen by the other teacher on the trip, Mr. Brunner, but the pen turns into a sword in Percy's hands, and he stabs the former Mrs. Dodds with it. She screams and turns to dust. But when Percy tries to figure out what the hell is going on, no one seems to remember Mrs. Dodds, and all insist they never had a teacher by that name.

While Percy wonders if he's going crazy, he returns home, and his stepfather, whom he cordially hates, takes away his last bit of money while he plays poker with his friends around the table. Gabriel Ugliano is fat, stinky and loud, and he returns Percy's dislike in spades. The only thing they have in common is Percy's mother, who is one of the best people in the world.

When she returns from her job selling Candy in Grand Central Station, she takes Percy on a special visit to their beachfront Cabin in Montauk, taking Gabe's treasured Camaro with them. But a late-night visit by Percy's friend Grover leads to them having to run for a special summer camp in New Jersey being chased by a bull-headed man who turns out to be no other than the Minotaur!

They make it, but only barely. Percy kills the Minotaur, but not before his mom is choked by the Minotaur, turns into golden light and disappears. Percy thinks she is dead, and knows his stepfather is going to blame him for the destruction of his car and the death of his mom.

At the camp, though, Percy discovers that he is a half-blood, a son of a God and a human. But which God? Until he finds out, he'll have to stay in the cabin dedicated to Hermes. So when he's claimed by Poseidon, he's completely amazed. So is everyone else in camp, because Zeus, Poseidon and Hades came together at the end of the last war to vow to have no more half-blooded children because of a prophecy.

But no one will tell Percy about what the prophecy said, or why it is important to him. And when the powers that be assign him a quest, it is to recover the missing lightning bolt of Zeus, the original, the one all the others are patterned on. Accompanied only by Grover and a girl named Annabeth, a daughter of Athena, Percy will have to cross the country, enter Hades' Kingdom (he's been pegged as the most likely thief) and get it back. But is Hades really the thief? And how can Percy, who has newly discovered his half-blood status, prevail over the mythological monsters who want to deny him a successful end to his quest? And can he keep ahead of stories about him fueled by his stepfather's hatred and blaming him for his mom's death and disappearance?

I liked this book, which I decided to pick up after reading "The Demigod Files". It's fun and has a decidedly irreverent take on the Greek Myths. The Greek Gods of Olympus are revealed as responsible for Western Civilization, and they move as it does. Now, they are based in America, along with Mount Olympus (which is floor 600 of the Empire State Building).

The story itself is serious, but the treatment of the Greek Gods and the Myths and Legends surrounding them is rather less so. Ares, God of War, is like a Biker, and even rides a bike (Aphrodite apparently likes "bad boys"). The Summer Camp is also not without humor.

But Percy Jackson's first adventure is, in some ways, the hardest. He's cut off from his Mom, who is gone, and the only two people he can trust is a girl whose mother has a problem with his Dad, and a friend from school who lied to him over and over. Nobody trusts him- everyone seems to think he's kid who might have murdered his mother, and stolen the lightning bolt. But can he trust those around him, and will they show him the same kind of loyalty he shows those who are his friends?

Despite what's going on, the adventure is surprisingly lighthearted and fun, and extremely enjoyable to read. Kids will enjoy the idea of being the child of a God, and the powers, friends, and monsters that Percy encounters or gains along the way. Highly recommended.

The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

Jack Swift is a student in the small Ohio town of Trinity, but he's a survivor of heart surgery that was performed back when he was still a child. His only reminders of the surgery are a scar on his chest, yearly visits from a woman named Dr. Longbranch, a famous London Heart Surgeon, and the medicine he has to take every morning.

One day, though, Jack slips up and forgets his morning medicine, and things start going screwy. During the tryouts for Soccer, Jack somehow blasts School Bully Lobeck into the net, all without touching him. He's not hurt, but Jack can't figure out what he did, exactly. And instead of being tired out from practice and school, he feels strangely... energized.

Soon after that, things begin to change for Jack. He finds romance with Ellen, a fellow student, but her father is a transient worker and will be moving away after the end of the summer. Lobeck is pushing to take Jack down, and is causing problems for him. And the new assistant Principal seems to have taken an interest in Jack.

The truth, Jack discovers, is that he is the descendant of a group of magical creatures called Weirlinds. They are much like normal humans, but are born with a stone in their chests that separates them into one of five types: Warriors, Wizards, Enchanters, Seers and Sorcerors. Jack was born a wizard, but lacked a stone, and was dying. Jessamine Longbranch saved him by implanting a stone into his chest, but the stone was that of a warrior, not a Wizard.

The Warriors are greatly in demand in the Weir world, because the Wizards, who are first among equals, have used them to fight their wars through a kind of gladitorial combat. But because combats are to the death, the Warriors are also the smallest grouping in the Weir. And the Weir in England are still fighting the Wars of the Roses, and have come to America to kidnap the Weirlings, or Warriors, to train them to fight their battles.

The Weir in America went their to escape the constant fighting in England and America, and tried to hide by disappearing into the regular population. But their attempt to hide means that most of the American Weir have no idea who they are or what their powers are. Because Jack is a warrior, he will soon be forced to fight on the side of the White Rose, of whom Jessamine Longbranch is one. Her implantation of the Warrior stone into Jack was an attempt to create a Warrior for her side, since there are so few Warriors left that Jack is the only one known.

But there are Weir who find what the Wizards are doing to the Warriors is just criminal, and who want to make Weir society a true balance of powers, not just having the Wizards be superior over all the others. This group, led by the man who Jack knows as Assistant Principal Hastings, wants Jack to fight on his side, to end the gladitorial combats and preserve the Warriors. But as Jack decides who to fight for, and misses Ellen, who he finally confessed his feelings to, he discovers that Ellen understood him better than he thought- for she's a warrior, too, and will be fighting for the other side!

I found this book interesting, and the story, of a young man unaware of the power he will someday wield, had the usual tropes of the young man with a destiny, the boy who can change the world, and a coming into power. But it deliberately messes with the formula by having all this happen during the modern day, even if the trappings of Weir society are firmly rooted in the middle ages.

The story starts slowly, but then accelerates as it goes on. Jack, who knew so little at the beginning of the story, must learn, and quickly, if he is to have any hope of survival when it comes to the battle. He is not only the only warrior known, but he is also heir to a sword that his also an artifact (among the Weir) known as Shadowslayer. But while his own aunt, a sorceress, prefers that he not fight at all, Jack knows that will only prolong the inevitable- his death at the hands of another warrior.

This book provided a look at another world, a society living in the shadows of our own. It has definite resemblances to Harry Potter, and also to the Percy Jackson series, but manages to stand on its own, separate from the others. However, while it's good, it's rather staid compared to the Percy Jackson series or Harry Potter. And while it's not as good as the first Harry Potter books at drawing you into that world, it's much better than the unedited mess that was "The Deathly Hallows". Recommended, but it may seem a bit boring compared to other fantasy books by other authors.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Brain Surgeon: A Doctor's Inspiring Encounters with Mortality and Miracles by Keith Black, M.D. with Arnold Mann

Dr. Keith Black is one of the foremost brain surgeons in the country today, and his help is sought by many people for their brain tumors. In his career, he has gone from someone who was seen as less than intelligent simply because of the color of his skin, to one of the most respected surgeons out there in America. Even people from other countries travel to see him and have him work on their brain tumors. This is his story, and his thoughts on what he has seen and experienced.

He started out as a small-town boy, but both his parents sacrificed a great deal to ensure the quality of his education, which, as a black growing up in the deep south, was often inferior to the quality of white schools in the same area. His parents, both educators themselves, moved north so that he could go to better and more prestigious schools. Early on, he was interested in science and animals and gravitated to medicine. But eventually, when he was in college, he settled on surgery as his career.

In his first job in a hospital, he was under a doctor who believed he wasn't as intelligent as a white man would be. He'd never really run into that attitude before. The first time it happened, he let it go by, but before his second time with that Doctor, he printed out all the things the Doctor had gotten wrong the first time out of peer review literature, and proceeded to show him repeatedly wrong before his own colleagues out of the literature the man should have read and known, which shut the surgeon up most effectively.

After that, he became a brain surgeon, and did a lot of surgeries, which he believes is important to becoming the best at ones job. After a time of being a surgeon, he wanted to do research as well, which led him to take a job with Cedars-Sinai, who built a brain center for him, and that is where he still works today.

In this book, Dr. Black examines some of his patients: a Hong Kong entepreneur and his sons, an Irish Man whose tumor was so far advanced that he was forced to breathe through a tube, to a racecar driver with the worst kind of tumor: a Gliobastoma Multiforme, and follows them through their surgeries and the aftermath. Not all of them survive, but thanks to Dr. Black and the doctors who work with them, we may one day make some of these tumors much more surviveable.

Reading this book was amazing. It caught my interest right away, being similar to a book I read last year, called, "Another Day in the Frontal Lobe", but also different, because Dr. Black's experience as a surgeon was different from that of Katrina Firlik.

As always with these sorts of books, it's not the surgical terminologies you remember most, but the patients themselves. Mr. Tao, Elishadie Tezera, and Tionne Watkins, plus the others, all become more important in your mind than the details of their surgeries.

Dr. Watkins makes his patients human, and presents his own findings and feelings in a sympathetic way that makes the book linger in your mind for long after you've finished reading it. And anyone needing brain surgery to remove a tumor could certainly do worse than Dr. Black. He's a skilled and caring man and will do his best to save you... and his best is very, very good indeed.

Superman/Batman- Enemies Among Us by Mark Verheiden, Ethan VanSciver, Matthew Clark and Joe Benitez

Batman's been feeling as if something isn't right for a while now, and it's caused him to be even more anti-social, focussed and driven- even in his Bruce Wayne persona. But it turns to be a fairly prescient feeling, because he's blindsided by an attack on him by the Martian Manhunter... or is it? The attacker has the same reaction for fire and open flames that the Manhunter hasn't had in a long, long time.

Superman is being subjected to the same attacks, and all of these attacks are by villains that they- or others- fought long, long ago, but which they had almost forgotten about. And their opponents show a disturbing ability to morph between villaisn and powers.

With the arrival and attack of Kilowog, it becomes apparent that something is affecting all the alien-based heroes on the planet. Superman may not have succumbed yet, but it's just a matter of time- and he's only one of hundreds of aliens who have settled on earth to help police it from the attacks of villains both human and extra-terrestrial. But the real question is, what has caused these heroes to suddenly turn against humanity and claim to be hated and discriminated against?

Lex Luthor thinks he knows what could help, a black gem that Superman has in custody in his Fortress of Solitude. But when Batman and Plastic-Man go to retrieve it, the gem attacks them and takes over Plas. When Batman comes to retrieve it, it bonds to him instead, linking him to whatever menace is causing the alien heroes to react so strangely. But when he and Superman find out who is behind the attack, can they convince the aliens to call off their attack- and can Batman change, or at least be not so grim and come to believe in something being able to change and learn?

Batman works well with Superman, mainly because Batman's brain, when coupled with Superman's brawn, can work wonders. Make no mistake- Superman is no slouch when it comes to smarts, but Batman has him beat by a County mile. And here, Batman has to figure out what is causing the alien heroes suddenly turning against humanity, and then he has to come up with a way to stop it. But can he?

Batman is always super-prepared because he's a naturally suspicious guy, but taking care of this menace will ask Batman to go outside of his comfort zone, and give up his constant suspicion for hope and belief- things that Batman doesn't do at all well. But can he do it?

I liked this book because it took both Batman and Superman out of their usual comfort zones and made them grow in new and unexpected ways. The sight of the alien heroes turning against humanity was chilling, and seeing Superman doing the same was truly frightening. But while Batman has to fight to save Superman, Superman also has to do the same for Batman. And that's what made this book so great.

But there were a lot of "not so great" parts as well. Much of the book is talky, talky, talky. I could have done with a great deal less of that. The story was fairly loose and needed lots of tightening and editing to make it stunning instead of enh. Recommended, but with cautions.

Wolverine: First Class- From Russia with Love! by Van Lente, Henry, Espin and Cummings

This book collects six stories involving Wolverine and either Kitty Pride or some other child hero or heroes. The first story takes place when Kitty had only shortly joined the X-Men. Wolverine appears to have kidnapped her and taken her to Canada to join up with Alpha Flight.

Professor X doesn't know why Wolverine has done this, but he can't allow Wolvie to kidnap Kitty, so he sends the rest of the X-Men after the two of them. And in addition, Wolverine has taken the X-Men's jet, so they are going to have quite a hard time catching up to him.

But Kitty hasn't been kidnapped, and Wolverine hasn't run away. He's going back to deal with a problem he once encountered with the members of Alpha Flight- Soldiers who had been covered in Adamantium, much like Wolverine. Unfortunately for them, the metal was poisonous to them, and was slowly killing them, so they went on a rampage to take revenge on the people who had done this to them.

The only person whose powers could help them is Kitty, because her phasing powers could get the medicines they need directly into their bloodstream... will they be in time?

In the second story, All the X-Men are going to a dinner and show with Dr. McTaggart, but Wolverine has other plans. He's staying home to watch his favorite sport: hockey! So what if he has to watch Kitty, Ilyana Rasputin, Siryn and Amp? He doesn't care as long as he gets to watch his game in peace. He tells the kids that if they do anything to make him miss the game, he'll turn them into "girl-kabobs", which Siryn thinks is a joke. Kitty tells her, "No, no he's not... he's serious."

The girls check out the danger room and accidentally set off the robots there, which attack them. Siryn attempts to turn off the room when she realizes it's not a toy, but only pauses it for a minute. The girls go to Kitty's room to play "Spin the Bottle- Truth or Dare!" while the robots look for targets to attack. They settle on Wolverine while the girls go postal when Amp sets off a conflict between Kitty and Siryn over the boy they both want- Colossus. But she only does it because she thinks no boy would like her, with her mutant features.

The Third story has Kitty and Colossus being kidnapped to Russia by the Russian Superheroes, and Wolverine tags along for the ride, trying to rescue them. The problem is that the Russians were trying to make more mutants, and thus, more superheroes, for themselves. They thought that by exposing pregnant mothers and others to radiation would garner them a crop of mutants to work for the Fatherland. But a breakdown in the nuclear reactor powering the experiment created instead one gestalt mutant with no love for what the Russians did to it.

But when both Kitty and Colossus are sucked into the growing gestalt, will they become part of Super-Soviet and go on a rampage, or can they somehow defuse the threat?

A short story called "Kitty's Dream" is a two-pager where Kitty dreams about falling into a subterranean kingdom where their leader wants them only to work and won't let them dance. She retrieves their mix tapes for them and they are happy. But was it really a dream? Or is Wolverine just playing with her?

Then, Wolverine returns to Canada to deal with the Wendigo that he originally fought with both with and against the Hulk. But can he and his friends, and the other members of Alpha Flight, subdue and deal with a creature of such infinite rage? Or will they also fall victim to the beast?

The last story teams Wolverine up with the Power Pack to fight a dinosaur-like beast called Sauron. One of his powers is to hypnotize his opponents so they fight on his side. When he hypnotizes the entire Power Pack, Wolverine is going to have to figure out how to deal with them without killing or injuring them, and then deal with Sauron! But in the end, he might have help with that.

This was a great collection of stories, showing how Wolverine isn't so bad as he's usually painted. Yeah, he's a crusty guy on the outside, but on the inside, he's capable of great tenderness and caring towards those younger and less hardened than he is. I loved all the stories in this volume, and I thought the best and funniest was "Kitty's Dream". The creatures in her Dream are Outcasts, and their leader is Mole Man.

This series of stories shows a gentler, kinder Wolverine, and we learn a possible reason for his rages and general bad temper- possible adamantium poisoning. Which may be why he works so hard to save the other soldiers poisoned by Adamantium. It was great to see Logan working with so many different groups- the Soviet Heroes, Alpha-Flight, Power Pack, and the young mutants under his care, because too many stories treat Wolverine more like an angry beast than a man, and it's nice to see his other side.

If you're tired of "Wolverine as barely human bundle of rage" stories, this collection is the antidote, showing Wolverine as having a heart and a sense of humor. You won't have to wonder why so many young women enjoy working with him, and why so many people enjoy the character- not only for his "Kick-ass" characteristics. Recommnded highly.

The New Avengers: Secret Invasion by Bendis, Gaydos, Mack, Cheung and Tan

Back in New York, the new Avengers are dealing with having lost the home of Dr. Strange as a sanctuary. And Luke Cage's wife and mother of his child, Jessica Jones, has fled to the possibly Skrull-invaded Avengers, asking for Sanctuary.

Luke can't believe that Jessica has done this, after all the battles they have fought, and can't decide whether or not his marriage is over for the way his wife "betrayed" him and all they have fought for. Her position is that she wanted their child to be safe, and being with Luke isn't safe for her or their child.

But Luke and Jessica's confrontation in front of the Avengers Mansion draws the attention of the other Avengers, and Carol Danvers comes out to talk to Luke Cage and try to convince him to come in out of the cold (so to speak), because if he won't come in and rejoin the Avengers, she is going to have to arrest him for being unregistered.

The rest of the New Avengers find some new digs: a former corporate office once owned by The Leader. But since his incarceration, it's been standing empty. Maya, one of the new Avengers, wants to go see Daredevil, but Wolverine warns her that all of them are on the Skrulls radar. She goes anyway, but the Daredevil she's talking to turns out to be one of the new Super-Skrulls, and only Wolverine turning up to help her at the last minute pulls her fat out of the fire. She admits he was right.

In the morning, she's meditating when Hawkeye comes up to her to talk. After talking about the Avengers in the old days, he apologizes for walking in on her in the bathroom and asks her if she would have minded then if he'd kissed her. She says no, and they end up kissing right there. They go back to her room and fall madly in bed together. Afterwards, she wakes up and looks...strange, as if she's done something she might regret. Is she a Skrull?

Then the story goes to the Skrull Homeworld, after the escape of the characters from the Illuminati series. The Queen of the Skrulls is leader of the religious Skrulls, but the Emperor disdains religion in favor of the Skrull's science when it comes to getting revenge on the Humans and Inhumans. He imprisons her on another Skrull world while he plans his revenge.

But when the Skrull Homeworld is destroyed, the Emperor is destroyed along with it, and the Skrulls free their Queen, who takes over with his plan for the conquest of Earth. Only now she mixes science with their religion. And she is going to be hands-on this time... She is taking part in their invasion herself... as Spider Woman, Jessica Drew. But what will happen to the Queen during the Invasion?

This book certainly was interesting, showing more of the Invasion from the side of the Skrulls. And what's up with Maya? Could she be a Skrull who has become enough of a counterspy to actually get too far into the role, and really be falling in love with Hawkeye? Stranger things have happened, I'll grant you. But there was something about her expression...

I found the part about the Skrulls interesting, but it didn't have all that much to do with the New Avengers. Oh, there was a section set in the Present-Day Savage Land, where we see that the Skrulls are mining Vibranium and using the Savage Land natives to do it, but It didn't have much of any connection to the New Avengers that I could see. Its like the writers decided that after the Hawkeye/Maya love scene, they decided to drop that and-hey, let's spend the next three issues showing what the Skrulls were up to, with no mention of the New Avengers! And we have to show this stuff, somewhere, so let's dump it into the New Avengers book!

It's an okay book, but no more than okay. I didn't love it, didn't hate it, which is certainly an improvement over the last several Marvel Comics graphic novels I've read. But I wouldn't spend my money on this one, either.

X-Men: Secret Invasion by Carey, Nord and Sepulveda

The Skrulls have finally come out into the open to attack and take over the Earth, and the X-Men have decided to defend their home city of San Francisco. The Skrulls aren't expecting them to be there, but they have some defenses against the powers that the X-Men are using against them anyhow. To start with, they set up a Telepathic Barrier that prevents Telepaths from communicating more than a few feet from their bodies, and makes it painful to boot.

They even have plans in place to deal with the teleporters among the heroes defending the city, although the X-Men manage to deal with that one by using a teleporter as a stalking horse and attacking the Skrulls attacking the teleporters. But aside from the X-Men, the humans also trying to defend the city aren't having any luck.

The stolen powers the super-Skrulls have, and the advanced weaponry of the regular Skrulls is no match to guns and rockets. And the Skrulls have started grabbing the regular humans off the streets and interning them in several buildings all over the city. But why? And why are they barricading the humans inside the buildings? What could the Skrulls have up their sleeves?

Their plan is soon revealed: The Skrulls are holding the humans hostage, and threaten to utterly destroy all the buildings at once unless the X-Men and other defenders of the city surrender to the Skrulls. The Teleporters can't get out the sheer numbers of humans before the deadline, leaving the X-Men trapped between a rock and a hard place.

But Scott has had Hank working on a plan to defeat the Skrulls based on their physiology. And Hank has found a way... a very horrible, distasteful way, to win the war in San Francisco in one fell swoop. The question is: does he have the will and stomach to use it? And what will being prepared to use this option say about Scott Summers?

The Book ends with another, earlier story involving the Fantastic Four, Spiderman and Captain America, fighting against Skrulls who have taken on the forms of the X-Men. And along with them is Gladiator of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard, who has come to Earth on the trail of the Skrulls, but attacked the Fantastic Four, thinking *they* were the Skrulls. Can the heroes clear up the confusion and deal with the real Skrulls?

This book was a lot shorter than some of the other "Secret Invasion" books I've seen, or at least it seemed that way, having some fluff and filler as opposed to being 100% main story, but it just seemed to echo the recent trend of supposed heroes being willing to consider actions and ideas that formerly would have been impossible or inconceivable for them. And this is one of them.

Basically, Scott Summers decides to use germ warfare against the Skrulls, and I agree with Hank that such a solution to the problem is decidedly non-heroic, and made me question how much of a hero Scott Summers is. The idea of doing that to anyone should be completely repugnant, along the lines of the joke about a woman who says she would sleep with a man for a million dollars but when asked if she'd do it for $100, she says, "No, what do you think I am?" and he replies, "We already know that- now we're just haggling over the price."

Is using such tactics *ever* heroic? I don't think so, and if you say, "Well it was justified in this instance..." you're telling is it actually *is* okay, as long as the situation is bad enough. But watch that "Bad enough"- such slippery definitions can move very easily. I didn't like the precedent this set about Scott's character. How is he any better than Professor X, who is going around atoning for just this sort of stuff?

The story is taut and well-told, but the plotline about using the whole germ warfare made me physically sick. It wasn't heroic and I found myself disliking Cyclops for being willing to stoop to that level. Not recommended.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

X-Men Legacy: Sins of the Father by Carey, Eaton and Briones

Since Professor Xavier was shot in the head by a villain, his life was saved, but in the process, he lost many of his memories. In an effort to seek out his lost memories, he returned to where he was born, where his father died, and found out that what he thought were his memories were actually implanted in him. But by whom?

And the answer is: longtime foe of the X-Men Mr. Sinister may have had much to do with the shaping of Charles Xavier's mind and personality- much more than he ever thought. Mr. Sinister was recently killed by the X-Men, but now he's revealed a longterm plot to come back from the dead, and it's up to Professor X, along with Gambit and Sebastien Shaw, to ensure that Sinister stays dead. But there's a woman who wants to host Sinister in her body for her own reasons, and she's a third factor in the equation.

After dealing with Sinister's mind, Charles Xavier returns to the Mansion where he once gathered the X-Men, but it is in ruins- the X-Men have relocated across the US to California. He goes there to talk to Cyclops, whose memories and opinion of his one-time mentor and teacher are no longer very good, and runs afoul of the White Queen, Emma Frost, now Scott's lover and co-head of the School. She forces Charles to deal with the bad decisions he's made, the ones where he manipulated people for what he saw as their own good, and completely disabuses him of the notion that he was any better than she ever was.

She also restores his connection to the emotional content of his memories, and forces Xavier to deal with what she sees as his whining. But can Xavier ever accept what he's done as wrong? And how will he feel about Emma and Cyclops running the school?

The book ends with two more, shorter stories, one in which the early X-Men's connection with the government is explored via Professor X's conversation with a former government colleague, and another where the Classic New Mutants fight off a robot built by the Mad Thinker at an ice-skating rink. There is one more story, a parody in which both Professor X and Magneto approach Stan Lee asking for a vacation from their ongoing storylines.

This is a harsh book, but since I read it *after* I read Illuminati, I had a hard time *not* cheering the harsh slaparound that Professor X got from the White Queen, because now I felt he deserved it for what he'd done and the attitudes he's been showing lately in the comic. Perhaps he didn't do it as much in the earlier comics (although this story makes that seem wrong), or it was a more innocent time, and comics readers didn't think through the consequnces of a character using their powers that way. Or they were inculcated to thinking they could trust someone with that kind of power as long as he wasn't doing it for shits and giggles.

But now, readers are no longer that kind of innocent, and its hard to view Professor X's past that kindly. No, he wasn't mucking around with people's minds for fun, but the fact that he would do it at all save in the direst of circumstances really takes you aback, and has caused me to question my views of the character. And the other characters in that universe seem to have woken to that view as well, which certainly makes me feel better about them. It sure makes it easier to understand where all the hatred of Mutants comes from in the Marvel Universe: If someone can rearrange your mental landscape any time he feels like it, how easy is it to trust them?

I liked this book, I like the fact that Marvel is taking a harder look at their characters and their past actions. It's not all that easy a book to read, but the reactions of the present day heroes to the actions of others in the past is spot-on and appropriate. Recommended.

The New Avengers Illuminati by Bendis, Reed and Cheung

It all begins with Reed Richards. He finds one of the Eternity Gauntlets and three of the infinity gems. He comes up with the idea to try and gather them all together and deal with them once and for all. To help him in his quest, he gathers together Iron Man, Black Bolt, Namor, Doctor Strange and Professor X so that they can use the gems for good.

But when they do manage to get them, Uatu, the Watcher, appears and chides them for even trying to gather and use them, that he thought better of them. So Reed decides to give one gem each to the assembled superhumans and have them hide the gems so that they cannot be found and used by supervillains.

But the grouping of these intensely powerful people continues as they meet together to deal with threats to Earth from many Realms. They deal with the Beyonder, who Xavier exposes as an immensely powerful mutant Inhuman who was exposed to the Teriigen Mists- not a cosmic force, and try to convince him to leave the Universe. But are they successful?

They also visit Noh-Varr, a Kree who came to Earth to attack it and is now incarcerated where he cannot do any damage. Through a combination of blows and persuasion, they give him a different template he could choose to follow, Captain Marvel. But they can't beat him into changing his mind and becoming a force for good: they have to let him decide on his own.

And they are also responsible for the Secret Invasion of the Skrulls. They went to the homeworld of the Skrulls with the intention of scaring them off from ever invading Earth. But instead, the Skrulls captured them and probed their secrets, learning how to better replicate humans so that they wouldn't be able to tell who was a Skrull and who was a normal human. The Illuminati did manage to survive and escape, but in the end, it was they who were responsible for the invasion of the Skrulls. And when they find out about the Invasion, the question is what, if anything, could they do about it? And who among them might already be replaced by the Skrulls?

This book might seem like it's heroic, but the idea of several powerful people deciding that they are going to run the world in their own way, even people as good, powerful and focussed on the good of Earth and its system as Mr. Fantastic, Black Bolt, Professor X, Iron Man, Dr. Strange and The Sub-Mariner troubled me. The part of the book with the Infinity Gems and Eternity Gauntlet- no, the whole graphic novel, was distasteful and lowered my estimation of all the characters involved.

What and Who gives these characters the right to make decisions that can affect the whole world that way? And who is strong enough to Chastise them when they fail or go off half-cocked and set their world up for invasion and destruction by the Skrulls? We saw inklings of this arrogance in World War Hulk, where three of these characters decided to get rid of the problem of the Hulk by throwing him across the Universe. And look at how well that ended! Did these characters honestly think this was going to be any better?

This book made me disgusted, and all of these characters need a massive spanking over what they sought to do. The arrogance of thinking they know what was right makes me wonder how you can call any of them "Heroes" at all. They are barely one step ahead of the menaces they fight. Might makes right? Brains make right? Anyone who enjoys the exploits of these characters should be angry at Marvel for taking them and butt-raping their character concepts. Avoid this book like the plague or hope it gets ret-conned away because otherwise the characters you once liked and enjoyed will now sicken you.

Ultimate Iron Man II by Orson Scott Card and Pasqual Ferry

Tony Stark is the product of a genetic testing done by his mother long before he was born. She was trying to create a being whose brain was in all the cells and parts of its body. But the viral agent she was trying to use to create such a being infected her, and her son Tony was born being the sort of creature she'd been trying to create. The drawback was that the cell becomes hypersensitive to pain, and she passed away during childbirth.

Tony grew up a supergenius, but a sickly child, and to help him, his father developed a thin-layer metal armor to protect his body, Wearing the armor helped Tony be more or less normal. But Zebediah Stane, his father's competitor, wanted the nanotech armor, and seduced away Tony's stepmother, and his father's company. But he still hadn't gotten what he wanted, and so he kidnapped Tony and tortured him, but he was caught and sent to prison, and Lori, Tony's stepmother, inherited the company, along with her son by Zebediah, Obadiah.

Obadiah, witnessing his mother's cruelty and what happened to his father, began exhibiting anti-social personality traits.He joined Tony at the Baxter Building in New York, a government-run Think Tank, where Tony works with James "Rhodey" Rhodes and Nifara.

Convalescing from losing his arms and legs (they are growing back), Tony is worried that someone is out to kill his father, and he thinks Obadiah Stane is responsible. And he is: Obadiah blames Tony's father for his own father's death, and is wanting to do away with him as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the government has caught on to Tony's Iron Man armor, and they think it is a robot. They demand to be given the armor, claiming it will save the lives of US troops off fighting the terrorists.

Tony knows that they would love to get the armor and reverse-engineer it for their own, so he and Rhodey dress up in the suits and go off to do what the US wants: taking out a terrorist cell training kids and adults to be walking suicide bombers. The chopper they came in takes off shortly afterwards, so that when the "robots" get destroyed by the air strike, they can come back in and pick up the pieces. Luckily, both Tony and Rhodey manage to get out in one piece.

Obadiah Stane tries to kill Tony's father again, this time by using mind-controlled guards, but Tony's father survives the attack, but he's badly injured and ends up in the hospital. But Obadiah isn't working alone but with an arms dealer who is allied with terrorists. As Tony fights off the government, Obadiah and the men who want to throw his father back in jail, Tony is approached by the terrorists: either give them the robots, or they will detonate two nuclear devices in New York City.

Tony is forced to give into their demands and meets the arms dealer on a plane, But when Tony goes after the man, he realizes that the plane has taken off, and the second nuclear device is on board. Can Tony, without the armor, manage to defuse the bomb and save the passengers who are on the plane with him? And if he can do that, can he find and confront the force behind the terrorists before they can strike out again at him and his family?

Ultimate Iron Man is very different from the original version of Iron Man. The original Tony Stark was a very intelligent inventor who had been shot in the chest and had shrapnel close to his heart. The armor not only protected him, but kept him from dying. Ultimate Iron Man gives a reason for Tony Stark to be so intelligent: his entire body is his brain, and gives him a different reason for needing the Iron Man suit's protection. Still to protect his body, but now because just a touch causes him incredible pain.

At least this version of the hero isn't as badly out of synch as the Manga version of Wolverine is, but I'm not sure why so many heroes who once were just really gifted humans now have to become some kind of glorified mutant. I'm not sure I like that direction for stories. I, for one, found Tony Stark so interesting because he was only a gifted inventor- not because he was some supermutated thing. It's like saying that only mutants are interesting as heroes, or to be a hero, you must be a mutant, and I really don't like that.

Interesting book, interesting if somewhat repugnant story, but I prefer the original Iron Man to this version, because to me they are diluting the core concept of the character. Iron Man is like Marvel's version of Batman- a normal guy who does one thing very well and never says die. I just don't find "mutant Tony" as interesting as "Normal human Tony".

The Wolverine Files by Mike W. Barr

Don't know much about Wolverine? Well, here's your chance to learn and find out, courtesy of Nick Fury and Shield. This book traces Wolverine's origins as a boy named James Howlett all the way into the present day. With Wolverine being over 100 years old (but stuck in his physical 40's due to his mutant healing factor), Wolverine has seen and done a lot ever since he's been introduced to the Marvel Universe.

This is a fairly hefty book, and if all the material had only been about Wolverine, it would have been much, much shorter, so in addition to Wolverine himself, it also introduces his friends and his main foes, everyone from the Hulk to Jubilee and Shadowcat. It even reprints the panel where someone was wondering why Wolverine strikes up such close friendships with young girls. "Inappropriate Friendships" to use the quote. I'd seen the panel before, but it still gave me a chuckle.

After the other sections, another is devoted to the "What if?" comics that Wolverine appeared in, such as "What if Wolverine became Lord of the Vampires?" (Dracula bites Storm, she converts the other X-men, and Wolverine kills Dracula. Eventually, Stephen Strange, who has been killed by Wolverine, but becomes a spirit, persuades Wolverine to read the Montesi Formula, which destroys all the vampires, including himself.)

This book covers pretty much everything you would want to know about Wolverine: the women he's loved, his close friends, his enemies, the groups he's worked with- even his costumes. This is a great resource on Wolverine, but equally so on the heroes he's worked with and some of his great foes. It's a testament to the popularity and longevity of his character, filled with great art and panels from the comics.

Even the slipcover is Wolverine-related, seeming to have been rent by his claws with huge slashes that show the book underneath. It's a little expensive ($40), but collects all the information on Wolverine in one place that is scattered across hundreds, if not thousands of individual comics and hundreds of graphic novels. Personally, I was looking forward to seeing Mean, from the Nightcrawler Limited series, as that was a parody of Wolverine, but it wasn't included. And I'm not sure why. If they could have the "What If?" Universes, why not Mean?

Well, this book would be too expensive for me to buy, but I enjoyed getting it out from the library. Another problem is that the slipcase box is rather flimsy and might get torn up or damaged easily- for something that's so much more expensive than a graphic novel, this is a minus or a con in pros and cons. Recommended, but the price may prove prohibitive.

Wolverine: Prodigal Son by Antony Johnston and Wilson Tortosa

Logan, also known as Wolverine, is a teenager living in a martial arts school called Quiet Earth. He was found as a child by the Sensei of the school- Elliot, naked and alone, and the man adopted him and took him in. Logan had no memory and no idea of why he was in the forest like that, but he's been training at the school ever since.

He's the best in the school, and he knows it, using his speed, skill and agility to come out on top of any fight he gets into. One of his closest friends is the Sensei's daughter, Tamara. She's just as good as he is, but Logan's ability to heal from just about any wound means he isn't all that interested in defending himself completely, if he can take a hit and go on to defeat his attacker.

The Sensei realizes that Logan is looking for a challenge, and so agrees to let Logan go to the City with him if he succeeds in a test called "The Test of Wind, Wood and Water". But to teach him to work with another, he tells Logan that he must work with Tamara to defeat the test. If either of them loses, both of them will lose. The other students consider Logan to already have lost, since even the Sensei wasn't able to pass the test!

Their first test is to take a bell from around the throat of a wild deer, and they manage to do it by working together. The second part of the test is to take a bowl of water to the top of a specific tree without losing all of the water. This, they also strive to do, but the students and masters of the school also attack them on the way as part of the test, and the bowl has a small leak in it. However, Logan lets Tamara drink some of the water and carries her to the top of the tree, using his claws to scale it- nobody said the water had to be in the bowl.

Thus, Logan and Tamara succeed, and Logan gets to travel to New York City with Sensei, but the bustle of people are almost overwhelming for Logan, and when some man bumps into him, he challenges the man to fight, until Sensei tells him that the man didn't challenge him, it was simply the way people are in the city.

Logan has a hard time controlling his temper, and when the Sensei shows him off to the Sensei of another martial arts school, Logan gets into a fight with the best student of that School. He loses, and nearly kills the boy with his claws, dishonoring his sensei. But after the fight, he and Sensei are attacked by men in black, and Sensei is captured. He tells Logan to go back to the school and give a message to Tamara, but when he gets back, the school has been attacked, is on fire, and all the students and teachers are dead... except for Tamara. She blames Logan and attacks him, but he manages to convince her he wasn't responsible.

They find out who was: a student who left years ago when Logan defeated him. Logan was only a child at the time, and the young man was humiliated to be defeated by him. Now he's returned, and while his men helped take out the school, he's not doing this on his own, he's working for someone else. Someone who wants Logan. But who can it be, and can Logan defeat these people while keeping Tamara alive?

I was quite honestly scared at the idea of a manga Wolverine. I don't think the character of Logan goes very well with the whole sensibility of manga. And in the end, I did find it an awfully rough fit. While apparently this book was done with the permission, and even blessing of Marvel, I didn't like what they did with the character.

As far as I can tell, they jettisoned the whole of his backstory to make him a modern-day teenager. He still is called Wolverine, as a nickname, because he tends to act like one, but he's more of a moody teenager when he's not being cocky and arrogant. If you really want to see him as a character like this, its best to jettison everything you knew about the character before- as his youth as James Howlett, his past with Rose and the boy named Dog... everything. This may be a Wolverine, but his connection to the usual Marvel character is his names and his claws- that's pretty much it.

It's an okay story, but the disconnect between who the creators were asking me to accept this character being, and the character as presented on the page was so wide that I just couldn't do it. He may be *a* Wolverine, but he's not *the* Wolverine, and my mental attempts to stick him in that mold failed miserably. So I couldn't enjoy the story because my mental misery made me very uncomfortable reading it. Had they named the character something else, it would have been fine, but this is not Wolverine, and I just can't see him as Gorgeous EmoTeen with Claws and Amnesia. It didn't work for me.

The Farwalker's Quest by Joni Sensel

Ariel lives in the small village of Canberra Docks. She's the daughter of a Healtouch, and Ariel herself wants to be one when she grows up. She's coming up on her 13th birthday, better known as Naming Day, when she'll take a test and be confirmed as a healtouch, allowing her to become a true student of her mother.

Her closest friend is Ezekiel, better known as Zeke, and he's hoping to become a treetalker like his father. But when something goes wrong with Zeke's tree, he goes to Ariel for her help, She can't find anything wrong at the bottom of the tree, but decides to climb it and see if there is anything wrong higher up.

What they find is a small dart, called a singing dart, lodged high in the upper branches of Zeke's tree. A message dart is old technology, mostly lost since there was a catastrophe and everyone went blind. It took two generations for sight to return to the children, and many people died, unable to take care of themselves. After sight began to return, Strange talents appeared among the people. Some of them could talk to trees, while others could control the wind or craft just about anything. Other talents included Storians, who were historians and teachers, GreatJudges, who could winnow truth from lie just by listening to people, and Finders, who could find anything that existed.

The dart that Ariel finds has the symbols for many of the talents on it, and her mother knows some of the ones she doesn't. But before she can show it to her teacher, a Storian, two strange men arrive at the village, two finders named Scarl and Elbert. They are seeking the person who found the dart, but when they say why, Ariel knows they are lying. They claim they want to take her to someone who actually sent the darts, but when Ariel doesn't want to go with him, they back off until after Naming Day.

There, Zeke passes his test, but Ariel fails her own. Then, the two finders seek her out again and once more press her to go with them on their journey, even proposing her mother come along. Ariel is stunned by the thought that she's good only to be a fool, making people laugh for food, but her mother turns them down.

In return, the two finders kidnap her and leave mayhem behind in the village, killing her mother, burning down the tree that watched over the village and Zeke's tree. She doesn't realize at first what they have done... she waits for the people of Canberra Docks to track her down and rescue her, but after all that, only Zeke has the courage to come after her, and after he helps her escape, he tells her what happened. And he reveals a greater secret: that since the death of his tree, he's been unable to talk to trees at all.

But as they attempt to evade Scarl and Elbert, they come to realize that their true talents lie in different directions, and that they are meant to help find something called "The Vault", a repository of lost lore that many people dismiss as a fantasy, but which others know really exist. Only whoever sent out the message darts may not really have wanted it to be found, and wanted to kill whoever could find it- including Ariel and Zeke.

Of the two Finders, Elbert wants to kill them, but Scarl wants to help them find the vault, because the woman he loves, an Allcraft, will die without the medicines and medical knowledge contained inside. Soon, it will be up to Ariel to find the vault with her Farwalker powers, but can she learn to use them when she is the only Farwalker left in the world?

I found this an intriguing story, with a post-apocalyptic society and words that come from times before (Storian is a contraction of "Historian", and an intriguing mystery that turns out to not be what everyone thinks it is. The vault is a storehouse of lost knowledge for every craft and profession, but while some want it to better the lives of the people who live on, others wish to shun and destroy it because such knowledgeis what led to the apocalypse in the first place.

But even in the world as it is when the story opens, the people are slowly slipping backwards into forgetting knowledge. No one seems to read or write (except for the Storians)- at best they seem to have symbols rather than a written language. More and more medicines are being forgotten, and some of the professions, like Farwalker, have died out for lack of that very same knowledge.

Ariel is dragged into this war between those who wish to remember, and those who wish to forget, all unknowing of her talent and her powers, which she only discovers during the course of the story, and that by trusting her instincts. And in the end, the village she wished to live in all her life has grown too small to contain her, and Ariel Farwalker is what she has really become.

I highly recommend this book. I found the story intense and gripping, and Ariel's responses are those of a real girl, although the end of the book, with the relationship developing between her and Scarl made me a little uncomfortable, because it seems like it might turn out to be romantic, and he's twice as old as she is, and she's only 13. But in truth, nothing really happens between them, and it just might be a camaraderie thing, but I wasn't so sure of that.

Since these implications only came at the very end, most of the story didn't really bother with that, and it's ultimately forgettable with how good the rest of the book is. Any tween to teen who enjoys stories of survival, of kids having adventures on their own and futuristic stories, will enjoy this a great deal. It's a great adventure, and very satisfying to read.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Perfect Poison by Amanda Quick

Lucinda Bromley is the daughter of a prominent Botanist and his wife, both now deceased. But her reputation has suffered because her father was claimed to have poisoned his partner, then taken his own life, and Lucinda was seen exiting the botanical gardens where she had gone with her fianceé holding together her torn bodice, while her finaceé exited later, his trousers torn. Shortly thereafter, he was also poisoned, and the blame this time fell on her, even if the crime could never be proven.

Given that her name is mud in polite society, Lucinda continues to consult on cases for the police. She has the psychical power to determine if poison is present, and what sort of poison it is. She's especially good with botanical-based poisons due to her upbringing and interests.

But when Inspector Spellar asks her to determine what killed a Lord, she finds that she is very familliar with the poison used. Part of it came from a plant stolen from her own conservatory, a unique species of fern discovered by her and her father on a trip to South America. She can't confess her part of the discovery to the inspector, so she hires Caleb Jones, who runs a psychical detective agency, to find the person who stole her fern.

Caleb is at first irritated at how secure in herself Lucinda is, but he soon realizes what a great asset she can be to him in finding someone else he is looking for- an insane killer who nearly took out Caleb's brother, a man with the power to kill with his mind, flooding the brain of his victim with pure fear.

Lucinda, for her own part, senses the power of Caleb's psychical powers, and something else that makes her prescribe him a tisane of hers to relax and cleanse him. She eventually finds out that Caleb fears going insane like his grandfather did, but she can find the cause of the insanity and root out the problem using the strength of her gifts. She also finds herself falling in love with him, and when they make a breakthrough in their cases, they find themselves coming together in a physical way.

But Lucinda is a social pariah because of what happened with her father and her fianceé. But when her cousin comes to stay with her, looking for a husband, will Lucinda and Caleb be able to keep her safe from those who want to kill and dispose of the two lovers? And will the two ever be able to find a happy ending with all the death and hatred surrounding them?

This latest in Amanda Quick's "Arcane Society" novels brings together Caleb Jones, a cold and calculating man who deals better in probabilities and logic, and Lucinda, a woman who resonates strongly with plants, herbs and poisons. Caleb is cold and commanding, Lucinda is strong-willed and so used to going it alone that she doesn't really care what society says about herself- she only worries when her reputation might impact others, like her cousin.

It's hard to see how two such self-willed people could come together, but Caleb quickly recognizes her strength of mind and grows to admire and appreciate it. Soon, he realizes that this may be what he's wanted all along and not really known it. But the possibility of his eventual madness holds him back, until he finally confesses all to Lucinda- and then her powers quickly figure out the insidioua problem, and deals with it permanently.

These two characters start off strong and never lose their strength, only growing to realize that their strengths compliment each other, enabling each to be stronger and give them someone to lean on occasionally. As always with Amanda Quick, the love scenes are delicious and well-written, with a wealth of sensual details that make them extremely hot.

I highly recommend not only this book, but the entire Arcane Society series, as they are very good examples of Paranormal romance set in an unusual time- not the modern day, but the Regency to Victorian period. The juxtaposition of psychic powers and historical romance is wonderful to read and a change from modern-day paranormal romance, retaining all the charge and adding a historical spice.

Batman R.I.P: The Deluxe Edition by Grant Morrison and Tony S. Daniel, with Sandu Florea, Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott

Batman died for a short time, but he was revived. However, the experience changed even someone as vengeful and driven as he was. And a club of supervillains led by a man calling himself Doctor Hurt is exploiting that change, seeking to drive Batman over the edge into full madness.

They begin by attacking his memories of his family, printing rumors that Alfred was an ex-drug addict, con artist and actor who was having an affair with Bruce's mother. Heck, that he might even be Bruce's father, and who was passed off as a cuckoo in the nest. They attack his new relationship with reporter Jezebel Jet, and pass around rumors of why Bruce took a succession of young male "wards" into his house. And yes, it's exactly the reason you're thinking of that they impute to him.

They attack his allies, seeking to kill or disable him and denying Batman their aid, kidnap and torture Alfred and replace him with a lookalike to berate Bruce on his failings, and do everything they possibly can to unseat Bruce's reason and drive him into insanity. They even make Joker part of their plan, because he has a definite grudge against Batman made worse when Bats recently shot him in the head.

But unbeknownst to them all, Bruce is made of extremely stern stuff, and his apparent succumbing to their plan may not be proof that it is succeeding, but that he is allowing them to think that they are! But amidst all the bluff, double-bluff, rumor, fighting and infighting, can Bruce sort out the leader behind it all, the man who claims to be Thomas Wayne? And even if he does survive, will Batman's sanity ever be the same?

This is a very thick book for a graphic novel. While nowhere near as large as "The Death and Resurrection of Superman", it's pretty hefty, so reading this is a long-term undertaking- or will be for most readers. But thankfully, it's not a difficult read- the plot against Batman is spelled out rather clearly, as is Bruce Wayne's reaction to the events.

But we aren't given insight into Batman's mind. we never get to hear his own inner voice, but are given the voices of others who stand on the outside looking at how he's dealing with what is going on. And in the end, he needs the help of his allies, including Robin, Nightwing, Talia Al's Ghul, his son Damian, Alfred, Comissioner Gordon, and many of this other allies.

In the end, I found the story intriguing, but not much really changed. Batman doesn't change much, not even at several of the betrayals revealed within. And I suppose that's because he's so intelligent and can see the outcome of things far into the future. He's like a stone, unmoved because every time someone tries to pull a surprise on him, he's already seen it coming and prepared for it. And occasionally, that can be quite annoying. But this is a good story, and I do recommend it.

The Amazing SpiderMan- Kraven's First Hunt by Slott, Guggenheim, Gale, Jimenez and Siqiera

It's after the events of Brand New Day, and Peter Parker is back to his old, bad-luck self. To save on money, because he doesn't have a job, he's taken an apartment with a cop named Vin Gonzales, and Peter's bad luck is infecting his new roommate.

When Peter (as Spidey) and Daredevil take down a villainess named Fracture, someone is watching him, a young girl with white hair. She sees Peter/Spidey return to his apartment building and makes a note to find out who lives in that apartment. But when Spidey goes after a villain named "Overdrive" whose power is to trick out any vehicle he drives, Vin gets caught in the crossfire, and ends up getting hurt, missing the game with his father, and yelled at by his superiors.

But Peter isn't having any better luck for himself, His mask gets stuck to his head with web-fluid right before he has to help Harry Osborne meet some investors in his coffee house, and he gets mad and loses his temper at the investors when they say that Harry is just as Crazy as his Dad is, which sort of ends the party. Peter apologizes, but tells Harry why he got angry.

Meanwhile, the girl breaks into Peter and Vin's apartment and finds Peter's Spidey suit. But she assumes that Vin is Spiderman, and kidnaps him to hunt him down in the sewers. With his suit gone, Peter has to beg a spare Daredevil suit from Matt Murdock and go to help out his roommate before the young woman... the new Kraven, hunts him down and kills him. And to get there, he's going to need the assistance of Vermin, who is angry at Kraven taking over one of his old haunts. But can he save Vin and defeat Ana Kraven without revealing his identity or making things worse for either of them?

I have to say, I never liked the whole "Peter Parker as Bad Luck Magnet" thing, so the whole return to that just annoys me. I don't find it funny, and it was old before they got rid of it and ancient now. Aside from that, I enjoyed the introduction of a new Kraven, this one female and quite pretty, if with bad, goth-party-club-girl instincts in eye makeup. She also has help in the form of her mother, though the comic book leaves the question of why the mother is doing this (not to mention how two black-haired people have a daughter with white hair- although it might be bleached, since her eyebrows are black. She's certainly not an albino.

The fight scenes are competently done, and the story ramps up the tension throughout as Peter has to wonder if Vin is going to find out who he really is, and if he'll survive being hunted by Ana Kraven. Vin may be well-trained, and fairly in shape, but he's still just a human, and Ana is strong enough to burst through Spidey's webs while being short and fairly slender.

In short, the story was good, but the underlying annoyances of the new Spider-man stories caused me to feel somewhat impatient with the whole thing. If you really enjoy the new Spiderman, you'll find this a wonderful collection of issues. If you're like me, it's good. Of course, as always, YMMV.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Green Lantern: Rebirth by Geoff Johns, Ethan VanSciver and Prentis Rollins

Hal Jordan was Green Lantern, called by the Alien Abin Sur to serve as part of the Green Lantern Corps. But he went crazy after Coast City was destroyed and became Parallax, who destroyed the Green Power Battery on Oa and killed many of the Oans. He was defeated, but his spirit was joined with that of the Spectre, who hoped to bring him Salvation.

Kyle Rayner, the new Green Lantern, has been exploring the edge of the universe when he finds a planet of strange creatures, who can only say one thing to him- "Parallax is coming."

Back on earth, Hal Jordan is trying to take in a relaxing ballgame, but the Spectre won't let him rest- all the people around him start confessing their sins to him, and he has to flee as the stands become a madhouse. Meanwhile, an old villain of Green Lantern named Black Hand breaks into Green Arrow's house and attempts to steal the power ring Hal gave Olliver for safekeeping. But when Ollie confronts the man, Hal shows up and makes Black Hand's name literal, turning it into coal, where it breaks off. But even as he does so, he's struggling with the Spectre, who is the one who did it.

And in Guy Gardner's bar, Guy and John are talking when some strange yellow energy takes over Guy, whose hands become something that look like guns. Yellow energy blazes from the guns and destroys the bar...all except for Hal Jordan's statue. And Guy is badly hurt- it seems like his body wants to turn itself inside out.

They take him to the JLA watchtower, and find that Coast City has risen again. But there is only one building there... Hal's old apartment building. Meanwhile, Carol Ferris has returned to the airfield her family used to own, and she's discovered Hal Jordan's old plane. Now, a storm sweeps in, and the airfield shivers and suddenly is back to the way it used to be- completely restored. And Hal is there, too.

Kyle has crash-landed to earth, much in the manner that Abin-Sur did, and been found by two hikers. He's trying to keep it together, but he's badly hurt, and he doesn't want to use his power ring- its fused itself to his hand, and he fears it is somehow corrupting him when he uses it.

What is going on? The JLA tracks down Hal and Carol, and another Green Lantern, Kilowogg, shows up as well. and something enters the heroes and makes them attack Hal Jordan. Finally Kyle makes it there and reveals that Hal was never Parallax- Parallax was a creature of yellow energy, the energy of fear, that the Guardians imprisoned in the great power battery on Oa. For years it slumbered there, and when it finally woke up, it targetted Hal Jordan to corrupt, making him seem to age faster, and undercutting his courage and belief in himself, all so he would go mad and release it from the Power Battery.

Spectre realized that something dark inhabited Hal and took on his body, hoping to drive out whatever it was lodged in his soul, but now Parallax is corrupting the Spectre, and it will be up to Hal and his fellow heroes to drive it out. But when it corrupts and possesses his fellow JLA'ers, is there any hope at all for Hal to defeat not only Parallax, but Sinestro as well, and then to drive it out of Ganthet, whom it now possesses? And even if they can, what will they do with it? Parallax cannot be left free to roam the Galaxy.

This graphic novel was a limited series whose sole and only purpose was to undo the turning of Hal Jordan into Parallax and rehabilitate his character, showing that he wasn't responsible for all that he did as Parallax, because he wasn't really Parallax, just possessed by the entity named Parallax. As a miniseries, I found it to be rather successful, but then again, I was never really a fan of the JLA, so this is more of the outsider's perspective from someone who hasn't read the entire series.

Hal not only rehabilitates his character (and has a standoff with Batman, who isn't anywhere near as charitable towards Hal's character as the other heroes are- but then. that's Batman's nature, isn't it? Suspicious, always.), but undoes several other things, like the graying of his hair and his premature aging. The series also undoes the "without yellow weakness" property of Kyle Rayner's ring, because Parallax was the yellow weakness in the Oan power battery- that's where it was imprisoned. At the end it is once more imprisoned and the Oans on Oa have decided to reonstitute the guardians. How that will work with four GLs based on earth, I really don't know (Hal, John, Guy and Kyle).

I liked this graphic novel, and it was interesting to see how they tried to redeem the character of Hal Jordan. I felt it was a successful redemption, but fans of the series and the JLA might feel differently. In the end, it was nice to see the greatest Green Lantern return to the fold, redeemed and reborn. Recommended.

Astonishing X-men: Gifted by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday

The X-Men are reforming, with Emma Frost herself now in charge of the School once run by Professor Xavier. Returning as a member of the group is Kitty Pride, along with her dragon friend Lockeed. But Kitty is alone when she finally arrives at the mansion, and as she enters, she remembers many memories that took place in the mansion. And she is late for the ceremony welcoming the new students she'll be teaching.

Emma Frost wants to teach the students with Peace, but when Wolverine returns and finds Emma and Scott Summers in bed together, his comments start a fight that spills out onto the House Lawn. But after a discussion, Scott decides to remake the team, emphasizing their Superhero aspects to hopefully make the public less afraid of them. This means dumping their black leather outfits and returning to the blue and yellow that is iconic for them.

And right away, they are called into battle against an alien named Ord. Ord is holding a group of super-rich uppercrust people hostage, but there is a reason behind his need to do it now- an Indian Scientist named Dr. Kavita Rao is, at the same time, announcing that she has found both the mutant gene, and the cure for it. So when the X-men go outside after defeating Ord and his men, they are confronted with people asking them questions about the new Mutant "Cure".

Needless to say, this causes pandemonium across the globe and even inside the school. Thousands of mutants outside clamor to be cured, while most of the kids at the school disdain such things. Hank McCoy, though, knows Kavita as a colleague, and meets with her to get a sample of her "cure". He wants to see for himself what she has done.

What he finds out, though, makes him dislike her very much. Because the cure is based on the cells of a single mutant... one that Hank knows. Wolverine knows that Hank is angry and afraid over his own ongoing mutation, and the idea that he would even consider taking it and changing who and what he is soon leads them to blows. But when Hank lets them know that they must stop Kavita Rao, they find that she is linked with Alien guy Ord. and Ord is here under protection of S.H.I.E.L.D., and they are comitted to protecting him.

Until, of, course, Kitty finds the subject of all the experiments, the one whose cells and the testing on them were used to develop and make the serum. But is this really Colossus, or merely someone who looks just like him? And can they convince Nick Fury to tell them the whole truth about what is going on here?

Joss Whedon is well known for his snapping wit and storytelling chops, and his story hits all the high notes here. When Kitty is being dressed down by the scantily-clad Emma Frost for being late at the start of the book, she snaps back with "I'm sorry, I was busy remembering to put all my clothes on." The story is also tight and intriguing. Hank McCoy went from a blue-furred man to a blue-furred cat man, and his continuing mutation worries him. His confrontation with Wolverine is subtle in its implications, but very well-handled.

Needless to say, Beast takes a large portion of the story here, along with the announcement of the mutant "cure". The fact that it is based on experimentation with mutant corpses, as well as Beast's old comrade Pyotr, makes him decide that it is tainted and must be destroyed. But Ord will still be around to raise trouble, and the last page of the book presages trouble ahead for the team and most especially Kitty Pryde.

I found this book fascinating and very good, and I think any readers of the X-men would enjoy reading it. Even though no explanation is given of where Professor X has gone to, or where the team has been up until now, its still a great read. Recommended.

Black Jack, Volume 4 by Osamu Tezuka

Black Jack is an unlicensed surgeon, some say the world's best. But he doesn't have a license because he'd rather not have to deal with the bureacracy of hospitals, and also so they won't have something to hold over his head... the revocation of such a license.

Here are 14 new cases for Black Jack, gathered into volume form. In "False Image", Black Jack attends a reunion of his old schoolmates under his real name, Kuro'o Hazama. But their favorite teacher isn't at the reunion, and everyone really wants to see him again. He treated them as people and made learning fun, but left the school after breaking into the Principal's safe, some say to expose the Principal's dirty dealings. It will be up to Black Jack to find the teacher and convince him to meet the students whose lives he changed.

In "The Scream", there is a high-school girl whose voice is so beautiful, everyone loves it. But when she develops a vocal polyp, Black Jack operates. But can he keep her from using her voice once again while she heals, or will she undo all his careful work?

In "Drifter in a Ghost Town", Black Jack is stranded in a town with a Drifter who is dying of a septic arm wound. But the Drifter doesn't want to be saved. Can Black Jack convince him to live and get well?

In "Pinoko Love Story", Pinoko asks Black Jack for help writing love letters. He's convinced it is to a boy in her school. But when the boy falls deathly ill, Black Jack is the only one who can save him.

In "The Sewer Way", Black Jack is called on to save the Leader of a Gang who tried to blow up a building where a rival gang hung out. But he was trapped under beams too heavy to move in the sewers where he was planting the bomb. Can He convince the gang to get the Police to save their leader's life, or will they cut and run?

"The Sea Smells of Romance" brings a seaman to Black Jack's Door. He wants a tattoo removed so that he can propose to the woman he loves, Black Jack's old love, Kisaragi! Will Black Jack agree to the operation?

In "Tetsu of the Yamanote Line", an old pickpocket who works on the Yamanote train line steals a great sum of money from a gangster, but is found out and his fingers sliced off by the gang. Black Jack must re-attatch the fingers, and the man who wants him to do so is a police inspector, who wants to nab the thief for theft!

In "Titles", Black Jack is asked by a visiting Prince to show him his operating skills. The Japanese minsters set it up, but when Black Jack shows up, the operating surgeon expects him to assist only. When Black Jack storms out, will the Prince ever get to see him operate?

"Lost and Found" finds a father who is more than usually absent minded raising money for his wife's operation with Black Jack. But when he loses the check on the train, will there ever be any way for Black Jack to save her life?

In "Burned Doll" a Yakuza man and his son are injured in an explosion. Black Jack proposes to use the man's skin to save his son's life, but the man's Yakuza enemies don't want either of them to live, and aren't above threatening Black Jack to get him to stop operating!

In "The Heart of a Giant", there is a young man who only wants to raise Fish, but his father wants to sell him to a Sumo stable. The problem is that the man is suffering from Gigantism, and his heart won't withstand the rigors of Sumo Wrestling. Can Black Jack make the father see, or will the father's fascination with money make it all end in tragedy?

In "Gas", Pinoko takes a pill she thinks is cold medicine, but which is actually a deadly poison. Can Black Jack save her in time?

A man wants a prominent physician to save his daughter's life in "From Afar", but he's poor and the surgeon doesn't think saving her is worth it. But when a rich foreigner's daughter comes down with the same ailment, the surgeon makes plans to operate and save her, knowing he is the only one who can do it and he'll be famous. But Black Jack plans to teach the arrogant surgeon a lesson by operating on the poor man's child at the same time the surgeon does his operation.

"Thieving Dog", the last story in the book, begins when Pinoko brings home an injured dog who seems to like to steal things. The question is, is there a reason behind his thefts?

Osamu Tezuka definitely had a sense of humor, and it's very much on display in this particular collection of stories. Black Jack and other characters in the story often break the fourth wall to comment, such as "You have to find an answer soon, there's only eight pages left in this story!", or by basing characters in the story on caricatures of fellow manga artists, but the stories remain true to the heart, teaching and forcing both Black Jack and himself to see beyond their preconceptions.

Black Jack remains an interesting character. He's unlicensed, but only because he wants to be, and he's not above lying to or tricking his patients in order to get them to fight for their health or esteem what he's done for them. In part, I think that's why he charges so highly. He wants his patients to feel that what they got is valuable, not something they can just shake off and forget.

It's a very unusual attitude, and an unusual book, not to mention a singular hero. Black Jack isn't perfect, or even always right, but he's utterly fascinating to read about, and I enjoy these stories very much. Highly recommended.

Shaman King Volume 21 by Hiroyuki Takei

Tao Ren has been killed, and Yoh agrees to withdraw from the Shaman Fight if Lady Jeanne's minions bring him back to life. They do so, even though Tao would rather Yoh continue to fight and not worry about him.

Hao's minions take the chance to go on a rampage and start killing the shamans who didn't succeed in the fights, figuring nobody, including the Patch tribe who are in charge of the fights, will care what happens to "losers". But when Horohoro goes up against Big Guy Bill, it's to help out The Ice Men. But when he realizes he only has 2,000 Mana, and Bill has 40,000 and his spirit guide 160,000, he thinks it's hopeless.

Until Dad, who has only 5,000 mana manages to flatten BGB and all his teammates in one blow, and leaves the Island on his own. Before he goes, he tells Horohoro that numbers don't mean everything, it's how you use the mana you have. Horohoro takes heart from this and ends up using the spirit allies of the Ice Men, who had been knocked out by BGB and his teammates, to take down BGB's spirit ally, Building Blocks, or Blocken.

Yoh, meanwhile, is talking with his old friend, Lyserg, who has been given a new spirit ally by Jeanne and her X-Laws, known as Angel-08 or Zeruel. But will using this new Spirit Ally help Lyserg, or lock him into a never-ending cycle of hatred, revenge and retaliation? And will Yoh be able to return to Shaman Fight, or will he have to live to defeat Hao another day? No one can tell what is to come...

This book is full of chapters called Epilogue (x), with X being numbers, which tells me that the Shaman fight is probably over for now. Hao may be the last Shaman standing, but he and Yoh have never really come to blows, as far as I can tell, so who is stronger may not be an issue (because Hao is, undoubtedly), but can Ren be canny enough with what he *does* have to defeat Hao? That may certainly be so in the future.

Since this book is about wrapping up (and mopping up), none of the fights are scheduled, but may give a look at what will happen in the future. Because it's been so long since I have read the rest of the series, I don't remember whether it was stated before that coming close to death makes you stronger in spiritual power, but since Tao Ren was there, that means an increase for him, and in the spiritual power on Yoh's side. Will Yoh have been as lucky? And can he persuade Lyserg to abandon his new allies, who aren't the best for him?

Since the series is getting away from the arena fighting aspect, I may return to reading it, since pulling rechnique X from out of your ass to defeat opponent Y doesn't interest me at all. Recommended.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, Volume 2 by Mahiro Maeda

Now ensconced in Paris, the Count of Monte Cristo continues to take his revenge on those who have wronged him. He starts with Heloise, the dissatisfied and negelected wife of Maurice's fianceé, Valentine, giving her a potion to poison those who stand in the way of her son inheriting, starting with her father-in-law, who has decided to pass his fortune on, not to her son Edouard, but to her daughter-in-law instead.

But her plan goes awry when a servant drinks part of the lemonade and dies. Her husband, the High Prosecutor of the land, knows what she has done, and decides to put her away into a madhouse. But she's taken precautions against that, sending a certified letter to a solicitor letting them know what she did, and including letters and photographs. Since he has publically defended her and declared her innocent, he will be ruined if she doesn't contact them within ten days, so he cannot have her put away.

He realizes this is so, and pledges to renew their love, and stays home more to be with the family. But this is really only to put her off-guard until he can retrieve the certified letter, which he does. But she commits suicide with the poison before he can have her put into the madhouse.

Valentine is left alone to take her mother's place, but her father wants her almost as an identical stand-in for her mother. He makes her wear her mother's dresses and style her hair in the way her mother did. Valentine puts up with this, but hates it, and when a noblewoman named Madame Cremieux befriends her, she confesses just how much she hates the whole thing.

And Edouard, the child of Heloise, begins to hate his own father for the lies his father is telling him. But is Heloise actually still alive? And what will the cost be for the secrets the Grand Prosecutor is hiding?

A very moody retelling of the story. But aside from the space scenes from the first book, this entire volume looks like it takes place in the 1920's or 30's. while the outfits are more Belle Epoch, but that's quite a far cry from the more science fiction space-oriented stuff the first volume gave us.

I've never read the actual Andre Dumas novel, so I can't tell how closely this version hews to the original, but from what I have seen, it is fairly close, except, perhaps, for the whole poisoning part. It's a bit slow in places, but still an interesting take on the story.

However, it doesn't really move fast enough for modern readers, and can occasionally be a bit confusing. In fact, if you've read the first one, you'll have to read this one again just to remember all the players and names. So, okay, but not especially thrilling.