Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Heroes of Olympus: Book One- The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

Jason wakes up on a school bus, and realizes something is wrong. For one thing, he has no idea what he is doing on the bus or who he is. He doesn't even remember his two best friends from the school, Piper and Leo. Piper is apparently his girlfriend, or wishes she could be, and Leo is his best friend, but he remembers none of that. It isn't until the group of kids is attacked out of nowhere by monsters from Greek Myths that Jason, Piper and Leo are revealed as Demigods, and are taken to Camp Half-Blood.

But when they get there, Chiron is surprised to see Jason, and a little frightened as well. Since Jason calls Zeus by his Roman name, Jupiter, and seems more comfortable with the Roman version of Zeua. But Camp Half-Blood is meant for the children of Greek Gods. It seems that the Greek Gods are the same, but not identical, and that there may be some sort of confusion as to where Jason was meant to end up.

But two more problems are afflicting Camp Half-Blood. One is the disappearance of Percy Jackson without notice or warning. His girlfriend, Annabeth, and his friend Grover, were expecting to spend the entire summer with him, but now they are searching for him, instead. And one of the Hephaestus tents creations, a golden, mechanical dragon, has gotten loose and gone crazy, imperiling the entire camp. The Hephaestus kids are attempting to catch and destroy it, but with little success.

Meanwhile, Piper and Leo are discovering their own Godly parents. Leo is a child of Hephaestus and a female engineer who later died in a fire. Leo is terrified of fire, because he felt he started the fire that killed his mother, and he happens to be immune to fire as well. The other kids in his tent are somewhat scared of him because of this, because when a child of Hephaestus that cannot be burned shows up, it means bad stuff is coming. The last Demigod born with immunity to fire was the one who originally built the dragon that is now causing such bad problems for the camp, and Leo feels that it is his job to fix the "problem".

Meanwhile, Piper, who is the daughter of a famous actor, is claimed by Aphrodite, which she isn't happy about at all. The Aphrodite tent's insistence on being girly really peeves her off, and the girl in charge uses one of her demigoddess powers, to command people with her voice, to keep everyone else in line. But Piper isn't having any of that. She resents being the same kind of person that the girls in the Aphrodite tent are, and when the head camper there tries to push her around, Piper discovers that she has the power to get people to do as she says, merely by asking them- one of Aphrodite's powers. She uses it to overcome the head of the Aphrodite tent, who has been using her own power to do the same on the other Aphrodite campers, and wins the other campers friendship in return.

Meanwhile, Leo has encountered the dragon, and discovers its problem- a dirty and rusty control gear in its head. He tames the beast, and discovers a hidden workshop that was apparently used by the last child of Hephaestus to be unharmed by fire. In it, he finds a number of plans that may be useful to combat the looming threat, whatever it is, and the dragon becomes a cross between a pet and transportation.

A new prophecy arises, and it seems that Zeus has prevented the Gods from contacting their mortal children. But why? And who is the strange woman that speaks in Jason's dreams, and what has happened to Percy Jackson, and does his disappearance have anything to do with the coming Doom foretold? Chiron knows more than he is telling, but what is the truth, and can Jason, Piper and Leo discover the truth behind Jason's identity and vanquish a number of supernatural threats along the way?

I loved this book! This story starts out being told from Jason's point of view, but successive chapters switch between the main viewpoint characters so that by the time the quest starts, you are invested in each of them and their stories. I found Jason's to be surprising, and it gives even greater depth to the series when you realize he is related to a character who was featured in the previous books, but in a very strange and roundabout way.

Jason, just like Percy before him, has two steadfast companions, but unlike the previous books in the previous stories, this time we get to see their point of view instead of being interpreted by the main character. And yet it never diminishes the power of Jason's story- instead, the book becomes more of an ensemble cast story and enriches the other two half-bloods, making them all main characters instead of just companions sharing Jason's quest. They have their own quests that are more than just tangentially related to Jason's, whether it is Piper's quest to determine if her famous actor father really cares for her (and later, to rescue him) and Leo's quest to overcome the fear of being responsible for his mother's death, and then to step up and be the one who will be making the machines and weapons that might be able to overcome this new threat. It's thrilling to read, and allows Jason's quest to discover his identity, as well as find the woman he must rescue, to not always be center stage.

This book is incredible, written by a writer at the top of his game and in full command of his worldview and world-building. It fleshes out the story of Camp Halfblood in an ultimately believable and satisfying way while expanding the world with new characters and new quests, and a new doom to be fought. If you enjoyed Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, or even if you enjoyed the Kane Siblings book/series The Red Pyramid, this is a book you should pick up, as the story is sure to thrill and delight you. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Vermonia: Volume 4- The Rukan Prophecy by Yoyo

Mel, receiving only part of her water powers from her guardian, Rukia, is prevented from merging fully with her guardian by the cloak of Arussha, she receives some of the powers she should be granted, but her soul is partly taken over into the forces of general Uro by his foremost warrior, Acidulous. At the same time, Mel feels that Acidulous is just as much a victim of his own current form as she is because she realizes that something is wrong with him.

Mel is sent into battle against her friend, Naomi, who wields the powers of fire and the guardian known as Suzaku. She and Mel face off against each other, but their conflict is inconclusive. Mel can't defeat Naomi, and Naomi can't free Mel. Naomi leads the Umli people from their home to the sea, where they meet up with the Aqami. Their leader, the Bard, is injured and dying, but they hold off the invading forces long enough for the rest of their people to flee. With the old Bard dead, the Bard's granddaughter, Irenu.

As Irenu sings the songs of mourning for her grandfather, Mel makes the joining with Rukia, and claims that only she can defeat the forces against Uro. But at the same time, she is lying, hoping to rescue whatever person came before Acidulous, and flee with and release him from the ties that make him fight for the general. To be trusted, though, the other warriors on Uro's side demand that she meet and defeat one of her friends in battle.

Back with the tribes, Jim, Doug and Naomi are clad in the robes of their respective tribes, and discover how unique Satorin really is. When they first arrived on this planet, he could control earth, but it is now apparent that water obeys him as well, and so do all the elements. In a world where each tribe can only manipulate and call one element, Satorin is unique. but he doesn't know WHY he has all these powers.

During the council with the elders of all the clans, it becomes clear that the forces of the General can't be defeated simply by being reactive. The forces of this world will have to go on the attack and bring the attacks to the general. General Uro wants to destroy the pillars of the world, and get the Bolirium so that he can rule all the worlds. But which pillar will he attack next, and can the warriors from Earth and their guardians defeat him? And can Mel free the person who became General Acidulous when he won't listen to her or believe anything she says? Why does he call himself "We", and will Mel be forced to defeat one of her friends to be able to free Acidulous and protect this world?

I have to say that this series is beginning to remind me a bit of Fushigi Yugi, and Magic Knight Rayearth as well, with its talk of pillars and the guardians being based on the 4 Japanese guardians, including Suzaku. Okay, the others aren't Byakko and Seiryuu and Genbu, but I get the feeling that the guardians are all based on the animal spirits of the directions. Suzaku being south. And MK:R for the whole "Pillars" thing. Of course, this may just be because they are all based on the same set of legendary beings, and some of the same concepts.

The story so far is interesting, and I want to see what happens with Mel and General Acidulous. Does she really manage to rescue him? She seems to be helping him to remember that he isn't just one person, but a combination of two, a man and the woman whose soul he loved more than anything else. Since there are only four heroes from earth, I am wondering how they might bring back the body for the soul of the woman he loved to join with, or perhaps he will go into death with her and be reborn. Or something like that. But I want to see how they resolve this issue.

As a series, some parts of this book seem a bit, predictable, but again, that seems to be because many other series are based around the same Chinese and Japanese legends and myths. This one has its ups and downs, and still manages to remain fresh and make me want to read more with each volume. Recommended.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Fire Lord's Lover by Kathryne Kennedy

In a world where Elven Lords rule the Land of England, Dominic Raikes is the son of the Elven Lord Mor'dred, Lord of Firehame. Though Dominic is Mor'dred's son, he was raised to be just like his father, cold and heartless. But unbeknownst to Mor'dred, he completely failed to eradicate his son's human emotions, but Dominic has learned to project a cool and heartless demeanor to please his father, insomuch as Mor'dred can be pleased.

But Dominic's new bride is so much more than the simple maiden Mor'dred and Dominic believe her to be. All her life she's been trained as an agent of humans to assassinate Dominic Raikes, and hopefully Mor'dred as well. She's been trained in Elven dance, which is also the basis of an assassin's art that she is particularly skilled in. But Lady Cassandra Bridges hasn't planned or been trained on what to do when a simple dance with her fiancé suddenly sweeps them both unthinking into an elaborate elven dance that neither was planned nor expected.

Stunned by the response on each other's part, Dominic finds himself in an awkward position- of actually developing feelings for his entirely human, and entirely lovely bride. And Cassandra, for her part, is also developing feelings for her soon-to-be husband that could make trying to kill him very awkward indeed. But Dominic doesn't seem to be as cold or unfeeling as she has been led to believe, and could killing him be more of a crime than leaving him alive?

Meanwhile, Dominic's stony mask is in danger for this unexpected tenderness, and even love that he is developing for his wife. And with the disintegration of his protective coloration, Dominic realizes that there is only way to be safe- to somehow do away with his father. But the other Elven Lords are just as bad as Mor'dred, and will fight any attempt to kill or eliminate any of the Elven Lords. But can Dominic and his love, Cassandra, find some way to kill Mor'dred and get away with the crime, with none of the other Lords the wiser?

But how could they do such a thing, and even if they manage to do so, what will the other Elven Lords do to Dominic and Cassandra, and what would happen to Firehame if the other Elven Lords descended en masse on the Kingdom? Can Dominic carry off the greatest masquerade of all?

I enjoyed this book very much. Everything, from the worldbuilding, to the characters, to the various systems of magic and the colors of the fire that Dominic and his father can wield. Every little thing of the world that Kathryne Kennedy creates is perfect in every way. Every word is like a polished jewel that makes up a perfect whole and makes it glitter and shine so very brightly.

Honestly, I try to find something about this book to do something less than praise, but the only thing I can think of is that it took so long for the second book in the series to come out. The next book will be coming out in August, and it is going to be about Dewhame, whose Lord rules water and sky, and the next one will be out in February of next year. I honestly can't wait to read them, and I was angry when I thought this was the only volume in the series.

I can't recommend this book enough, or Kathryne Kennedy, enough. She's a brilliant writer who has given readers a jewel of a book that is pretty much perfection. I loved this book, this hero and heroine, and even the villain of the piece, the Elf Lord Mor'dred. The question is, will all the Elven Lords be replaced one by one, and what will happen when Dominic finally passes away. Since the Elf Lords seem pretty much immortal, what will the overthrow happen that quickly, and how can the coincidence that allowed Dominic to take his father's place be repeated in the other seven hames? Highly recommended, and a wonderful read.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Goddess Girls #5 Athena the Wise by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

Athena has been going to Olympus Academy for a while now and she's finally adjusted to being a Goddess Girl rather than a human girl. But now a new student has come to Olympus Academy, a human hero by the name of Heracles, and he's having much the same problems that she had when she first started, plus some of his own. One is his very strange dress, as he's wearing the skin of an entire Lion draped around his body, its head serving as a helmet, and he carries a huge club with him wherever he goes.

Zeus, Athena's father and Headmaster of the School, assigns Athena to show Heracles around, and also to help him with a list of twelve tasks assigned to him by his mortal cousin, Eurystheus, after an Oracle commanded him to. But because Eurystheus hates Heracles with a passion, he assigns labors that are flat-out impossible or designed to get Heracles killed. Athena follows Heracles and helps him with the second labor, that of the Learnean Hydra. Afterwards, Heracles eventually shows her the scroll with the labors on it.

Back on earth, Heracles was the smartest kid in his school, and he wasn't being challenged, so he tried to get transferred. The Oracle told him that he could transfer to Mount Olympus Academy if he completed twelve challenges he called Labors. So Heracles agreed before being told that Eurystheus would be the one deciding on what the Labors would be. Athena decides that she will help him with the labors, but the next labor is to bring one of Artemis's deer to Eurystheus, and Athena knows that will be extremely challenging. Obviously, he can't just grab the deer as they are Artemis's pets and she loves them very much. But when Athena helps Heracles by getting one of the deer to follow her and Hercules, Artemis is very unhappy that neither of them asked her permission first, and is quite put out with both of them. But she gets over it.

The next job is to take on the Erymanthean Boar, but he turns out to be quite a civilized beast and gladly accompanies them back to meet Eurystheus, who is so frightened, he hides in a huge vase. After that, they stop to clean the stables of King Augeus, and Heracles gets an idea when Athena says they would need a flood to clean them out. He floods the stables from two rivers and washes all the poop away.

On their way back they stop in a small town, where Athena finally meets Pandora, the wonderful human weaver. But the girl insults Athena even after she is aware that Athena is mortal, and they decide to have a weaving contest, with the one decided the winner to apologize on the next Thursday. Heracles is angry at Pandora for insulting Athena and thinks Athena should just punish her, while Athena is more inclined to be merciful.

But as Heracles sails for Crete to wrestle the Cretan Bull, Athena must decide how to deal with Arachne at her contest in the town of Hypaepa. It takes Athena a while to decide what she is going to weave, and in the meantime, Zeus gets a little testy that she isn't there to help Heracles. But he tells Athena to stick to him like glue once Heracles makes it back to school. But when Athena punishes Arachne for her tapestry making fun of Athena's mother and father, Athena has to help Heracles with his last two Labors. By why did Zeus set him those labors, and what does it have to do with the new Temple being built to him? And may Athena finally find Romance with a mortal hero?

Well, this is slightly better than the other books in the series, but the series still makes me cringe at how it perverts the original Greek myths into something more like "Greek Myths lite" and then makes the Goddesses out to be all about romance, which is definitely not the way that most of the Goddesses are, especially Athena, are. That they reduce adult goddesses, strong, powerful women, to teenagers who seem to be mostly interested in beauty and boys just... well, it really makes me cringe.

I get that they are trying to appeal to young teen or pre-teen girls, but there is a difference between appealing to those girls and completely gutting the characters of the myths that you are trying to make appealing. I loved the Greek Myths in the third and fourth grade. I consumed them like candy. But I was reading the original, actual Greek Myths, not these watered down versions. I read both the good parts, and the bad parts (like Niobe's Children), and the parts that would seem purely insane- like how all the Greek Gods and Goddesses are married to their own brothers and sisters (or having sex with the same).

I continue to read the series, hoping it will get better, but while some things do, others never do and continue to turn me off the whole idea of this series. It's a curious mix of cute and cringe-inducing that keeps me coming back, hoping something will change for the better, and continually being disappointed. Still not recommended, sadly.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fade Out: The Morganville Vampires- Book Seven by Rachel Caine

Bishop is finally defeated, and the residents of Morganville are finally getting back to normal. Claire is out of Glass house and living with her parents, but at least she and Shane are still together. Claire has also reconnected with her roommates, especially her best friend, Eve. But when Claire is opening packages for her mentor, vampire Myrnin, one of them explodes, leaving her with burns that make her very, very red from a UV Bomb. Thank goodness it was Claire opening the package, as that much UV would have killed Myrnin.

But the sacrifice at the end of the last book has left its scars on Amelie, and when Claire's bracelet suddenly turns very, very cold, the friends must race to the rescue of Amelie before she can die. Has the defeat of Bishop put an end to Amelie as well?

Meanwhile, Eve has scored the lead in the campus play version of "A Streetcar Named Desire". Working on the play, she meets another Goth girl, Kim, and suddenly Claire feels left out in the cold as Eve and Kim become sudden BFFs and leave Claire and the others out in the cold. Except for Shane, who seems to have had a former relationship with Shane and seems to want to take up right where they left off. She pursues Shane so avidly, and seems to have nothing but contempt for Claire that Claire ends up feeling very unhappy about how Kim seems to be taking her friend and boyfriend away from her.

But when Kim suddenly disappears, they find out that she was an independent filmmaker, and she planned to make a show about vampires. Specifically, the Morganville Vampires, and the amount of footage she has of stuff that should be private and secret is both amazing and worrying. But how could she have planted cameras in all the places where her footage was taken, some of which are off limits to humans, and some of which is off-limits to vampires? And who was the mysterious person she was working with to make her film series? And when other people around town begin disappearing as well, can Claire discover what is wrong and put an end to the threat to the town. But will ending the threat, prove a greater threat to the town from unforseen consequences?

And Michael has made quite a name for himself as a musician and singer in town, and now he's attracting attention for his talent from outside Morganville, and he's gotten an offer from a record company executive to come and see about possibly recording an album for them. But will he be allowed to travel outside Morganville to take on the offer? And if they are allowed to travel, will Claire and her friends be able to return afterwards?

Wow, this was an amazing book. Once again, Claire has gotten a way to deal with her former nemesis, Monica Morell, but now a new threat to the life she's built for herself in Morganville has reared its ugly head, and we see that despite everything she's gone through, she's still not good with being able to deal well with rejection from the people she sees as her friends. But is everything as under threat as Claire feels it to be?

There certainly is a threat to the town, but while Kim is doing most of the work, who is backing her? And how can this person give her access to so many places. Even while I knew this character was causing trouble before, I didn't suspect them of being behind all the problems in this book, so the ending was a real surprise to me, and then all the pieces fell into place from the entire book.

I found this book to be a welcome change of pace from the other Morganville Vampires books, and yet, it's also a welcome change back to the original two books. We continue to find out more about life in Morganville, and life there continues to change. Some of those changes are going to be unwelcome, while others, well, that remains to be seen. Still, I continue to love this series and this book was a big part of that. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Carpe Corpus: The Morganville Vampires- Book Six by Rachel Caine

Claire Danvers has just turned seventeen, but her birthday is not a happy one. The town is still controlled by Bishop, the meanest, nastiest vampire around. No human is safe from him or his crew, all of whom consider humans to be less than worms and useful only as portable snack packs. Claire tries to be grateful for the dress and jewelry that she receives from her parents, but everyone in Morganville is living with massive amounts of uncertainty, and there is no guarantee that any human or any vampire is going to live until tomorrow.

Myrnin has introduced Claire to one of the most important parts of Morganville: Ada, Myrnin's former helper, who was somehow killed by Myrnin and became part of the system that allows gates to be opened to different areas of Morganville and which keeps up the barrier that wipes the memories of humans who leave the town. But unfortunately for Claire, Ada's mind, which was incorporated into the huge computer that Myrnin maintains underground, is still in love with Myrnin, and she is jealous of Claire's relationship with Myrnin, which means Ada now has it in for Claire. And considering how much of the town Ada controls and runs, that's a nightmare situation for Claire.

And Myrnin refuses to believe her when she tells him this. He thinks that all that is left of Ada is her ability to reason and to discern, not realizing how much of Ada has survived. But can Claire make him believe and help him do away with Ada before she decides to burn down the old order just to get rid of Claire? And Bishop is still out there, too, and Eve believes that Claire is willingly following him, not knowing about the massive whammy he put her under to get her to swear her allegiance to him. Eve also believes that Michael has become evil and is also working for Bishop, but in truth, it's a very clever setup to trick Bishop. Only everyone is playing their parts a little too well. And Shane is imprisoned along with his vampire-hating father, who returned to town to add to the chaos. But while he might have been able to fight Amelie when she was weak and confused, Shane's father has next to no chance against Bishop, as powerful as he is.

The question is, can all of Claire's friends come together and pull the burning fat out of the fire and find a way to rid the town and world of Bishop once and for all? And if they do, what will the cost be to Amelie and the rest of the town? And will it be one that everyone is glad or prepared to pay? Or will it break the town to pay it?

Can I say again how wonderful this series is without sounding like I am completely obsessed with the characters and setting? This series is everything I wanted in a vampire series: love, conflict, betrayal, friendship and the nature of vampires as both people and species. While they may look human on the outside, their wants and needs are no longer the same, and many vampires no longer remember what it was like to be human, or retain any of their finer human emotions. They consider humans, and many other vampires, as weak and lesser, and even those vampires who want the best for the humans under their care still see humans as children. Dangerous children, but no less children for all that.

For so long, the vampires of Morganville have been held back by the weakness that was killing them. But now, cured of that condition, will some of them revert to treating humans like Bishop and his followers do? Was it only the weakness that kept them from lording it over all the humans? As Bishop is finally brought down, these questions remain, and remain to be seen what will happen to the town after all the fuss and problems.

By the way, I loved this book much better than the others because Bishop is finally decisively dealt with, but new problems are arising for Morganville. How many problems are there still to deal with? Lots, and Ada is just one of them. But with Claire out of action at the end, can she keep Ada from killing her, or will Myrnin finally begin to believe her about what is going on with Ada? And what can be done about her? As Claire finally gets some well-deserved rest, with Myrnin healed of his derangement, let's hope there's some time to rest in her future.

This was an excellent book and comes to a perfect finish against Bishop and his vampires. His hold over the town and his influence over its citizens has waxed and waned, and he is finally brought down, which actually made me cheer when I read it. Claire and Shane's relationship continues to move forward, and Claire has negotiated a final peace with her parents. I am loving this and looking forward to even more. Highly recommended, this book and the entire series. Please pick up this entire series, even adults will love it, not just the teens its written for.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hellboy: Of Masks and Monsters by Mike Mignola, James Robinson, Scott Benefiel, and Jasen Rodriguez

Batman is chasing down the Joker in Gotham, when the Joker appears to blow himself up. Some people might think the Joker is dead, but Batman knows better. The only question is what is the Joker up to? And given his past behavior, Batman honestly can't say.

The next day, Batman travels to meet the father of a friend of his, Ted Knight, a scientist, a man who just happens to be the father of Starman, better known as Jack Knight. Ted Knight is a master of science, while his son uses a kind of magic to fight crime, namely, the cosmic rod. He eschews the usual superhero trappings of a costume, wearing instead, jeans, a leather jacket with a star impression on the back and a plastic sheriff's Star badge from a Cracker Jack box. Ted and Bruce Wayne talk before he is about to give a lecture, but in the middle of the lecture, Yed Knight is suddenly kidnapped by Nazi Goons, who escape through a door that glows with a strange green light, and they have been wielding powers rather like green electricity.

That night, Batman answers the Bat-Signal to find not only Commissioner Gordon waiting for him, but Hellboy as well. Batman doesn't want Hellboy's help, but Hellboy says that the Nazi goons that kidnapped Ted Knight were out for him because of his knowledge of science. Science and magic are close, so often that one can be used to aid the other, and that if Batman wants to bring in the men who kidnapped Knight, he'si going to need someone who knows Magic... like Hellboy.

Together, Hellboy and the Dark Knight track Ted Knight's attackers through the city, finding a trail of men who have worked for them and prepared a special airplane for them to escape the city in. But when they get to the small airport where the men are waiting, the Nazi goons escape through a portal that nearly sucks Batman and Hellboy into oblivion and leaves behind a swastika-shaped symbol in the air. From the comments they made, they are heading for South America, and Batman and Hellboy are ready to give chase, only for a call to come from Gordon- Joker has reappeared, and he's threatening to kill children and turn them into twisted replicas of himself if he doesn't get what he wants. Batman must stay to bring him to justice, but someone else steps into Batman's shoes to fill in as Hellboy's partner- Starman, Jack Knight himself.

But what are the Nazis up to in the jungle, what are they trying to bring through, and can Starman and Hellboy take them out and wreck their schemes without killing Ted Knight along the way?

The second story crosses over Hellboy with the character known as Ghost. This female character was a detective who was killed, and she still isn't quite sure why. Tracked down by one of the B.P.R.D's Ghost Hunters, Hellboy attempts to put her soul to rest. But when a strange man claims that Hellboy can tell her something about why she was killed, if only she will capture him and being him to her, she does her best to do exactly that.

But the man spirit is lying to her, and when she finds out, can she free Hellboy in time for him to defuse the threat of the man and his hold over the lady? And can Hellboy help her find any closure on her life, and from her death? And can she and Hellboy lay the other ghosts to rest?

Both of these are stories published in limited edition series, crossed with another character or characters. The first, of course, being Batman and Starman, and the second being Ghost. It's a bit strange seeing Hellboy working with Batman, because neither of them usually inhabit the same universe: Hellboy is a character from Dark Horse Comics, and Batman and Starman are DC, but considering some of the other hero/villains that Batman has worked with in the past (Including Alan Scott, the magic-based Green Lantern whose weakness is wood, and Jason Blood, who is merged with the Demon Etrigan), it's not as farfetched as it might seem. And I suppose that given the weird things the average resident of Gotham has witnessed, seeing a literal demon walk the earth is just one more weirdness in a whole city of weird.

The Ghost crossover seems far more organic, if only because most readers of Hellboy will not know about Ghost or the universe she lives in, but when it comes to baggage, she has even more than Batman. She has a whole Louis Vuitton set. It's this that allow the ghosts and forces she is manipulated by to make her into such an easy tool. All they have to do is tell her that Hellboy might have had something to do with her death and she's all over attacking him over and over again, so it's up to Hellboy to save her from those who are lying to her and send the spirits to rest. And then her disillusionment is so extreme, she refuses to speak to him any more.

In both stories, the focus is more on the heroes that Hellboy is interacting with than Hellboy himself, but that's okay, as Hellboy, despite his complicated past, is really a simple character. He's a guy who has a job tracking down and dealing with evil things from other realities and making sure those realities don't invade our own. He might be a half-demon and also be Anung an Rama, the on who will bring the end of the world, but he's got a job to do and he does it. That's what he is, and it defines his character. Seeing him interacting with other heroes is nice, but in the end, not much changes. Hellboy does his job and goes on doing what he does- that's who he is as a character. But it's still nice seeing him puncturing the posturing of evil characters and spirits, because it's damn funny.

For those who love lots of Hellboy, I'd definitely say read this graphic novel. But it's not an essential part of Hellboy lore or something that you have to have in your collection. I'd say read it before buying it, and see if it's something you can't live without before forking over your hard-earned money to buy the stories. I won't be buying it myself because I already had the Ghost/Hellboy crossover, and the Batman one was only okay. Recommended to read, but not necessarily to buy.

Monday, March 14, 2011

House of the Star by Caitlin Brennan

Elen is the Princess of Ymbria, a world who has lately been at war with the world of Caledon. Because neither side will give up fighting between the two worlds, the Worldriders have decreed a peace to be made: Both sides will send one of their own to Earth, to the ranch where the worldrunner horses live and breed, and there, they will serve together to keep peace not only between Ymbria and Caledon, but between all the worlds, and Earth as well.

Elen is more than happy to be a worldrider, but make peace with a Caledonian? Never! She hopes that she can use her powers to open doors between worlds simply to ride and keep riding her horse, Blanca, and avoid the future that has been decided for her, but it is not to be. Blanca will only take her to Earth, and once there, will prevent her from going to any other world until she enters the House of the Star and becomes an actual worldrider.

Elen's main problem is with the Caledonian rider, a girl known as Ria. When she becomes aware that Ria is from Caledon, she is convinced that the other girl is a liar, and once she is forced to make peace with her, she decides that she has to keep an eye on her, to prevent the treachery that she knows will come from Caledon. But will Caledon bring treachery? Or will that come from Ymbria? For Elen has been lied to by her own people, and both sides want to steal the worldrider horses for their own, and escape the punishing confinement that has been laid on their worlds by the worldriders.

But as Ria and Elen learn to work together to keep the beautiful worldrider horses safe and why the horses can only breed on Earth, something happens that can set their worlds at odds once more, and both must learn to trust and find out the truth to discover who is really at fault in the war, and who can be trusted. Can the two girls work together for the gain of both their worlds, or will they be forced apart and to return to their peoples forever if they can't somehow make peace between themselves and their own families?

I first read Caitlin Brennan's fantasy romances for Luna books, and just like that series, House of the Star involves white horses with otherworldly powers, making it just perfect for younger, horse-mad girls. Elen is just at that age when a horse can be not only a pet, but a friend and companion, too, and she bonds with Ria over the horses, as both girls love the horses, even if they hate or don't like each other.

But it is when the horses are threatened with stealing and extinction that each girl learns to trust each other. Both know that their worlds will suffer if they are not allowed to trade with others, because each lacks something that they need to live, and of course, each world needs what the other one has. But it is the knowledge that both worlds are at fault that allows the girls to make peace with each other, and to have their worlds make peace.

The story is told from Elen's point of view, and by the end of the story, she has found out things about her family and her world that make her look at them quite differently from the "only my world is right and sinned against" attitude she had at the beginning. I found myself really enjoying the story, and at least some adults in this tale were trustworthy, and in the end, Elen manages to make peace and find friends. I am hoping this story is just the first in a series of stories based around the worldriders and the various worlds, as I would love reading more about everything. Well done, and makes me want to read more... a lot more. Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Batman: The Widening Gyre by Kevin Smith, Walter Flanagan and Art Thibert

Batman has trained many heroes, from numerous Robins to Batgirl. But on a night when he is fighting Pamela Isley, better known as Poison Ivy, he comes face to face with a new hero who helps him in fighting the demon Etrigan, who has been using Poison Ivy's blood to keep his human half, Jason Blood, at bay. But just when it seems that Etrigan may have Batman cornered and on the ropes, this new hero steps in to save Batman with a dose of boiling holy water straight to the demon's face, forcing him to flee his human host. The new hero has a wooden mask carved like a goat head, and he shows up again to help Batman against another foe, but while Jim Gordon wants to know who this hero is and if he can be trusted, Batman, and Bruce, have no idea in either case.

As he is getting home, Bruce receives a visitor at his home, Silver St. Claire, a former love of his who left him for a senator. Now that her husband is dead, she is at loose ends, and still holds a candle for her former lover, who she knows is Batman. Newly rich, she is determined to find something to hold onto that reminds her of who she used to be, and that something is Bruce Wayne, who she calls DeeDee.

Soon Bruce finds himself spending his days with Silver on her private island, and his nights in Gotham fighting crime with his unintended fan, Baphomet. Baphomet seems to be a good guy, but he reveals his identity too quickly to Batman, taking off his mask after a fight with the Toymaker. But as they fight together, and Bruce and Silver grow hotter in their romance, a series of old friends and foes confront Batman with the risks he is taking for his romance with Silver, and he wonders if he has gotten too old to go on with the crimefighting gig.

But when he takes a chance by making Baphomet his successor, and decides to leave the crimefighting biz for a life with the woman he has come to realize he loves more than life itself, is he making a mistake, and can he ever leave that life behind for a normal one, or will his past catch up with him at last?

Well, this book was kind of... disappointing. Okay, I don't want to give the ending away for anyone (I tried my darnedest not to, above), but shall we say that Kevin Smith takes some, um, liberties, with Batman's character and history in a way that many fans will find downright insulting to the character. Batman, the man who trusts NOBODY, has to learn to trust his girlfriend not to be a robot. And he does this by beating her around and checking a strand of her hair, because he thinks she is just too perfect to be real.

But she forgives him (!) for it- because she has been reading his past cases and knows how paranoid he is apparently, and he does some stuff that seems lifted right out of past Batman comics for her, like having Swamp Thing make her her own silver orchid, which can only live in Superman's Fortress of Solitude (Hmm, where have I seen that trope before- oh yeah, didn't Batman give Superman some kind of one-of-a-kind flower or plant, too? I don't recall that one turning out so well for Supes, so...) And then he accepts Baphomet's statements about himself at face value, because now Batman is supposed to trust people, right...? And he also reveals that in his first year, he peed his pants at one point... And I felt very iffy about that as well. Is this actually supposed to be Batman? Because I don't see him telling anyone about that, not even Dick Grayson... if such a thing actually happened.

For my own part, I suppose Kevin Smith was having fun with the story. And he is a comics fan, or at least he says he is, but the way he screws around with the details of Batman makes it seem less like character development and more like character derailment. I found myself dumbstruck at what he thought made up the character of Batman and how sloppy Batman is during this book in his detective work. Batman is the consummate detective. He has plans for taking out everyone, friend and foe, just because he is that crazy prepared. And this character in this book... is not the Batman fans have grown to know and love. It's like Bruce is thinking with the wrong, smaller, head, during this whole adventure, and the story isn't even over at the end, it's just beginning. But it has made me not want to read the rest because I'm not sure I could stomach it, given what has gone on in this volume.

In short, not recommended if you are serious Batman fan. Given at some point, the rest of this travesty of a story will be published, you will probably read this and be angry, from somewhat angry to very angry. I am not as into Batman as some heroes, but this volume made me shake my head and wonder what Kevin Smith was on when he wrote it. If you are a fan of Batman, you will not enjoy his character derailment in this book. Avoid.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Avengers: The Contest by Mantlo, Gruenwald, Grant, Englehart, DeFalco, Romita Jr., Milgrom and Hall

When the Gamesmaster starts a contest with the Immortal Unknown, the members of the Avengers become the Pawns in their game, along with the Fantastic Four and X-Men, along with heroes and villains from across the globe. As the heroes from the Earth disappear and end up in a huge arena, the reason for their disappearance soon becomes clear.

The Gamesmaster seeks the restoration of his brother, the being known as the Collector, destroyed by Korvac. But while Korvac undid the destruction he caused before his death, he didn't bring the Collector back to life. Since not even the Gamesmaster can bring an immortal back to life, the Unknown has offered her services on that score, provided the Gamesmaster can beat her at a game. The heroes selected must take part, or Earth will stay in stasis that it has been put in forever. Furthermore, if the Gamesmaster wins, he offers the concession that he will never use any being from Earth as a pawn ever again, and the Unknown offers a similar prize: she will give the Earth's sun an extra million years of life.

Each immortal selects twelve heroes to quest for piece of the Orb of life, each quarter of which is hidden somewhere on Earth. The first member of a team to touch the quarter of the orb will be accounted the "winner" of that piece. But as the heroes meet in Combat in four different olaces on Earth, what will be the outcome of the contest? Who is the Unknown, and what does she want from the contest to bring the Collector back to life, and what is the price the Gamesmaster will have to pay even if he wins the contest?

Seven years later, the contest continues when the Gamesmaster finds a way around the rules of the contest and abducts the souls of the West Coast Avengers to be his pawns once again, but when the East Coast Avengers, led by The Silver Surfer, must go into the lands of Death herself to bring back the souls of their friends and overcome the Gamesmaster's plans. But when their failures join the dead on the side of the Gamesmaster, can Hawkeye find a new game to overcome the Gamesmaster and save his friends and his wife?

Wow, what a long and convoluted story! The second part was only possible because of an error in the original, where the writers forgot who was on whose team, and the story, which should have ended with a tie, was given to one of the original participants instead. But when the lead writer was told to fix it, and given two annuals in which to fix it (the Avengers and the West Coast Avengers Annuals), he was more than glad to fix the story, giving us the second half, which takes place in the land of Death.

I liked the story, which felt very epic. Given what was happening, and the promises made by the two main figures, plus the threat of keeping the Earth in endless stasis, you can see why the Earth's heroes agreed to participate in the contest. The second part involves only the Avengers on both sides of the conflict, but given the number of heroes we can see in the first part of the contest, you can see the large number and wide variety of heroes around the globe, from those from Israel (Sabra), China (Collective Man) and even places like Ireland (Shamrock) and Russia (Vanguard). In fact, sometimes I would like to see more of these "national heroes", and we generally only get to see them when American heroes are dumped in other countries. Because honestly, some of them seem just as or more interesting as some of the more "mainstream" heroes!

The second part of the story uses only the Avengers, but manages to be just as interesting, as some of them are not well-known outside of the 80's, and many of which have died, lost their powers, or changed costumes in the intervening time. The West Coast Avengers themselves have been absorbed back into the rest of the Avengers, and no longer exist in California (although the Marvel Universe has that covered with the X-Men moving there instead). While the ending of the second story was decried by some of the fans as being non-heroic, the writer feels he was being true to the characterization of the character, and I honestly have to agree. Just because you're a hero doesn't mean you can't resort to trickery rather than straight-out fighting. Doesn't Spider Man prove this in just about every issue?

Given that the stories were written eight years apart, it's a given that there is going to be some, even a lot of differences between them, but put together, the two stories are very enjoyable, given that in both cases, both sides are heroes, and will settle at least some of the "Who would win in a fight of Hero A versus Hero B?" questions. An entertaining book with a story that won't make you feel stupid for reading it. Well done and recommended.

Avengers: The Origin by Joe Casey and Phil Notto

Loki is unhappy and looking to mess with his brother, the Hero known as Thor. He picks a fight with the Hulk, hoping to possess and take him over, but the Hulk, even as persecuted as he is by humanity, isn't about to start killing people wholesale. When he is tricked into taking out a section of railroad, he makes sure that the train is saved. But the Hulk's actions are seen as an "attack", and the news of this is everywhere.

Meanwhile, the Doctor, Donald Blake, the earthly form of Thor, is sent a message in Futhark, the language of the Vikings, which only he understands as a message from his father, Odin, calling him to battle the Hulk. But is it really from Odin? And the Hulk's 'rampage' doesn't only attract his attention, but other heroes as well, such as Doctor Henry Pym and his wife, Janet Van Dyne, the Heroes known as Ant Man and the Wasp, and Tony Stark, who wears the armor and guise of Iron Man. Iron Man, Ant Man and Wasp have homed in on a signal sent out over the airwaves that have attracted Thor as well.

The signal was put out by a bunch of students, led by Rick Jones, who are looking to take the Hulk in, but they were trying to contact the Fantastic Four. Unfortunately, the FF are too busy to help, but the four heroes who have shown up might be able to help. And meanwhile, the Hulk has found a place with a traveling freak show/carnival, and when they confront him, he fights back. After defeating Iron Man, Thor takes on the Hulk, but the fight is all in his mind.

The Carnival folk agree to take the Hulk with him, if he helps them out, and they need to do it without freaking anyone out. But Thor is non-plussed by the vision he's had, and he feels that Loki is behind this and takes off in search of his brother. Meanwhile, the other three heroes and Rick Jones set up shop in Stark Industries. Hank and Jan build a larger and more powerful version of the helmet that allows Hank to communicate with and understand ants and other bugs, and use it to track down the Hulk in Colorado. But he also tells his ants to help to take care of the Hulk, and they undermine the ground beneath him, sending him plunging into the earth.

He's already not happy to being made to play "Mechano", a supposed automaton, and the attack by the insects sends him over the edge. He strikes out at them, nearly collapsing the tent. His friend, Bea. the Bearded Lady, tries to calm him down, but her fellow performers force her to flee before the tent collapses. While the three heroes fight with the Hulk, Thor takes on Loki in the land of the Trolls. The trolls have allied with Loki provided that he can bring them Thor, which he has. But an angry Thor is more than powerful than either a single powerful troll or an illusion of many multiples of his brother attacking him. He drags Loki back to Earth, where he presents him as the author of all the events behind the Hulk's "rampage", which pretty much ends the fight.

And so it is time for the Heroes to part. Or will they? Will they decide that this was actually an opportunity in the disguise of a pretext and that their coming together is a gift they shouldn't give up? And who will be the startling fifth member of the group when it comes together?

This graphic novel expands the original origin story of the Avengers from a small bit in a multiple-story comic to a multiple-issue comic with a much expanded story and characters that fleshes out the story. While the origin of the Avengers has always included Thor and Loki, this one includes Rick Jones, the boy who Bruce Banner was protecting when he was hit with the gamma-ray blast that turned him into the Hulk, and fleshes out the people of the circus who took the Hulk in.

In the end, while going over the very same ground as before, it provides a much more entertaining and fleshed out story. We get to see the original gold-plated Iron Man armor, and the original alter-ego of Hank Pym, Ant-Man, before he was Yellowjacket or Giant Man, or his many other changes through the years. Thanks to this not actually being the first published Avengers story, we get to see other members and other notable events in the Avengers history thanks to Janet VanDyne's hopes and dreams.

Yes, this story has been done before, but rarely this well or this well-fleshed out. It was nice to return to the Origin of the Avengers and see how the team came together, though several members have yet to join, even stalwarts like Captain America or Hawkeye, it satisfies, and I wanted to see more. Recommended.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Ouran High School Host Club Volume 14 by Bisco Hatori

Haruhi is a poor girl going to a prestigious school on a scholarship. But when she accidentally broke a very expensive vase, the club that the vase belonged to decided she could pay them off by working at the club. Unbeknownst to them at the time, Haruhi was a girl, not a boy, but she wears a boy's uniform and is slight and flat-chested. By the time the rest of the members of the Host Club found out, Haruhi had become a hit with the other girls at the school, none of whom knew she was a girl, either.

Harushi's presence has had an effect on the all-male host club, however. The President, Suoh Tamaki, half-French and half-Japanese, has fallen in love with her. But he is so out of touch with his feelings, because of his family situation, that he thinks his affection for her is like that of a father for his daughter, and not the love of a man for a woman. Haruhi, for her own part, has realized that she feels love for Tamaki, but she doesn't think that Tamaki feels the same.

Now, her friends, the Hitachiin twins, Hikaru and Kaoru, have realized that they feel love for her also, especially because she can always tell them apart. Since at first they dressed alike and looked the same, they used their resemblance to play with the emotions of others and pull pranks on people. But they have never been able to fool Haruhi. Both confessed their feelings for her to each other, but Kaoru holds back so that his brother can realize his own feelings. After a recent fight, Hikaru made steps to stop looking like his brother, dying his hair a darker color. He confesses how he feels to Haruhi, telling her he loves her, and in a romantic way,

But at the same time, Hikaru wants Tamaki to realize how he really feels about Haruhi, and he tells Tamaki of his feelings for Haruhi. And he speaks with Haruhi about her feelings and makes her see that just about everyone in the club knows how she feels about Tamaki, except for Tamaki himself. But can Tamaki admit to himself that loving her might not be the end of his friendships with the other members of the Host Club, and that therefore romance with her just might be okay? And when another girl actively pursues Tamaki to the exclusion of almost all else, can she make Tamaki fall for her? Or will his heart remain true to Haruhi?

And a small extra story, called "Mori's day off", we get to see what Mori does on the days when he's not at the club or hanging around with Hunny. What does he do to relax, and what happens when an encounter with a new puppy seriously messes with his day?

I enjoyed this book. Tamaki and Haruhi finally have to face up to their feelings for each other. No longer can Tamaki claim that he loves Haruhi as a father, and Harushi can no longer tell herself that she just likes him as a friend. Jealousy of others finally forces each other to realize what they truly feel for each other. But both are still running scared of admitting how they feel, for fear that they will alienate the other as friends, and not realizing that each feels the same way.

A lot of this means that Tamaki and Haruhi still spend a lot of the time in this volume apart, and the rest of the Host Club, who have long known about the feelings each has for the other, would probably end up playing Cupid for them. But not this time- Hikaru and Kaoru also have feelings for Haruhi, and basically tell Tamaki to back off. But is it real, or is it just another ploy to get Tamaki to confess all for Haruhi?

With this realization among the characters, it's obvious that this series won;t be going on much longer. But I've enjoyed it so far, and am at least a little sad to see it end, even if I feel that "High School Romance with clueless protagonists" is heading high up on my irritation scale right about now. This is one of the better ones in that area, and thus, is still recommended.