Tag Archives: Review

Review: Grayson Vol. 1

Grayson Vol. 1: Agents Of Spyral

Writer – Tim Seeley, Artist – Mikel Janin

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Dick Grayson was the first Robin, then struck out on his own as Nightwing. Then Nightwing’s identity was revealed and Dick was thought murdered. Staying dead to protect his family, Dick infiltrates a secret spy organization known as Spyral. Spyral’s mission is to gather the Paragon organs which grant the ability to duplicate the powers of the Justice League, and determine their secret identities. He is partnered with Helena Bertinelli, daughter of a notorious Italian crime family, and assumed identity of the heroine huntress (who in reality is the Helena Wayne from Earth 2). Grayson must fight alongside Spyral, while feeding information back to Batman, his only connection to his past life and the only one who knows he is still alive.

This collection contains Issues 1-4, the Secret Origin story and a Futures End tale (this last was not included in my eGalley). The Secret Origins tale does a good job explaining where we are in the New 52 continuity for those of us not up to date on the latest developments of the Forever Evil storyline. However, because it is mostly plot exposition, interspersed with odd sixties psychedelic trappings, this leading part of the book drags a bit.

When we get the ongoing series Issues the pace picks up, as Dick deals with what it means to be a spy and not a hero. It’s obvious that Dick is having a hard time on this mission, enjoying the ability to stretch his legs without endangering his family, but he’s not comfortable with the compromises he has to make to get the mission done.

The third and fourth chapters are probably the best, as the series learns to drop the sixties affectations in favor of playing the story straighter. Issue 3 actually manages to make a character who can only see through the barrels of his guns human and relate-able and 4 is a playful tale, as Dick encounters the girls who are in the finishing school part of Spyral, training to be the next members of Moussad and other spy organizations.

I like the design of Bertinelli’s outfit, which hearkens to her alter-ego yet another person Huntress. Her relationship with Grayson should be interesting in future issues. However, the full page spread on issue 3 involving the correct usage of “Wing-night’s” name was unnecessary. There’s no reason to try to make this book Saga, and you can’t be naughty enough to get even close anyway. The alternate covers at the back (particularly the Lego cover) were a treat.

Overall, an interesting corner of the DCU. Titles like this and Gotham Academy give us a look at super-heroes from a more human scale level. Just with twisty faces.

* I received a free ARC from DC and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

(3.75 Stars | Dinged it 0.25 stars for use of “You don’t know Dick” and “Dick!” said in ecstasy in Issue 3.)

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Review: Dead Boy Detectives Vol. 2 – Ghost Snow

Dead Boy Detectives Vol. 2: Ghost Snow

Writer – Toby Litt, Artist – Mark Buckingham

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Edwin and Charles might be dead, but that doesn’t stop them from being great detectives. Branching out from Sandman Volume 4, the Dead Boy Detectives solve the mysteries of their past and the supernatural netherworld of the Netherlands.

In Volume 2, Crystal Palace convinces Charles to seek out his half-sister Clementine, a monk living in a windmill with her scientifically oriented daughter Miranda. Charles learns that his father may have murdered his mother, a ballerina who fell to her death from the stage lights above the theater where she danced. As they pursue the truth they also learn of the danger to their friend Rosa, who is trapped in a coma dying but also trapped in a world between life and death, tormented by a creature named Nye and the “poppets” he creates out of the elements of the world. Charles must journey back to the boarding school where he was killed to save Rosa and to finally uncover the mystery behind his parents.

Though I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on with Rosa, Hana and the Netherlands (something presumably explained in Volume 1), I found Charles’ story touching. There’s a good deal of humor throughout, from Miranda who is skeptical of the boy’s existence, to the two ghost cats, and also in Buckingham’s fanciful but relate-able illustration. The budding romance between Charles and Crystal is charming and sympathetic.

I particularly liked the ties to the Sandman universe, with Edwin being terrified when someone dies nearby for fear the personification of Death will find him and force him to pass on. The side-tale involving ghosts connecting to an MMORPG and Edwin and Charles’ old schoolmaster being pulled in from a summoning is pretty funny as well, though the lines are less detailed than in the Ghost Snow storyline.

I definitely want to pick up volume 1 after reading this, and hope for more adventures with these two.

(4 stars | A little confusing if this is your jumping on point, but still a compelling family-driven story)

* I received a free ARC from NetGalley in return for my honest review

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System Shock 2 (13 Years Not Too Late)

It may seem strange to review a game from 13 years ago, but just because it isn’t the latest and greatest doesn’t mean you should ignore an old game. These underrated gems still offer unique gameplay, and System Shock 2 shaped FPSs and RPGs for years to come.

Level Design: I’ve played a number of sci-fi shooters before, but none with such a clearly laid out ship design. Instead of being shepherded down a single path, each deck is arranged functionally, with many different paths and countless nooks and crannies. This is one thing I love about game engines from this period, big open spaces with admittedly less detail but greater scope and less load screens. Authenticity of experience is more important than intricate detail in my view. And the environment changes around you, it really is a living ship (at least in one sense of the word). There’s a nice nod to the first game in the last level which shows the love the game designers had for this material.

Levels

Enemies: There’s a nice mix of biological and technological opponents as well as things in between. The game has been criticized for the hokeyness of some enemies, including psi-monkeys and cyborg ninjas, but I don’t think this takes away from gameplay. Rather I think it adds a little humor to what is otherwise a serious story. Difficulty rises nicely with ability, but even grunts are not routine (those monkeys can be hard to hit)!

Story: This is by far one if the most unique features of the game. Rather than telling the story in cutscenes, bits and pieces are revealed through log entries, commuications with unseen helpers, scripted events and ghostly encounters. The logs especially add to the feeling of a living ship, portraying more than a dozen perspectives on the grizzly events. The story itself is pretty straightforward, a ship is in deep space when they are hailed by a nearby planet. Those that land bring back a hostile alien lifeform which infects the crew, turning some into zombie hybrids and others into far worse. But something else came onboard, a hostile AI with delusions of Godhood. She created the aliens and she wants you to destroy her rebellious children.

SHODAN: Easily one of the best villains of all time, with a creepy distorted voice, and no desire to hide her disgust for a worthless bag of meat such as you. And yet she needs you, at least for now. Her reveal in the middle of the game is a great twist and makes you see the game you’ve been playing in a whole new light. She’s not just evil, but lacks moral constraints of any kind, and has a great and terrible vision for humanity.

Shodan

Content: Shock is gory at times but not to the degree of one of its contemporaries, Half Life. It’s more scary than gross, but the second to last level is disturbing, you enter “the belly of the beast” literally. Fortunately this section is short, though I wish they had called doors something besides sphincters.

RPG:A good blend of skills and weapons. It emphascizes hackers and psi-ops but that’s better than plain soldiers anyway.  Weapons degrade when used but I think maintenance is a better skill to emphasize than repair. Psi abilities are the most stable and have more ammo. You can change your strategy without restarting the game, which is more flexible than the upgrades in Deus Ex.

Overall a game you should definitely get your hands on, even at closer to a premium price. If you do get a copy you can use my guide to getting it up and running and enhanced. This is one I’ll probably be replaying in the near future (okay already am).

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5% of Five (#1) – 5 Free “Humor” Kindle Books

Damn you HundredZeros!

Thanks to you and sites like ManyBooks and the Baen Free Library, I now have more books than I know what to do with on my Kindle. I was already at the point where I didn’t have time to read all my print books, and you’ve gone and made it worse. There’s only one thing to do…

Make more snap decisions.

Introducing 5% of Five!!!!

5% of Five is the new irregular feature here at BenTrubeWriter, featuring reviews of the first 5% of five free books. Hopefully these posts will be helpful in telling you what’s worth your time (and lack of money), and what you’d be better off avoiding.

Our Rating Scale!!!!

5 – I really enjoyed this. I would (and may have already) spent money to buy other books by this author.

4 – I’m intrigued, I will have to finish this at some point.

3 – Some good parts, overall so-so.

2 – I’m glad this was free. It was pretty bad.

1 – DELETED!

Today’s Books (Humor)

Kids Say The Cutest Things When They're DrunkKids Say The Cutest Things When They’re Drunk – The best part of this is the title. I was kind of expecting some bizarre narratives of weird things kids had done, but the book starts with a test on whether you’re ready to be a parent. Obvious warning signs that you’re not ready, you don’t want to clean diapers, lose all your free time (and money), and are a pedophile. If you want to read a funny book on parenting, try Mother On Fire, by Sandra Tsing Loh (Not free, but far more worth your time). Rating 1.

Silly SignsSilly Signs – I read 100% of this, in about 5 minutes. Mostly pun based humor. One or two laughs, but generally pretty lowbrow. The book is presented in cartoon format without a lot of variation. It might be worth your zero dollars, but I guarantee an instant archival after one reading. Also there seemed to be some formatting glitches (blank pages) on my Kindle. Rating 2.

Funny Jokes For AdultsFunny Jokes For Adults – By Adult they mean clean but “intelligent” humor. Probably at the level of “Humor in Uniform” or other such columns in Reader’s Digest. Nothing that made me laugh out loud, but maybe a few jokes that I’d retell with a little tweaking. Formatting is the biggest problem with this. The original document must have used very small fonts, since I had to turn my text most of the way up to make it readable. Rating 3.

Obama SutraObama Sutra – Another book where the best part is the title. I knew this would probably be pretty silly, but I was actually looking for some decent Obama based humor here. By the third page or so they were already making a Clinton joke, and most of the Obama jokes definitely came from one side of the political aisle. I bet in the right hands a more “fair and balanced” and far funnier book could be crafted with this title, but not this one. Rating 1.

The Book Of Biff #1The Book Of Biff #1 Target Practice – This book filled a need I didn’t even know I had, single panel comics for the Kindle. Biff is a bald man with some serious eyebrows and mustache who gets himself into all sorts of weird situations. Is he human, an alien, or a toaster? The Book Of Biff is an online comic by Chris Hallbeck that’s been going on and off for more than a decade. To date there are 10 collections of 100+ comics a piece, most $2.99 but this one is free! I’m not sure if I’ll buy the rest at $2.99, but I did pick up Volume 5 which is discounted at $0.99. Rating 5.

That’s it, our 5% of Five. What did you think?

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Oro?Live Action Rurouni Kenshin?

Live action versions of anime have a long and storied history, a bad one. Leaving aside big blockbuster adaptions of cartoons like Transformers and GI Joe, most live action anime fails to capture what we love about the show, either by cramming too much or too little into the time frame, choosing poor actors, special effects that don’t live up to what they were able to achieve with animated cells, or dreaded things like the Bleach Musical.

That said, this trailer does show some promise that the movie might be at least as good as the live action Blood: The Last Vampire, which while not excellent, at least captured some of the OVAs spirit. So in the spirit of “Let’s Rush To Judgment” I thought I’d give you some of my impressions:

1) It’s a little weird seeing Kenshin look … well … Japanese – It totally make sense that the cast would be of Chinese or Japanese descent, given that this is a product not only of their pop-culture, but their history as well. But anyone who has watched anime for a while knows that many of the characters look … well … American. Certainly a long shock of red hair on the character wouldn’t look natural on this actor, and I’m glad that it seems they have muted this considerably.

2) Where’s Yahiko? – Even with a lot of fast cuts, this movie shows a lot of characters that would be instantly recognizeable to fans of the Manga or Anime, except one, the young Samurai brat Yahiko. I’m sure some people will be bummed by his absence, but given the arc this movie seems to cover, it would over complicate things to include him. I think this is a good decision. The tone of this movie seems a little serious minded, and Yahiko’s presence in the early arcs was largely for comic relief. A good Kenshin will accomplish enough of this on his own without needing a little sidekick. And Sagara’s there so Kenshin still has an ally / adversary to play against.

3) We’re covering a lot of ground – The presence of the Gatling gun means we’re probably going at least through the Oniwabanshu arc, which concludes at the end of Volume 4 of the Manga. The prescence of a Megumi looking woman seems to confirm this, as her arc takes the bulk of Volumes 3 and 4. But Kaoru screaming at the end seems to be from the when Udo Jin-e captures her in Volume 2 and tries to bring out the killer in Kenshin. In the Manga these are two separate story arcs, and I’m not sure how the movie will treat them. I have a feeling there will be some blending going on, which might result in the elimination of the Aoshi character altogether, or making him Kenshin’s adversary in some other way, possibly resulting in his death which would significantly change canon. Okay, this is a lot of speculation, but given the elements we’re seeing, some kind of blending has to be going on. Thankfully, they at least seem to be getting rid of the stupid fake Battosai from the opening arc. If he really turned out to be Jin-e, I’d be okay with that.

4) Oro sounds weird coming out of a person – He says it, at least twice in the trailer, though both times it seems like its out if sync. That said, this is a defining character trait of Kenshin, and would be missed if not there.

5) The scar is exaggerated – If you think about the actual injury, maybe not, but it does stick out at moments.

6) Action is a little frantic – One of the fun parts of the anime in particular was getting inside Kenshin’s head. His finishing moves were always well laid out, often his opponent thought he recognized the move, but then Kenshin would throw in a little surprise. One of the first I remember of these was him using the sheath of his sort as a second weapon as he whirled around, seemingly missing with the sword. This might be a little hard to convey convincingly in live action, but I hope we still see some insight into his technique.

Overall my impressions are that this looked good. I have a feeling there will be some of the same mash-ups of plot we’ve seen before, but the trailer does give me hope that they’ve got the tone right, both the action and the humor. Casting can always be better, but I’ll give this guy a chance, whenever this movie comes out in America (late 2013)?

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Review: M. S. Fowle – Nora’s Sun

In Nora’s Sun, M. S. Fowle introduces us to a post invasion Earth, and one woman’s quest to find her son using only visions she sees in dreams. Fowle gives us a taste of an interesting world, but leaves us hungering for substance in some key areas.

We are the invaders

My favorite concept in this story is the idea of a delayed invasion, that aliens seed themselves in our world, and don’t awake to conquer for 25 years. Until the invasion is announced, humans and aliens are indistinguishable and unaware of their distinct origins or powers. How would you react if you thought of yourself as human, and were told that you were actually part of an army sent to conquer humanity. Whose side would you be on?

Fowle explores this question through the character of Joe, an unlikely ally of Nora and her little splinter cell. He’s a merus (the aliens in this story) with a mimick asset, a shape-shifter, able to assume any appearance. How he comes to first help this group is largely unexplained, Nora finds him because she knows it’s the way she should go, and he decides to help her without much question. Once his origin is revealed he is coerced at gunpoint to continue on the journey, though doesn’t make any particular attempts to escape, and in fact is journeying for his own agenda, finding his true face.

Joe plays the role of the sympathetic stranger, making the connections as to the source of Nora’s visions and her son’s and husband’s true origins, as well as providing a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. Here the length of this story works against it. The relationship of Nora and Joe moves too quickly from distrust to acceptance and seems to skip moments and scenes in between. In fact, even though Joe is one of the invading aliens, Nora seems to accept him pretty much from the start, showing hesitation only when he pulls out her husband’s face and can’t explain how he knows it.

A flawed heroine

Nora’s mission to save her son is a compelling one, even though it is being done to the exclusion of the larger fight against the invaders. The story is told in first person perspective, and because of this sometimes Nora’s actions seem a little too knowing, a little too perfect and correct. She always knows what to do, where to go. You never really get a sense that she’s in any danger, if for no other reason than she’s alive to tell you the tale. First person narratives are tricky in this regard, and I think the story would have been better served by an external narrator.

When Nora is found by a larger rebellion it turns out they have been looking for her for some time and have decided to save her son as a symbol for the coming rebellion. While I like the idea of a single heroine being the inspiration for a rebellion, the introduction of this army seems only to serve the purpose of how Nora will get enough firepower to get inside this facility in the first place. Frankly, an all-out military assault wasn’t what I was expecting, and I think a more personal and stealthy infilitration would have been a more interesting conclusion. This army would work under the right set of circumstances, but the story’s length again prevented the reader from getting a sense this was coming, or even was a plausible possibility in this world.

I do appreciate Nora’s thinking about the effects her violent course of action might have on her son’s opinion of her. Indeed she is willing to kill a great many of her son’s own race just to get to him. This point is overshadowed however with a taunting confrontation with one of the researchers in the facility who would have worked as a final adversary if we’d had any reason to care about him before that point. By the end we know so little about what was being done to her son or why, just that Nora was able to get him out.

Hungry for more

I loved the world M. S. Fowle created, and despite her flaws Nora is a compelling heroine. There are some great action sequences and one-liners, but overall the plot seems to move too quickly, skipping scenes and opportunities for development that would have made this a more complete work. I’d be interested to see what Fowle’s novel works are like, and if she ever revisits the world where the Merus have invaded, I’ll be along for the ride.

3 out of 5 stars.

(This review was also posted to Amazon under the pseudonym “The Fractal Man”)

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I Know Your Secret

SPOILER ALERT: I will be discussing a specific scene in the second book of The Hunger Games Trilogy, Catching Fire. You have been warned.

It’s one of our favorite moments in any story, the moment when a secret is revealed. It doesn’t matter who is revealing the secret, whether it’s a lover who reveals he’s known his girlfriend has been cheating all along, or a villain revealing something our hero thought had been long forgotten about their past. This scene is a turning point, the cards are laid out on the table and what follows will have significant impact on the rest of the story.

As a writer it’s a moment you want to get right, and often it can be going pretty well until one of your characters utters a line like this:

“Oh by the way, I know about the kiss.”

A little context, the speaker of this line is President Snow, leader of the country of Panem, the fictional nation in the Hunger Games trilogy. He’s just revealed to our heroine, Katniss, that he knows her romance with fellow Hunger Games contestant, Peeta, is a sham. He’s been spending a number of pages outlining how this knowledge if it became widespread in the Districts could lead to rebellion, and is outlining what Katniss must do to protect herself, and the stability of a nation. The scene is told from Katniss’ perspective, and at some point we find out that she has shared a kiss with her hunting partner, Gale, and is worried that the President knows.

Well, it turns out he does.

There’s a couple of problems with this starting with “Oh by the way…”. I’m sure if an actor is reading this line there would be a beat between the two halves of the sentence, but on the printed page it all runs together. President Snow has been outlining the complex geopolitical consequences of Katniss’ actions, and is impressing upon her the need for her to convince the nation she’s in love with someone she’s not. It’s sophisticated, complex, and interesting. And then all of sudden it reads like something out of a soap opera.

Secondly, President Snow doesn’t seem to have a reason to lay this additional card out on the table. He’s already insinuated he knew something about her true relationship with Gale earlier in the scene. To emphasize specific knowledge serves no purpose but to tip his entire hand. He’s already convinced her with threats, personal and societal. This is just rubbing it in. Now I’m not saying a character wouldn’t do this, but I don’t believe this character would.

It’s hard not to overwrite a scene. I have a number of conflict dialogues that I’m revising and it’s tough. You have to read it out loud to see if it works, while also considering how the reader sees it. You want memorable lines, catch-phrases, something that everyone who reads the book will remember. You want to hearken back to something that happened earlier and bring it into sharp relief. Or you want to surprise your reader. When I draft a conflict I write quickly, and often have to cut out about half the lines to not make my characters seem like comic book villains.

We all write bad dialog, and then we cut it, stuff it in a drawer or in our recycle bin, and hope no one ever reads it. Collins is good, and I’m holding off reviewing any individual book until I’ve read the whole trilogy. I have other problems with the story she’s telling, but I want to wait till I see where she’s going. She’s writing for a YA audience, and so maybe you need to be a little obvious at moments, but I think at any age certain lines are just hokey.

Oh by the way, I know about the pink flamingo. Shame on you!

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