Book Review – Doctor Fate vol. 2: Prisoners of the Past

  • Title: Doctor Fate vol. 2: Prisoners of the Past
  • Author: Paul Levitz
  • Artists: Sonny Liew
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Dr. Fate (Khalid “Kent” Nassour)
  • Collection Date: 2016
  • Collected issues: Doctor Fate #8-12
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/25/2017

I really enjoyed the second volume of DC’s Dr. Fate. Young Khalid Nassour is starting to learn how to use his powers granted by the Helmet of Fate. The story picks-up after the disastrous floods in the last volume, as Khalid tries and succeeds it fixing what is broken and rescuing people. Though he is young and unsure of himself, it makes it that much sweeter when he succeeds. At Brooklyn College, Khalid looks up his professor and adviser, Professor Bradus, telling him he feels torn between different religious and philosophical traditions – his mother is Christian and his father, Muslim. When he tells the professor that he is being told he must “heal the world”, the professor assumes he now has a Jewish girlfriend who wants him to convert.

Meanwhile Akila, who wants to be Khalid’s girlfriend, has become involved in protests against the hard-line, Conservative, military leader in charge of their former country. When peaceful protests against that government suddenly turn violent, Dr. Fate (Khalid) intervenes to save the protesters and to find Akila. He rescues her, then decides to rescue the other protesters, who were taken to a military prison without any form of due process. At the prison, he’s threatened by the General-President, who, makes threats, but only orders those around him to attack Khalid. The General-President is even controlling Centurian ghosts who attack Dr. Fate. One of these ghosts is Julius Caesar. After a few experiments in fighting that don’t work – Khalid hits on destroying the dagger that the General-President uses to control the ghost, allowing Caesar to attack the General-President. Dr. Fate frees the protesters. Caesar destroys the bullying general.

With all his running around as Dr. Fate, one of Khalid’s professors tries to get him expelled for missing classes. However, during his meeting with the dean, the dean suffers a heart attack. Khalid, having been a EMT-Paramedic saves the dean’s life. His position as a medical student is safe. At his parents home, their cat, Puck, who is possessed by the spirit of Bast, wanders off. Bast leaves him. Khalid goes home to give his parents the good news about medical school, and finds not only his parents, but his uncle, Kent Nelson.

I really enjoyed this two-book series. Khalid is a wonderful character, with a complex and layered background. His friend, Akila, is cool – and would make a great supporting character if the series was continued. Alas, I think this book met the chopping block too soon in the transition between New 52 and Rebirth. (The new Dr. Fate is part of the Blue Beetle series in Rebirth and has finally arrived. We know very little about him so far, but he doesn’t appear to be Khalid.) Still, it is well-worth tracking down and reading this short two-book series. Highly recommended.

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Book Review – Doctor Who: The Wheel of Ice

  • Title: The Wheel of Ice
  • Series: Doctor Who – Unknown
  • Author: Stephen Baxter
  • Characters: Second Doctor, Jaime, Zoë
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/26/2016

The Wheel of Ice is a hard Science Fiction novel featuring the Second Doctor, as played by Patrick Troughton on the BBC television series, Doctor Who. The Doctor, Jaime, and Zoë are in the TARDIS when it unexpectedly appears in the middle of the rings of Saturn. The atmosphere of Saturn is volatile and the TARDIS is immediately hit by large chunks of ice. But they are rescued by Phee, a young girl on an in-system scooter and MMAC a computer and AI that maintains the Wheel.

The Wheel is a space habitat for the miners and administrators who are mining the moon, Mnemosyne, for Bernalium – a rare and thus extremely valuable mineral. The mining operation is run by Bootstrap Mining, and their head administrator is Florian Hart – a ruthless businesswoman. Also, the Wheel has additional departmental heads: Jo Laws, the mayor; the chief medical officer, Sinbad Omar; Luis Reyes, ambassador from the Planetary Ethics Commission of Earth; and Marshal Sonia Paley, the head police officer. Jo and her family are central to the story. Her daughter, Phee, is the first to meet The Doctor and the TARDIS crew, her son, Sam, is a teenager, forced to work in the mines and not too happy about it, and her baby daughter, Casey, actually is the first to encounter the mysterious alien hidden on Mnemosyne.

Florian Hart is ruthless, in the name of profits for Bootstrap, she has forbidden all education for the younger generation, the children born on the wheel, and uses them as laborers in the mine. Children as young as seven are sent on “familiarity courses”. Jo, with three children, isn’t thrilled about this, but sees it as the way of the world.

The Wheel is also experiencing acts of “sabotage”, which Florian Hart blames on the children and teenagers of the Wheel, despite the inherent lack of logic in her accusations (she’s basically picking on a group she doesn’t like to blame without any evidence and ignoring evidence to the contrary). When a piece of machinery is destroyed by an explosion, Hart uses it as an excuse to round-up all the teenagers who work in the mines and place them under house arrest. She even threatens to physically mutilate them as punishment. The teenagers, including Jaime – who’s gotten wrapped up in their situation – escape to the moon, Titan.

The Doctor, and Dr. Omar, investigate the explosion and discover that the machinery was destroyed by a methane explosion. They also find a dead “Blue Doll”. These aliens had been seen by the children working in the mines, but were denied by the administrators of the Wheel, especially Florian Hart. When the Doctor points out that the machinery exploded because of the methane fuel, and shows the evidence of the dead Blue Doll everyone but Hart agrees something else may be going on.

The Doctor, Zoë, Jaime, Jo Laws, Sam, and the other administrators besides Hart begin to investigate to figure out what is really happening on the Wheel and the nearby moons. The truth involves an ancient AI, Ark, and storage library from another galaxy from long ago, and the Blue Dolls, and later, Blue Soldiers it constructs.

Most of this book is told in the typical third-person fashion of the Doctor Who original tie-in novels. However, there are chapters told from the point-of-view of the two AIs: MMAC (who has a Scottish accent) and Arkive. And there’s a chapter that describes how an amulet (really a temporal lure sent by Arkive deep into Earth’s past) is passed down from woman to woman in Jo’s family to finally be worn by Phee.

I enjoyed the characterizations in this book the best – Phee, Sam, Jo, MMAC, ARKIVE, even the villainous Florian Hart all leap off the page. Jaime, Zoë, and the Doctor also are in character and given plenty to do without the obvious trope of the companions being split up simply so each can learn separate pieces of information, get rescued, and report back. Zoë and the Doctor spend most of their time together, for example. And although Jaime has his own adventures, it’s nice to see the 18th century Scot get some real action where he’s able to be useful despite his unfamiliarity with the environment. The section of the book on Titan is wonderfully written, both the descriptions, and showing how Sam and the other teens behave and think. The book also succeeds in terms of the plot. Some readers might find Florian Hart to be a bit of a cardboard villain, but she is given a credible backstory that relates to an older Second Doctor adventure on the BBC series.

Recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Fate vol. 1: The Blood Price

  • Title: Doctor Fate vol. 1: The Blood Price
  • Author: Paul Levitz
  • Artists: Sonny Liew
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Dr. Fate (Khalid “Kent” Nassour)
  • Collection Date: 2016
  • Collected issues: Doctor Fate #1-6
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 4/07/2016

I picked this graphic novel up at a local bookstore (paperback edition, not Kindle) on a whim. I’d always liked Doctor Fate in Justice League International/America in the 1990s, and in the animated series, Justice League Unlimited and Young Justice but I never followed the monthly series, if there was one, or read any Doctor Fate collected graphic novels. But I saw it and it looked interesting so I picked it up.

The Blood Price tells the story of the Helmet of Fate finding a new person to be Doctor Fate. There’s also a battle going on – between Anubis the Jackal-god of old Egyptian mythology and Basset the Cat god. Anubis literally wants to drown the world to destroy it. Basset wants to stop this. Nabu is an adviser to the new Doctor Fate but much more hands-off than previous versions.

Khalid Nassour (“Kent” to his friends) is about to start medical school. His father is a Muslim immigrant and his mother a Christian. Asked about his religion – Kent has no strong feelings on the matter. In times of crisis – he prays to Jesus and Allah equally. Khalid has a sort of girlfriend as well as a Muslim girl his parents keep trying to set him up with. But he wants to concentrate on his studies so he can help his family.

It’s Khalid whom Basset chooses to receive the Helmet of Fate because of his Pharaoh blood. Khalid’s overwhelmed, confused, and would really like an instruction book so he can use his new powers to stop Anubis from destroying the world.

I enjoyed Doctor Fate vol. 1 The Blood Price very much. Again, this was a paperback graphic novel – no idea why GoodReads only lists the Kindle edition. The art is beautiful. Khalid has a strong voice as a new superhero. Khalid’s parents, girlfriend, and the girl who wants to be his girlfriend are all well-written, strong, unique, and diverse characters. The book was awesome and I recommend it.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Engines of War

  • Title: Engines of War
  • Series: BBC Books Doctor Who New Series Adventures
  • Author: George Mann
  • Characters:  The War Doctor, Cinder
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 10/24/2015

Engines of War is the War Doctor’s story, though most of it is told from the point of view of Cinder, a young, female, Dalek Hunter on the planet Moldox. The Doctor leads a fleet of Battle TARDISes into battle against the Daleks near the Tantalus Eye, a maelstrom of temporal energies. However, the Time Lord fleet is ambushed by Dalek Stealth Ships and the Doctor’s TARDIS crash lands on Moldox. There he meets Cinder, and discovers the Daleks working on a horrific new weapon. He and Cinder go to Gallifrey to warn the Time Lords – only to discover that Rassilon is willing to use an even more horrifying weapon to stop the Daleks. Soon it is up to the Doctor and Cinder to find a way to defeat the Daleks without using the Time Lord Doomsday weapon, and without allowing Rassilon and his Time Lords to use it either.

Engines of War is the War Doctor’s Story (as played by John Hurt in “The Day of the Doctor”) and satisfactorily explains why he made the terrible choice he was forced to make. And it introduces as a one-off companion, Cinder, a young woman who’s entire life was torn apart when the Daleks came to her world. The novel is a quick read, written without difficult vocabulary, and very much has that “young adult” feel to it. It moves quickly. I enjoyed it, but I find it has the same problem as other books in the Doctor Who New Series Adventures range – it’s written for teens, and is not challenging to an adult reader. Not only that but it doesn’t have the crossover appeal of other fantasy or science fiction young adult literature (such as Harry Potter). Previous Doctor Who series of original novels such as the Missing Adventures, the New Adventures, the Past Doctor Adventures and the Eighth Doctor Adventures were more “adult” in nature. Not, obviously “adult” in the sense of an R or X-rated movie, but they weren’t G-rated kids-only entertainment either. I liked the more complex storylines of the other ranges.

Still Engines of War was a good story, and I did enjoy reading it.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 5: Soul Crisis (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 5: Soul Crisis
  • Author: Christy Marx
  • Artists: Romano Molenaar, Daniel Sampere, Travis Moore, Robson Rocha, Jonathan Glapion, Vicente Cifuentes, Jordi Tarragona, Oclair Albert, Mark Deering, Julio Ferreira, Scott McDaniel, Chris Sotomayor, Taylor Esposito, Dezi Sienty, Travis Lanham, Carlos M. Mangual
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller
  • Collection Date: 2015
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #25, 27-34; Birds of Prey: Future’s End 1 (2013-2014)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/15/2016

**Spoiler Alert** The fifth volume of the collected New 52 version of Birds of Prey really feels like the end of this series. The book opens with a flashback, telling us how Black Canary became Black Canary. It’s a wonderful story. The book ends with a flash forward to five years in the future – having survived a dip in the Lazarus Pit, Black Canary now leads the Red League – rescuing women from abuse, sex trafficking, slavery, and other crimes. Some of the women she rescues willingly join her. Black Canary runs into a future bizarre Batgirl called Bête Noire (the Black Beast). I liked this taste of a future Black Canary – the only issue I had was the internal monologue boxes were red print on a black background which is very, very hard to read. Actually, I find red print difficult to read on any background.

Beyond those two very separate books – this volume wraps up the loose ends from the previous volume. Then the newly regenerated Mother Eve sends the Birds of Prey on a rescue mission to the Congo in Africa to retrieve one of her operatives. There they run into the Suicide Squad (Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Capt. Boomarang, and King Shark) and Amanda Waller. Waller tells Black Canary “the truth” of why Kurt, her husband, has no memory of her – their marriage was a sham and part of Kurt’s cover. Waller then takes Kurt out of the rehab facility he’s been in since his recovery. Black Canary is devastated by this “truth” – but this is Amanda Waller we’re taking about – a master manipulator who wouldn’t know the truth if it walked up to her and introduced itself.

The story ends, however, with the Birds breaking up – Batgirl leaves in disgust and returns to Gotham. Condor tries to stay with Black Canary, since he’s fallen in love with her (for awhile now) but we know the relationship will go nowhere. Canary strikes out on her own – and the flash-forward last story I already mentioned tells us how that will go.

Birds of Prey is a great graphic novel series because it features all women superheroes. Women who are bad-asses who can take care of themselves. The New 52 version compromises that premise (which has been around since the Chuck Dixon series of the 1990s) by introducing Condor who, although cool, doesn’t really belong in this series. These “birds” do not need a man to rescue them. The series also compromises Black Canary, a long-time DC heroine by making her entire existence about her guilt over accidentally “killing” her husband and then her determination to rescue and restore him. Canary even considers betraying the team and allowing R’as al Ghul to kill Mother Eve – simply to get her husband back and whole. Come on! This is the woman who was the defacto leader of the Justice League! (Batman was the leader on paper, but as he tended to be busy he appointed Canary as his lieutenant.) Canary was the trainer for Young Justice in that animated series. She’s had her own series. And for awhile, she was married to Oliver Queen – the Green Arrow. So why wimp her out? Oh, that right, this is New 52.

Fortunately, Rebirth brings her bad-ass self back. Birds of Prey becomes a story of betrayal and of character after character leaving – another trope of “women can’t work together”. There are some great moments (Starling – I miss her!) and some truly beautiful art. But I prefer the original series. And Rebirth is looking to be good too. I rate things based on it’s own merits – and by that score, this novel was pretty good, but other versions of the Birds are better.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Business Unusual

  • Title: Business Unusual
  • Series: BBC Books Past Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Gary Russell
  • Characters:  Sixth Doctor, Mel
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 02/15/2017

Business Unusual is from the BBC Books Past Doctor Adventures paperback series. I finished the series a few years ago, and started in on the Virgin Publishing Missing Doctors series, but Business Unusual was one of the ones that was out of print. I received an e-book copy, so this is a review of the e-book. Business Unusual features the Sixth Doctor as played by Colin Baker. For the Doctor it’s just after his trial at the hands of the Time Lords, so he’s determined to prevent that from happening at all. As a result, he’s travelling alone, though the book opens with the Doctor on Earth helping a police captain defeat the Master. He’s wrapping that up, and is to meet an human computer programmer who will finish off the virus to destroy the Master’s planned computer take-over. Meeting Mel by accident, the Doctor is determined to not have her become his companion.

Taking place in Brighton, the main story involves Sené-Net, a computer gaming entertainment company, with it’s fingers in prosthetics, human enhancements, and a number of other fields, including a fast-food burger chain. Mel is working at one of their subsidaries as an intern, and she’s the programmer the police have called in to finish cleaning-up the Master’s mess. The Doctor also witnesses a psychic attack on a young man, who turns out to be Mel’s family’s house guest. Also, the Brigadier, though retired, had been called in by UNIT and Department C-19 to investigate a missing operative. He’s promptly captured by Sené-Net.

So, despite his best intentions to stay out of things – the Doctor is drawn in, and meets Mel anyway. Mel and the Doctor investigate Sené-Net, and find that it’s CEO is more computer and cybernetics than human – plus he’s working with the Nestene Consciousness. Or to be precise, the Nestene are using him to launch a beachhead against Earth. From different angles, the Doctor, Mel, Mel’s family and friends, and the Brigadier uncover the plot – and stop it, but not without cost.

Business Unusual is a fun story that manages to combine the Jon Pertwee-Era feel of an alien invasion on Earth story, with really good characterization of the Doctor and Mel. The Doctor’s pain, anxiety, and worry underlies everything in the story. He really does not want to become the Valeyard. Meanwhile, Mel is shown to be an intelligent, professional, computer professional. Yes, she is health conscious, and even a bit pushy about it with her co-workers, but she’s not the whiny, overly cheerful, screamer she was in the series. She’s even a bit of a pragmatist. The scenes between the Doctor and the Brigadier are not to be missed. And the supporting cast is fun.

Overall, I’d give this book four stars. It’s a fun, quick read and recommended.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 4: The Cruelest Cut (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 4: The Cruelest Cut
  • Author: Christy Marx, James Tynion IV
  • Artists: Romano Molenaar, Jonathan Glapion, Vicente Cifuentes, Julio Ferreira, Scott McDaniel, Graham Nolan, Miguel Sepulveda, Robson Rocha, Sandu Florea, Oclair Albert, Chris Sotomayor, Rain Beredo, Taylor Esposito, Dezi Sienty, Travis Lanham
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Starling, Strix, Talon, Condor, 
  • Collection Date: 2014
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #18-24, 26; Talon #9 (2013-2014)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 9/29/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Volume 4 of the Birds of Prey series focuses on betrayal. Starling is kidnapped from Dinah (Black Canary)’s Dojo and a ransom demand sent: turn over the Talon and get Starling back. Batgirl begins to reassure the Talon (now called Strix) only to have Strix run. Black Canary and Batgirl follow – only to find Strix at the Court of Owls experimental lab. Suddenly, Mr. Freeze shows-up with Starling. Starling had thrown in her lot with Freeze, declaring, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and since Freeze wants vengeance on the Owls for stealing his cryogenic technology, Starling figures she can use Freeze to get to the Court and the Owls. Black Canary and Batgirl don’t see it that way, and are angered at and feel betrayed by Starling. Condor, meanwhile, proves his mettle, and provides shelter at his workshop.

No sooner are the Birds settling in than Batgirl gets a mysterious message and leaves.

We follow the Talon who refused to kill Strix, on his own adventure to try to free his girlfriend (or wife) and child and then to invade Santa Prisca to challenge Bane.

Back at Condor’s workshop, Basilisk attacks, including a new member, Uplink, who psychically attacks the group, trapping them in dreams. Black Canary and Condor are kidnapped. A former police officer arrives and offers help from “the Benefactor”. Batgirl and Strix go to free Black Canary and try to figure out if Condor, a former member of Basilisk, can be trusted.

At the Basilisk stronghold, Canary discovers her husband, Kurt, isn’t dead – but he is comatose and he’s also a metahuman who’s power is the ability to magnify or block the powers of other metas. She also discovers the leader of Basilisk, Regulus, is a fused being that combines Kaizen and Dean Higgins. Canary had thought Dean was killed in a disastrous black-ops mission to destroy the villain Kaizen, and also “killed” Kurt.

The book ends with Canary holding Kurt, whom Batgirl has returned to his coma because he is experiencing continuous seizures. Condor has proven himself, as has Strix. Presumably, the Birds of Prey will escape.