Book Review – Constantine vol. 3: The Voice in the Fire

  • Title: Constantine vol. 3: The Voice in the Fire
  • Author: Ray Fawkes
  • Artist: ACO, Jay Leisten, Edgar Salazar
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/26/2016

**Spoiler Alert** This is the second time I’ve read Constantine Volume 3: The Voice in the Fire and I enjoyed it very much. The novel opens with John Constantine in a mental battle with Spellbinder. This is a battle John wins, getting Spellbinder secretly on his side in his on-going battle against The Cold Flame. However, we also discover how John became a mage in the first place and just what it cost him. John has been through some horrible experiences. Yet, he helps another magician to confront her demons, then helps the “demon” to realize his missing girlfriend has always been there waiting for him.

Technically, Constantine is supposed to be “recruiting” for the Cold Flame – in reality he’s trying to get as many mages and magic users secretly under his wing as possible to challenge and destroy the Cold Flame. And so John goes to Hong Kong to confront Graceful Moon. She draws her power from luck and good fortune – but her secret, magical empire has drained the luck and fortune of everyone in Hong Kong – making it an extremely unlucky place to live. The sequences in Hong Kong have some of the most amazing and colorful art. It’s truly beautiful. Constantine manages to defeat Graceful Moon and reverse her fortunes.

John then travels to a very dark, dense forest in Germany – to confront werewolves. That’s not really why he’s there, but it’s what happens. John’s also discovered that Zatanna has cast a spell on him to make him a better person. He attempts to have the spell removed.

However, just as the mage will cast the spell to remove Zatanna’s influence from John – at the Temple of the Cold Flame, Tannarak casts Papa Midnight’s “kill switch” spell to destroy Constantine. When both spells hit they cause John a lot of pain – but neither does what it’s supposed to – Constantine is hurled back in time to World War I where he meets an old mentor. The mentor tries to send him back, and sends Constantine to his own future instead. There, having seen a magical war – Constantine confronts and overturns Dr. Fate – taking his helmet.

As sketchy and episodic as The Voice in the Firesounds – I liked it a lot. Each of the stories was good. They were well-written and made sense in and of themselves and as part of a larger whole. The mages from issue 1 of Constantine are still serious threats (Tannarak and Sargon – and with Mr. E taunting Constantine from within the Moon Sword); and the magical war is a constant threat too. But these stories are tied together by filling in Constantine’s background. The more we learn the more it becomes apparent just what sort of horrible events John’s experienced. And this makes John a fascinating and sympathetic character despite his faults. Highly recommended.

Advertisements

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Guardian of the Solar System

  • Title: The Guardian of the Solar System
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Simon Guerrier
  • Director: Lisa Borrowman
  • Characters: Sara Kingdom, Steven Taylor, First Doctor
  • Cast: Jean Marsh, Niall MacGregor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/08/2016

**Spoiler Alert** The Guardian of the Solar System is the third audio in the Doctor Who Sara Kingdom First Doctor Trilogy. The audio is performed by Jean Marsh as Sara and Niall MacGregor as Robert. I also listened to it about a week ago and this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write my review.

Anyway, Sara and Robert have switched places and now Sara is alive and Robert is the spirit of the House – and even though Sara was able to leave the house, she still cannot leave the Island of Ely because there are no boats or other ways off the Island. So again, Sara must tell Robert a story.

Sara tells Robert how she, Steven, and the Doctor landed on her Earth, a year or two before she originally met the Doctor. On Earth, there is a massive Grandfather Clock that is the balance to the hyperspace lanes – it keeps the entire system going and the Earth Empire depends on it for trade and commerce. The hyperspace lanes are essential to Earth. However, the Clock is fed old men – grandfathers, literally. The men work the Clock, and the Clock balances the system. The ticking of the clock underpins the CD, and the sound had started at the end of the previous volume.

Sara does try to change things at first, especially trying to warn her brother, Bret Vyon, but he of course doesn’t believe her. Sara also gets an “audience” with Mavic Chen, who explains the importance of the Clock. Sara realizes that, even though the Clock is a great evil, she can’t destroy it – because that will lead to the greater evil of Chen throwing in with the Daleks. But she also sees the inevitability of it all. Sara goes to stop the Doctor and Steven – but she is too late, and they are assisting the old men in their sabotage of the Clock. In the end, the Grandfather Clock is destroyed and the Doctor, Steven and Sara escape in the TARDIS.

Back at the house, Robert asks what Sara wants … what she wishes for. Then we hear the sounds of the TARDIS landing in the House. And the story ends open-ended, with Sara needing to decide – Will she open the TARDIS door?

I enjoyed this story, and, in fact, the entire trilogy. It’s was wonderful to see a story with Sara Kingdom (especially as “The Daleks’ Masterplan” is one of those stories that no longer exists). The third volume brings in lines and situations from the previous two volumes, sometimes reversing them. In a sense, the entire story is a circle – and I liked that as well. The trilogy is highly, highly recommended, especially for Classic Doctor Who fans.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order The Guardian of the Solar System on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – Constantine vol. 2: Blight

  • Title: Constantine vol. 2: Blight
  • Author: Ray Fawkes, Jeff Lemire
  • Artist: Renato Guedes, Marcelo Maiolo
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine, Justice League Dark, Zatanna
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/21/2016

John Constantine is a fascinating anti-hero and a guy who just can’t win. Blight as a graphic novel is a little hard to follow because it ties in with other titles – some of which I’ve read, such as Justice League Dark and some I haven’t. The book opens with Constantine apparently having a nightmare – but then we learn that everything in his magical vault has been taken from him. The three evil magicians from Volume 1 are back: Sargon, Mr. E, and Tannarak. They are travelling the world offering independent magic users a choice: join the Cult of the Cold Flame or die and have their magic and very life absorbed by whichever magician confronts them. Constantine offers to join the Cult, but keeps his mind free by a little slight of hand with the Cult’s drugged wine. He then uses the one artifact of his (the Moon Sword) that the Cult hasn’t destroyed to absorb it’s magic to kill Mr. E – but instead of absorbing his magic himself, luckily Sargon and Tannarak take it instead. With Mr. E trapped in the Sword, Constantine asks to be filled in on everything. However, just then, Shazam (Billy Batson) touches Pandora’s Box (in events not depicted in this story).

The next volume opens with the Crime Syndicate (evil Justice League from a parallel Earth) having taken over, our Justice League Heroes having disappeared, and a magic-dampening field having made it impossible for Constantine to track down his Justice League Dark or any magic users – good, evil, or indifferent. He and his new League, including Swamp Thing, Pandora, Nightmare Nurse, and Phantom Stranger are all John has now to fight Blight.

The next volume has John and his new allies brought to the border of Heaven where they encounter a ticked off Spectre and John has a weird conversation with God, who looks like Toto from The Wizard of Oz. Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds. After their conversation, the Angel Zauriel follows Constantine to Earth and John binds him in a circle in the House of Mystery. How Zauriel helps to defeat Blight is a story found in Justice League Dark and possibly other collections.

The next volume in this book has John and his new Justice League Dark in Nanda Parbat. There John discovers all the magic users are trapped in a magical torture machine, the Thaumaton Machine – behind this is Felix Faust and John’s one-time mentor and friend (now bitter enemy) Nick Necro. There’s a flashback explaining the background of Nick, John, and Zatanna, including the spell that ties the three together. Constantine and Necro fight both physically and using magic – it seems Constantine will win – when Swamp Thing explodes in the house and John is suddenly about to be sent to a very bad place. – along with every one else. And that’s the end of the book.

Constantine vol. 2 Blight is a good graphic novel, the art is incredible and the characterization is really good. However, the one negative is it’s a bit hard to follow – it’s intertwined to another story and it’s just becomes a bit frustrating to have stories disappear into the ether. Some are picked up in the Justice League Dark graphics, but some were covered in other books, I suppose. Still it’s well worth reading to pick-up some more detail in the battle against Blight and to defeat the Crime Syndicate and return the Justice League to Earth.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Drowned World

  • Title: The Drowned World
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Simon Guerrier
  • Director: Lisa Borrowman
  • Characters: Sara Kingdom, Steven Taylor, First Doctor
  • Cast: Jean Marsh, Niall MacGregor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/06/2016

**Spoiler Alert** The middle volume of a trilogy is often an odd duck – it’s a story without a beginning and without an ending, a link in a larger tale. Is it any wonder that the “middle film” or “middle book” is often the poorest rated – yet without it the third story wouldn’t be as strong or popular. The Drowned World doesn’t fall into that trap by being almost stand-alone, except for the framing story. This is the second audio play in the Sara Kingdom trilogy. If you haven’t listened to Home Truths first, do. And you may seriously want to listen to Home Truths before reading this review.

Sometime after the events in Home Truths, Robert returns to the House on the Island, Ely. Sara, the spirit of the house, is waiting for him. Sara cares for Robert, urging him to eat something, and begins to tell him another tale.

The TARDIS lands in a tilted laboratory. From the beginning, it’s clear something is horribly wrong – everything in the lab is askew, bolted tables, chairs, and equipment hanging off the walls, the door on the ceiling, and a lake of silvery water filling the room. As the First Doctor, Steven, and Sara exit, the TARDIS slips from it’s precarious position below the water. Sara, telling the story to Robert, remarks she felt very grateful she had thought to close the TARDIS door. The lab is part of a mining colony on an asteroid – the miners are in trouble, their atmosphere generator has been damaged and they won’t have enough air to last until the rescue party arrives. The Doctor immediately sets to work fixing the oxygen generator. Meanwhile, Sara and Steven work with three miners to pull the TARDIS out of the lake. The rope they try to use to rescue the TARDIS melts in the water as if it was acid. One of the assisting miners is killed. The other miners, Steven, and Sara are attacked by the living water, literally – an alien being with the appearance of water. To escape the attack, the rising water, and prevent the deadly water from flooding the rest of the colony, it’s Sara who slams shut the door and locks it. It’s also Sara who breaks open the portal to outside – taking the group to the surface of the asteroid. Unfortunately, though they make it to the airlock they can’t get the door open from the outside. Sara crosses back to the deadly water-logged room to tell the Doctor and the other miners of the colony that they need to let everyone in. Sara’s message is heard, the group rescued, but Sara is still trapped – and dies.

In dying, Sara communes with the water-being. She discovers that the mining is destroying the water beings and poisoning the asteroid. Then she is let go. Sara recovers and convinces the miners to abandon the colony when the rescue ship arrives. Yet, as she tells Robert – she knows that she only delayed the inevitable. The rock held valuable minerals – sooner or later the unique being living there would be destroyed to get to those minerals.

That is the story-within-the-story, the framing story connects with Home Truths and The Guardian of the Solar System. As it concludes, Robert’s motivations become clear – it wants something from Sara, something she isn’t sure she can grant – but if she does, there is a price to be paid. And this leads into the final volume of the trilogy.

Sara is played, wonderfully, by Jean Marsh (Sara Kingdom in Doctor Who “The Daleks’ Masterplan”; Morgaine in Doctor Who “Battlefield”; and Rose the Lady’s Maid in the original Upstairs, Downstairs). Robert is played by Niall MacGregor. The Drowned World is written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Lisa Bowerman.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order The Drowned World on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Psych Season 8 Review

  • Series Title: Psych
  • Season: Season 8
  • Episodes: 10 Episodes, Plus Psych: The Musical
  • Discs: 3
  • Network: USA (Universal)
  • Cast: James Roday, Dulé Hill, Timothy Omundson, Maggie Lawson, Kirsten Nelson, Corbin Bernsen
  • Format: Color, Widescreen, NTSC, R1

Season 8 of Psych is a bit of a hodge-podge, a smorgasbord, bits and pieces that almost seem like left over ideas from previous seasons – though the series ends on an unexpectedly happy note. But the mish-mash of episodes make it difficult to discuss the season as a whole.

The opening episode, only features Gus and Shawn. We see Lassiter briefly, in what seems to be little more than a cameo, on the more expensive trans-Atlantic cell phone call ever.  Shawn is invited by Interpol to the UK, because he resembles the getaway driver of a group of thieves. Once there, Shawn and Gus run into Pierre Deveraux (Cary Elwes) who claims to be a deep-cover Interpol agent, not an infamous thief. Pierre Deveraux isn’t even his real name. He asks Shawn to substitute for a getaway driver so Interpol can catch an infamous thief who uses a new crew for every job. It’s basically Psych does Oceans 11, or any other caper film. The episode suffers from not having the regular cast, but Elwes, who has been in several episodes of Psych over the years, is a delight.

The next episode brings the entire cast back, as well as the show’s normal setting of Santa Barbara. With the police station still under the thumb of Interim Chief Trout (Anthony Michael Hall), things are almost on track. Trout is horrible at policing – he’s arrogant, rude, sexist, racist and dumb. Lassiter saves his life when someone takes a shot at him, and Trout’s so arrogant, he blames Lassie for messing up his suit. Shawn and the gang have to solve the case – which expands to three dead guys; the only link being, as Shawn puts it, “someone’s killing a-holes” (including the pot shots at Trout).

The next episode is set in 2006, the first year of the show, and it feels like a script that didn’t make the cut for filming. But because of the setting, Shawn is pining for Juliet who won’t really give him the time of day. It also gives the audience a last chance to see Shawn as his wackiest in terms of the physical comedy that was gradually reduced over the years of how Shawn indicates he’s having a “vision”. The episode involved a woman accused of murder that Shawn and Gus believe is innocent.

In the next episode, an ex-con takes Woody hostage, when the coroner interrupts the ex-criminal as he tries to steal a corpse. As it turns out, the guy claims to be innocent of the murder – but thinks no one will believe him since he’s an ex-con and he had argued with the victim previously. Not only do Shawn and Gus have to solve the murder, and prove the guy innocent, but Lassiter and Juliet have to rescue Woody before Trout puts his “kill everyone including the hostage in a hail of bullets” plan in action. At the end of the episode, Trout fires Juliet and Lassiter – but it’s proved moot as Trout is fired for being an ass.

In the next episode, someone with an eerie resemblance to Gus, with the same type of life, is murdered. This forces Gus to re-think his life, and he quits his job as a pharmaceutical rep.

The next story has Lassiter trying to solve a cold case from 1967, so he will be appointed Chief of Police by the new mayor. The costumes and music are awesome – the plot, well, it’s been done. Karen Vick returns briefly – but only to say that during her 6-month suspension she found a new job, as Chief of Police in San Francisco. At the end of the episode, Lassiter gets the job of Chief. Although he had planned to have Juliet as his Head Detective – the mayor had made it a condition of employment to hire his choice for that position. Juliet accepts Vick’s offer to be her head detective in San Francisco, leaving her relationship with Shawn in limbo. However, they plan to stay in a long-distance relationship.

There’s a couple of filler episodes. In one, Lassiter’s wife, Marlowe, gives birth to their daughter, Lily. And Henry sells his house, Shawn’s childhood home. Then there’s the last of Psych’s annual Halloween episodes, filled with zombies and other horror references, and guest-starring Bruce Campbell as a dream therapist who’s treating Gus. The episode is a series of the horror vignettes (which get weird because they always end-up being Gus’s dreams), with a focus on Gus’s relationship with Shawn, rather than Shawn’s relationship with Gus.

I then watched “Psych: The Musical” which is on the special features section of the third disc. the episode breaks back Ally Sheedy as the Yang killer, but as a consultant. The case focuses on the Ripper Theater murder, which I think was from an earlier season. I enjoyed “Psych: The Musical” a lot. Tim Omundson has a wonderful deep bass voice. We know James Roday and Dulé Hill can sing, since they do it all the time. Even Kristen Nelson gets a song. Maggie Lawson tries, and although not the strongest voice – she makes up for it in enthusiasm. Besides, it is extremely fun to watch Omundson, Nelson, and Lawson doing traditional dance steps we’ve seen so many times before — in the business suits those characters wear normally. The story itself actually wasn’t bad (a typical red herring, red herring, red herring, catch the real killer 10 minutes before the end of the story plot) but it’s just put together well with the music and the dancing, and even more theatrical costumes at times since much of the plot involves a re-make of a play at a theatre.

The final episode is called, “The Break Up”, and I was expecting something negative and awful and everyone going their own ways. But it wasn’t – and the start of the story, Shawn calls Juliet and tells her he wants to move up to San Francisco permanently to be with her. The rest of the story, between the typical murder plot that’s common on this show, is Shawn trying to figure out how to tell Gus he’s leaving. In the end, Shawn sends DVDs to all the regulars – telling him both what they have meant to him and his decision. It’s a bit eerie. But the last scene has Shawn showing up in San Francisco to see Jules, we see Karen again in her new role, surprised to see Shawn, Gus comes up to see Shawn and to tell him he quit his new job because it was too much like his old job, and most importantly – Shawn proposes to Jules – who accepts him, though someone comes out of nowhere to steal the engagement ring before he can slip it on Jules’ finger. Shawn and Gus give chase in the most ridiculous car ever.

So the last season does wrap up all the threads from the previous season. We see very little of Chief Vick – the actress was probably unavailable (the series was supposed to wrap with Season 7, but USA’s replacement for it bombed big time, prompting one more season of the established show). Who’s in an episode of the regular cast also goes up and down – we always have Shawn and Gus, but Juliet leaves halfway through. We see little of Henry. Lassie’s there and more competent than ever, and with that – Shawn’s “gifts” have less use to the plots. Shawn and Gus’s friendship is a theme, especially in the horror episode. Yet the series wraps in a satisfactory way – most of our characters are in a new location, but together. Lassiter has the job he’s always wanted and a new head detective who’s just like him in many ways – plus he’s now married, has a daughter, and even bought Henry’s house. Henry, it’s implied, will enjoy his retirement. Shawn and Jules are together. Everything falls into place. And that is a happy conclusion to this happy, fun, and highly 1980s-like series.

There will be a Psych reunion special this year (2017) and that should be enjoyable.

Book Review – Constantine vol. 1: The Spark and the Flame

  • Title: Constantine vol. 1: The Spark and the Flame
  • Author: Ray Fawkes, Jeff Lemire
  • Artist: Renato Guedes, Marcelo Maiolo
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine, Papa Midnight, Justice League Dark
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/18/2016

**Spoiler Alert** This is the first volume of the John Constantine solo series, but it is interwoven with John’s adventures as part of Justice League Dark as such at times I found myself having to realize where we were in John’s story – and that changes throughout the volume.

The first three issues collected in this volume are closely linked. Constantine is after Croydon’s Compass – a dangerous magical artifact that’s been broken into three pieces and scattered to the winds. Constantine wants it to prevent it from falling in to the hands of some evil magicians – but this is Constantine, so he probably wouldn’t mind having the power for himself. Constantine’s monologue explains both how his magic works (it has a high price) and Constantine’s point-of-view in using it. He obtains the first part of the compass, the needle, but his friend Chris dies – killed by the evil magicians hunting the compass and John. When he tries to obtain the second part, the face of the compass, he eventually succeeds but not before losing the needle to the bad guys. The third part of the compass is in London – and due to some sort of curse, John is physically sick and hurt the entire time he’s in London. As it turns out neither John nor the evil magicians can take the lens.

John then returns home to New York, only to face off against Papa Midnight. John gets beaten-up by Midnight’s men, but had cast a spell on himself – so the damage reflects back on Midnight’s goons. John then tracks down the man who had been following him on the behalf on one of the evil magicians, a man he’d see run a short-change con on a local business owner. John essentially mugs him, then donates the stolen money to the business owner, a friend.

The next issue ties in with the story of the Justice League trying to find Pandora’s Box for some reason – which also popped-up in Justice League Dark. John gets Shazam (Captain Marvel) to become Billy Batson, then uses a spell to switch their voices – so Billy sounds like John and John is able to become Shazam for a short period. They are attacked by a demon. When the spell is reversed, John tries to convince Batson not to touch Pandora’s Box – but Batson doesn’t believe him or even listen to what Constantine is telling him. John’s severely injured in the battle and the owner of the bar tries calling Zatanna but can’t get a hold of her. Then John is attacked by Chris’s ghost. John tells the ghost he was dying anyway because his brain couldn’t handle his power. Papa Midnight arrives. John has to convince Papa Midnight to save him, and John points out the danger represented by the Cult of the Cold Flame. Papa Midnight saves John. And John’s gone through Metamorphosis in Extremis for the third time – making him an even more powerful mage and magic user.

John Constantine is a fascinating hero – he’s an anti-hero who will sacrifice whatever it takes for his purposes. And those purposes are often the bigger picture. Constantine also doesn’t want to be the hero – but he has skills and those skills have one purpose – to fight the darkness. Constantine’s uniform is simple: black pants, white shirt, messy tie, tan trench coat. This is about as far from the brightly-colored uniforms of most superheroes as you can get. And despite his abilities at using magic, he’s a very human hero – his magic comes at a price, a price John will pay because he loves the rush. Yet at the same time, John tries to do the right thing – even though it often backfires on him. This is a promising start to a new graphic novel series that I think I will enjoy. First volume is recommended, though you may want to also read Justice League Dark to figure out what’s going on.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Home Truths

  • Title: Home Truths
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Simon Guerrier
  • Director: Lisa Borrowman
  • Characters: Sara Kingdom, Steven Taylor, First Doctor
  • Cast: Jean Marsh, Niall MacGregor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/24/2016

Home Truths is a haunted house story. No really – it really is. And it’s a incredibly well-constructed one that works particularly well on audio. I can see this one becoming an annual Halloween favorite. Home Truths begins with the First Doctor (as played by William Hartnell in the original Doctor Who television series), Sara Kingdom, and Steven Taylor landing the TARDIS inside a house. Yes, inside the house – wherein becomes the problem, because they can’t leave by the traditional method – the door, the house has been well and truly sealed. And if you’re wondering how a companion could be traveling around with the Doctor when she’s mostly famous for dying (opps, sorry, spoiler there – but we are talking about a character death from 1966, ok, 50 years – that’s well enough time to not need a spoiler warning) – it turns out that Sara per canon did travel in the extremely unreliable TARDIS for awhile. Anyway, the trio alight the TARDIS and almost immediately stumble over the dead body of a woman, and later, a young man. The deserted house is strewn with wedding presents, most not even unwrapped. The Doctor starts to figure out the mystery when a glass of water appears near his hand, and he remarks that he was thinking about how he’d like some water. But it’s Sara who makes a mistake – placing her hand in a hand-shaped groove near the near from the kitchen. Sara had thought it was a door control, similar to the security panels in her own time. But Sara’s innocent action will have far reaching consequence – that stretch into the two sequels that follow this story, The Drowned World, and The Guardian of the Solar System.

Eventually, the Doctor, with some help from Sara and Steven solves the mystery – which I’m not going to reveal, though the truth is quite horrifying. I’m also not going to reveal here what effect Sara’s innocent action would have. The story is also framed as an interview between the mysterious “Robert”, a policeman of sorts, and Sara, who narrates the story.

Sara is played, wonderfully, by Jean Marsh (Sara Kingdom in Doctor Who “The Daleks Masterplan”; Morgaine in Doctor Who “Battlefield”; and Rose the Lady’s Maid in the original Upstairs, Downstairs). Robert is played by Niall MacGregor. Home Truths is written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Lisa Bowerman.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order Home Truths on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!