Book Review – Supergirl vol. 1: Reign of the Cyborg Supermen

  • Title: Supergirl vol. 1: Reign of The Cyborg Supermen
  • Author: Steve Orlando
  • Artists: Brian Ching, Emanuela Lupacchino, Ray McCarthy, Michael Atiyeh, Steve Wands
  • Line: Rebirth
  • Characters: Supergirl, Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers, Cat Grant
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/18/2017

**Spoiler Alert** To be honest, I’d like to rate this 3.5 Stars. It’s not bad, just a bit disappointing. Supergirl vol. 1 Reign of the Cyborg Supermen collects Supergirl Rebirth and the first six issues of the newest Supergirl series from DC Comics. This Supergirl is heavily influenced by the CW Series, it seems, but leaves out some of the best parts of that show. Alex Davers, Kara’s human adopted sister on the CW series is nowhere to be seen here. But 16-year-old Kara is being raised by two DEO Agents, Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers. At times, the Danvers act like parents. But at other times, they act like secret agents simply doing a job. Kara, herself, is sent to a regular high school in National City. Well, a science and technology magnet school, though Kara is confused by the primitive nature of the technology she uses at the school. It isn’t quite, “a keyboard how quaint”, but it’s close.

However, Kara and one of her classmates are soon taken out of school entirely to be part of Cat Grant’s Young Innovators program at her new Catco Corporation. Other than her determination to deny young people a normal education, Cat is actually one of the most interesting characters in this book. She is just starting Catco, and is remarkably astute, realizing both that she can be her own worst enemy and that to do what she wants with Catco, she needs the new ideas she can get from the young. I would have no problem with her Young Innovators program if it was a Summer internship, or even a “gap year” program, but taking young people out of school and putting them straight in to an incredibly stressful and competitive business environment, with no mentoring, structure, or help? That’s just not a good thing. 16-year-olds are too young to be told to sink or swim. But I digress.

The second part of the story is where the title comes from: the Cyborg Supermen. Kara’s father, Zor-El returns. He is now a cyborg, and wants to return Kara to Argo city. Worse, his plan to bring back the citizens of Argo City involves turning them into Cyborgs who will suck the life out of humans to become truly living. Kara isn’t having it, and the fight scenes between Kara and her misguided father have meaning because there are emotional reasons behind why the two are fighting. And as misguided as Zor-El is, he has his own point of view. In the end, he only wants to save his people, the last city of Krypton. Of course, doing that by killing a city’s worth of people on Earth, in a strangely vampiric way, isn’t the best way to accomplish this – but at least Zor-El isn’t being evil simply for the sake of being evil. And Kara really, really gets to kick butt. She is powerful, strong, and ultimately defeats Zor-El and his super-powered cyborgs, both by using her wits and by physically beating Zor-El. That was enjoyable.

Overall, Supergirl in many ways feels like young adult fiction. A teenaged girl would probably enjoy the story more than I did. Still, I also did not hate it, I was just disappointed. I felt Kara was a bit too young. I didn’t like the “send Supergirl to high school” thing, and apparently neither did the writers, because no sooner than they sent her there than they pulled her out. Why not make her a 17 or 18-year old high school graduate at least? Or make Cat’s program a Summer internship? The plot with Kara’s father had emotional impact, at least, so that worked. Kara was strong throughout, which was also good. The art has a Japanese Anime look, though the colors are bright with a lot of red and blue, as a Superman family book should be.

Recommended with reservations.

Non-Fiction Book Review – Doctor Who: The Programme Guide

  • Title: Doctor Who: The Programme Guide
  • First Edition: Target Books (1989)
  • Fourth Edition: Mystery Writers of America Presents iUniverse Inc.; Originally Published by W.H. Allen & Co. PLC and Virgin Publishing Ltd. (2003)
  • Author: Jean-Marc Lofficier (4th edition – Jean-Marc Lofficier & Randy Lofficier)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/15/2012

I couldn’t find my edition (published in 1989 with a foreward by John Nathan-Turner) of this book here on GoodReads but this (Fourth ed.) appears to be the closest I can get.

This is the best Doctor Who episode guide or program guide out there. Unfortunately it is out of date, and long out of print, but I’d like to see it brought back in an updated form.

Reasons that this book is superior to similar ones.

1. Full descriptions of all episodes from the very first episode, “An Unearthly Child” to “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy”; episode titles and cast lists for all episodes including the last season of the Classic Series (up to “Survival”).

2. Full cast lists for all episodes that are covered.

3. True pocket size, it’s a normal paperback size.

4. Easy look-up format.

5. Includes production codes and number of episodes per story.

6. Very little to no opinion on the episodes. This really is a “just the facts” episode guide.

By the way, I have enjoyed many of the essay collections, especially recent ones, that are out there for Doctor Who but this one stays on my desk even though it’s out of date, because sometimes you just want to look something up.

Highly recommended, and one I’d like to see updated to include the New Who series.

Addendum: Fourth Edition – I now also have the Fourth Edition, which is a trade paperback size, so a bit less handy than the original paperback. Both copies stay on my desk. The fourth edition includes plot descriptions of Sylvester McCoy’s final season as the Doctor, full cast information (both actors and the characters they play), the production code, and the number of episodes and air dates – information included for every story of the original series. The book also lists the target novelization of every story, and in some cases the available video tape of the story (yes, OK, the book’s a date out of date for video editions, but it’s very worth it as an episode/program guide with factual not opinionated information about Doctor Who. If you are interested in factual information about Doctor Who on DVD you can’t go wrong with The Classic Doctor Who Video Compendium by Paul Smith.) In addition, the Fourth Edition of The Doctor Who Programme Guide includes the full cast and summary information for the Eighth Doctor TV Movie starring Paul McGann. The Fourth Edition also includes summaries and production information for Doctor Who The Missing Bits – various plays, unproduced scripts available as novelizations, and official BBC radio plays. The book does not include the Big Finish audios (a guide to those would be a book in an of itself, and probably one of several volumes). It also does not include the recent BBC Radio audio books (actors from the series reading books from the BBC Books New Who book series, such as The Stone Rose, or audio plays produced by the BBC. However, like the rest of the book, the Missing Bits section includes summaries, production information, cast information (for plays and audio adventures), novelization information, and the like – just like the rest of the book. The Fourth Edition is a fine updating of the original, but it doesn’t replace the original for me. Still both editions are highly recommended, and the Fourth Edition is probably easier to find.

Book Review – The Hellblazer vol. 1: The Poison Truth

  • Title: The Hellblazer vol. 1: The Poison Truth
  • Author: Simon Oliver
  • Artist: Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Sal Capriano
  • Line: Rebirth
  • Characters: John Constantine, Chas, Mercury, Swamp Thing, Abby, Clarice
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/15/2017

The Hellblazer vol. 1 The Poison Truth collects The Hellblazer Rebirth and the first six issues of Hellblazer. The opening story has John Constantine returning to London, a city that’s deadly to him because of a curse. With some last minute assistance from Mercury, a psychic, John is able to defeat the demon and lift his curse. There’s a dicey bit where the curse affects all the people in London, but John is able to reverse it. Now, permanently in London, John is living with his friend, Chas, and his wife. Swamp Thing calls in a marker with John and gets his friend, Mercury, to travel to The Rot to seek out Abby – avatar of the rot. With Swamp Thing as Avatar of the Green, they travel to the Rot. This poisons Swamp Thing, though Mercury is able to travel through a wormhole to another dimension. Trying to find Abby, she fails in that but finds a Djinn instead.

Meanwhile, John visits Clarice, who warns him he’s wanted – later we find out she’s also working with a Djinn, and the Djinn want Constantine.

This book has some truly remarkable art – I love the colors, and how the colors reflect each world. Mercury and Chas are interesting foils for Constantine – though I think his character needs even more people around him. Swamp Thing’s view of the world – as three plains of existance: the Green, the Red, and the Rot; or the worlds of Nature, living beings, and all dead creatures, is fascinating – as is his trip through the Rot, and Mercury’s failed attempt to find Abby (avatar of the Rot). But London has it’s own color scheme, Swamp Thing’s pages have their own color scheme, and Mercury’s trip to another place looking for Abby has it’s own pastel colors. Meanwhile, Clarice is working with a Djinn and trying to unite London’s mobsters.

I did have to read the book twice because parts of it were somewhat confusing, but it’s a good start, and I will certainly look for the next volume. Recommended.

Book Review – Red Hood and the Outlaws vol. 1: Dark Trinity

  • Title: Red Hood and the Outlaws vol. 1: Dark Trinity
  • Author: Scott Lobdell
  • Artist: Dexter Soy, Veronica Gandini, Taylor Esposito
  • Line: Rebirth
  • Characters: Red Hood (Jason Todd), Artemis (of the Amazons), Bizarro (Superman’s clone), Black Mask
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/15/2017

**Spoiler Alert** I loved Red Hood and the Outlaws vol. 1: Dark Trinity – I simply loved it! Jason Todd as part of the “Bat Family” is a character that I’m not super familiar with. Yes, I read the original, A Death in the Family where he’s killed by the Joker. And I’ve both read Judd Winick’s Under the Red Hood and seen the Warner Brother’s/DC Comics animated film based on it (which is quite possibly still the best of several excellent animated DC films) where Jason comes back. But that’s mostly about it. However, the previews and such about this book were very enthusiastic, so I decided to order it from my local comics shop and try it out. I’m so glad I did – because this book is wonderful!

Jason is a complex character, and this story uses flashbacks extremely well to introduce the character. It’s not, say 50-pages of straight backstory, but the flashbacks are interwoven into the story well. Obviously, they are there because the book is aimed at new DC readers, but, and it’s an important but, the flashbacks are well-integrated and they enhance the story. If you are familiar with Jason’s story arc, they simply remind you of the important points, and if you are not – well, now you know. For the long, continuing, and complex world of graphic novels and comics – this book is almost a primer on how to do that well. Plus, you have things like the very famous full-page picture of Batman, kneeling in the rain, and holding Jason’s body, but Jason’s comment that he was dead so he doesn’t remember it.

Which brings me to the second point – I wasn’t expecting this book to be so funny, but I did (literally) laugh out loud at several points. Jason Todd to me has always been a tragic figure, The Robin Who Died. The person who, like his parents death, profoundly affected Bruce Wayne and his mission by dying. (And even Bruce using the term, “the mission”, became a stronger, clearer, and more obvious part of his role as Batman because of Jason’s death.) But in this book, he’s not the street-wise kid with an attitude problem. He’s smart, and sassy, and his own man with his own way of doing things. In some ways, even though he’s nothing like Dick Grayson either, he reminds me of the first couple Nightwing books by Chuck Dixon, as Dick feels his own way and becomes his own man and his own type of superhero. Jason, here is the same – he follows his own code, he has his own way of doing things, he knows his way isn’t Bruce’s way, but he’s still becoming a hero. The characterization in this is brilliant and I loved it. And yes, there’s a lot of humor here – both Jason’s inner monologue, and in his conversations with Artemis.

The plot of the book starts with Jason “shooting” the mayor of Gotham City. However, Jason hasn’t suddenly turned assassin. He’s actually shot medicine into the mayor to cure him of techno-organic virus. Black Mask had been using the virus to control the mayor. Batman, who had made a show of trying to “stop” the Red Hood’s attack talks to Jason, finds out about the techno-organic virus, and learns that the “attack” on the mayor was part of a plan. Jason intends to go deep undercover to take down Black Mask and his organization.

As the newest recruit in Black Mask’s organization, Jason discovers that he not only blew-up the “orphanage” run by another criminal, Ma Gunn, but that he intended it to be full of children at the time. Jason also sees Black Mask kill three of his own men for “disappointing” him. But that might have been your typical undercover-in-the-mob story – until Jason tries to stop Black Mask from attacking a train delivering a super-weapon to Gotham City. In an attempt to stop Black Mask from getting whatever is in the train, Red Hood runs into Artemis. This Artemis is a Amazon warrior, a rival of Princess Diana (Wonder Woman) and on a quest to find the Bow of Ra. And she’s brilliant! I loved the character of Artemis, and I hope she stays as a regular member of Red Hood’s Outlaws. Also, the dialogue between Artemis and Jason is brilliant. It’s well-written and it sparkles like a 1930s film. Not that Artemis and Jason are a romantic couple (yet) but their dialogue is just incredible.

Jason worries that the train car that Black Mask steals has some horrible bioweapon aboard. Artemis thinks it’s her Bow of Ra. They are both wrong – it’s Bizarro, a Superman clone created by Lex Luthor. The last third of the book has Bizarro brought to Black Mask’s hideout, Jason trying to connect to Bizarro, Artemis pretty much wanting to kill off Bizarro as a threat, and eventually Black Mask using his techno-organic virus to take over Bizarro. Black Mask using his own brain to control Bizarro becomes his downfall, as Jason is able to use the cure he used on the mayor, as well as his own relationship with Bizarro to free the Superman clone from Black Mask’s control. The backlash destroys the mobster’s mind. At the end, Jason and Bizarro agree to help Artemis on her quest for the Bow of Ra.

Meanwhile, when Jason meets up with Batman to report – the two both learn a bit about each other.
I hope DC Comics continues to publish this book in graphic novel collections, because I will definitely want to continue to buy and read it. Highly recommended.

Red Hood and the Outlaws vol. 1: Dark Trinity collects the Rebirth special and issues 1-6 of the series.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Chimes of Midnight

  • Title: The Chimes of Midnight
  • Series: Doctor Who Main Range (Eighth Doctor Mini-Series 2)
  • Author: Robert Shearman
  • Director: Barnaby Edwards
  • Characters: Eighth Doctor, Charley
  • Cast: Paul McGann, India Fisher
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/27/2016

I originally listened to this Big Finish Eighth Doctor Audio Play when it came out in 2002. I decided to re-listen to it over Christmas, and I’m glad I did – it is a very good story to listen to around Christmas.

The Chimes of Midnight features Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and India Fisher as his companion, Charlotte (Charley) Pollard. The play feels like Upstairs, Downstairs (the original from the 1970s featuring Jean Marsh as the Lady’s Maid, Rose) crossed with Sapphire and Steel with a dash of a 1920s British Murder Mystery thrown in. The story takes place on Christmas Eve as well. It’s one of the best conceived and realised audio plays that Big Finish have done. It’s also full-cast audio drama, not an audiobook.

The Doctor and Charley land at what appears to be an abandoned Edwardian House. But soon they are pulled into the House in an earlier period: 1906. In 1906, the staff below stairs are busily getting ready for Christmas. The scullery maid, Edith, is murdered and the staff quickly assume that The Doctor, as a guest of his Lordship, is from Scotland Yard. Or maybe he’s a famous amateur sleuth. And the servants think Edith’s death was suicide – when it was clearly murder.

As the story develops – a death occurs every hour as the Grandfather Clock chimes; but at midnight the entire story loops around and resets. Edith is always the first victim, but other servants are murdered as the loop goes around and around again. The murders also always represent the particular servant’s job and become more and more bizarre as the loop goes around and around.

But the top of the loop is always different, allowing the Doctor and Charley to gain more information about just what is going on – and to learn from it. The Doctor even gets so frightened by the paradox and time loop that he tries to leave – only to be caught in the trap again.

I won’t reveal exactly what’s happening, because I don’t want to spoil it – but it’s an excellent story, with a wonderful conclusion, and I recommend it. Also, the atmosphere really works. It’s helpful to have listened to Charley’s first story, Storm Warning prior to listening to Chimes of Midnight. Still, very highly recommended.

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

Click this link to order The Chimes of Midnight on on Download, for the current special price of $2.99.

Note: For this release only, a Limited (collector’s) edition on vinyl is also available, The Chimes of Midnight Special Edition.

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

Book Review – Titans vol. 1: The Return of Wally West (Rebirth)

  • Title: Titans vol. 1: The Return of Wally West
  • Author: Dan Abnett
  • Artist: Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, Andrew Dalhouse, Carlos M. Mangual, Carrie Strachan
  • Line: Rebirth
  • Characters: Teen Titans, Wally West, Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Wonder Girl (Donna Troy), Tempest (Garth), Omen (Lilith), Arsenal (Roy Harper)
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 03/11/2017

In May of 2016, DC Comics started “Rebirth”, an updating of all of DC Comics. Rebirth dumps New 52, returning the DC Comics books to the feel of the Classic 1990s Modern age. The new series now features a diverse cast of characters including many women, and religious, racial, and ethnic minorities, like DC featured starting way back in the Silver Age (1960s). I have been subscribing to many of the new Rebirth titles in monthly issues, but “Titans”, the updated “Teen Titans” is a title that I skipped in single-issue form.

Rebirth takes off from Flashpoint with the Flash, lost in the Speed Force, trying to get through to his friends. Titans vol. 1 The Return of Wally West features Wally West, also lost in the Speed Force, and no longer Kid Flash, but now “a Flash”, trying to find his friends in the Teen Titans. But no one recognizes him. However, when he touches Dick Grayson (Nightwing), there’s a spark of electricity – and Dick remembers Wally. Wally and Dick gather the rest of the Titans – Donna Troy (Wonder Girl), Garth (Tempest), Lilith (Omen), Roy Harper (Arsenal), and when Wally touches them – they remember him and the Titans. The group also soon discover that their memories of Wally and the Titans were stolen when Wally was thrown into the time stream by an enemy. However, Linda Park – Wally’s girlfriend doesn’t remember him at all.

The villain of the piece, Abra Kadabra, a villain from the far future appears at a birthday party in Keystone City, and uses puppet copies of the Teen Titans to attack the Titans. He eventually sets-up the Titans so they split-up to investigate three locations to find the kidnapped Linda Park. He then places everyone in deadly peril and challenges Wally to save them all, even though he’s used magic to move everyone to different cities. One does have to wonder why Wally didn’t call on the Justice League for help, since the locations (Coast City – traditional home of Green Lantern, Gotham – home of Batman, etc) are home to other heroes, but Wally decides he must save everyone. He does (in a stunning sequence) including Linda but goes so fast he’s absorbed by the Speed Force. Kadabra gloats over defeating his enemy. In the Speed Force, Wally talks to the Linda from his future who sends him back. Returning to Real Time, Wally defeats Kadabra and is reunited with the new Titans.

I enjoyed reading this book. Rebirth gets DC right – with fun, and humor, yet with deep and meaningful characterization. In the end, it’s Wally’s love for his friends in the Titans, not his romantic feelings for Linda, that allow him to return. The scenes in the Speed Force are wonderful though. And even Kadabra, as over the top as he is, is a fun villain – semi-threatening but not totally angsty. This book and the rest of Rebirth is highly, highly recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Invaders from Mars

  • Title: Invaders from Mars
  • Series: Doctor Who Main Range (Eighth Doctor Mini-Series 2)
  • Author: Mark Gatiss
  • Director: Mark Gatiss
  • Characters: Eighth Doctor, Charley
  • Cast: Paul McGann, India Fisher, Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, Katy Manning
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/26/2017

Big Finish’s audio CD, Invaders from Mars is one of my favorites of the Eighth Doctor range CDs that I’ve listened to. It features Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and India Fisher as Charley, with guest appearances by Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson. This is a full-cast audio play; with music, sound effects, and the actors performing their roles – it is not a audio book read by a celebrity.

Although Charley has an appointment to make in Singapore 1930, the TARDIS lands her and the Doctor in New York in 1938. They almost immediately stumble upon a dead body of a private detective, and are caught-up in a plot involving mobsters. The Doctor quickly takes on the role of the dead detective, only to discover the woman who hires him to find her uncle isn’t his niece after all, but rather, a Russian assassin out to kill or return to Russia a defecting scientist and expert in atomic power.

Meanwhile, Orson Welles and his Mercury Players are preparing to present HG Wells “War of the Worlds” as a radio play. Yes, that infamous broadcast. And just to keep things interesting, a couple of aliens have invaded Brooklyn, but only to threaten Earth with an intergalactic protection racket that isn’t that far off from how the local mobsters work.

The guest characters in this play speak with harsh New York/New Jersey accents and use slang straight out of pulp novels and really bad films from the 1930s. It would be annoying if it wasn’t for the fact that the entire play is just so much fun. Somehow, when the entire thing is a parody anyway – little errors can be noticed but it’s not as upsetting. The major error is “the CIA” plays a major factor in this story, which is set in the US in 1938. However, and I checked this to make sure, the CIA wasn’t founded until 1947 (I knew it grew out of the World War II spies). Second, the CIA is the foreign intelligence service, not the domestic one, that’s the FBI. The CIA isn’t supposed to even operate on US soil. The FBI did exist in the 1930s (think of the Untouchables) and was mostly involved in tracking down bootleggers and chasing mobsters. If the story had simply substituted FBI for CIA, the plot would have made a lot more sense. Also, at one point a female character tells a male character, “Why don’t you stand for Congress?” You don’t “stand for” Congress, you run for Congress. (You stand for MP, apparently, but the US doesn’t have MPs.) It caught my ear as a basic mistake. So, yeah, there are some grammatical and usage terms that just aren’t correct – and it makes no sense for an agency that didn’t even exist until nearly ten years after the story is set to play such a big part in the story.

However, that can be forgiven considering just how much fun this audio is. I will go with it and say, yeah, OK, so this is like one of those bad historical Hollywood films that gets everything wrong – because its fun. So still highly recommended.

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

Click this link to order Invaders from Mars on Download only, for the current special price of $2.99.

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