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Dantastic Book Reviews

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Vision #1

Vision #1 - Tom   King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Mike del Mundo I've been interested in the Vision for a long time but have only read a handful of comics featuring him. I know he's an android created by Ultron and used to be married to the Scarlet Witch. Oh, and he was in the second Avengers movie.

Tom King's series has The Vision create a family for himself. His wife Virginia, and teen twins Vin and Viv live with The Vision in a Washington DC suburb and try to lead a normal life.

I didn't know what to think of this at first. Now I do. I fucking love it!

The Visions try to blend in with humans to learn about them. It was oddly amusing and somewhat sweet. That made the Grim Reaper showing up and scything the shit out of them much more shocking.

For a single issue of a modern comic, this one had a lot of great moments. Tom King has me hooked. I'll read The Vision as long as he writes it. Five out of five stars.

Good Morning, Midnight

Good Morning, Midnight - Lily Brooks-Dalton Augustine lives alone an an observatory at the north pole, living out his days doing what he loves when everyone else evacuated. Sullly is an astronaut on the way back to Earth from Jupiter. How will their lives intersect?

I got this from the fine folks at Random House.

Good Morning, Midnight is a story of loneliness, time, and deciding what's important. The two main characters, Augustine and Sully, both live lives of isolation. Augustine is an astronomer at the north pole and Sully is a Specialist on a space voyage. Both have their ways of life uprooted. Augustine meets Iris, a mysterious girl left behind after the evacuation and Sully suffers loss and hope on the Aethir.

Lily Brooks-Dalton paints some awesome scenery. Both settings were very well realized. I shivered a few times during Augustine's parts and felt pretty claustrophobic at times during Sully's. On the surface, it feels like a science fiction story but it's really an exploration of loneliness, drive, and isolation.

I guessed the connection between Augustine and Sully early on. I think Iris' origins were left intentionally ambiguous. By and large, I can't think of a whole lot to complain about. The writing was crisp, I cared about the characters, and I was pretty enthralled by the whole thing.

Caution - Possible Spoilers: There was some ambiguity I didn't care for, though. I wouldn't have minded finding out what catastrophe befell Earth while the astronauts were away. Iris possibly being Augustine's fever dream the entire time cheapened his thread, I thought. I think some people won't like that Augustine and Sully never actually meet. I was fine with that part, though.

Good Morning, Midnight was above and beyond the simple science fiction novel I thought it would be, riding the line between sci-fi and serious literature. Four out of five stars.

Essential X-Men, Vol. 1 (Marvel Essentials) (v. 1)

Essential X-Men, Vol. 1 (Marvel Essentials) (v. 1) - Chris Claremont;John Byrne Essential X-Men, Vol. 1 contains Giant Size X-Men #1 and X-Men #94-119.

The X-Men battle Krakoa, Count Nefaria, Kierrok the Damned, Eric the Red, The Sentinels, Black Tom Cassidy, The Juggernaut, Magneto, Firelord, The Shi'ar Royal Guard, Alpha Flight, Sauron, Warhawk, Mesmero, and Moses Magnum. Thunderbird dies. The Phoenix Force is awakened.

Uncanny X-Men was all reprints of earlier X-Men comics when Giant Size X-Men came out featuring a new team of X-Men, led by Cyclops, to rescue the old X-Men. The next thing you know, The X-Men suddenly become Marvel's A-List players. The multi-national roster of X-Men, penned by Chris Claremont and drawn by John Byrne, was THE comic of its day.

While I wouldn't say it stands the test of time as well as some books, it's easy to see why this book was the dog's bollocks back in the day. So much crazy shit happens! After Len Wein and Dave Cockrum got the ball rolling, Claremont and Byrne took the ball and kicked it into the stratosphere.

Essential X-Men lays the groundwork for the X-Men being Marvel's top franchise for a couple decades afterwords. Jean Grey becomes the Phoenix. Wolverine, Colossus, Storm, and Nightcrawler join the team. We'll just gloss over Banshee at the moment. Magneto re-establishes himself as the top villain. The Juggernaut and Sauron are brought back into the fold. Muir Island is established. Professor X and Lilandra of the Shi'Ar begin their relationship.

For an iconic X-Men read, this is it. This is where the X-Men join the A-list, where they break out of the pack and become Marvel's meal ticket for decades to come. Four out of five stars.

Karnak #1

Karnak #1 - Warren Ellis, Gerardo Zaffino, David Aja Karnak has been my favorite member of the Inhumans since I first encountered him in an issue of Marvel Two-In-One. Since the Inhumans are the surrogate X-Men until Marvel gets the movie rights back, he's been awarded his own solo series after fifty years of existence.

Agent Coulson comes to Karnak's polar monastery to ask him to retrieve a human boy who has been exposed to Terrigen gas. Karnak ferrets out a HYDRA agent in SHIELD's midst and goes on the offensive.

The art is pretty good and well suited to Karnak's Zen/Kung Fu/Sherlock Holmes persona. It feels like Warren Ellis is going to have another interesting run to have on his resume. I say feels because this issue was all setup apart from Karnak taking down the HYDRA agent.

Honestly, this issue exemplifies while I wait for the trades for most modern comics. Everything is decompressed and written with being made into a trade paperback or hardcover in mind, making it 4 bucks a pop for not much happening in a lot of cases.

Anyway, I dug this issue overall. I will be waiting for the trade for the rest of it, however. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Heavenly Table: A Novel

The Heavenly Table: A Novel - Donald Ray Pollock When their father dies, the Jewett brothers are left without guidance until they decide to emulate their hero, a dime-novel hero called Bloody Bill Bucket. Their bloody trail crosses the paths of a farmer named Ellsworth Fiddler and a hobo named Sugar. Will the brothers make it to Canada alive to live out their days in peace?

I got this from Netgalley.

The Heavenly Table is the tale of the three Jewett brothers and the people they encounter after striking out on their own after their father Pearl dies. Dirt poor and ignorant of the ways of the world, Cane, Cob, and Chimney take up robbing banks in the manner of their dime-novel hero, Bloody Bill Bucket.

The tale Donald Ray Pollock crafts here is full of violence and dark humor. There's drinking, killing, whoring, and even a trained chimpanzee. The five plot threads repeatedly intersect until almost everyone is dead. Pollard the bartender, Sugar the bum, Jasper the sanitation inspector, Ellsworth Fiddler, the farmer with terrible luck, and Bovard, the secretly gay army officer, all flitter around the edges of the Jewetts' tale, periodically intersecting with them. Jasper, the outhouse inspector with a wang like the size of a baguette, was my favorite of the supporting players.

The Jewett brothers were an interesting mix. Cane, the oldest and smartest, was the leader. Cob, the simpleton, stayed with the others out of loyalty, and Chimney, the hothead, was lucky he survived childhood. Much like [b:Knockemstiff|1704719|Knockemstiff|Donald Ray Pollock|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1424959738s/1704719.jpg|1701841], the setting was a vivid part of the story. The town of Meade felt so real I could almost smell it at times.

When things finally came together at the end, it was one bloody encounter after the next. I was glad the people who lived through it lived through it. The dark humor was unquestionably my favorite part of the story. I repeatedly interrupted my lady friend's Harry Potter reading with talk of going to the Whore Barn and other questionable things.

With the Heavenly Table, Donald Ray Pollock serves up another heaping helping of country noir. Four out of five stars.

The Ballad of Black Tom

The Ballad of Black Tom - Victor LaValle Tommy Tester is a hustler, doing what he has to to make ends meet and support his ailing father. When he meets Robert Suydam, things will never be the same...

I've always been a bigger fan of things inspired by H.P. Lovecraft than the man's actual work. It's certainly been a good few months for H.P. Lovecraft-inspired fiction for me. First, there was [b:Carter & Lovecraft|23848134|Carter & Lovecraft|Jonathan L. Howard|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1438973195s/23848134.jpg|43458113], then [b:Lovecraft Country|25109947|Lovecraft Country|Matt Ruff|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1426040983s/25109947.jpg|44803674], and now this novella, the Ballad of Black Tom.

Victor LaValle has taken [b:The Horror at Red Hook|2582189|The Horror at Red Hook|H.P. Lovecraft|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1266939978s/2582189.jpg|2598040], called Lovecraft's most racist book by some, and turned it inside out.

Tommy Tester delivers a magical tome to an old woman, runs afoul of two detectives, and meets up with an old man bent on waking The Sleeping King from his dead and dreaming slumber. Needless to say, a lot happens in this slim book.

There was a viewpoint shift about halfway through. While I didn't think Malone was as interesting as Black Tom, the story couldn't have been told without him. LaValle does a fantastic job of capturing the Lovecraftian flavor of The Horror at Red Hook and makes it his own. I loved the ending of this book. Hell, I devoured the whole thing in one sitting.

4.5 out of 5 stars. I'll be watching Victor LaValle with great interest.

Lovecraft Country

Lovecraft Country - Matt Ruff Lovecraft Country is a collection of inter-connected stories about an extended African American family in the mid to late 1940's and their encounters with things not of this world, notably sorcerers, a gateway to another world, and a haunted house.

Holy. Shit. Lovecraft Country is an early front-runner for the best book I've read in 2016. Here's how it all went down.

Lovecraft Country is the story of the Green/Turner family, an African American family trying to make ends meet in the Jim Crow era. Matt Ruff does a great job of contrasting the cosmic horror of the Lovecraft mythos with the everyday horrors of racism and ignorance. I loved how each story used Lovecraft staples as a starting point and interjected a member or two of the Turner family.

The ages-long connection between the Turners and the Braithwaites was very well done. For an evil mastermind, Caleb Braithwaite was a well-drawn character, far from the scene chewing villain he could have been. The magic system was well done and true to the tale's Lovecraftian roots. The Turners were capable but not superhuman by any means.

Honestly, I can't think of anything bad to say about this book. It hit all the right buttons for me. It has the momentum of a collection of pulp yarns but the writing is far superior to most stories of this kind and the Jim Crow era setting and the well drawn characters set it several notches above most books of this type.

Five out of five stars. Good luck impressing me after this, next book.

Captain America

Captain America - Marvel Comics This Marvel Pocket Books Captain America collects Cap's Silver Age revival in Avengers #4 and some of his early adventures in Tales of Suspense.

When I was 10, my deaf uncle gave me this. While I had a couple issues of Captain America before, I'd obviously never experienced his first adventures after being revived for the Silver Age in Avengers #4. This was the book that first had me latch on to Captain America for a few years in the late 1980's and into the 90's. Yes, including Cap-Wolf.

Anyway, this book starts with Cap's silver age revival. The first thing that caught my eye was Jack Kirby's art. I'd forgotten how dynamic it really was back in the day. Secondly, it sums up Captain America's spirit nicely. A guy with few powers going up against Namor? Yes, please! The other Avengers were good too, I guess.

The next three stories were primarily extended fight scenes. One was against some of Baron Zemo's thugs, one against some guys who thought they could take the Avengers Mansion since only Cap was on duty, and the third was in a prison.

After that, Bucky is reintroduced and we get some new tales set during Captain America's World War II days, something they did to keep his solo adventures from conflicting with his appearances in the Avengers book, a far cry from Wolverine being in 487 comics a month until recently. The Red Skull is reintroduced and his origin revealed, for the first time if I remember correctly.

The stories are a tad repetitive when read in rapid succession but are pretty exciting for what they are. With the caveat that this is not a modern comic book and it has tremendous nostalgic and sentimental feelings for me, I have to rate it highly. It started me on the path to Captain America fandom and deepened my comics fandom. Four out of five stars.

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal - G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona One night, Kamala Khan walks through a cloud of mysterious mist and comes out a super hero. Can she juggle the secret life of a super hero and her home life?

Ms. Marvel is a throwback to the early days of Spider-man, a super heroine learning the ropes and trying not to expose her secret identity to her family. I wasn't crazy about the art at first but it fit the story and Kamala's super powers very well.

You wouldn't think a guy staring at 40 on the horizon would have much in common with a teenage Pakistani girl living in New Jersey but Kamala is a lot like most comic book fans would be like if they lived in the Marvel Universe and suddenly awoke with super powers. She's unsure of herself and making things up as she goes along, following what she's seen her heroes do in the past.

The Inhuman connection was interesting. It's sad that it took Marvel distancing itself from the X-Men movie franchise to better utilize the Attilians. It's also refreshing to have heroes that aren't mutants, actually.

No Normal has a lot of good things going for it. The stage is set for future Ms. Marvel adventures and it looks like Marvel is committed to the character for the long haul seeing as how she's in one of the 147 Avenger books they put out every month. I don't know that I'll continue with Kamala's adventures but I'm glad I read this one. Four out of five stars.


Galápagos - Kurt Vonnegut One million years in the future, a man recounts humanity's origins in the Galapagos islands.

This was the third Kurt Vonnegut book I've read and my third favorite. Actually, it reminds me of one of Grandpa Simpson's rambling stories that circles back on itself, only with novel-y bits like themes and messages and such.

Galapagos is part satire, part cautionary tale. There's a shipwreck on Galapagos and it turns out those people are the only ones who can reproduces. I'm pretty sure this is mentioned in the first two pages. Anyway, one million years in the future, humanity is a whole other species.

Galapagos deals in evolution, environmentalism, and anti-war. Also, humanity's "big brains" are blamed for most of their problems. The world of Galapagos is in a global economic crisis. Yeah, a lot has changed since 1986...

The book is actually pretty funny with Vonnegut's dark absurdist humor being the star of the show. I interrupted my girlfriend's Harry Potter reading with this, easily my favorite quote:
“I didn't know then what a sperm was, and so wouldn't understand his answer for several years. "My boy," he said, "you are descended from a long line of determined, resourceful, microscopic tadpoles-- champions every one.”

I enjoyed this fairly well and devoured it in three sittings. I didn't like it as much as Cat's Cradle or Slaughterhouse-Five, however. I think it was the circular nature of the narrative that got me. If Galapagos was a road trip, it would have been thousands of left turns in order to go fifty miles in a straight line. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 6

Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 6 - John Byrne, Jim Shooter, Mike Carlin, Ron Wilson, Al Milgrom Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 6 contains 276-284, Thing 23, and Secret Wars II 2.

The Fantastic Four battle a witch in Connecticut, The Thing catches Johnny with Alicia, the Baxter Building is destroyed, and the Beyonder arrives in New York. The gang fight Mephisto, encounter a brainwashed Kristoff, battle the Hate Monger, go to the Microverse to battle Psycho Man and an Invisible Girl becomes and Invisible Woman.

After six of these things, I'm running out of things to say. I can see why the John Byrne run of The Fantastic Four is looked upon as the best thing since the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby run of the 1960's. I also don't think Byrne colors outside the Lee and Kirby lines very much. Aside from the existence of Franklin Richards and She-Hulk being on the team, these could easily be Fantastic Four stories from the 1960s.

That being said, I really dug the evolution of the Sue Richards character in this volume. I still think they missed the boat with Franklin Richards, though. He could have been a top level super villain. Reed Richards continues to be my least favorite member of the Four. I also still don't buy Johnny and Alicia as a couple. I'm pretty sure she's already been replaced by a Skrull, as per the Tom DeFalco run.

3 out of 5 stars. I'm going to need a Fantastic break once I finish these.

Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 5

Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 5 - John Byrne Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 5 contains 268-275, and Annual 18, Thing 19.

Reed, Sue, Johnny and She Hulk deal with Sue's miscarriage, fight Doctor Doom's mask, battle Terminus, meet Reed's father on a future wild west version of earth, and attend the wedding of Black Bolt and Medusa. And Spider-Man's alien costume escapes Fantastic Four custody, never to be seen again...

After me complaining that Byrne wasn't breaking new ground, I have to admit he's done that here, introducing Terminus, tying the Richards' family to Kang, and revealing more about Reed Richards. Reed Richard's past and family is fleshed out quite a bit. Since I read a lot about Reed's dad later on, it was cool to see his first appearance. The Inhuman wedding went the way of most super hero weddings. I was a little surprised that John Byrne was behind Johnny and Alicia Masters getting together. That pairing still makes no sense to me 30 years later.

Apart from some time travel and a quick trip to the moon, this one was a little more grounded than the previous four volumes. Byrne's art and stories have gotten better in the past few volumes but I have to think he was stretching himself a little thin at this point, doing everything on the Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight as well as writing the Thing.

4 out of 5 fantastic stars.

Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 4

Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 4 - John Byrne Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 4 contains Fantastic Four 258-267, Alpha Flight #4, and The Thing #10, all concocted by John Byrne.

The Fantastic Four battle Doctor Doom and Terrax, Reed goes on trial for saving the life of Galactus, Reed and Sue move to Connecticut, Thing and Torch battle the Messiah, The Thing leaves and is replaced by She Hulk, and Sue Richards has a miscarriage.

With the fourth volume, John Byrne shows no signs of slowing down. The best story by far was the Trial of Reed Richards, when the Shi'Ar and survivors from worlds destroyed by Galactus put Reed Richards on trial for saving Galactus' life.

The biggest thing to come out of this volume is She Hulk taking The Thing's spot. Honestly, that's pretty much the only significant deviation from ground already trod upon multiple times by Lee and Kirby. I think Byrne does a great job on the Fantastic Four but it would be nice if he broke some new ground. From the time and characters, it doesn't get much better than this, however. Four out of five fantastic stars.

Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 3

Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 3 - John Byrne Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 3 contains Fantastic Four 251-257, plus Annual 17, Thing #2, and Avengers #233.

The Fantastic Four have a lengthy journey into the Negative Zone, Annihilus invades the Baxter Building, and Galactus devours the Skrull homeworld. Also, a small town is effected by drinking the milk from the Skrulls Reed turned into cows in Fantastic Four #2.

By the end of the series, it looked like Reed and Sue were going part time to parent their kids. I wonder if Byrne originally planned to phase them out but Marvel wouldn't let him. The six issue adventure in the Negative Zone was pretty great. The Fantastic Four should be the Marvel Universe equivalent to Star Trek or Doctor Who and this was a great example of that.

That's pretty much it. The end of this volume leaves the team a wreck with Franklin and Alicia in the hospital and Reed and Sue looking for a place to live in Connecticut. It really makes me curious as to what the next volume holds. 4 out of 5 stars.

Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 2

Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 2 - John Byrne Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 2 contains issues 241-250 of the Fantastic Four, all written and drawn by John Byrne.

The Fantastic Four visit Wakanda, battle an ancient Roman soldier, fight Terrax, save Galactus' life, battle an adult version of Franklin Richards, help Doctor Doom reclaim Latveria, visit the Inhumans, and battle Gladiator when he comes to Earth pursuing Skrulls.

Byrne upped his game around this time. The art is as good as ever but the writing was better than before as he got more comfortable with the characters. The Galactus/Terrax story was the best of the book. There was a night character moment when Spidey and Daredevil were watching what was going on with Galactus, knowing they were well out of their league.

The Gladiator story was also pretty good, since it was the equivalent of the Fantastic Four fighting Superman, for all intents and purposes. It also was a fun moment since Byrne was recruited to revamp Superman years later. Another fun fact is that the first issue of this collection, #241, was the first Fantastic Four story I ever read.

This volume was quite good and it's awesome that John Byrne's run on the Fantastic Four is just getting started. Four out of five stars.

Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 1

Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 1 - John Byrne Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne, Vol. 1 collects issues 232-240 of the Fantastic Four. John Byrne writes and draws every issue.

In this volume, The Fantastic Four battle Diablo, Ego the Living PLanet, Doctor Doom, Spinnerette(?), and some demons. Torch clears a dead man's name to protect his mother. Frankie Raye's origin is revealed, the Thing's Aunt Petunia shows up, and the Inhumans relocate to the mysterious blue area of the moon.

Byrne's run begins here. For me, the best parts were Ego the Living Planet and Terror in a Tiny Town, when the Fantastic Four live in a tiny world created by the Puppet Master and Doctor Doom. Byrne's art was a big deal back in the day, and it should have been since it's like Kirby meets Neal Adams. The writing feels like a more mature version of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's epic run on the Fantastic Four.

While these aren't the best Fantastic Four stories I've read by any means, Byrne is just getting his feet wet and big things are on the horizon. 3.5 out of 5 stars.