This is an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's 1999 illustrated novella, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters. The novella, an invented Japanese folktale with someThis is an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's 1999 illustrated novella, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters. The novella, an invented Japanese folktale with some Sandman elements thrown in, is excellent. P. Craig Russell turned the story into a four issue comic miniseries, which is collected in this volume.
The story - which appears to be pretty much copy/pasted from the novella - remains strong. And Russell's artwork is well done and does a good job of complementing the story. However, I'm not really sure who I would ever recommend this to. I can appreciate how a comic adaptation can present a familiar story in new and exciting ways by adding a visual element; the outstanding Dark Tower comics series is a good example of this. However, while the original novella version of this story is not in comic form, it is illustrated - gorgeously - by Yoshitaka Amano, and overall the illustrated novella format seems to fit this story best.
Ultimately, while this is a nice adaptation I would urge readers interested in this story to seek out the original novella instead. 3.5 stars, recommended for Sandman completionists only. ...more
Saga hit the ground running with an excellent first collection, and volume two picks up right where its predecessor left off. The series continues toSaga hit the ground running with an excellent first collection, and volume two picks up right where its predecessor left off. The series continues to showcase a number of admirable strengths: great artwork, an ambitious, interesting story, strong world building, compelling & multi-dimensional characters, and just the right amount of humor. Vaughan and Staples wisely take a small step back from the pace of volume one, using this collection to build the backstory and deepen the reader’s understanding of and attachment to some of the key characters. It contains a number of flashbacks to Marko & Alana’s past, which did not necessarily involve love at first sight:
For fans of comics and/or space opera, this is quickly becoming a must-read, but the strengths of Saga are such that I would recommend it to any reader who appreciates a great story. Plenty of praise has already been showered on this series, all of which appears to be deserved based on what I’ve read so far. Vaughan and Staples are building something special here. After finishing this collection, I had a strong urge to pass over the rest of my “to read” pile and race out to get my hands on volume three. For a reader, it doesn’t get much better than that. 5.0 stars, highly recommended!...more
Ten Nights of the Beast is a four part storyline that ran in 1988, one year after Frank Miller’s famous “Year One” saga helped reboot Batman. This colTen Nights of the Beast is a four part storyline that ran in 1988, one year after Frank Miller’s famous “Year One” saga helped reboot Batman. This collection can be a bit tough to track down today, but it’s worth the effort as it’s one of the better post Year One storylines out there. As the Soviet Union begins to break down in the last few years of the Cold War, a Soviet super-soldier known as the “KGBeast” appears on the streets of Gotham. The Soviets claim that he’s gone rogue and is acting without orders, although whether they are being truthful is unclear. What is clear is that the KGBeast is a guest on his absolute worst behavior, as he goes on a killing spree intended to weaken America’s “Star Wars” program, targeting U.S. officials up to and including the President of the United States himself.
Despite the fact that he chooses to dress like Ivan Drago in a piecemeal gimp suit, the KGBeast turns out to be a formidable opponent, testing Batman’s limits over their 10 day showdown across Gotham City. Readers who like their Batman stories a bit on the darker side (like yours truly) will particularly enjoy this tale; while it’s by no means as dark as Batman tales can get, the Beast’s rampage takes a heavy toll on Gotham City. The story is extremely well structured and paced, and the final showdown does not disappoint. My only quibble would be with the artwork, which is par for the course with other comics from its era but is simply not my style of choice.
That said, this is a sneaky good Batman story, and one well worth seeking out for fans of the Dark Knight. 4.5 stars, highly recommended!...more
Just another dusty, dry classic featuring the following:
• Pirates; • Secret bandit lairs; • Mistaken identities; • Semi-mythical African kingdoms; • Prophecies; and • Human sacrifice.
The Aethiopica is one of five complete novels to survive from Greek antiquity. Written around the third century AD, it was probably composed a bit later than the other works in its group. Along with a couple of Roman novels and some other Greek prose works that are novel-esque, these texts make up a fascinating and underappreciated (although happily this may be slowly changing) subset of ancient literature.
The Greek novels are romances that all share certain features. They are written in prose, and they inevitably feature a virtuous young couple whose love is tested by a variety of fantastic tribulations before they can finally live happily ever after. In the Aethiopica, our heroes are Theagenes and Chariclea, two beautiful, remarkable youths whose passion takes them on an epic journey from Greece to Egypt to, ultimately, Ethiopia. As noted above, the story is filled with dramatic events that make the Aethiopica a real page-turner, at least relative to other texts from its era.
Now, while the ancient Greek novels have their merits, I would definitely describe them as second-tier classics, in the sense that if I were to recommend 5-10 Greco-Roman books to someone, these would be unlikely to make the cut. They can be formulaic and melodramatic, they sometimes slide into sophistry, and (as far as can be detected in translation, anyway), the prose and other literary considerations tend to take a backseat to the plot. That said, they are often quite fun, and of the five extant novels the Aethiopica may be the best of the bunch. Structurally it is far and away the most interesting and ambitious of the novels; it starts out in media res with a dramatic, exciting scene and ends with a showy Ethiopian setpiece. In between, the story jumps around between a relatively large supporting cast, alternating between present events and narrative flashbacks. This actually made the plot a little confusing at times, at least for me, but overall I appreciated the structure, which had the benefit of making the book much more interesting.
I would put this up with Daphnis and Chloe as the best of the ancient Greek novels, and I would recommend either to readers interested in the development of the novel or just looking for an entertaining and exciting story. 4.0 stars, recommended!...more
Batman: Second Chances collects some of the very first issues produced after Batman was essentially rebooted in the late ‘80s. Following the success oBatman: Second Chances collects some of the very first issues produced after Batman was essentially rebooted in the late ‘80s. Following the success of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Batman forces Dick Grayson (the original Robin) into retirement after they experience a scare out on patrol. He originally plans on going it alone, but later takes Jason Todd under his wing as a newer, angrier Robin.
Overall this is a solid collection with some good, meat & potatoes Batman stories. The introduction of Todd was a controversial choice at the time, but looking back 30 years later I think the change is refreshing and the storyline holds up well. The last two issues in the collection, featuring a heated heart-to-heart between Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne, along with a more whimsical issue where the Penguin falls in love, and very strong. The others are solid, although they can be a bit forgettable (or even a bit silly) from time to time. While this is a good collection, it is not quite up to par with the great work that was being done in the other major Batman title, Detective Comics, around this time (as collected in Legends of the Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle, Vol. 1).
That said, this is still a good batch of Batman stories, and I would recommend this collection to readers interested in catching up on their Bat-History. 3.5 stars, recommended. ...more
The Magician’s Nephew was the sixth Narnia book to be published, but the first chronologically. It tells the story of Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer’sThe Magician’s Nephew was the sixth Narnia book to be published, but the first chronologically. It tells the story of Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer’s trip to Narnia in the year 1900. Over the course of the story, a number of questions about Narnia are answered, as the children witness Narnia’s creation and learn the origin of the White Witch.
I first read these books when I was around 10 years old or so, and I am re-reading them as part of my 2016 reading project. I don’t remember this book making a particularly strong impression on me one way or the other as a younger reader, but after giving it another look I think it is one of the stronger entries in the entire series. While this prequel could have turned into an info-dump on Narnia’s creation, I thought Lewis avoided that. The plot is dramatic, exciting, and well structured. The relationship between the two children is charming, and the story has a lot of good humor (particularly when one of Narnia’s denizens ends up rampaging around London) to go with some real heart.
I have yet to check out any of Lewis' other work, but I loved his Narnia series when I read it as a child. I am happy to report that two decades after experiencing this series for the first time, the magic is still there. 5 stars, highly recommended!...more
I have never read an Aquaman title before, but I am a fan of Geoff Johns so I thought I would check out the first volume of his New 52 reboot. Now, JoI have never read an Aquaman title before, but I am a fan of Geoff Johns so I thought I would check out the first volume of his New 52 reboot. Now, Johns is a smart man, and he appears to have started this series with the premise that much of the reading public views Aquaman as a bit of a joke:
Johns does a great job playing with this stereotype of his hero, poking fun in a way that humanizes the character rather than turning him into a caricature. This was a clever decision that added an unexpected but very welcome element to the collection.
Anyway, Volume 1 tells a fairly small-scale story (for the DC Universe, that is): the small New England town that Aquaman is living in is menaced by some creepy crawlers from the ocean depths. Personally, I really liked the decision to give the series some room to grow, rather than threatening global destruction right off the bat. And while the stakes may not be sky-high, the story itself was very entertaining (although the last two issues, which are not directly connected to the main plot, are a bit weaker). In addition to a good story, this collection features excellent artwork by Ivan Reis:
I did not have the highest expectations for this series, but I ended up really enjoying the collection and I’m glad I took a chance on this title. 4.0 stars, recommended!...more
Black Flags is a chilling, well written examination of the events that led to the formation of ISIS. Warrick identifies a number of factors that assisBlack Flags is a chilling, well written examination of the events that led to the formation of ISIS. Warrick identifies a number of factors that assisted ISIS’ rise, including repressive Arab regimes, conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and U.S. interventionism in the Middle East.
This was a very strong read. Despite its disturbing subject matter, the book was extremely engaging, consistently interesting, and highly informative. Warrick (a journalist by trade) has a gift for narrative nonfiction, and Black Flags was never boring at any point – at times it was hard to put down. Despite dealing with some complex subjects (Sunni/Shia conflict, Middle Eastern politics, etc.), Warrick doesn’t lose the reader. I would definitely pick up something by this author in the future.
One quibble: the structure of the book felt just a bit off. A disproportionate percentage of this book is focused on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of the key figures in the escalation of Islamic extremism and, by extension, the rise of ISIS. This emphasis gives the book a character-driven feel, which has its advantages (readability, etc.). But the book ended up feeling like it was as much about Zarqawi’s life story as about the actual birth of ISIS, which is crammed into the last 20% of the text. The book actually has precious little information about conditions on the ground in ISIS controlled territory today, although as its focus was on the rise of the Islamic state this could be intentional.
That said, the positives certainly outweigh the negatives here, and this is a book well-worth reading. Readers should be warned that this book describes some brutal and inhumane acts performed by ISIS and its agents; after all, ISIS is a brutal and inhumane entity that is about as close to true evil as one can find in the world today. One important point which I am glad that Warrick stressed towards the end is that the overwhelming majority of Muslims – like the vast majority of non-Muslims – are appalled by the policies and actions of the Islamic State, which have been broadly rejected as non-Muslim. After finishing this book, it is easy to see why. 4.5 stars, highly recommended. ...more
“[S]he leapt upon the Argives with all the force of Fate.” I.335 (on Penthesileia).
While the Iliad is (justifiably) the most famous book about the Tro “[S]he leapt upon the Argives with all the force of Fate.” I.335 (on Penthesileia).
While the Iliad is (justifiably) the most famous book about the Trojan War, it was actually one of many epic poems centered around the conflict. In addition to the Iliad and the Odyssey, six other poems about the war and its aftermath made up a larger body of work known as the Epic Cycle. These other poems covered events that took place in the first nine years of the war, along with events that happened after the end of the Iliad.
Unfortunately, none of the non-Homeric poems survived past antiquity. However, we have a tantalizing glimpse into what they may have contained in Quintus of Smyra’s Posthomerica. This poem was written in the first few centuries AD – much later than the composition of the Epic Cycle – and it is debatable whether or not Quintus had access to the Epic Cycle at the time he created his own work. However, his description of the Trojan War between the events of the Iliad and the Odyssey contains echoes of an older tradition that will be of real interest to fans of the classics.
Quintus picks up right where Homer left off in the Iliad, and proceeds to cover all of the high points of the legend (the deaths of Achilles and Paris, the arrivals of Neoptolemus and Philoctetes, and the death of Ajax) between the death of Hector and the creation of the Trojan Horse. He proceeds to cover the fall of Troy and the division of the spoils, concluding with the Greeks’ ill-fated voyage home. This neatly brings the reader right up to the point where the Odyssey begins, cleanly bridging the two Homeric epics.
Of course, there is a reason why Homer is a legend and Quintus is a relative unknown. Quintus is not Homer, although he attempts to imitate Homer’s style to a remarkable degree. The poem is clunkily spaced at times, moving from elaborate, detailed descriptions of some events to rather rushed and jumbled presentations of others. This is particularly true towards the end of the poem, when it seems that Quintus was running out of space and was forced to rush through (or effectively skip) key episodes. The poetic style (in translation, anyway) was clean and readable but rarely seemed inspired.
That said, there are interesting pieces here. Some Trojan heroes that readers may not be very familiar with (Penthesileia, Memnon, and Eurypylus) get plenty of screentime here, and they prove to be interesting characters. And for lovers of epic poetry, reading about events like the death of Paris or the Trojan Horse in epic verse is a real treat. Some of these events are covered to a greater or lesser degree in Homer and/or Virgil, but Quintus has the luxury of allowing these events to unfold in real time, not in flashback.
Overall this was a significant step down from Homer’s work, but a solid and entertaining Silver Age epic. For readers interested in ancient epic or the Trojan War, there is a lot to appreciate here. Although the poem was buried in obscurity for quite some time, interest in it has picked up in the last few years. I certainly was glad I sought it out. 3.0 stars, recommended....more
This short apology, or defense of the Christian faith, is the sole surviving work of Marcus Minucius Felix. Written roughly around the year 200, the eThis short apology, or defense of the Christian faith, is the sole surviving work of Marcus Minucius Felix. Written roughly around the year 200, the essay is framed around two friends-of-a-friend arguing the relative merits of paganism and Christianity while they sit by the sea.
Inside this charming (if not totally original) frame is one of the better examples of the apology genre surviving from antiquity. Very little is known about Felix himself, but he was clearly well-read and peppers his arguments with references to classical literature and philosophy. His arguments are thoughtful and well-presented, and he manages to criticize pagan practices without employing excessive sarcasm or bitterness, a problem some of his contemporaries suffered from.
The conflict between the forces of paganism and Christianity that took place in the first few centuries AD was one of the major events of the Western world, and it would be difficult to overstate its impact on later history. One particularly nice thing about this specific apology is that Felix allows both sides to state their case, so the reader gets an (admittedly biased) look at the pagan side of the argument along with the Christian position. For readers interested in learning more about this struggle (I for one find it fascinating), this is a great start. 3.5 stars, recommended!...more
Clement of Alexandria was a Christian author writing in the late second and early third centuries AD. Like Tertullian, he is regarded as a Church FathClement of Alexandria was a Christian author writing in the late second and early third centuries AD. Like Tertullian, he is regarded as a Church Father rather than a saint by most denominations today. Clement’s extant writings reveal an educated, widely-read mind (again, like Tertullian) that was familiar with both Christian scholarship and the major pagan philosophic creeds.
The Paedagogus (or "tutor") was written around 198 and is the second of Clement's three major works. It is largely a practical treatise on how to live a Christian life, although the essay does cover more philosophical territory from time to time, especially in the first section. Over the course of the work, Clement discusses topics including dietary habits, modes of dress, sexual mores, music, makeup and grooming, and much more.
The essay provides an interesting look at how the early Church Fathers thought that Christians should behave, and at times acts as a welcome window into the day-to-day life of the late second century. But it is not a particularly short piece, and it has a tendency to get bogged down in details that are only of tangential interest to most modern readers. Not a treatise I am ever likely to re-read; for those interested in Clement's doctrine, I would instead recommend his essay Salvation for the Rich, which is shorter and significantly more engaging. 2.0 stars. ...more