Monday, June 29, 2015

Between Books - Heir to the Jedi

In Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne, Luke Skywalker wishes to continue his Jedi training.  But he lost his master and teacher before he could even really complete many lessons.  Now the young Rebel finds himself struggling to discover the ways of the Force without a guide.  Luke is tasked to find a new supply route using smugglers.  But before he could complete the new alliance, he finds himself tossed into a mission to save a Slicer, hacker, from the Empire's control.  To save the unseen Slicer, Luke will put his life on the line against an merciless foe just so he can have the supplies needed to free the Empire's prisoner.  Luke does all of this while exploring a new relationship with Rebel Nakari Kelen who may be slowly stealing his heart.  The would be Jedi does all of this while worrying a traitor could be in his midst.

Honestly, this is a small story.  And that is really okay.  The story is told from Luke Skywalker's perceptive which allows you to go into his inner thoughts, and fears about being able to achieve the title Jedi.  It is really a street level story that revolves around 3 people in a galaxy far away.  And again, this is good.  But there is little tension for Luke's future since you know he is going to make it to the next movie, though you spend enough time with the two new figures that some tension can build.

Though it is a small story.  And it never fully pulled me into the tale like I hoped it would.  There are parts horror, parts jail break and parts chase all this in tale and I like those elements in other stories (okay I do not dig horror) but they just did not pull me in like I wanted.  I will admit that the chase element felt really like Tarkin to me, just abbreviated.  I think the issue for me is the promise that Heir to the Jedi was gong to outline how Luke put himself on the path to being a Jedi.  And it does somewhat but never really pays off the way I wanted.

Heir to the Jedi helps shed light on Luke Skywalker's early days as a rebel, how he looked at learning about the Force and his romances an early Rebel.  It was fine book worth a read.  But I would likely recommend a borrow like I did.  Honestly, there is something about Star Wars that works best with a visual element like a comic, cartoon or live-action movie.  But I will admit I really dig seeing the Disney and LucasFilm logos side by side on the back of the book!  

Monday, June 22, 2015

Between Books - A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World Volume 1

A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World Volume 1 by Andrew Kiste reviews the real world history behind key Walt Disney World attractions. Kiste visits attractions in Main Street U.S.A., Adventureland and Tomorrowland in this volume. The author provides a brief overview of the land and then explores two to three attractions in more depth.

A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World Volume 1 is a book for the history junkie! Do you want an extensive history of the Crystal Palace and its place in history? Would you be interested in architectural differences between the original Crystal Palace in London and the Walt Disney World version? Or would you like to know what happened to the original building in London and if it is still standing? If so, this book is one that you would enjoy. Do you watch a movie like Braveheart and then start to breakdown the differences between the real historical events and the movie? If so you might enjoy Kiste’s breakdown of Pirate of the Caribbean and the actions pirates took in real life in comparison to what is seen in the ride. Do you want to know the chances that a pirate would have been surrounded by gold and silver in a treasure room? Then again this book is for you.

Kiste’s writing is clear. But for some it may be too serious in tone at times. He has researched the real life non-Disney historical events and places very well. A good example is the Crystal Palace chapter which includes references to scholarly articles going beyond the typical Disney library.

Do you love history? Are you the person in your circle that enjoys sharing what others would believe are obscure historical facts? If so A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World Volume 1 is probably the book for you.

Now I’m sure I will never look at the Crystal Palace in the same way again!

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Between Books - X-Men: Children of the Atom

I have liked the concept of Essential format reprint books, providing a lot of comics for a respectable pennies per page.  But I have not liked how generally these collections have lacked color and relied on black and white to lower the price point.  So when Marvel announced their Epic Collection, reprinting past Marvel comics in collections hundreds of pages in length...and in color...I had to sample one of the volumes.  And since I have never read the original X-Men stories I knew exactly where I needed to go first!

X-Men: Children of the Atom collects X-Men issues 1 through 23 in a 509 plus page collection.  The volume starts as a new student Jean Grey joins  Professor Xavier's private school.  The four other students; Scott Summers, Hank McCoy, Warren Worthington, and Bobby Drake, like Xavier and Grey are mutants.  Mutants are extraordinary humans who have been born with genetic enhancements making them more than human.  Together the five students under Xavier's command form the team the X-Men.  The students have a number of challenges to face from evil mutants like Magneto and the Blob, changing public opinion, mutant hunting robots called Sentinels, and alien entities like the Stranger.  The Mutants must learn to harness their powers and work together if they are to survive this volume!

The opening stories are written by Stan Lee with art by Jack Kirby.  I have discovered I am not always a fan of the King's art.  And I generally am not a fan of his work in this volume.  For me what stands out is Stan Lee's writing.  That is not to say that much of it is not corn, because it is corn.  But as Walt Disney would point out, corn sells.  What Lee did was construct five solid young people that teens could relate to even today.  The group has relationship problems and struggle with concerns about fitting in.  And even decades later these themes stand out.  And I found myself shocked by how X-Men standards like Magneto and the Sentinels appeared so early in Marvel history.  Lee is eventually replaced on the title by Roy Thomas, who wrote Marvel's original Star Wars comics. And one can sit back and see how Thomas was attempting to build on Lee's work, while being really really wordy.  And I think both of them really focused on giving Proffessor X very specfic time measurements.

I still am confused on whey these issues have multi-colored word balloons.  Seriously, it is not like the baloons are color coded! 

Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Ice-Man, the Angel and Professor Xavier have a long and storied comic history.  And the X-Men has always been one of my favorite super teams.  I loved this Epic Collection and found myself hungering for more.  I personally dove into every one and then washed it down with an episode of The Danger Room podcast, which I highly recommend, and was saddened when I ran out of issues in this collection to enjoy.  I look forward to future X-Men Epic Collections, and have already dove into another Epic Collection enthusiastically.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Between Books - Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago...Volume 2

I have been reading a ton of Star Wars comics with the recent Marvel releases.  In fact, I have been struggling with which ones I should continue with in the future.  But one I thing I know for sure is that I will be reading all of the classic Marvel comics thanks to Between Books.

Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago…Volume 2 collects issues 28 through 48 and annual #1.  The majority of the issues are written by Archie Goodwin with art by Carmine Infantino.   Though not all issues are written and penned by this duo with Chris Claremont authoring the annual and Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon providing art for The Empire Strikes Back adaptation.  The majority of issues before the movie adaptation revolve around the industrial Tagge family and their grudge against a young rebel named Luke Skywalker.  The powerful and vengeful Tagges will use connections to politics, industry, military and religion to attack Luke and his friends.  The action climaxes with a lightsaber battle between Luke and Baron Tagge.  With the Tagges revealing their hatred, Darth Vader manipulates the family for his own evil purposes.  The Marvel original issues are then broken up with the film adaptation.  After The Empire Strikes Back, Lando and Chewbecca seek out Han.  And the issues transition from major continuing arcs to one-shots with revolving artists and writers.

When I was a kid every other time I was sick I read one book.  I tore through Scholastic paperback sized Empire Strikes Back Marvel collection.  And I will admit there are images from the film that I know better through the comic than through the movie itself.  It has been at least a decade if not two since I last read this adaptation.  And to me this multi-issue arc still really holds up to this day.  I do not mean to criticize Carmine Infantino, but I really enjoy the change to the Williamson art.  Williamson and Garzon just seem to be able to handle some key characters like Chewbecca quite a bit better than Infantino.  It is more realistic and less cartoony.  Seriously though, this collection gets five stars from me just by including this adaptation. 

The Tagge saga was new to me.  And it takes up a good portion of the collection.  Honestly, Goodwin did a good job creating a villain that felt Star Wars.  And I mostly bought it when Baron Tagge and Luke went lightsaber to lightsaber.  To be fair, Luke was new to this style of fighting so it was believable that a non-Jedi could hope to match Luke…but probably not Vader.  My biggest confusion was the relation of s film character name Tagge and these Tagges…the answer is no relation!  And that is key to understand since the original Tagge is currently present in today’s Marvel comics.

Hey…Chewy said Groot!

Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago…Volume 2 collects over 20 classic Marvel Star Wars comics.  The stories overall feel like Star Wars and help me come to the conclusion that Star Wars works best with a visual element.  And I am impressed with the episodic storytelling that the pages provide.  But most of all, this volume contains a classic story that was a big part of my childhood.  


Monday, June 1, 2015

Between Books - Son of Faster Cheaper

When I opened the envelope and saw the book I knew Son of Faster Cheaper was different than most Between Books.  This half-sized book reminded me of the cartoon books that I would often check out as a kid collecting newspaper comics.  And that was really not where the parallel ended.

Son of Faster Cheaper: A Sharp Look Inside the Animation Business by Floyd Norman showcases cartoons drawn by Norman during his 50 plus years in animation at studios including Disney, Hannah-Barbera and Pixar.  The cartoons are arranged in themed chapters that include glimpses of “Working for Walt”, Disney under the Eisner era, the “Animation Boom”, Norman’s forced “retirement” from Disney, and more.  The typical page is filled with one of Norman’s cartoons with maybe a sentence or two of commentary about what his image was capturing about the studios.  The book includes several negative perspectives about Michael Eisner and his era.  And being a story artist he attacks the mistreatment of animators and studio artists. 

One of the things that Norman does not back away from is Walt Disney.  And he does not give Walt, who I have always been under the impression Norman respected, an easy time.  He does show in his images the grumpy Walt who could be tough on struggling story men.  And his Disney model is very much an older gentleman with a hump and cigarette who is tougher older businessman than Uncle Walt.  And one gets the feeling he can capture the tough side of Walt with “love.”  But the man he does not appear to love is Michael Eisner and his stream of vice presidents.  Norman paints the Eisner era as one of greed with images of Eisner retooling the new Animation building and leading Disney animation through high profits for the few and never the animators.  Though, Frank Wells does seem to get a fairly positive depiction in his cartoons. 

Norman also depicts the work of animation.  In one chapter he captures in images the thankless job of the story artist, which very much feels like a visual representation of some of the themes found in Mouse in Transition.  And he also provides his thoughts on animation directors, having worked with both good and bad ones.

Norman’s images are simple.  But many of them are striking.  For some reason his depictions of the new Animation building really caught my attention, showing the state of things as he saw them under Eisner.  And much like those cartoon books of my childhood, Norman gave me several chuckles.

Son of Faster Cheaper is a quick and easy to read.  It helped me remember cartoon books of my childhood.  Personally, I like having a physical copy of this book in my hands, just so I can flip through the cartoons drawn by a legend.  And I found myself happy to see that future volumes by Norman, which I assume will be similar, are forthcoming in the future. 

I guess like when I was a kid, I like a good gag!

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press