Saturday, December 31, 2016

Between Books - Star Wars Poe Dameron: Black Squadron

My impression of comics writer Charles Soule is he is solid.  He writes good stories, but not really what I would call outstanding ones.  Though I have really enjoyed some of his runs, like She-Hulk.  But up until a few weeks ago I would have found him an odd mix for something in the Star Wars galaxy.  Soule's a superhero guy I would have proclaimed.  Then a few weeks ago I introduced myself to his Letter 44 independent title, which is a deep character story based within a science fiction world with a great twist.  So maybe his inclusion in the Marvel Star Wars properties was a better match than I imagined.

Star Wars Poe Dameron: Black Squadron by Charles Soule with art by Phil Noto appears to take pilot Poe Dameron up to the opening of Star Wars The Force Awakens.  General Leia Organa tasks Dameron with keeping vital information away from the First Order, by finding it first.  He is assigned finding Lor San Tekka who has information about the location of the General's missing brother Luke Skywalker.  To complete his task, Dameron recruits his own squadron made up of pilots that are more family than friends including Snap Wexley.  Dameron's search for Lor San Tekka takes his Black Squadron to isolated settlements and intergalactic prisons.  To make his task even more difficult, Dameron is challenged along the way by First Order intelligence officer Agent Terex and a mole within the Resistance relaying information about Black Squadron's objectives!

I really enjoyed Star Wars Poe Dameron: Black Squadron.  I found Soule's story to be solid and often riveting, especially on the prison planet!  And Noto's art is solid with me believing that Dameron, Wexley, L'ulo and others were the Resistance fighters we saw on the big screen.  In many ways this story is great because it gives Dameron and his team more screen time then they got in the movie.  So while readers may feel like they know Wexley from other books, this really gives us an insight to these personalities as we get to watch Dameron for example lead, including pilots much older than him, and scheme in order to achieve his mission.

If I was going to make one complaint I would ask this title be renamed Star Wars Poe Dameron and BB-8. I do love how in literary offerings that Dameron always calls out to BB-8 as Beebee-Ate!  It really feels like a great extension to the films with Dameron drawing out his name.  But again, fan favorite BB-8 is as much of a partner than any member of the squadron.  And while he may give too many thumbs up, he is fun, interesting and always engaging on the screen even if his panels are often only filled with beeps and clicks instead of narrative.  In many ways that is a tribute to Soule and Noto that wordless pages still feel weighty to the story!

I was nervous about Star Wars Poe Dameron: Black Squadron but now I am thrilled to know that more volumes of Poe Dameron's comic adventures are on their way, I had the impression this was a limited series.  I loved getting to see Dameron do more than sit in a cockpit but be a Resistance leader in action.  And Marvel gives Dameron the screen time fans hoped he could have.  For those who read across the entire Marvel library of titles, there are even connections to other titles that help show you the story at another moment!  Honestly, this is another fine contribution to the Marvel Star Wars library.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Cap's Comics - Haunted Mansion #5

Haunted Mansion #5 concludes Danny’s tale. Danny gets out of the Mansion. But he jumps right from the Mansion and into the graveyard. But Danny is not the only one who escapes as the Captain is closely following his heels. Danny and his spooky friends have to face off against the Captain in one last boss battle. And we can be glad that Danny is outside as he can now count on those beyond the Mansion to help defend him.

John Tyler Christopher Action Figure Cover

Joshua Williamson and Jorge Coelho do wrap up their story. And as a treat Coehlo gets to draw one last classic Mansion scene, the graveyard. The story is ended and gives satisfying conclusions to the story including what happens after the boss battle, where was Grandpa, and what do the survivors do next. Though, I would have liked to see our hero have a slightly more engaged role in the conclusion. And I would have enjoyed a major return of the Hatbox Ghost. But overall, as an adult Mansion fan I was pretty satisfied though the tale may have lacked the story complexity I would have desired. But for the Between Kid the story was a huge success where the Kid was excited to dive into each issue with me.

Tom Morris Variant Cover

Interesting! Of the first four issues, the sales for three issues were well over 20,000 copies. And the one that dipped was issue #3 with the next issue rebounding. That is pretty impressive and largely steady sales. I can believe that based on sales and popularity of the franchise we could see a Haunted Mansion return. And I would be all for it, because the Between Kid loves this story while feeling safe about something that can be scary. And I hope the Kid will be more excited about future tours through the real life attractions. And in the end, that is what really makes me hopeful and happy with these comics!

Katie Cook Variant Cover

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Between Books - Star Wars Ahsoka

Over that last three years I have criticized, poked, mocked and been frustrated by Star Wars books!  But just let me start with this simple piece of advice, go out right now and buy or borrow E.K. Johnston's Star Wars Ahsoka.  It is a choice that you will not regret.  

Star Wars Ahsoka picks up a few years after Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Former Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano finds herself in a galaxy where the Jedi are hunted by the Empire.  And despite her break from the Jedi Order she is forced to hide her abilities from both friends and foes.  Ahsoka after a run in with the Empire flees to the farming moon of Raada.  There she hopes to live quietly and alone.  But she makes the mistake of becoming friends with some of the farmers in the days before Imperial forces come to the moon to exploit the agrarian population.  Ashoka finds herself in a place she did not want to be, fighting to protect others!  But sometimes protecting those you care about is going on the run yet again!  Because the Empire has added a sinister and unknown weapon to hunt Force wielders. 

I loved this book.  It does a great job of describing Ahsoka's journey from Star Wars: The Clone Wars to Star Wars: Rebels.  The story does a good job of weaving her past while also pointing us into the future.  In many ways, I do feel like her story and Kanan's are similar with both going into hiding, connecting with others and then finding they must make a stand despite great personal risk to defend the liberty of others.  An additional subplot that readers get involved with during this story is how Ahsoka built her new white lightsabers and the significance of the color.  And like the main story the payoff is highly satisfying and fits within Ahsoka's character. 

I found the book very easy to read.  In fact, I broke my reading pattern and snapped it out of my travel backpack because I just really needed to see what would happen to Ahsoka next. I personally hope that Johnston writes more Star Wars books, and if she wrote again on Ahsoka I would anxiously await that book!

Star Wars Ahsoka is a book many Star Wars fan friends raved about.  Now I know why!  The book is a great fast-paced adventure with a character that many Star Wars fans love!  The volume also helps connect Ahsoka two separate, to date, television appearances.  It was a truly enjoyable romp!  

Monday, December 5, 2016

Cap's Comics - Haunted Mansion #4

Haunted Mansion #4 focuses on Constance. Joshua Williamson helps us to better understand the famed ghostly bride and perhaps some of her motivation. The Captain wishes for Danny to enter her domain, the attic, to find his treasure. But the attic could also serve as a potential escape from the Mansion’s grip. The reader follows Danny as he struggles to be brave, perhaps with some help from his spectral friends.

John Tyler Christopher Action Figure Variant

Williamson and Coelho continue their successful wandering through the mansion. And it definitely kept the interest of the Between Kid who instantly wanted to jump to the next chapter. The focus here really is on Constance, who is a serial killer in both her mortal and ghostly life. She is a terror to all who get near her ax, creating fear even with the Captain. And her appearance is a threat to both Danny’s mortal and spiritual existence!

Kelley Jones Variant Cover

We are at the edge of our seats as this issue ends. Can Danny leap into the next issue and provide us a resolution? Will Danny and the ghosts be free of the Haunted Mansion…or be trapped forever. Well that’s as long as they miss Constance’s ax!

Second Printing Cover

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Between Books - Aftermath: Life Debt

Among the things I was not looking forward to among all of Disney's new Star Wars offerings was another Aftermath book.  So it was with great hesitation I borrowed, not bought, Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig.  Because honestly, I could not have any lower expectations!

Wendig throws his readers early into the action. We join Norra Wexley and her band of Rebels (or New Republic commandos), comprised of surviving characters from the last book, as they serve as an extraction team.  They find, kidnap and extract Imperial war criminals so they can be tried for their atrocities by the New Republic.  However, the actions of others pull her into a different story. Princess Leia calls upon Wexley and her crew to find and return another type of scoundrel. Her husband Han Solo has gone missing. His partner Chewbacca was captured in an attempt by the pair to organize an attack to free the  Wookie's home world Kashyyyk from Imperial control.  Solo refuses to come home until he can recover his partner despite his wife's pregnancy.  But do Wexley's actions fill the needs of the New Republic or the Imperial remnant and its leader Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and her secret advisor?  And can you team survive the strain of the twists and turns of this adventure?

Let me just jump to the big reveal, and that's not the home world of the Imperial secret advisor!  I loved Aftermath: Life Debt.  It started hard for me, as I could not remember who all these new heroes from the first book was.  So watching a group I did not really know extract an unknown to me villian in a new to me setting, I was a little lost. But within the first 30 pages it turned quickly for me. I began to identify and feel for Norra's band.  I found I cared for this group, their emotions and what was going to happen to them.  The group is largely a team of dubious personalities, so just the question if how do former bounty hunters and imperials move forward within the New Republic was fascinating.  And unlike Bloodlines, it had just enough politics. I t is close enough to the Rebellion we see how Leia struggles with the new politically correct structure the New Republic is becoming. That is even more interesting and helps advance Leia closer to the Resistance intellectually more then the actions of Bloodline.  And Wendig makes me care about the politics outlined in this book as the New Republic debates what can they do for Kashyyyk, a work full of Wookies that I do care about. 

In the first book of the trilogy Wendig touched briefly on classic Star Wars heroes.   In this volume he goes all in. And so we get Han Solo...and a lot of him.  And it is the Solo we want and hope from, a lovable scoundrel. Wendig does a nice job highlighting the Solo/Chewbacca relationship, even when the Wookie is not there.  He makes it clear the Chewbacca is not a sidekick or pet. Chewbacca is an equal partner!  And the descriptions of this relationship really further cement how I feel about this dynamic pair.

But that's not to say I do not care about the new heroes.  Norra is a good examples.  She's a former Rebel, a soldiers, a mother to the future Snap Wexley, a wife to a missing husband and more.  I care about her future and her relationships with not just her team but also her family and potential love interests.  And honestly I could not say that after the first book!

I really enjoyed Aftermath: Life Debt. I do not always recommend many Star Wars books bases on plot and writing. This however is one I fully recommend!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Between Books - Designing Disney's Theme Parks

I have heard a lot about Designing Disney's Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance edited by Karal Ann Marling over the years.  Honestly, I've often understood it to be next to John Hench's Designing Disney as a classic of the field.  So when I found a used copy of Designing Disney's Theme Parks I knew it had to find it a spot in the Between Library.

Designing Disney's Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance edited by Karal Ann Marling serves as a companion to an exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in the 1990s.  As such, the book is focused heavy on design.  The text includes articles on Imagineers as artists by Marty Sklar, design, Disneyland and culture and setting.  The essays are surrounded by the many images including design sketches, model pictures and images of the park in action.  Overall the general theme stresses the importance of understanding design in Disney Theme Parks and learning from them in other projects.

Honestly, I do not believe that Designing Disney's Theme Parks will be a go to book for me.  The book does a good job of discussing design.  But a lot has changed since the 1990s.  The images includes many that at publication date would have likely been new to the reader, but today they have been published in numerous other books.  But the difference between this volume and more recent is accessibility.  This text really speaks to designers, and converses to them as professionals.  Other offerings have a more general audience, speaking to many different fields.  Additionally, I had hoped that a major theme of Designing Disney's Theme Parks would be movement.  Honestly this is touched on but not empathized to the level I had expected from other commentators.  Perhaps that fact this is a collection hindered the ability for it to maintain the consistent theme.

Designing Disney's Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance edited by Karal Ann Marling is an important Between Book.  It served as a predecessor for many of the design books that we have now, using pictures to help tell the Disney story.  Hard-core Disney history fans need this volume.  However, more casual readers may want to seek out a less technical book.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Cap's Comics - Haunted Mansion #3

Haunted Mansion #3 helps to establish our villain’s motivations.  As the story opens it becomes clear that the Captain is after one thing, treasure.  The Captain has searched the mansion from almost top to bottom and cannot find this pirate booty.  There is only one place he cannot go where it might be hidden, and he will need help to enter that area.  Therefore he attempts to retrieve Danny from the endless party!  But as the party finally ends a new character intercepts our mortal hero, the Hatbox Ghost.  The Hatbox Ghost takes Danny on a spiritual and physical tour through the castle.  And the abrupt ending of this tour results in hard truths for Danny.  The other villain, Constance is depicted solely as motivated by murder!  With Danny now facing the reality of his situation, will be become a victim to the Captain or Constance?  Can he find the bravery he needs to move on in the Haunted Mansion?

John Tyler Christopher Variant Cover

Joshua Williamson really seems to be writing this story for Haunted Mansion fans.  And the inclusion of the Hatbox Ghost really works to prove my point.  The Hatbox Ghost becomes a mentor, somewhat of the non-specific Yoda model.  And he leaves us with more questions than answers.  The big thrill for Mansion fans is the Hatbox Ghost’s and other denizens noting that Hatbox was gone but has just recently returned.  It feels like a literally tribute to the original appearance to this legendary ghost when the Mansion opened and his recent return.  And Jorge Coehlo’s art continues to present the Mansion’s citizens in a familiar an non-scary way that the Between Kid can enjoy.  

Brian Crosby Variant Cover

At this point I am seeing the Haunted Mansion Disney Kingdoms as a safe story.  In fact safe is the word I used in my last review.  It has a beloved Disney Parks attraction at its center.  And the creative team is making sure to hit the fan needed notes to make sure fans are seeing what they most want with the Hatbox Ghost being a great example.  And the story is not too scary, making it All-Ages friendly.  Honestly, safe here may be another way to say success as while no one may be completely over the moon about the material but it is still something most readers can and will enjoy.  

Second Printing Variant Cover

Monday, September 26, 2016

Between Books - Brittany Earns Her Ears

Brittany Earns Her Ears: My Secret Walt Disney World Cast Member Diary by Brittany DiCologero is the fifth installment in the "Earning Your Ears" series.  DiCologero follows the basic outline of these journals.  The author discusses why she chose to enter the Disney College Program, the application process, Disney College Program life, and her job as a merchandise cast member in Fall 2014.  She concludes the volume with reflection of her time in the program. 

Again, this volume follows the basic outline of "Earning Your Ears" books.  And this allows a reader to come to understand this specific cast members decision about entering the program and navigating the process.  In this case, I found myself "routing" for Brittany since we are both history majors.  And I believe that if I was a young adult I would likely gravitate towards this volume thanks to our shared academic interests.  I can also see myself gravitating towards this volume since Brittany discusses maintaining and supporting a long distance relationship which would have been close to my own situation at that age.  I can see the value to readers of these types of books if one feels the author is like me.

DiCologero along with the typical topics calls out advantages to program participation.  This includes Disney discounts, typically deeper discounts than found at retail jobs.  Also she participated in educational experiences, giving this history major the most interesting business course she ever completed.  And of course, she calls out the fundamental truth...Animal Kingdom is hot!

Brittany Earns Her Ears is another well-written contribution to understanding and preparing for the Disney College Program.  Like all of these volumes, some will resonate better to others with readers due to experiences and common personality traits.  The series is one that should be examined by all potential College Program participants.    

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Between Books - Drinking at Disney

As I drink Cherry Pepsi from my Tervis cup and write this review, it seems so empty.  It feels as if my Texas Flag decorated Tervis given to me after being found in a supply closest should hold something with more octane.  And perhaps me and that the cup should be staring longingly at a forbidden bay as I seek a way to convince a cast member to give me and my Tervis entry!

Drinking at Disney: A Tipsy Travel Guide to Walt Disney World’s Bars, Lounges & Glow Cubes by Rhiannon and Drunky provides what is advertised, a description and rating of every bar and cart serving booze in Walt Disney World.  Drunky uses his vast research and knowledge of Disney drinking to provide his readers a location by location summary of drinking on property.  This includes his own creative maps of where to find one’s desired adult drink.  For each bar, lounge, and drink cart Drunky gives information about the menu, a rating of value, location, theme, vibe, and evaluation of the location. Ratings are delivered in terms of how many Tervis tumblers the bar earned, Drunky’s to go cup of choice.  Often Drunky gets things slightly askew ,or just plain wrong, so his editor Rhiannon jumps in to point out his errors on theming, his need to give additional love to pool bars (why) and pointing out drinks that do not end with Lite.  The pages are all vibrantly colored and illustrated making reviews fun, especially since the give and take between Drunky and Rhiannon is amusing.  Though I will admit I jump quickly between whose side I am on.   After the reviews the authors provides more value with pub crawls, strategies for drinking around the world (which are actually good safety thoughts) and lists of some of the best and worst bars in Walt Disney World.

I loved Drinking at Disney.  The read was really fun and the bickering between the author and editor is a great mix of dirty jokes and friend humor that made me feel like I was sitting on a bar stool.  And I think for someone who lives in Betweenland it had a twofold effect.  First, I found myself longing for a new Disney experience type.  Yes, I think in my previous visits to Walt Disney World I have not taken adult beverages enough into account, okay I am pretty much about the Between Kids on my trips.  But it is possible to enjoy some of these experiences without becoming Drunky and still being a responsible parent.  Second, I wish I had this book before my last trip.  Then perhaps I would not have regretted my trip to the Brown Derby Lounge, though we were there for a food item.  I would also not be regretting not hitting up my local pool bar, an actual decent pool bar!  I can also think of non-Disney addicted friends who this book would be a good resource for as they plan out a less child focused trip than I typically plan out.  Yes, I probably would not have left the Between Kid to stake my claim to a stool at Muddy Waters.  But regrets do hurt.

Drinking at Disney: A Tipsy Travel Guide to Walt Disney World’s Bars, Lounges & Glow Cubes is an essential book we never knew we needed.  It is fun and informative.  While I would likely never put the large sized physical edition in a suitcase of backpack, I would study it carefully before future trips back to Walt Disney World.  

Sorry Rhiannon, I love my craft beer.  But sometimes a Bud Lite and Merica does beat Abita! 

Review Copy Provided For Purposes of Review