Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Between Books - Star Wars: The High Republic Quest for Planet X


Tessa Gratton continues the tween reading program for Star Wars: The High Republic with a follow-up to Star Wars: The High Republic Quest for the Hidden City. I hoped this time, new author, new setting, and mostly the same teen heroes would create a less gloomy situation.

Star Wars: The High Republic Quest for Planet X by Tessa Gratton tosses a Jedi Padawan and a young hyperspace prospector from the earlier book into the Hyperspace Chase, a race to find new hyperspace lanes. The duo joins a third youngster, a member of a powerful prospecting family member with an agenda of their own. They make their target Planet X, a world of great promises for all three of them. But their agendas and the Path of the Open Hand may stop the trio from obtaining their prize.

Gratton’s offering fits what is wanted for a tween book. There is action. There is adventure. There are crossovers to adult books from the High Republic. If anything, that is a little frustrating to me as here in the non-adult book we get part of the origin of the Leveler. And I’m even more frustrated as Yoda in other books makes the Leveler’s existence a Jedi secret, yet here we have a Padawan who fully knows of its presence, origin, and even name.

Where Gratton excels over some of the other authors in this round of stories is making members of the Path of the Open Hand more rational and intelligent than we have typically seen. They are not all brainwashed. They are often nice people. But they have gotten themselves caught in something bad by sincerely believing. Sadly, that’s more common than we might think in this world.

If anything I at times find myself asking, who is letting these children run wild through the galaxy? It’s dangerous out there for heaven’s sake. The funny thing is of the three young people, it’s really only the Jedi who don’t seem concerned that a youngster is unsupervised. Does this mean the Force is an acceptable emergency contact?

Star Wars: The High Republic Quest for Planet X by Tessa Gratton does what it’s asked. It provides growing readers with some fun and adventure from their viewpoint. I think I just wish it did not rely so heavily on the books in the series that may be a stretch for some readers who enjoyed this offering. Do those readers have somewhere to go next? It definitely was not as gloomy as the last quest book.

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Friday, May 26, 2023

Between Books - Marvel Masterworks Presents Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Volume 1


Sometimes I think it’s fashionable to question the writing skill of Stan Lee. Many want to credit him for his marketing and promotional skills, but not his writing. We all know that The Fantastic Four changed the comics industry. But often the credit goes to Lee’s co-creators and not Lee. But for me, I have often argued that Lee was someone who was creative and artistic and partnered with other fantastic creatives to make great things.

Marvel Masterworks Presents Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Volume 1 collects the first thirteen issues of the 1960s comic written by Stan Lee with art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers. The stories depict the fictional United States Army Commando Nick Fury and his band of seven Howling Commandos. They are sent on secret missions in the European Theater of Operations, once to the Pacific. The missions are generally the same, something fantastical for non-superheroes to complete. And generally, Fury and his Howlers win the day (okay there are more volumes) through teamwork and fierce dedication to duty.

The stories are as good as any military action movie not based on a true story. Lee deals head-on with issues of class and race which were prevalent in the discourse of the 1960s. He does not hide from it but instead gives a very traditional conservative military landscape for these issues to be played out. And in the heat of battle, as one would expect, right often wins out. And while Kirby may have framed the action, we cannot forget that these messages were scripted with words given by Lee and are very consistent with his other writings on social issues.

There is a reality to this writing. This is a war story, not a superhero one. And yes, Captain America and Bucky do make a co-starring appearance. Yes, Baron Strucker is a villain, but he is one on par with Sargent Fury, not Captain America or future Agent Nick Fury. This volume reminds us that while Marvel is known for superheroes, we cannot forget comics including multiple genres including military, horror, and romance, formats that Lee, Kirby, and Ayers were all familiar with. A constant complaint about comic stories is that they often lack weight. If you are not Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, you can be killed and return again. But here, characters are killed, and we know they have passed. As a reader, you can feel the grief. Lee and his artists crafted tales they felt were real.

I have an unpopular opinion. Jack Kirby draws really ugly people. Often in comic books, this doesn’t work for me because superheroes are well pretty. Kirby’s art works perfectly here. This Fury is ugly. He is a dogface, unpretty, and not yet Marvel’s super spy. Dino Manelli, the pretty boy in the group and former actor, looks very different from the gruff squad leader. And of course fan favorite Dum Dum Dugan looks differently than both of them. Kirby’s art works perfectly for me, and Ayers when he picks it up matches pencil to pencil. They created a group of separate models that differ and do not merge.

I’d say don’t sleep on Marvel Masterworks Presents Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Volume 1. I found a kindle version for less than a dollar. Kindle Marvel collections often are put on deep discounts. Lee, Kirby, and Ayers were all veterans of World War II and clearly were passionate about telling the story of Fury and his men, giving it more realism than one expects from a Marvel title. The collection also reminds us why Lee and Kirby really were the masters of their industry, especially when collaborating together.

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Monday, May 15, 2023

Between Books - Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha



That’s how it started. I opened up the Kindle edition of Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha and saw it was a script, not a book and I could not do it. I returned the book immediately and requested the audiobook immediately! This was a good choice.

Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha by George Mann provides us with a narrative of a moment from the High Republic that other books have hinted at. The battle was a moment where the Path of the Open Hand challenged the Jedi’s ability to make peace in the Forever War, many Jedi were lost, and the Order was at a low point. The audiobook provides a dramatic account of the incident, complete with total audio production. The story covers a few days on Jedha as the Republic attempts to sign a major peace agreement, and the Path of the Open Hand attempts to strike silently at the prestige of the Jedi. The manipulations of the Path create a full-out battle on the world that we best know from Rogue One. There is a lot of action and fighting to keep the listener entertained.

No Yodas appear in this adventure.

I grew up loving audio shows. I had a volunteer experience where I could listen freely to old-time audio shows like The Shadow. And while I had read a script version of a Star Wars book/audio presentation in the past, I simply could not do it again. I needed the version as it was intended to be, an audio presentation with all its narration, acting, audio cues, and sound effects. And I was happy that I went to the story as it was meant to be. It was entertaining. It did its job, even being a tale from the High Republic which I am not in love with.

I do grumble a little bit about the Forever War…it’s lasted all of five years! That oddly does not feel like forever. Even in our world, the Forever War seems to have lasted a natural amount of time. I would have preferred a name like the War of Water and Sand! I just think the name was a little misplaced especially in a galaxy where the creators could have made it last 100 years or more.

This story also shows the Jedi to not be all the powerful and beloved space wizards we may expect. At Jedha, the Jedi are just one of many brands of Force users. Not everyone trusts the Jedi. This makes the manipulations of the Path even more believable. This is likely my favorite story point as we see Jedi vulnerable to galactic opinion.

I am a fan of audio productions. And Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha by George Mann is produced well with a professional cast and plenty of sound effects to keep a listener engaged. The voice actors help you care about these Jedi who you know nothing about due to voice inflection and acting. I support not reading this book and listening instead as the actors and production allow you to hear the script notes versus reading them and imagining what it should like instead. This entry is likely my favorite of the early High Republic stories, due to the well-executed production of the sound team to support Mann’s writing.

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Monday, May 8, 2023

Between Books - Agent Carter: Season One Declassified

Agent Carter: Season One Declassified has sat on my shelves for years wrapped in plastic. I popped it open wondering if this volume would better inform my one viewing years ago.

Agent Carter: Season One Declassified by Sarah Rodriguez walks readers through the first season of the 2015 ABC Marvel series. The book frames the question of how a Marvel One-Shot evolved into a series. Then Rodriguez provides an episode guide for each of the eight stories. And then finally, the book ends with production notes including special effects, wardrobe, hair and makeup, and other production services that lead to the final product of our home screens. The text is adorned with numerous striking color set photos and production art.

I am conflicted about this volume. Visually, the photos and art really pull us into Agent Carter's world. I find quotes from Hayley Atwell to be fun and delightful. But there are only, yeah just only, eight episodes. And while this is the same size as the other MCU art of books, it does feel a little thin. Television does have less production time than a movie, so there is a lot less art. Also, the book feels more publicity than behind-the-scenes secret sharing. The quotes and interviews provided to Rodriguez feel like publicity. And while there are a lot of set photos they feel like they have tossed every publicity shot onto the pages.

If anything, the thing that is frustrating to me is the book’s production. For example, 99.9999% of the photos have no captions. And since I have not watched this show in five years, I may have forgotten who some secondary characters are. Also, I have no idea who the producers, directors, showrunners, and other production staff are. There are pictures where a director may be speaking to Atwell, but please don’t ask me who that nameless man is!

Agent Carter: Season One Declassified by Sarah Rodriguez gave me a flashback to when Agent Carter was on TV and Disney+ didn’t exist yet. It was fun to remember and I found myself arguing to myself that I needed to have a rewatch soon. I guess that’s the win, it is a publicity book that convinced me I need to watch a series I have already seen. But I don’t feel like I unlocked the code of Agent Peggy Carter and her corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 


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