August 2016

Collects Rat Queens issues 1-5.

Writer: Kurtis J. Wiebe
Artist: Roc Upchurch

This was loads of fun! I’m a long-time pen and paper RPG player and this hit all the spots for me.

The setting is fantasy and the characters are “Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric, and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief”. Yup, an adventuring party with a pretty standard characters. Except that these swearing and booze drinking women are anything but standard in modern comics. They could be usual in a gaming group, though.

So, four adventuring groups are looking for work and in the meantime they get drunk and destroy pubs and other places in their brawls. Perhaps not surprisingly, the mayor and other citizens are concerned about the situation. Every group is given a quest which takes them out of the city of Palisade. The Rat Queens aren’t too happy about their quest which is to clear out goblins from a cave but at least it’s not toilet cleaning which one of the groups gets.

At the cave, our heroes are attacked by an assassin and a giant. Some of the four are hurt badly but they manage to all survive. But soon they find out that the other adventurer groups were also attacked and some of them weren’t as lucky. Also, the quests were just a way to lure them to the assassins. So, who is trying to kill them all and why?

The comic starts in the middle of things and doesn’t bother to explain anything or introduce anyone. However, people who have gamed (or read I guess) fantasy will have expectations. Some will be turned on their ear. The stories have lots of funny moments and dialog. However, they focus on fighting and not so much on character development. But before the end, each main character has gotten her own personality and a few quirks, too.

Highly recommended for people familiar with fantasy and not bothered by lots of swearing.

Collects Amazing X-Men issues 13-19, Annual 1.

Writers: James Tynion IV, Chris Yost, Monty Nero
Artists: Jorge Jiménez, Carlo Barberi, Iban Coello, Walden Wong, Jorge Fornes, Kris Anka, Salvator Larroca

The first issue is a one-shot where one of the students at the Jean Grey school is missing. He’s gone on a date for the first time but chickened out. Then he runs into Lady Mastermind who uses his insecurities against him. Nightcrawler and Northstar investigate and perhaps get to know each other a little better.

Next up is an Axis crossover, where good guys are bad and bad guys are good. In this case, Nightcrawler has gone to Germany and he’s after the blood of the priest who taught fear and hate to his parish and therefore is partly responsible for the attitudes of the men who first tried to kill Kurt when he was a child. Mystique is going after Kurt, to stop him from murdering anyone. This was a nice flip.

Then the five-part Juggernaut story starts. The gem which gives the Juggernaut his (or her) power has returned to Earth. It calls for specific strong and violent people but also the former hosts can hear the call. One of them is Colossus who is now at the Jean Grey school. He sees a dream about the gem and tells about it to Storm. He expects to be part of the team which will go after the gem. Instead, he’s told that he can’t be trusted and he needs to stay put. Storm, Nightcrawler, Firestar, Marvel girl, Rockslide, and Iceman go after the gem… and find a large, angry demon guarding it. Some other people are coming for the gem, too, and they’re not nice. Several fights break out, of course. Colossus persuades Pixie to teleport him there, too, and the X-Men might need him against the demon, Man-Killer, Crossbones, and Jinn.

This story arch has surprisingly lot of humor, especially near the end. I still don’t care for the bickering much but I liked the way the X-Men didn’t just rush off into a fight. I particularly don’t like the way that they constantly put down Rockslide – feels like bullying to me and coming from people who are supposed to be very inclusive it’s very distasteful. However, it was great that Firestar got to shine, again. She might be new to the X-Men but she’s an Avenger and pretty experienced one, too. In this story, we get to know Colossus a bit better. The poor guy has gone through a lot of changes and he seems to be regretting some of them. Apparently, he’s sleeping with Domino, now. When did that happen?? Cain Marko also gets a little bit of character development and then it, apparently, goes away.

The annual is a one-shot exploring Ororo’s past. It turns out that she still has family: cousins and aunts. One of them has been kidnapped by a new supervillain who has murdered other people. Storm, Wolverine, Firestar, the Beast, and Nightcrawler fly to Africa to investigate. The story is about revenge and it’s pretty forgettable except that we get to see Storm in full fury which is always awesome.

Collects Amazing X-Men issues 7-12.

Writers: Kathryn Immonen, Craig Kyle, Christ Yost
Artists: Kris Anka, Juan Vlansco, Ed McGuinness. Mark Farmer, Carlo Barberi, Iban Costello, Walden Wong, Marc Deering

The first issue is a one-shot where Iceman and Firestar meet up unexpectedly with Spider-Man who has an alien baby with him. At first, Angelica and Bobby don’t know it’s an alien and try to defend it from Spidey. It’s supposed to be funny but didn’t really work for me and the plot doesn’t really make sense, either.

The Wendigo storyline takes the rest of the collection. Apparently, Wolverine has lost his healing factor and that’s why Storm has ordered him to stay at the school. However, when he wants to go to Canada, he goes to Canada. Unfortunately for him, a human body is ground into food and that starts a Wendigo curse which spreads over Canada because the Wendigos infect people with their touch!

Mac (Guardian of Alpha Flight) has gone missing and Heather and Logan are looking for him – going right into the small town where almost everyone has been turned into a Wendigo. The X-Men (Storm, Northstar, Nightcrawler, Marvel Girl, Colossus, Firestar, Iceman, and Rockslide) follow but not before the Wendigos have spread into several towns and now there are thousands of them. One of the X-Men turns into a Wendigo! Then Alpha Flight comes to help.

This was pretty intense storyline, even though I didn’t believe for a moment that the scratched X-Man would stay a Wendigo. Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America are glimpsed fighting the Wendigos at the USA/Canada border, trying to save the Canadians who have turned and protect other people from them. Meanwhile, the magic users who should be able to turn the monsters back to humans are shown to be incapacitated so the heroes need another way to stop the curse.

We don’t get much in the way of character development. In fact, while this could be a fun adventure, it’s pretty forgettable. Northstar doesn’t appear happy to see his sister and former teammates, but he did mellow out a little because of a little girl he saved several times. Then again, he and Aurora snipped at each other previously, too, so I guess it’s in character

On the other hand, I didn’t really care for the humor; the characters mostly bickered like teenagers. Also, it was really strange how Rockslide just suddenly popped up from Blackbird’s toilet during the third issue. It felt like the writers suddenly realized that they needed him and just yanked him there. Weird, because he didn’t do much until near the end. For such a supposedly epic storyline (and epic ending!) I’m pretty sure none of the characters will ever refer to it again.

Collects Amazing X-Men 1-6.

Writer: Jason Aaron
Artists: Ed McGuinness

Kurt is back! Nightcrawler has long been one of my favorite characters and I’ve missed him. But now, he’s back!

The story starts with Kurt in heaven. But he’s not enjoying his rest, but is longing to return. However, strange things start to happen: pirates raid souls from heaven. Naturally, Kurt has to defend the innocents – with a sword!

Meanwhile, Angelica Jones (Firestar) comes to the Jean Grey school for the first time. She’s going to be a teacher. But first she’s confronted by the various goings on at the school. She finds out that Beast is being pestered by Bamfs, small creatures that look like Nightcrawler plush toys. Apparently, they’ve been a problem for a while in the school but now they’ve crossed the line: they’ve stolen Beast’s coffeemaker. But they seem to be luring the X-Men to a portal which transports Storm, Beast, Firestar, Northstar, Iceman, and Wolverine to other realms. Wolverine and Northstar end into Heaven and Beast onto a pirate ship in an icy river while the rest of the team are transported to Hell itself. Of course, they have to fight their way out.

It turns out that Kurt’s father Azazel is behind the attacks: he’s trying to carve out his own kingdom in the afterlife – and apparently nobody can stop him and his army of evil Bamfs and other wicked souls except the X-Men.

In the final issue in the collection, the X-Men celebrate Kurt’s return but he’s melancholy because of his biological family. Then Mystique shows up and it’s a family reunion straight from Kurt’s nightmares.

This was quite a silly adventure, memorable only because of Kurt’s return. The Bamfs were always quite ridiculous concept and I just couldn’t take them seriously as combatants. The other wicked souls are more menacing. We also get a glimpse of another dead X-Man. But Firestar, Storm, and Nightcrawler are awesome. Beast, Wolverine, and Iceman get their own chances to shine, too. Northstar is the only one who doesn’t have much to do here.

There’s also a downside to this otherwise cheery romp: Kurt has made a deal in order to get back to Earth and a dead man has only one thing to trade. It remains to be seen how that affects him in the future. Azazel and Mystique will no doubt plague him and the X-Men before long.

A stand-alone science fiction book about clash of cultures.

Publication year: 2000
Format: print
Page count: 248
Publisher: Gollanz

Salt is the story of people who move to another planet. The settlers go there in pods which were tethered to a comet which was their fuel and accelerator. Each pod had their own culture and already two of the cultures started to clash early in the voyage: the Als and the Senaar. Their cultures are pretty much opposite of each other and that proves to be too problematic from them to overcome.

The Alsist are, essentially, anarchist socialists: they don’t own anything, they don’t have marriages, having kids is fully a woman’s choice and kids don’t even know their fathers, they don’t have hierarchies so they don’t have leaders or people in charge; they also don’t have laws or force people to do anything. They also don’t suppress their emotions: when they’re angry, they speak or act on it. They also don’t have police or army. The flight to the planet Salt is a difficult to them, full of boredom and forced inactivity.

On the other hand, the Senaarians are very hierarchical and their society centers on money and how much a person can earn. They have both police and an army (consisting of only males). They have rigid gender roles and strict monogamy. Their interactions are full of restraint. They organized their voyage and survive it better than most (according to the first person narrator).

The funny thing is, they’re both religious societies; both think that the other’s way of life is an abomination and their own the only true way to live. The Alsists see the other as slaves to imaginary rules and laws while the Senaarians think of the others as immoral, lazy hedonists.

The book has (mostly) two narrators: Petja and Barlei. They both record their experiences afterwards, mentioning sometimes that “if only I had known”. Petja is a technician who, mostly by coincidence, deals a lot with the Senaarians. He’s mostly amused by their rigid thinking and often baffled by it. He has relations with a few women and falls in love with one of them. Barlei rises to the station of Captain during the voyage and leads his people ever after. He has no family and seemingly devotes his whole life to the building of the Senaar city.

Both are unreliable narrators and tell some of the same events from their point of view. This isn’t an adventure but story of human nature and misunderstandings between different cultures.

This was an interesting read, showing how individuals make the decisions which shape societies but somewhat depressing.

Storybundle offers again two great book bundles:
Historical fantasy
Books from Jo Graham, Martha Wells, and Judith Tarr! Tarr’s “Lord of Two Lands” is set in Alexander the Great’s camp and made me fan of Tarr.
Haikasoru Japan Science fiction bundle

5 (or 10 if you’re willing to spend 15 dollars) Japanese Sci-Fi books and collections translated into English. I’ve read “the Lord of the Sands of Time” by Issui Ogawa and enjoyed it. Couple of more days on sale.

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