Sunday, 5 July 2015

Mystic by G Willow Wilson

Mystic: The Tenth Apprentice written by G Willow Wilson and illustrated by David Lopez is a four issue series about two orphan girls in a secondary fantasy world. It's basically what I'm used to getting out of a fantasy novel, but in comic book form. (And hence obviously much shorter.)

TWO TEENAGED WIZARDS. ONE DESTINY.
Can their friendship survive their greatest test?

The Limpet Hall Orphanage for Girls in the impoverished slums of Hyperion is no place for two young girls to grow up. But Gisells and Genevieve have always taken care of each other, waiting for the day they will be released from the servitude of the orphanage--and secretly daring to study the Noble Arts, magical skills only available to the aristocracy. When they're caught after hours in the library of the tyrannous Mistress of Limpet Hall, they have no choice but to take to the streets and forge their own paths. With new, incredible powers gleaned from the magical technology once forbidden to them, one girl will take up the massive burden of saving the world, and the other will direct all her efforts to tearing it apart!

The story is about two orphan girls living in a crappy orphanage in a gas-lamp fantasy style of world. Technology is powered by aether and aether must be collected by magicians, all of whom of from the noble class. When the two girls sneak into the apprentice-choosing ceremony, one of them answers an open question and is unexpectedly chosen to train at the palace, while the other is kicked out onto the street.

It has magic, revolution, bitchy rich girls, betrayal and the saving of civilisation as they know it. So basically, everything a good fantasy story needs. I enjoyed the story and the art, which conveyed what it needed to without objectifying anyone. The characters were well designed and fun to read about. It's hard to say much more about it without spoilers.

Mystic is a great read and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a quick and complete comic book story. I especially recommend it to fantasy fans. If you usually read fantasy books, it might be a good place to enter into the realm of comics, if superheroes aren't quite your thing.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2012, Marvel
Series: Mystic, complete series, issues #1-4
Format read: Digital 
Source: Marvel Unlimited

Friday, 3 July 2015

Drachengott: Wind by KJ Taylor

Drachengott: Wind by KJ Taylor is the first book in a new fantasy series which I believe is being released only digitally. But on the up side, the four instalments are being released one a month, so by the time you read this book 3 will already be in the wild. And if the first book is anything to go by, they're pretty short instalments, by fantasy book standards. Perhaps in another time, they would have been published as parts one through four of the one printed book (although that's not how the author wrote it, as she mentions in this interview from last year).

Rutger has always been a bit different. Wanting more than his current provincial life holds, he practices swordfighting, ensuring he's ready for ... he's not quite sure what. Until he meets Swanhild, an enigmatic young woman who knows exactly what she's training for - war. The two meet every day in the forest to practice magic and Rutger feels like he finally belongs somewhere. But Swanhild is hiding something. Will Rugter find out her secret before it's too late? Or will the battle they've been waiting for render secrets irrelevant?

Wind starts with a few chapters of what is, structurally, a prolonged prologue. We're introduced to a confused dragon who doesn't really know what's going on or why, but whose story turns out to be quite important to the over arching plot of the series. We also get our first glimpse of Rutger, the main protagonist. The main story, however, starts several years later with Rutger determined to avenge his brother, who died in the prologue, but lacking direction. He trains for war but has no immediate battles to fight. That is until he meets Swanhild, who introduces him to the world of magic.

Swanhild was probably a more interesting character than Rutger (not that there was anything wrong with Rutger) with her mysterious past and unknown motivations. She propels the plot along and Rutger through it. Basically, nothing much would have happened in the book if it were not for her, but she's not the main character. From the ending (no spoilers) I get the feeling the next book will have a different main character but that Swanhild will still make an appearance.

I am interested to see how the overall structure of the series plays out. Being much shorter than what I would normally call Big Fat Fantasy (BFF), Wind nevertheless shares some characteristics with those sorts of books. Although Wind told a complete story, the overarching plot is only just beginning and I am looking forward to seeing where it goes in the following books. On the other, being quite short for a fantasy book it does have a little bit less depth (and only the one main character whose point of view we don't stray from after the very beginning). The worldbuilding, however, is sufficiently present to paint a picture of the world. It's Germanic, with some obvious differences to our world like the existence of dragons and magic, and also deer as the primary mounts. (Maybe the dragons ate all the horses? ;-p ) Also giant spiders in the forest, which really had me questioning why anyone ever went into the forest if person-eating spiders were a thing they could run into. (If you're arachnophobic, don't worry, they only appear briefly.)

Anyway, Wind was a short read that had me wanting to know what happens next. I look forward to continuing the series in the near future. I would recommend it to fans of fantasy after a quick fix and/or something that they won't spend days lost in (because of the short length). Fans of Taylor's other work will find a less complex story, but still, in my opinion, an enjoyable one.

4 / 5 stars

First published: May 2015, Harper Collins Impulse
Series: Drachengott book 1 of 4
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Runaways Vol 8: Dead End Kids by Joss Whedon and Michael Ryan

Runaways Vol 8: Dead End Kids written by Joss Whedon and illustrated by Michael Ryan is the eight "normal" volume of Runaways comics. It contains issues #25–30 of the second run. You can read my reviews of earlier Runaways here and here. This review will contain some spoilers for earlier plotlines.

Rebellious teens Nico, Chase, Karolina, Molly, Victor, and Xavin are survivors. All children of super-villains, they turned against their evil elders to become amateur super heroes. But when the authorities chase them out of Los Angeles, the Runaways forge an uneasy alliance with East Coast crime boss Kingpin, placing them on a collision course with the killer vigilante Punisher. The ensuing disaster hurls the kids a century backward in time, trapping them in 1907 New York - home of child labor, quaint technology, and competing gangs of super-folk known as "Wonders." Can the Runaways get back to the future? Find out in this timeless tale of comedy, romance, and old-fashioned heroism!

I was hesitant going into this story arc because of the change of writers. Although I like some of Whedon's other work (Buffy, Firefly) I wasn't sure how that would translate into comics. The answer is, it translated just fine. Dead End Kids was an engaging story, which featured Fisk (who I've come to like thanks to the Daredevil TV show, even though I know this comic portrayal was written much earlier) and time travel.

Picking up where the previous volume left off, the Runaways are in New York for a short while and plan to go back to LA soon. But of course, nothing is ever a smooth run with this group of kids. Instead, they find themselves in questionable circumstances that lead to 1907. The question then becomes how will they get back and how many new strays will they pick up in the process?

The whole thing with Karolina's relationship with Xavin was something that bothered me in the previous comics. I just didn't think it made a whole lot of sense from the context we were actually shown for it. That is actually remedied a bit in this story arc. I still think it started weirdly, but I'm less weirded out by their continuing relationship.

The main aspect I had an issue with was one of the bad guys' powers. She was a throw-away character but the super power of making men fight over her was kind of icky. As was how implausibly clingy her 1907 dress was. Happily, she was only a small part of the story and easy enough to overlook. On the other hand, all of the other bad guys/antagonists were male, which didn't help. It's nice that the Runaways are a female-dominated ensemble cast, but it would be nicer to have seen more diversity in the characters introduced for this arc.

Overall, however, I quite enjoyed this volume. If you're up to it in Runaways but aren't sure whether to keep reading, then my advice is to go ahead. If you haven't read any Runaways, I definitely suggest starting from the start. It's a nice comic with a long stretch of continuity.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2007–2008, Marvel
Series: Runaways Vol 8, issues #25–30 of the second run which started in 2005. These issues released 2007–2008
Format read: Digital
Source: Marvel Unlimited

Monday, 29 June 2015

Spider-Woman Origin by Brian Michael Bendis and Brian Reed

Spider-Woman Origin written by Brian Michael Bendis and Brian Reed and illustrated by the Luna brothers attempts to summarise Spider-Woman's origin story. It doesn't do a stellar job, though I suspect this is at least partly due to being limited to five issues. I also read Spider-Woman Saga which is a short (10 page) one-shot summarising Spider-Woman Origin and bridging the gap between it and Spider-Woman Agent of SWORD. This review contains spoilers as I intend to discuss some problematic elements of the story. Read at own risk.

This all-new epic chronicles the intriguing secret history of Jessica Drew and her journey from child experiment to Hydra agent to S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to super hero to private eye to Avenger! Written by New Avengers scribe Brian Michael Bendis and searing-hot newcomer Brian Reed (Ms. Marvel), and featuring stunning full-color visuals by the Luna brothers (Ultra, Girls), this story is packed with intrigue leading directly into the upcoming Spider-Woman series from Bendis and Eisner Award-winning artist Alex Maleev (Daredevil).

This was a weird comic. I feel like they wanted to cram so much backstory into five issues that at times it felt like a montage sequence from a movie. According to Wiki, apparently this story rewrites/retcons a bit of Spider-Woman's history for more modern comic stories, but from the summaries I read it doesn't strike me as wildly different, more like shifting timelines around. My main problem with this story is how shallow it was. There was little depth of character and zero nuance to events that really should have been nuanced. You know, like a movie montage.

After a supposedly horrible childhood — we really don't see anything horrible happening to her, other than being isolated with her parents and some medical issues, and certainly nothing that screams evil brain-washing cult — Jessica drew finds herself in a coma between the ages of 7 and 17. So when she wakes up, in HYDRA's presence, she's basically still 7, in a mostly developed body, she seems to magically gain maturity somehow? It's really not explained and it really should be. Because if you assume her mind continues to develop at a standard, she's something like mentally 10 (or certainly low teens, I may have lost track of a time jump) when she decides to sleep with an old dude to get close enough to assassinate him. EW! Between waking up and that moment she does have the chance to learn lots of stuff, but as far as I could tell, HYDRA only taught her how to fight, not how to adult. So when she goes off and leads a semi-successful life in hiding... I just don't buy it. There was a lot of implausibility in this comic, more than usual. Oh, and it was super weird seeing a white Nick Fury.

Given the stolen childhood aspect, I couldn't help but compare it with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt who lost a similar chunk of her life (but started out older). Unlike Kimmy, Jessica isn't shown as having any trouble adjusting to the real world, which is ridiculous. Like, this whole thing was actually more ridiculous than the HYDRA brainwashing she undergoes. While I bought the HYDRA brainwashing by the end, the problem of how many life skills she could have possibly learnt in between all that martial arts training remains a problem. More than zero, sure, but I don't see how she had much time for it.

To summarise: Jessica's traumatic childhood didn't seem all that bad (like, OK, her father was experimenting on her, but he wasn't hurting her) until the very end just before HYDRA comes in. I felt like I got a better feel for the character's past from references in Avengers Assemble and Captain Marvel appearances. Spider-Woman Origin just left me thinking, "Huh? Is that it?" The art was pretty and probably the best thing about it. Only a few gratuitous butt shots. I don't particularly recommend reading Spider-Woman Origin if you're looking for, y'know, good comics. If you want a quick summary of Jessica Drew's life, then go for it.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2007, Marvel
Series: Spider-Woman Origin, entire series (issues #1–5)
Format read: Digital
Source: Marvel Unlimited

Ms Marvel (Carol Danvers) Vols 1 & 2 by Brian Reed

Ms Marvel Vols 1 & 2 written by Brian Reed and illustrated by Roberto de la Torre is part of the Ms Marvel run directly preceding Carol's change of name to Captain Marvel. It was written from 2006 onwards, so I thought it wouldn't be too cringe-worthy to read (compared with the very first run of Ms Marvel which was written in the 70s). So I started reading the issues on Marvel unlimited and gave up at issue #11, which is actually the first issue of Vol 3, when I got bored. But it wasn't all bad...

Vol 1 Best of the Best: Straight out of the pages of New Avengers and House of M Call your friends, wake the neighbors, shout it from the rooftops Come along for one heck of a wild ride as Brian Reed (co-writer of the thrilling Spider-Woman: Origin) joins forces with penciler extraordinaire Rob de la Torre for an action-packed adventure that includes special guest-stars Captain America and Jessica Jones. All this and an alien invasion that could mean the end of life on Earth, is tucked inside a cover by Eisner Award-nominated Frank Cho. Collects Ms. Marvel #1-5, Giant-Size Ms. Marvel #1.

Vol 2 Civil War: Ms. Marvel: Ms. Marvel enlists in the Civil War! With the Super Human Registration Act in full effect, Carol Danvers joins forces with Simon "Wonder Man" Williams and Julia "Arachne" Carpenter to police and train heroes. But there's a traitor in their midst – someone who is undermining the registration movement and endangering everyone! Plus: BECAUSE YOU DEMANDED IT! Rogue appears in the pages of MS. MARVEL! But if Rogue is a friend, why is Carol attacking? And finally, a child with the ability to turn anything he imagines into reality has begun to read Carol’s sci-fi epic “Binary,” based loosely on her own life among the stars. Within minutes, the library is overrun with visions from Carol’s book – and soon, all of New York City is threatened!

Terrible blurbs aside, the worst thing about this series is Ms Marvel's terrible costume. It's ridiculousness really isn't helped by generous amounts of side-boob and gratuitous crotch shots (and let's face it, the bikini cut of that leotard is barely covering what it needs to). I mainly don't understand why someone who can magically change their clothing at will would keep that costume. At least the boots don't have heels.

The best thing about reading this was that we got an origin story for Carol's cat. I am now going to spoil it for you to save you having to read the comics. If you don't want to be spoiled, jump to the next paragraph.
In Giant-Size Ms Marvel, which is ironically a short (event-based) issue leading into the series, Carol encounters and fights a time-travelling wizard. In the course of the fight she gets knocked into a building and lands near a cat. When the bad guy comes at her again, she throws the cat at him (after promising the cat tuna) and both bad guy and cat disappear. Then in issue #4 the cat and the bad guy reappear (he's a time-traveller, remember), Carol defeats him and ends up with a cat. She names the cat in the following issue. And that's where Chewie came from.

That's honestly the best thing I got out of what I read. That and Carol's conversation with Jessica Drew in the first issue, because I like seeing their friendship. But Jess didn't come back in the rest of what I read, so that was disappointing. Volume 2 was all Civil War event tie-ins and had a promising plot... which just fizzled out without any kind of moral resolution when (I assume) the event ended. It almost had depth. It did have two female spider-based superheroes (neither of whom were Jessica Drew) and the origin of Araña (who is Spider-Girl in the more recent comics), which was good aside from the whole lack of resolution thing. Then Rogue showed up with a horrible accent and a storyline involving a Carol doppelgänger and meh. As I said, I got bored.

The action wasn't exciting — I got bored several times while some of it was being explained — and there wasn't a huge amount of character development or depth. Carol's main motivation seems to be "must be the best that I can be because I've been a bit sucky of late" (and whose fault is that, Marvel?) which is hardly an exciting motive. It's not even enough motive to override the costume and the icky male gaze of the art (which, yes, I know, could have been worse).

So, if you love Carol Danvers, start with the DeConnick Captain Marvel reboot. If you're drawn to the name Ms Marvel, then definitely read the Wilson Kamala Khan iteration instead. If you want the origin story for Chewie, Carol's cat, then read my spoiler above and save yourself further bother. I am so glad Carol got a better run after this.

3 / 5 stars

First published: 2006, Marvel
Series: Ms Marvel, the second run, issues #1–10, Vol 1–2 (it went up to #50 if you're wondering)
Format read: Digital
Source: Marvel Unlimited

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Gotham Academy Vol 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher

Gotham Academy Vol 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy written by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher and illustrated by Karl Kerschl is the first volume in a completely new series. I haven't read very much DC stuff before, so going into this I wasn't sure if I would be missing some background knowledge (I wasn't). I also thought it was going to be an academy for little superheroes, but as far as I can tell they were all relatively normal teenagers (which didn't make it a bad book).

Gotham City’s most prestigious prep school is a very strange place. It’s got a spooky campus, oddball teachers, and rich benefactors always dropping by...like that weirdo Bruce Wayne. But nothing is as strange as the students! Like, what’s up with Olive Silverlock? Is she crazy or what? Where did she go last summer? And what’s the deal with her creepy mom? And how come that freshman Maps is always following her around? And is she still going out with Kyle? P.S. Did you hear the rumor about the ghost in the North Hall?!

This was a fun read. The story starts off with Olive, a second year student, being told to show new student Maps around the campus. They're sort of friends, but Olive has some boyfriendish history with Maps's brother and is generally not happy to be back at school with everyone wondering what she did over the summer. At this point I found myself wondering if I had missed something by not reading some other earlier comic. I have to admit, if it had been an ordinary book or not part of a larger comics universe I probably wouldn't have questioned the slow reveal of her past, but as it was I wasn't sure if there was something else I should know until later. As it happens, we do end up finding out everything we need to know within this volume. The mystery is supposed to be mysterious and it's resolved by the time we get to the end. I really enjoyed this complete experience. It was refreshing to realise that no, I hadn't missed anything, and that I was holding a complete story in my hand.

So, if it's not a school for superheroes, what is it? Well an almost-ordinary boarding school, funded by Bruce Wayne, housed in a creepy old set of buildings (of course), that may or may not be haunted. Olive and friends find themselves on the trail of a ghost. Is it real? Is it a practical joke? How many school mysteries will they unearth in the process? What really happened over the summer and how does Arkham Asylum fit in with anything? You'll just have to read Gotham Academy to find out.

I really liked this YA, girl-centred book. I highly recommend it to fans of comics and YA stories. You do not need to know anything about the DC universe to enjoy it (not even the secret identity of Batman) because it's a new series with new characters. A great read.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2015, DC Comics
Series: Gotham Academy Vol 1 of ongoing series, containing issues #1–6
Format read: eARC of rather disappointing quality
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, 25 June 2015

ODY-C Vol 1: Off to Far Ithicaa by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward

ODY-C Vol 1: Off to Far Ithicaa written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Christian Ward is the first volume of a comic retelling of The Odyssey, set in space and incredibly gender-bent. Basically all the characters are female. I think there are two minor male characters in the whole first volume (unless you count gods temporarily appearing male) and neither are 100% human. Gender-bent in this case means that all the traditionally male characters are female and the few female characters either remain female or... something. For example, Hera is still a woman but she has a beard but the male gods are all women now. Basically what I'm saying is if you ever thought The Odyssey would be improved with more female characters and/or gender flipping AND/OR thought it would be cool to have it set in space, this is your book!

An eye-searing, mind-bending, gender-shattering epic science fiction retelling of Homer's Odyssey starting with the end of a great war in the stars and the beginning of a very long journey home for Odyssia and her crew of warriors. The journey to Ithicaa begins HERE!

The first thing that struck me when I started reading ODY-C is just how pretty it is. It's very bright and colourful, as the cover suggests, with a sort of surreal and dreamlike quality to the art. It's probably worth reading just for the art.

Which is just as well because the story was a bit confusing, especially at first. The language used is fairly poetic in style — with occasional breaks — and is mainly narration rather than dialogue. I think I would have gotten into it more quickly if I were more familiar with the original Odyssey (which I'm really not). As it was, I had gotten into the swing of it by the time we got to the Cyclops (also female... and three-breasted, possibly to make up for the eye?). It was also kind of surreal reading about an army of only women. Having the more prominent warriors be women was less unusual than having all of the random grunts be women too. (And isn't it interesting what that says about society?) Some of the names of characters were slightly altered or just spelled differently, which didn't help with working out which bits of Greek mythology they were reflecting, but I felt more or less abreast of the situation by the end. Also, the Zeus-induced reason for the absence of men was pretty hilarious. Anther reason to pick this up.

I should mention that this comic series is not for children and, quite frankly, NSFW either. Although the art isn't sexualised (except for the sex scenes, I suppose, but even then not so much) there's a significant amount of nudity. Also swearing and a lot of violence (particularly the part with the Cyclops). So I wouldn't give this to your kids, basically. That said, it's probably less bad to read in public than Sex Criminals, if we're going to rank things.

I would mainly recommend this to readers familiar with The Odyssey and anyone willing to read it just for the art. The friends who recommended it to me said something like "It's a bit confusing but so pretty!" which is dead-on. (They also showed me a floppy with a detailed timeline in the front, which was not present in the version I read.) Read it if the idea of Greek mythology in space sounds appealing or if you don't mind being confused. I'm a bit torn as to whether I'll be picking up the next volume.

4 / 5 stars

First published: June 2015, Image Comics
Series: Yes. Volume 1 collecting issues #1-5 of ongoing series ODY-C
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Young Avengers Vol 2: Alternative Culture and Vol 3: Mic-Drop at the Edge of Time and Space by Kieron Gillen

Young Avengers Vol 2: Alternative Culture and Vol 3:  Mic-Drop at the Edge of Time and Space written by Kieron Gillen and illustrated by Jamie McKelvie and Kate Brown is the second volume in the latest iteration of Young Avengers. I have previously reviewed Vol 1: Style > Substance. (As a side note, yay for Young Avengers having better blurbs than most Marvel paperbacks!)

Ever wonder what the super hero equivalent of a terrible soul-sucking, talent-wasting temp job is? Wonder what Tommy (aka Speed) has been up to? Wonder why mutant David Alleyne (aka Prodigy) hasn't been even in the background in any one of the eight thousand X-books? Discover answers herein! Then: existential horror turns cosmic horror as something emerges from the shadows of the past...and it seems that the Young Avengers have one more thing to worry about. The team races desperately across the multi verse in pursuit of their missing friend, but their road trip goes crazy as it reaches its desti nati on. Because its desti nati on is mainly excitement and heartbreak. Several Young Avengers decide what to do next. The question is, whether they stay Young Avengers! Plus: Are you ready for Mother's Day?They say you can never go home. For the Young Avengers, that's not true. They can go home — it's just that if they do, the universe may end. The team takes on the gig to save reality, but is Kate Bishop an enemy in waiting? Will Noh-Varr get an arrow through the head? And is this the end of the loveable/strangle-able Kid Loki? As the Young Avengers take on "the Young Avengers," Loki's scheme reaches its final twist — and the Young Avengers' jaws hit the floor. Then, the team gathers in a nightclub for a string of connected and overlapping stories illustrated by an all-star cast of people we really like. And as the New Year looms, the Young Avengers get a resolution — and so do you. Plus: Kissing! Drama! Conflict! Kissing!

Young Avengers continues to be a fun series to read. These two volumes dealt with the problem set up in the first volume and also introduced a new problem for them to deal with. Character-wise it also added Prodigy, whose superpower is, loosely speaking, being smart.

Young Avengers keeps playing with art style throughout these two volumes, just like it did with the first. I particularly liked the credits pages, which were very creative and different each issue. The way the different dimensions were represented, similarly to the first volume, continued to be pretty cool. I like the meta of comic book characters looking at comic books.

The characters continue to be awesome and these two volumes are probably more character driven than the first. Where the first volume set up a big bad, these two have room for more sass and lovers quarrels and other drama. There's also a lot of queer representation, which is nice to see, especially in a comic aimed at teen readers.

Young Avengers was a fun read overall and I would definitely recommend this series to anyone with an interest in comics or superheroes. If you've read and enjoyed the first volume, I definitely recommend continuing. If you're new to the series, I suggest starting from the beginning.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, Marvel
Series: Young Avengers Vol 2 and 3 of 3. Containing issues #6-15
Format read: Digital
Source: Marvel Unlimited

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Fearless Defenders Vol 1 & 2 by Cullen Bunn

Fearless Defenders Vol 1: Doom Maidens and Vol 2: The Most Fabulous Fighting Team of All, written by Cullen Bunn and illustrated by a few different artists, comprise the entire run of Fearless Defenders comics. Which is sad. They are an all-woman team of superheroes (and one archaeologist) centred around Valkyrie and Knight and and a team that grows throughout the issues.

New team! New villains! New creators! Valkyrie and Misty Knight are the Fearless Defenders, and not since Power Man and Iron Fist has an unlikely duo kicked this much - well, you know. Writer Cullen Bunn (VENOM, Sixth Gun, FEAR ITSELF: THE FEARLESS) and new-to-Marvel artist Will Sliney (MacGyver, Star Wars) bring you the book that everyone is going to be talking about...and that's a promise!

It's the biggest status quo change to date for the Fearless Defenders...but we're not going to spoil it here! Misty kicked ass in Valkyrie's world, now it's time to see how Valkyrie fairs in Misty's. But it's not easy being an Asgardian shieldmaiden - especially when your boyfriend's got a chip on his shoulder! Guest-starring Elsa Bloodstone, Venom, Dr. Strange, Iron Fist, Hercules, Werewolf By Night, and a legion of significant others! Then, it's an Infinity tie-in like none other...because this one's got dancing! With Thanos' hordes invading Earth, the Fearless Defenders live up to their name! And when a gifted young woman discovers she has terrifying powers, will this new hero join the ranks of the Defenders?

So as long-time readers of this blog can probably guess, I picked up Fearless Defenders (on Marvel Unlimited) because it featured female superheroes.  And I was not disappointed. The story starts with Misty Knight retrieving an archaeological artefact for Dr Annabelle Riggs, which sets of some Vikings rising from the dead at Annabelle's dig and summons Valkyrie to deal with them. In the course of events the three of them (well, mainly Valkyrie) are tasked with recruiting Shieldmaidens to fight the impending threat of Doom Maidens (who are basically evil ex-Shieldmaidens).

Misty has a tendency to just hire superheroes as needed (just about all our favourite heroines make a guest appearance) but Valkyrie wants to find the right people and kind of procrastinates. Annabelle, the geeky, unpowered, lesbian scientist was my favourite character (to no one's surprise) and her story arcs were the most compelling.

I don't want to talk too much about the specifics of Volume 2, because of spoilers, but I do want to mention one hilarious incident. The main characters' menfolk try to have an intervention to stop them doing dangerous superhero stuff. We get to laugh at their manpain. (But also, why do the female superheroes always have annoying boyfriends? The male superheroes either have irrelevant or better-than-them girlfriends. Where is the justice?)

The only story thing I didn't like about this run was one issue of the Ultron event tie in (I believe it was the #4 with an Ultron head on the cover). It made absolutely zero sense in a Fearless Defenders context. I have no idea what happened (Ares had Thor's hammer?) or why, but turns out it was completely irrelevant to the main story (shocking for a comic event, I know). I only read it because that's what clicking "next" on Marvel Unlimited lead me to, and it didn't add anything. Feel free to skip. The Infinity War tie-in, on the other hand, was much more sensible, relevant to the rest of the plot and brought in a permanent new character. So that was nice at least.

The other thing I didn't like was some of the art. Issue #7 had a gorgeous one-off artist, but other than that... All the armour had ridiculous boob plates (Valkyrie's was upgraded to more sensible around issue #8ish at least) and there were more butt/boob/crotch shots than necessary (the requisite number generally being zero, for the record). The supervillains, especially, seemed to have a tendency for the kind of costumes in no way designed to keep their boobs covered. Why? Well we know why, but it would be nice if it stopped. Overall, though, this aspect of the art really could have been MUCH worse, so I suppose that's something?

Anyway, if you want to read about ladies kicking arse, than I definitely recommend Fearless Defenders. The series is fun and made me laugh. (I was a particular fan of the recaps at the start of each issue.) It's only a short run before it got cancelled, but I'm hoping we'll see some of the characters elsewhere (I've already found some of the elsewheres, so stand-by).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013–2014, Marvel
Series: Fearless Defenders, entire run, featuring issues #1-12 (but there are two #4 just to confuse us because comic events are silly)
Format read: Digital
Source: Marvel Unlimited

Friday, 19 June 2015

The Blackmail Blend by Livia Day

The Blackmail Blend by Livia Day is a novelette set in between the novels A Trifle Dead and Drowned Vanilla. For maximum enjoyment it's probably best read after A Trifle Dead although it doesn't really contain any significant spoilers.

Six romance writers
Five secrets
Four poison pen letters
Three stolen manuscripts
Two undercover journalists
One over-complicated love life
Way too many teacups and tiny sandwiches

This shouldn't be a recipe for mayhem and murder, but Tabitha Darling has been burned once before and she knows the signs that she's about to fall into another crime scene. At least she doesn't have to worry about love triangles any more. Right? RIGHT?

The Blackmail Blend features our favourite desert-making amateur detective, Tabitha, as she organises and caters a regency high tea for a romance book launch. But of course something has to go horribly wrong and it may or may not have something to do with Stewart's grudge against the author. Before long, there's a mystery to solve and food to feed potential sources of information.

If you've read Livia Day's other books, then you know what to expect from The Blackmail Blend: a fun, food-based mystery. If you haven't read the other books, this story will give you a good idea of what to expect. It's obviously much shorter, and unlike the novels does not quite involve a murder. But it's the same style and, although there aren't any recipes, it has the same fixation on food. So if you're curious about Livia Day's books and maybe aren't sure if you'd like them, definitely give The Blackmail Blend a shot. The ebook also includes the first few chapters of A Trifle Dead to give you an even better idea of what you'd be getting into.

The Blackmail Blend was a fun read and I would recommend it to all fans of cosy mysteries. Especially anyone looking for a quick read. It fits in neatly between the two novels and has made me even more excited to read the next book in the series when it eventually comes out.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2015, Twelfth Planet Press
Series: A Culinary Crime mystery, story 1.5 out of 2 novels so far
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher
Disclaimer: The author and the publisher are friends but I have endeavoured to write an impartial review.
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge