Archive for February 2016

Scarlet Witch

Aja Cover...simply Gorgeous.

Aja Cover…simply Gorgeous.

My penchant for urban fantasy is well documented and my love of superheroes is without question. Awhile back, I was perusing the news sites around the comic industry and saw that Marvel would be giving Scarlet Witch her own book. I was intrigued as I was always fond of the character despite how they had spun her up to have the ability to destroy the universe or remake it on a whim. I dug deeper in to the headline and discovered that Marvel would be taking a different tack with the her this time around. The plan was to focus on the witch in Scarlet Witch and explore the craft that had always been hinted at in her story before the incredible reality altering powers became her raison D’etre.

I was sold. I knew that I was going to be picking up the title when it showed up on the shelves at my local comic shop. I am now several issues in and thought I would talk a about it.

A high level perspective is that I am loving the book. It takes a character that I enjoy and examines a part of her that is both interesting and unexplored. This is handled in a way that both exploits the idea of the Scarlet Witch as a superhero as well a practitioner of magic. The book embraces all the quirks of both these ideas and meshes them with very few discordant notes.

The best place to start talking about this book is the covers. Currently, one of the artists doing covers for Scarlet Witch is David Aja. His covers are both simple and compelling. They draw the eye when canning the shelves and invite the reader to spend some time just luxuriating in their crisp beauty. I would love to have several of these covers framed and hanging on my wall.

The interior art on each issue is just as captivating. for the first two issues, the art kept a smokey quality, as if the world was viewed through a lightly fogged lens. This went well with the mysterious and mystical nature that the story was to be following. The third issue saw a departure from this style for a art of the story. The panels took on the familiar feel of a superhero story with sharp edges and clean lines. As the story neared it’s crescendo and Wanda stepped on to the Witch’s Road, The early art style returned with great a weighty thunk. This early style added dramatic weight to the story as it wound it’s way to the end of the issue. A wonderful idea that was well executed.

Robinson is weaving a tale of witchcraft and the Scarlet Witch’s connection to it that is fascinating. he doesn’t ignore what has gone before but instead uses it as a jumping off point. Wanda is seeking to take a step back and from all the trouble that has swirled around her and connect with that piece of herself that she has ignored. She takes up the craft and discovers that something is amiss. There is a sickness within the craft that needs healing. She takes up the call of the hero and begins the journey that all heroes take to free that which she values.

Scarlet Witch is an excellent title. I give it four bear paws out of four. I look forward to picking it up each month and seeing where the story takes me as well as just luxuriating in the beauty of the art within. Well worth adding to your pull list at your local comic shop or on Comixology.

Roadside Magic

Roadside MagicRoadside Magic is the second entry into Lilith Saintcrow’s Gallow and Ragged series. The first book in the series, Trailer Park Fae, I have talked about here.

Roadside Magic lets very little time pass between the ending of the first book and the beginning of the second. Our two protagonists, Robin Ragged and Jeremiah Gallow, have both made decisions that have far reaching implications. The most pressing of which is that both are now hunted by both Summer and Unwinter’s courts. This makes Roadside Magic very much a chase story.

Saintcrow delivers a rousing chase story. There are narrow escapes, harrowing journeys, and the requisite capture scenes that one expects from such a tale. Along the winding path that the chase takes, Saintcrow weaves another tale as well. We learn a great deal more about the players that strut upon this stage. The revelations that occurred in the past book have time to simmer and come to boil for some. While this occurs, new players take their place upon the board to further elaborate on the pasts that have been occluded from view. The narrative builds a deeper picture of Gallow and Ragged which makes it easier to identify with each and making their choices all the more frustrating at the same time.

One of the things that I love about this series is it’s take on the land of faerie. This quirky view was introduced in Trailer Park Fae and is further elucidated upon throughout Roadside Magic. As the tale unwinds along the path of the chase, we get furtive glances into the backdrop that is the land of the fae. Hints are dropped as to the origins of the shattering of the two courts, The past of the Lady Summer, and even to the lies that are the trademark of the Robin Goodfellow. These enticing tidbits are woven into the story with a deft hand so that they never seem like an information dump but create even more depth to these characters. In particular, there is a tidbit about changelings that comes up in the story. It is mentioned that these placeholders are brought back to the lands of summer and their deaths are used to stabilize the edges of summer. This is both horrifying and fascinating. It points out the limits of the Lady Summer as well and hints at the underlying nature of this world and it’s sideways realms.

I want to know more!

To top it off, Saintcrow’s use of language is superb. Roadside Magic, much like Trailer Park Fae, blends the lyrical nature of Shakespeare with the rough, gritty language of urban fantasy to create a story that feels like a wonderful seven course meal. There are light bits full of sweetness and light and that are both and aperitif and a dessert. Then there are more substantial pieces that are hearty and stick with you. Sprinkled throughout are the harsh tones of vulgarity that provide both shock value and a tether to keep the story grounded. A smorgasbord that I did not want to get up from.

I loved this book! It took the premise that was created in Trailer Park Fae and more than delivered. It made me loves these two characters more and want to know more about this world. Definitely a must read and worth a four bear paws out of four rating from this geek bear.

 

Deadpool

Deadpool1Going into Deadpool, I was only tangentially aware of the character. I am a comic reader and he has appeared in several of the titles I have read in my long and storied history with comics. I knew he was crazy with a penchant for breaking the fourth wall and leaving a trail of dead bodies behind him. Ryan Reynolds had played the first iteration of Wade Wilson in the horrible movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and did a great job of capturing the essence of the character.

I was looking forward to seeing a take on this character that was rated R so that there would be no watering down of what the character could be for his big screen debut. I had my doubts about the movie as the second two X-Men movies and the aforementioned Wolverine had been horrendous. I went in expecting the worst.

I was so wrong.

Deadpool takes superhero action, satire, and romantic comedy and pitches them into a blender. What comes out is raucous and riotous good time. The movie refuses to take itself serious and this starts  with the opening credits and never lets up. In your usual opening, you get to see the big names listed over top of an appropriate set piece. On the face of it, this is True for Deadpool. A fight scene is frozen in time and explored in loving detail to the tune of Angel of the Morning. The scene is hilarious in the slapstick quality that we get to see. Then, the titles begin. Instead of the names of the stars and producers and writes, a descriptor is given. These range from Hot Chick, Moody Teen, CGI Character, to Douche Bag that gets paid way to much. Hilarious! This skewering of the genre, the industry, and the tropes starts here and follows through out the movie.

There is a lot to love here. Tim Miller takes a character that is over-the-top and does not water him down. Instead, they take the time to use the caustic humor in a satirical manner that punches holes in all the over-inflated egos and self-important tropes. All of this while still creating characters that are relatable humans at their core and that you come to care about through the course of the movie. Wade Wilson, Deadpool’s secret identity was a highly trained special forces soldier that did terrible things in the line of duty. He leaves that job behind to take up the mantle of mercenary doing jobs that keeps people safe. Despite this turn of events, he is still quite crazy and a hard pill to swallow. When he finds that someone that fits with him, it is heartwarming in a crazy sort of way. How the two characters describe love is both funny and enlightening. The analogy is that of jigsaw puzzle pieces. Each has their own crazy with weird curves but together they fit together to show another picture out of the combined crazy. Funny but true.

The most touching moment hidden inside this loud and raunchy comedy is even more touching. Wade is diagnoses with several terminal cancers. Throughout this time, despite the humor, he accepts the horror that is coming and struggles with how this will affect Vanessa. There is a scene where it is the depth of the night and Wade is contemplating what to do. The overwhelming nature of the problem leads to tears. I found this to be incredible as the male lead in a superhero movie would normally never be allowed to be seen crying over a choice that is so personal and so difficult.

My main quibble is that the satirical nature of the movie is something that could easily be missed. The humor is caustic and leaves no one untouched. It would be easy to walk into this movie and come out offended by some of the jokes that thrown about. The satire isn’t subtle but the same over-the-top nature of the film easily distracts from the skewering nature of the jokes that fly fast and furious in Deadpool.

Like I mentioned earlier, I loved Deadpool! I give it four bear paws out of four. A movie well worth seeing twice at the theaters.

Staked

Staked-comp-8I am a fan of Urban Fantasy. There is something that I find intriguing about the blend of modern sensibilities with the reality bending capabilities of magic and folklore.

In most books in this genre, there are werewolves and vampires galore. This is good as I am a big fan of these creatures. White wolf and their games were and still are some of my favorite role playing games. The thing that will trump the presence of these creatures are stories that touch upon mythology and weave into the story as a major element. My gateway into fantasy as a wee lad was the discovery of the mythology books in my school library. I would check them out an read them from cover to cover and then go searching for more.

The Iron Druid Chronicles delivers mythology in the modern day with a fresh view point on the gods and how they interact with this world and other.

Staked is the eighth book in this series. It continues the story of the three druids in the world; Atticus, Granuaile, and Owen. Atticus continues to wage his war on the vampires of the world while trying to save the world from Ragnarok. Granuaile struggles to come to grips with the trauma that she went through at the hands of Loki. Owen continues to adapt to a world from which he has been absent for over two thousand years.

One of the things I love about this book is how Hearne revels in the mythic without ever becoming lost in the fantasy. In Staked, Granuaile highlights this point well.

There are two points in particular that stand out in particular. One is when Granuaile is having a conversation with Perun and Shango as they race across Poland. Granuaile has become enraptured both with the tales that Shango spins as well as his accent. After awhile, she notices that her normally boisterous compatriot, Perun, has fallen silent. It takes a bit of thought on her part to understand that Perun is feeling overshadowed by this new thunder god. Shango still has worshipers in the world which makes him more powerful than Perun despite the two being thunder gods. Granuaile takes the time to reassure Perun as well as pointing out the good that he has done. It would be easy to stereotype a thunder god but Hearne takes that stereotype and uses it to make the character understandable yet still very human.

The other point is Granuaile’s conversation with Laksha. Seeking advice about divination, She visits Laksha at her host’s home. Granuaile discovers that the Laksha’s new living arrangement is very different from her last. The family is very conservative and is continually berating Laksha and being very controlling. Granuaile does not understand why she stays in such an untenable situation and tells her to leave. Laksha calls Granuaile out over this. She points out that she is no druid that can just blithely trot across the globe on a whim. She has no support system ready to accept her if she just walked out and the culture that her host comes from would not support her in this decision either. Laksha also points out that she is being treated like she had treated so many other in her long life. This is a time for her to learn the sorrow that she had put others through and realize the error of her past. The conversation forces Granuaile to look at herself more closely and see where she is at on her own spiritual path and what she needs to learn.

Another thing that I really liked about this series and this book in particular is subversive tone. It is both something stated outright at points as well as couched in the softest of terms in others. In this series, all the gods are real. Whom you worship is your own business as they are out there to hear your prayers. This in no way makes what others believe in any less real. This idea runs throughout the books and is just as prominent in Staked. Owen is the voice that states is loudest for me in this book though. He is asked by the werewolf packs in Arizona to take up training apprentices again. They have several families that would like their children to be trained so that they would be able to have their children by their sides without the worry of infecting them. The children and families that are presented to him span the globe. Owen realizes that if the druids had been more open to other cultures in the past that they would not have been so easily eliminated and they would have had a broader vision of how to serve Gaia. Fantastic!

Staked and the Iron Druid series I can not recommend enough. Kevin Hearne has a way of blending geek pop culture references and myths and legends with out ever coming across as forced or condescending. He creates characters draw you and make you want to know more about each and every one. Staked gets four out of four bear paws. A definite must have for any fan of mythology or urban fantasy.

 

 

Geek Bear’s Goals for 2016

Hail and Well Met!

I thought I would take a little time to talk about my goals for the year.

I know, I know, I should have done this in January around the time of New Year’s Resolutions. I am not a fan of resolutions. These are things that governments and committees do to make a statement and yet do absolutely nothing.

I don’t want to do nothing.

I have already stated that one of my goals is to ensure that I have a post a week up here. I have three other goals that I would like to accomplish.

First, I want to run a half marathon. I enjoy running but I would never say that I am good at it. I would like to be able to say that I have accomplished this next level ofa run since I have done a 5K and a 10K. I am looking at the Flying Pig half marathon here in Cincinnati.

Second, I want to do a Tough Mudder. I have never done anything like this and it seems like it is more a test of sheer stubbornness to get through all the pain to get to the finish line. I don’t know if I can do it but you never know until you try.

Finally, I want to go to a Bear Run. I am a very shy person. I tend to gravitate to the edges of crowds and gatherings. A Bear Run is something that seems exciting and fun but very outside of anything that I have ever done. I am sure I can go and be the guy hang at the back but this is not the purpose. I want to go to one, have a good time, and be in the thick of things (pun intended). I have no clue which one I will go to as I have no idea which one would be the best.

So, there are my goals for the year. If you have any advice or direction, please feel free to leave a comment.

The Rook

RookWhat would your life be like if you woke up in the middle of a park surrounded by dead bodies?

This is the question that is presented on the back cover blurb of The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. The blurb was catchy and I had heard of this book from several friends on the internet. I picked it up from my local book store and put it on my shelf. Sadly, it sat there for a bit as life and other books got in the way. I did not read it until much later into 2015.

I am sorry that I put it off for so long as I really enjoyed this book.

The heroine of the story is Myfanwy Thomas. Before waking up with no knowledge of whom she was surrounded by dead bodies, She was a Rook. A Rook is a high placed operative in secret British agency with the role of combating the supernatural for Her Majesty. Myfanwy was one of two Rooks who’s jobs were to oversee the running of the organization and taking control of operations when things went south. Her title came from the agency’s use of chess pieces to delineate ranks.

Myfanwy, despite not knowing who she is, is very lucky. The person she was was thorough and a planner. She had been given plenty of warning from various oracles of what would happen to her. In addition, she had discovered a conspiracy hidden in her agency which she knew was the cause behind what was about to happen to her. So, she made plans for the person that would wake up in her body. She left notes on her person that would direct them to someplace safe so that they would have time to gather their wits and ponder the other notes left behind. She also left behind two paths for the new her. They could either run off and hide from the conspiracy or they could take up where she left off and discover who did this to them and make them pay.

Myfanwy decides to do determine who did this to her and embarks upon learning what it means to be a Rook in this agency and what she wants to be now that she has to rebuild herself.

I have mentioned before that I like spy and caper stories and The Rook blends these two stories with a nice dollop of urban fantasy. Myfanwy is a member of the Agency because she displayed a unique magical talent when she was young. She was taken by from her parents and placed in the agency’s training facility. As she teaches herself about what she did at the agency, the reader gets to learn more about how magic and the supernatural work in this world. The reader also gets to learn about Myfanwy’s powers and how the agency had expected her to be powerful agent in the field but through their own mistakes had hamstrung her powers. they had thought that she would be a lost cause but did not plan on her planning and strategic capabilities which allowed her to raise to such a high level.

The glimpse into the supernatural spy world of this universe was fascinating. The thing that elevated this book for me though was the thread of individuality and the thoughtfulness it puts into what makes a person who they are and how this is communicated to the world. As Myfanwy goes about pretending to be the old person filling the position, we get to see how others had viewed her as well. This new person’s perspective is interesting to follow. We get to watch as she picks up each different facet of whom she was and discard those that no longer fit whom she wants to be while taking on those that do. The fear and elation she fears as she goes off script and charts a new path is something that echoes deeply for me and was refreshing to see in an urban fantasy story.

I give this book four bear paws out of four. It is fun and exciting while being thoughtful and tacking the idea of identity in a way that was refreshing. A definite must read for any fan of urban fantasy. I am looking forward to the next book in the series.