Thursday, June 23, 2005

RAVENOR: a Warhammer 40,000 novel (a review)

Ravenor by Dan Abnett (Games Workshop/Black Library) – This is a novel in the Warhammer 40,000 series, which utilizes concepts and characters from the various games, comics and other novels in that series. I’ve only just become familiar with this world, not being a gamer or a reader of much SF in recent years. If I get some of this wrong I apologize.

Having enjoyed a couple of graphic novel collections, comprised of stories from the WARHAMMER magazine, I was tempted to check out this novel when I happened upon it on the shelves here at the library. As I’ve said I haven’t read much, if any, SF for years except for a couple of STAR TREK novels but I used to read it regularly. Of course, the world of WARHAMMER is far more dystopian than most of the stuff I tended to read. This is more along the lines of the type of universe you’d find in ALIENS or STARSHIP TROOPERS than that in which the Federation sent out their gleaming starships. The Klingons would probably feel right at home, though.

The world of Warhammer is ruled by the God-Emperor, a man/being who has sat upon his throne for millennia, neither alive nor dead, but holding sway over thousands of planets and billions of souls. His legions offer up bloody tribute in his name as they battle other races and the forces of Chaos to hold together his empire.

Ravenor, the title character, was first introduced in an earlier series of books. He is a psychic of incredible power, crippled and encased in a metallic ‘chair’, but still having the loyalty of the men and women who serve him in his role as Inquisitor for the empire. His current mission is to discover the source of a new ‘drug’ called flec and to stop its import into the imperial worlds. He discovers that there is corruption even in the highest reaches of government and the source of the drug is only the beginning of a greater problem for political stability.

There’s not a lot of joy and merriment in the world of Warhammer, but there is loyalty and friendship. It is the relationships between the various members of Ravenor’s team which make us care what happens. To be honest, you’d have a hard time feeling much but distaste for the unseen Emperor who cares only for his own survival and you sure won’t find much to sympathize with in his opposition who are just as, if not more, ruthless in what they plan for mankind’s future.

Certainly not light fantasy or the black & white space opera of George Lucas, still Dan Abnett makes you care about his characters, even those you don’t particularly like at first. A rough group of bastards they may be, but by their own rules they standby their friends, which in the end is what matters.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

True Crime, the Ripper and me

What is there about such grime and ghastly things which simply fascinate me? I wasn't one of those kids who pulled the wings off of flies or other things, in fact, I even recall crying once because I accidentally crushed a robin's egg which I discovered fallen from a nest. Also, there is the fact that in 'real life' I'm pretty squeamish about the slightest cut or appearance of blood.

Still I've enjoyed reading about murder and mayhem, both real and fictional, since at least my junior high school days. That was about when my mother & father began to allow me to read those issues of True Detective, etc. that my Mom loved. The National Enquirer, which my mother also picked up each week, back in the early 1960s was much different from the entertainment industry gossip sheet it is today, being much closer in appearance to the Weekly World News and glorifying in the retelling of the most horrible crimes from police departments around the world. Back then we subscribed to two daily newspapers (the Norwich Bulletin, a local paper and the New York Daily News) and had a third (the Boston Herald) delivered on Sunday. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that the papers at the time seemed to revel in the then current crimes of the Boston Strangler.

Anyway, since then I've loved reading about this type of thing. I don't know when I first learned of Jack the Ripper, but I'm sure during the period when the Strangler was making his mark in the Boston area more than a few articles I read mentioned the earlier killer of women.

If you have any interest in Jack you might want to check out . They have loads of material covering the crimes and people involved in the investigation. There are as many theories as there are suspects and this site will cover most of them. You can even spend time putting in dates and finding what happened in "Ripper History" on any particular day.

As I mentioned a few months ago in my review of DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, it seems amazing that America's own first serial killer (H.H. Holmes) never became the household word as his British contemporary. Probably Holmes wasn't flashy enough and did his business in private. Had the two ever met in some serial killer's afterlife I'm sure the conversation would have been pretty interesting. I think Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman could do something with that premise.

Talking a little baseball

Sadly, when the Damned Yankees were in a slump the Sox weren't doing a heck of a lot better. While still ahead of their New York rivals in the AL Eastern division, there are only three games seperating them at this point.

It would have been nice of Boston to put a bit more distance between them this early in the season, as the Sox are notorious for fading come Fall. Last year being the exception, of course.

It still seems that the Chicago White Sox will be the AL champs, unless they do a serious tailspin. Both Boston and New York may be competing for the 'wild card' spot unless one of the other starts playing better.

The poor Mets find themselves in the celler once more, even after the millions of dollars spent & deals made. Surprisingly it's the newest team in baseball, the Washington Nationals who are leading the NL Eastern division at this point. No rookie year curse for the former Expos.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The 4400

If you are going through summer withdrawal from LOST you might want to check out THE 4400 over on USA Network. A tad more sci-fi then the ABC show, but each has enough mystery and suspense to keep you guessing.

Also, both shows have wonderful ensemble casts without 'superstars' trying to catch the spotlight each and every week. While there are primary characters in both programs they seem willing to step back and let other cast members have their time.

Where LOST deals with the survivors of a plane crash on a mysterious island, which doesn't seem to appear on any charts, the 4400 are survivors of a different type. Each of them was abducted by a mysterious force, which we initially assume was extraterrestrial but learn in the last episode of the first season were elements from our own future trying to prevent (we believe at this point) some terrible event. It also seems that many, if not all, of the returnees have been granted some power (mental, physical, or both) which will allow them to bring about the necessary changes.

Donna and I recommend both shows.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Jason Todd!! What the...!!!

So I get home last night and find the latest issue of CBG (#1607) in the mail. I glance at the painting of Batman and see that that is going to be the focus of this issue. Not a big surprise considering the release of the new film later this month. What does catch my eye though is a mention of Jason Todd, the second Robin, who I had supposed had been killed (sort of off panel) by the Joker. Now this, like the death of Barry Allen, had major repercussions in the DCU so it figured that this was a permanent situation.

Is Jason now back, as it appears, or should I read the article to see if I'm jumping to conclusions? If he is it sure will send ripples through the Batman Family titles, if not the entire DCU. Of course, since I'm not currently reading any DC books I suppose I shouldn't even care but those old fanboy habits die hard. (Kind of like sidekicks, huh?)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

BATMAN Comic freebie in New York Post

Yesterday, the New York Post (at least in newstand editions) had copies BATMAN #608. This had a new cover listing it as a "Special Edition" and "New York Post Exclusive." You'll probably spot this coming up on eBay pretty soon, I'm sure.

Since I haven't picked up a copy of a Batman title for about a year now I can't say much about the continuity. I assume that DC is trying to promote the new BATMAN BEGINS film with this, but wonder if it is the right choice. It has nothing to do with that film and is in fact the first issue of a multi-part story arc. Wouldn't a stand-alone book have been a better choice for this? DC does have books which retell his origin and it would seem to me that might have been a better choice. This issue features Killer Croc and Catwoman, plus another 'surprise villain' on the last page. None of these appear in the new film, as far as I know and they certainly don't look like the characters as they appear in the various animated Batman shows. Doesn't it just confuse things.

Jeph Loeb does a good job setting things up and actually allowing Batman to save a child. He also sets up the beginnings of a plot featuring several Batman villains, who appear to be manipulated by the 'surprise villain.' I guess endangering children is okay for this character in current DCU continuity, but what do I know.

The art by Jim Lee and S. Williams (who also provide the cover) is good, but some panels are a bit confusing and not helped by the murky coloring of Alex Sinclair. Try to follow the Batman's fight with Killer Croc and his dispatching of several non-powered bad guys. I've been reading comics for over forty years and had to stop to decipher what was going on.

The ads in the book generally are tie-ins to the new movie and related products, with a subscription card for interested folks. I wonder how successful that will be?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

MADAGASCAR: a brief review

We had seen trailers for this film for a month or so and felt that it was something we'd enjoy.
While Donna isn't a big fan of cartoons in general she does like computer animated films (i.e. TOY STORY, SHREK, etc.) and some of the Disney studio's more classical material.
Since we had some time to ourselves last week, since Kristina works during the day, we caught an early matinee in the same theatre where we had seen STAR WARS a few nights before.

The basic plot deals with Marty the Zebra (voiced by Chris Rock) deciding that he'd like a change from the everyday existence in the Central Park Zoo. His friend Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller) is more than happy with being "King of New York", but finds himself pushed into a rescue mission with Gloria the Hippo (Jadda Pickett Smith) and a very reluctant Melman, a giraffe suffering from hypochondria, (wonderfully performed by former FRIEND, David Schwimmer). When the four are captured, along with a group of more adventurous penguins, they are all shipped off to a wild animal preserve in Africa. When the penguins attempt to hijack the ship the four friends find themselves overboard, only to come ashore on a "deserted desert isle." We all know that things will go even further down hill.

The film is surprisingly funny and has enough 'in jokes' and references that parents will have just as much fun as the kids. This will probably be Dreamworks best received animated film and easily stands up against the Disney/Pixar stuff. After the rather lack luster box-office of ROBOTS & SHARK TALE I'm sure it was time for another hit. This actually knocked the latest Lucas film out of first place this past weekend, so they must be doing something right!

We also caught trailers for the upcoming new WALLACE & GROMIT film and CHICKEN LITTLE, the later looks like something Donna would enjoy.

Monday, June 06, 2005

STAR WAR: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

I'm in total agreement with the majority on the latest (and possibly last) installment in the SW series. George Lucas & Co. pulled out all the stops and finally hit the nail on the head, after two rather dismal failures that had even the most devote fans a bit disappointed. It's also apparent pretty early on why this entry got a more mature rating than the others. Of the last three films in this trilogy REVENGE OF THE SITH is the only one that I would gladly watch again.

Sadly, Hayden Christopher doesn't really convey the inner turmoil that Anakin must be feeling as things appear to fall apart around him. He seems merely petulant, especially when Padme announces that she is with child. Guess he'll have to put off college for a couple of semesters. Fortunately, the other characters (including those created solely in CGI) are better actors and are able to carry the story.

Given Lucas' occasional ham-fisted dialogue it is sometimes surprising that the audience can feel much of anything, unless they are bringing their own memories of past films. Face it, anyone familiar with the three original films already knows what will transpire for the most part. There are some secondary characters who don't make it, but we already know the fates of the Skywalker family, Yoda and Obi-wan.

Now, Kristina (a total SW fan, if ever there was one) feels that Lucas spent too much time in the search for General Grievous and not nearly enough on Anakin moving to the 'dark side.' I enjoyed Obi-wan's adventure and personally would love to see Ewan McGregor's Kenobi in a solo adventure. There is enough time before and after this film in which Obi-wan's story could be expanded. Don't know that McGregor would be interested in a television series, but I've read that Lucas might be interested in allowing further SW adventures on the small screen.

I'm sure that anyone interested in seeing the movie already has, but I don't want to throw in any spoilers. Needless to say the battle between Anakin and Obi-wan is amazing, as well as far more brutal than I had imagined. Whew!

Two thumbs and a light saber way up!