Monday, July 24, 2017

Comic Spotlight: New 52 Demon Knights Series Review


As mentioned in my previous post I have been reading A LOT of comics. I've been trying to maneuver through the latest DC Universe Rebirth series and am currently making my way through the New 52 Universe that began back in 2011.

In order to work my way decently through the New 52 Universe I have been using this reading order from Comic Book Reading (New 52 Reading Order) If anyone else is interested in doing the same reading journey, you can also use this guide. This site has a very comprehensive collection of reading orders to my knowledge and has proved very helpful to me thus far.

I just finished getting through the full series of Demon Knights and thought I would put up my thoughts on it, because I have quite a few.

Demon Knights is collected in 3 volumes and is listed as being towards the beginning of the New 52 reading order. The 0 issue seems to claim that this whole thing will eventually be relevant and yet, I'm still waiting to see how.

Volume 1 collects issues #1-7

Volume 2 collects issues #0, #8-12

Volume 3 collects issues #13-23

Issues #0-15 were written by Paul Cornell, with Robert Venditti taking over issues #16-23. The series had a few different illustrators throughout its run (starting with Diogenes Neves, Oclair Albert, Michael Choi, and Robson Rocha, eventually switching to Bernard Chang and Phil Winslade towards the end).

The series was ultimately cancelled and it isn't necessarily hard for me to see why.

Demon Knights is a fantasy comic set in medieval times. It involves big historical literary names and places like Merlin, King Arthur, Avalon, Camelot, Lucifer, and Hell. It takes 7 individuals, including a sorceress, a demon cursed to be magically chained to a human, a few immortals, and another human, and tosses them into a group that ends up being called the Demon Knights. They first come together in order to fight and protect a village from an army and then their adventures broaden to include finding Avalon, searching for the Holy Grail, and towards the end of the series, taking on a vampire army on its way to Themyscira. home of the Amazons.

While it had a decent start, it never felt like anything particularly special to me. It was very basic entertainment and to me it lacked a wide scope of creativity once it hit a certain point in the series. At times I felt really engaged and then in the next few issues I would get kind of bored. The first major plot-line ends at issue #15, and I honestly think the next issues should have just wrapped things up for the series. Issues #16 to #23 had writers gathering the same characters again, to fight a vampire army led by Cain. The overall story also involves one of the characters being on a pretty typical search for the Holy Grail. Given all the religious elements pulled together in this series, that shouldn't be that surprising. Bringing together a demon who has ambitions of becoming higher ranked in Hell who is always at odds with the devil Lucifer, a search for the Holy Grail, and adventures involving searching for King Arthur and restoring Camelot should have been highly interesting, but to me just fell flat after a while despite having a strong start. After a while I was just wondering when they would do it or if they could actually have a worthwhile enemy pop up again to hinder them. I don't really see how this will end up connecting to anything in the overall New 52 universe at this point and maybe there will be some kind of connection in other issues in the universe in the future as I continue reading through it. However, due to the overall execution and cancellation I'm not getting my hopes up too high to have that happen. The beginning half of the series is rather interesting, but the shift at issue #16 and jump in time just killed it for me. It was not nearly as interesting and the stakes didn't feel as high as they did before. Etrigan didn't seem to be of much interest to me in the #0 issue to begin with, but he quickly proved himself to be a highly valuable asset to the team despite being kind of a wild-card/self-serving personality type.He gets the job done when necessary so long as it benefits him, which is to be expected of a demon. I don't know a lot about the history of these characters if any of them had origins before this, but I'm not sure all of them were used to their highest potential. Etrigan wasn't an awful character, just highly predictable, but largely effective. One of the most intriguing elements is the curse placed on Jason Blood and Etrigan and how they have to balance their existences with one another. That was the strongest point of the second half, but still kind of fell flat at the end of the series and it didn't end as strongly as I would've liked.

Some of my biggest problems with this series was just the lack of real hardship that was reached at a certain point. Any enemy the Demon Knights came upon after the first major army were almost instantly defeated within 2 or 3 issues with hardly any suspense, or they were able to get away like nothing happened once their armies were destroyed. I didn't care much for many of the characters which made it hard to want them to succeed beyond wanting evil to be destroyed.

Also, I found the two extremely obvious references to Lord of the Rings pretty darn cheap and not well used. That may seem nit picky of me, but when you do a fantasy story and want to pay homage or toss back to some of the best fantasy that has been written to this day, the way it was done just didn't feel adequate. "One does not simply walk into Hell." Really? Nobody would have known that Hell was hard to get into or out of had you not provided us with that tidbit. "No one shall pass!" Spoken twice. If you're fighting enemies, you aren't SUPPOSED to let them pass. Its an unspoken rule of defending a place while in combat because its the CORE of your mission to protect: let no enemies pass. Unless you are the sole keeper of a gate and you are supposed to say that as you make a lone stand to seem really cool, don't bother saying that in the middle of combat. Just yell with your effort as you smack down enemies. Actions speak louder than words, folks. It was done with epic awesomeness in Lord of the Rings, but felt cheap in the sequences they were used in for Demon Knights.  Even if those lines were all unintentionally written to not be references, it is hard to believe they aren't due to their popularity among fantasy fans. It had to trigger in one of the writer's minds as they wrote it down or when the editor read through it.

Overall, the Demon Knights series had some promising elements and a strong start, but ultimately fizzled into nothing more than a barely-meets-my-bar of entertainment, and "is it almost over yet?" kind of title for me. If I had to recommend any of it, I'd say start with issue #0 and read the first two volumes and issues #13-#15. None of the rest feels necessary to me so far. If it ends up being so, I'll add an update to this post, but as far as enjoyment goes, that is the only part that felt like anything worthwhile in my opinion. I give issues #0-#15 a solid 3 out of 5 stars, but issues #16-#23 fall to a 2 star rating. It can be a decent entertaining time, but only to a certain point and I'm really glad it ended when it did although I think it should've ended sooner since the second major plot didn't really go anywhere that I felt helped the series in the long run. With a different story or better execution for the second half, I feel this title could have done REALLY well, but it was run into the ground. The artwork in the first half is also really solid, but some of the facial expressions illustrated in the second half just looked awkward in some ways and could have been better finessed. The second half lost a lot of the richness that made the first part good sometimes and largely bearable at others.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Comic Spotlight: Voracious

Hey y'all!

Happy belated Independence Day!!!

For the past several months I have been reading comics, NON-STOP.
Later on I might put up a post showing the titles that I'm currently reading in case anyone is looking for something interesting to look out for or try. I love sharing comics and seeing what others are reading.  Today though, I want to just focus on this crazy comic that I picked up in May, but just now read.

As usual, my family, boyfriend, and I went to one of our local comic shops for Free Comic Book Day this year (shout out to the awesome guys at Asylum who do a FANTASTIC job with their events EVERY year. It is definitely the BEST comic shop in town and my #1 comic stop for any major comic event).

Label reads: "WARNING: This issue contains some strong language and a dinosaur on fire! You're welcome."

Voracious #1
Published by Action Lab under their Danger Zone division of comics
Comic Team: Written by Markisan Naso, Color Art by Andrei Tabacaru, Art/Lettering/Design by Jason Muhr
Rated: T+ for Mature Readers
Published December 2015

Please heed the labels, even if you know young people who like dinosaurs, this is only appropriate for readers aged 15+ due to the language and the obvious fact that this guy is gonna be cooking up some dinosaurs, and potentially chopping up some things given that cleaver he is wielding on the cover. 

Anyone who knows me knows why I picked this comic up. Josh (my boyfriend) and I are massive dinosaur nuts, so this was a must-have. I'm not thrilled at the idea of chopping up dinosaurs to bits to make food, but the idea in of itself is so unique that it makes for a really interesting concept. The dinosaurs on the cover are gorgeous art wise. How can you not want to read this comic after seeing that cover? It is SO enticing and different from a lot of the standard comics that I see or casually read. I had to have this so I could find out HOW this chef fit in with these dinosaurs. I wondered if he was going to be cooking them or if he somehow was being forced to cook for them. I just had to know how this chef and the dinosaurs fit together, considering the millions of years that set the two apart from one another biologically/evolutionary wise. 

If he was cooking them, how did he get access to their meat? Is it an alternate world where dinosaurs exist? If so, would this count as murder to some degree? Are dinosaurs farm bred for consumption like cows and chickens? Or is this guy being forced to cook for dinosaur overlords and now wanting to escape and plans to do so by killing them off one by one? At this point, I know what the story is, but before I read it speculating what was inside the pages was half the fun. 

Here is the summary from Action Labs' site: 

Haunted by the death of his sister, NYC Chef Nate Willner has lost his desire to cook. Forced to move back to his tiny hometown in Utah, Nate's life is quickly becoming a dead end. But when he unexpectedly inherits a time travel suit that takes him to the age of dinosaurs, Nate's passion for cooking is reignited!
With a little help from his knife-wielding Grandmother Maribel, and friends Starlee and Captain Jim, Nate opens a restaurant that secretly serves dinosaur meat. Can he survive long enough to make it a success and turn his life around?
The main premise is that this guy loves to cook and his life has taken a turn for the worst leaving him not wanting to do what he loves. His life changes thanks to the presence of a long absent uncle, an inheritance, and some science fiction treats that have really made me wonder what direction this series is going to be heading in. I am going to need to seek out the next several issues, maybe even eventually pick up the collected volumes so that I can see where it goes. I'm super engrossed already and the dinosaur artwork is just too wonderful to pass up as a lover of dinosaurs and comics. 

This comic for me definitely rates a 4 out of 5, because it peaked my interest immediately, the artwork is good quality, my attention was held from cover to cover, and there is a lot of room for it to grow story wise. 

All you dinosaur and comic lovers out there need to give this one a shot. It isn't overly gruesome or horrific where the art is concerned. Definitely not the most grotesque comic I have read. There is more language than gross imagery or visuals. I'm really looking forward to reading more of this series and I hope more people pick it up and give it a shot! This first issue is a solid start and worth checking out. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Personal Thoughts on Moving Forward

I started this blog around 6 years ago. It was created to be a fun, modern way for me to present my senior project on adaptations of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. 

Since then, I've hit my 20s, graduated high school, graduated college with a Bachelor's in English & American Literature with a minor in Creative Writing. I've started and ended relationships. I've traveled around Texas and to California for the first time, learned how to handle amusement park visiting at paces that are perfect for my family. I've learned how to write professional research papers with citations, how to interpret literature, and the beginnings of how to act. I've developed my writing, successfully writing a handful of short stories, most of which fall under the realm of fantasy and science fiction. I've made friends and lost touch with people along the way. I'm about to begin graduate school in the fall. 

My overall point is that I have grown a lot and I want this blog to be a reflection of my growth as a person. My goal with this blog was to communicate in a way that was fun and that reflected my personal way of interpreted and enjoying literature. The goal has never been to have a consistent posting schedule or to be the best blogger on the internet. I just wanted to toss my voice out into cyberspace and see if any other voices echoed back. This is why the name has always been The Real World According to Sam. 

This blog was never meant to be the number one book blog in the state or the country. My goal has never been to get free books from authors or publishers, or to be picked up by any publications for reviewing. The goal has always just been to write and express the thoughts that swirl around up in my mind when I read books/plays/comics or watch movies. 

I am going to be continuing with this blog, but I just wanted everyone to know what this blog is really about. I want to go back to the core that began it and not be concerned with deadlines, views, or fitting into a niche. Many websites about starting a blog always advise finding a niche, finding the one thing you know and writing about it. They say to post consistently, keep a schedule so readers know when to expect things. While I've attempted this method in the past, I've found that it is almost too stifling for me. I like to branch out and experiment. I don't read the newest best sellers, I like to find hidden gems. I love having discussions with people. 

In past years, the posts have been very colloquial and this was purposeful. I have spent a lot of time writing serious, formal papers over the last 4 years. I wanted this to be a place where I could just "talk" and not worry too much about sounding like a serious person. I like to have fun, although I do know when to be serious. Scrolling through posts from the past years I have seen typos, grammatical errors such as run-on sentences, and I have noticed formatting errors that vary between web and mobile. The first few years were a major learning experience and have provided me with a window into my younger self as a writer, to see where I have come in the past few years. I considered going back through each post to update content and fix errors, however, I've come to the realization that changing those things would begin to make this space feel like WORK and would stifle the voice I presented in the older posts. I have spent a lot of time writing and as a result, my voice has developed and my grammar has moved to a higher level. I once worried that having grammar errors in those old posts might lead some people to believe I had a low level of professionalism or that I didn't closely edit my posts before publishing. 

None of that is true. I am highly professional. I edited every post, but as with any other student with a hectic reading and assignment schedule, I couldn't nitpick every sentence to make it just right the way that I would have liked to. Sometimes, when you focus too much on doing things perfectly, you lose sight of what originally made it fun and freeing. It feels more like work than play; this blog has ALWAYS been a place that I wanted to be my own personal playground, so to speak. 

I will still be posting, and since this is my little world in the corner of cyberspace, I'm going to play around with it. Don't expect to always find a book review or a consistent posting schedule. I might put up a list of comics I've read and suggest for others to try out. I might post up a short story I wrote during my undergraduate years to start moving forward in a way that I really want to with my writing. I might just scribble thoughts down on something totally random that I stumble across. I'm not here writing this blog to entertain people, or to provide a certain service. I just want to write. Posts published pre-2017 DO have errors, so please be aware of this. Any reviews I post in the future will be more finely edited since my eye for catching errors has gotten significantly better. 

I still welcome comments and recommendations for things anyone would like to see! I've always enjoyed the feedback that I've been left. It brightens my day to know that people like what I'm writing. Posts pre-2017 are going to be left as is in order to serve as a time capsule for myself to mark my progression as a writer. In middle school I scribbled down random ideas for fanfiction (Pirates of the Caribbean and The Simpsons) that were never completed on paper. In high school I used to write a poem a day just to pass the time when I was done with work...typically in French class, although my poems were never in French. In college I wrote book reviews on the side, while writing short stories and other random creative pieces for assignments. I've kept all my writing and this is no different for me. Pre-2017 posts are just another collection of writings I did at one point in my life that I can reflect back on. 

Thank you for making it all the way through this post and taking the time to get a little peek into what I meant for this to be, as well as what I WANT it to be going forward. 


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Vintage Vision: Pirates, Ships, and Treasure REVIEWING Treasure Island

Hi there! Welcome back to The Real World According To Sam. Today's post is yet another classic (I've been reading quite a few of them lately) and's VINTAGE VISION time!!

I have been trying to read this book for years now. I would constantly pick it up as a kid, read a couple chapters, and then end up reading something else and not finish this one, then it'd be time to return it to the library. We ended up buying it when I was in middle school and took it with me to a TAKS test to read when I finished. That didn't happen however because someone stole it on that very same day. On one of our many trips to the local library, I saw it again and decided it was finally time to read it, once and for all. Here we are at long last:

Treasure Island
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Genre: Classic Adventure
Year of Publication: 1883

Treasure Island is a classic adventure story that has been around for over a century. It is a story about a young boy named Jim Hawkins who finds himself in possession of a map that leads to treasure. He ends up on a ship, with a crew who turn out to be pirates, all on their way to find the buried treasure of Captain Flint, their previous captain. They are mutinous and under the leadership of Long John Silver, the ship's cook who appears to be rather friendly and an overall good man until his true colors are shown. Jim, Captain Smollett and Squire Trelawney have to find a way to get the best of the pirates, get the treasure, and get back to jolly old England. 

Treasure Island
This book has to be one of the most referenced books I know. I am a huge fan of Disney's Treasure Planet, a space version of this novel. I also love the use of the story in The Pagemaster. It was those movies that made me want to read it so bad. Now that I've read it, I'm almost a little disappointed. I'm not going to lie: I was expecting a lot more. That's not to say it was a bad book. I'm intrigued by pirates and won't pass up a good swashbuckling story on the high seas very often. That being said, this book is very slow and not as adventurous as I'd hoped or as it has been made out to be by various media. I understand that it was written at a much different time. This book came before the invention of the television and people probably had more patience back then. Treasure Island is a good way to escape, but it won't make you grip your seat in anticipation of much. Its not highly suspenseful. 

One thing I noticed was the constant description of the ship and what is done or needed to be done on it. Now, I don't mean ship duties, like swabbing the deck or sitting up in the crow's nest, I mean that ship terminology was used quite a bit and if you don't know the parts of a ship, you might get a little lost. I live in a desert and I've been on one steamboat and a few ferries. I've never sailed long term or taken tours on old galleons. I can imagine a standard ship, but start saying bowline, bulwarks and coxswains, and its decently easy to get lost if I hadn't been able to keep a reference image pointing every part out for me. Maybe back when it was written people knew more about this kind of thing, but I sure don't, and I doubt very many modern readers do. The ironic thing is that a similar technique is used in Jules Verne's novels. He includes oodles of abstract information about geological features, rocks, marine organisms and submarines....yet it isn't as disruptive as here in Treasure Island. I think I would assign this issue to writing style. Overall, the style is pretty simplistic. You follow Jim's narrated adventure and he tells you how it goes down, in a very straightforward manner. Once I get something like that, I expect everything to be consistent. Then out of nowhere come these naval terms and I'm forced to pause and get my bearings. In Verne's novels, its all pretty complex so its almost expected for the reader to be given large amounts of jargon,....but Verne's complexities are explained. The submarine is explained and so are the geological aspects. With Treasure Island, I was not prepared for being left to fend for myself, expected to know every element of an old time ship. I know starboard from port and I know how a ship generally works, as well as what some parts are, but not all of them. Perhaps this is more of a fault on me and my personal experience than the book itself, but it did turn me off quite a bit as I was reading. 

The other issue I had was the lack of piratical adventure. Because of the straightforward style and attempt at simplicity, there isn't very much suspenseful detail or action. I would've really liked some of that because I feel like it would've really enhanced the experience. Now I know that if I want something like that, I should just watch Treasure Planet

That's not to say the book isn't good though! Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it. It was mildly entertaining and I'm not AT ALL upset that I read it. I'm glad I did and that I was finally able to get through it. I've been waiting for a long time to accomplish this. Ultimately though, the expectation I had was not met and Treasure Island is an average classic, in my opinion. I almost wish I had no expectation coming in, but at the same time, it wouldn't have changed the pacing or the lack of true suspense. The hunt for the treasure wasn't nearly as impressive as I felt it should have been. It happened rather quickly and was over just as soon as it had begun. That was a major disappointment. I feel like this should have been a really big point in the book and it was just glossed over. It was TOO simple and straightforward. These pirates have been waiting a long time to get the treasure and for it to happen the way it did was not at all satisfying. There were no booby traps or hard times locating the treasure. Captain Flint is made out to be this really bad guy, yet he wasn't evil, only harsh and fearsome. None of this comes out within the actual details and plot of the story. If he was so protective of his treasure and if he was such a fearsome captain, he should have had booby traps in place and it should have been near impossible to locate, even with the map. The map should just make it a bit easier to get bearings. I mean, the book is called TREASURE Island. I personally thought that there should be a larger focus and emphasis on all the occurrences that involved treasure and being on this particular island. Its a good book, but it definitely isn't the greatest pirate book or the greatest classic written. There is a lot that could have been improved on to make it a more enticing and satisfying story. 

In the end, I liked Treasure Island, but it doesn't appear to reach its full potential as a novel. There were many lacking points and the simplistic style wasn't always highly effective for this particular story. Its a good book that can serve as an escape from the modern world or to get a glimpse into the kind of adventure we don't have too often these days. Its fun, but don't expect a high adrenaline action tale, because that isn't what Treasure Island is. Expect plots, sailing, and simplicity in narration, because that is what you will get. It isn't necessarily a bad thing if that's the kind of book you enjoy or what you need at the moment. I'm giving Treasure Island a 3 out of 5. I love the escapism and the simplicity, but I also yearn for a good pirate tale that will send my imagination into full sail. If you want to read it, but also are not very familiar with ships, make sure you keep a tab open with a diagram, or print one out to stick in the pages until you need to reference it. 

Thanks for reading this review here at The Real World According To Sam. Please come back again soon for more!!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Geese, Landscapes, and Lighthouses: REVIEWING The Snow Goose

The Snow Goose
Author: Paul Gallico
Genre: Classic/Fiction/Folktale
Year of Publication: 1941

The Snow Goose is a story that is relatively short. The copy I read was only 58 pages long, so I guess this could qualify as a short story. It tells the tale of a man who is deformed and, therefore, isn't appealing on the outside. He is an artist who loves everything that is alive. He paints landscapes and he especially has a love for birds. When he was younger, he bought a lighthouse and lived in it. He had a pen where birds who were migrating could stop and stay before continuing on when the seasons changed. The story tells about the friendship he develops with a little girl and a snow goose. The snow goose helps the little girl to see the beauty and kindness within the man, despite his physical appearance. 

The Snow GooseI really enjoyed this story! For starters, it was beautifully written. The book starts off with a great description of the area and the landscape that really takes you away to another place. Even when the characters are finally introduced, the detailed prose continues. The characters were very well developed, even if they only had 58 pages of show time. I was very impressed with how much the author was able to express in such a seemingly small amount of time. The plot is simple, but it packs a lot of meaning and depth. I found that there was a lot of sincerity to the writing. I'm really glad I read this book, even though I honestly only picked it up to begin with because it was so short. It was pleasantly surprising to discover how great a story lies within the brevity. I'm not sure what I expected, but it wasn't what I got. It was so much more than I could have asked for or imagined. I HIGHLY recommend this story to anyone who loves birds and well written prose. It took me less than an hour to read, but I would definitely go back and read it again a couple times if I had the opportunity. It is one of the books that I will always remember. It truly deserves a 5 out of 5. The Snow Goose really tugs at your heart strings and makes you want to open your heart to others. 

Thanks for reading this review, I hope you come back next Wednesday for another, here at The Real World According To Sam.