Sunday, July 7, 2024

Spider-Girl Modern Era Epic Collection - Legacy

Spider-Girl Modern Era Epic Collection: LegacySpider-Girl Modern Era Epic Collection: Legacy by Tom DeFalco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spider-Girl Modern Era Epic Collection collects What If #105, Spider-Girl #1-15, 1/2, and Annual 1.

I wasn't reading many comics when this was originally published around the turn of the century but it had a reputation as a good book. Born out of the Clone Saga, the What If issue by DeFalco and Frenz imagines a world where Peter and Mary Jane's daughter lived and became a super hero. The issue sold like Aunt May's wheatcakes so the MC-2 line was born, spearheaded by Spider-Girl.

Tom DeFalco, Pat Oliffe, and Al Williamson are the creative team on the regular series and put out a consistently very good super hero book. Williamson had to be 70 at this point but was still delivering the goods on inks. It's really cool that Pat Oliffe drew two of the best Spidey books of the later 1990s, this one and Untold Tales of Spider-Man. Anyway, the setup is pretty good. May inherits her father's super powers and hides them from her parents. Peter is missing a leg and the Green Goblin is dead following their last confrontation. Mary Jane is a housewife unless I missed something. May is more outgoing than her father and is on the basketball team.

The stories themselves are well crafted but standard monthly super hero stories. May juggles high school life with being a super hero. I think one of the reasons this really works for me is that it's an almost zero baggage approach to Spider-Man but also a tribute to the legacy of the character. There are nods to Spider-Man's vast continuity but the book isn't mired in them. DeFalco also leaves some mysteries on the table, like what is Darkdevil's deal and why has Kaine resurfaced?

The book is extremely accessible since the reader gets in on the ground floor. The MC-2 universe is slowly unfurled, with Franklin Richards in the Fantastic Five, a teenage Juggernaut being a member of the Avengers, and Jubilee leading the X-People. I'm hoping the rest of the MC-2 stuff is eventually collected.

This title was a breath of fresh air to Spidey fans when it was published and the lighter tone will probably appeal to Webheads today. I'm in for the duration. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, March 18, 2024

Bond Unknown

Bond UnknownBond Unknown by Edward M. Erdelac
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Owing to some Bond books having a murky copyright situation in Canada, this book contains two novellas about James Bond encountering the Cthulhu Mythos. The first, Into the Green by William Meikle, has Bond taking on a cult worshipping some kind of energy being drawn down from the Northern Lights. The second, Mindbreaker, sees Bond trying to stop a cult from awakening a Old One using the blood of a kidnapped princess.

I've only read a couple Bond novels. Into the Green feels more like a novel Bond. Mindbreaker is much longer and feels like a James Bond movie in novel form. They're both enjoyable but I much preferred Mindbreaker, with it's multiple locales, colorfully named characters, and generally feeling more like the Bond experience I'm used to.

Four easy stars, although I noticed some typos in both stories, like maybe the ebook wasn't created from the final versions of the files.

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The Destroyer of Worlds

The Destroyer of Worlds: A Return to Lovecraft Country (Lovecraft Country, 2)The Destroyer of Worlds: A Return to Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three means I liked it so settle down.

The Turner/Berry extended family is back in this volume. The structure is different than in Lovecraft Country. Here, we have shifting viewpoints rather than more or less self-contained stories. Threads are picked up from the last volume so we get more of everything. More magic natural philosophy. More exotic locales. More run-ins with the racism and prejudices of the day. More scheming magicians natural philosophers.

So, yeah, it was good, I liked it for the same reasons I liked the first book. It just didn't quite have the punch the first book did. It's a sequel so I guess part of that comes with the territory but I never once thought any of the characters were in any real danger and the characters haven't changed much since the last book. Also, someone didn't seem to mind his fate from the previous book in the least.

The stories, while featuring the same characters, didn't feel as tightly linked as the ones in the last book.

It probably feels like I've been shitting on the book but I did enjoy it. I love the world Ruff has created and the way the magic system works. It feels open ended enough for future volumes and that's fine with me.

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13th13th by Edward M. Erdelac
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not a huge Friday the 13th fan but I am a huge Edward Erdelac fan so I picked this up, his Friday the 13th homage/love letter/fanfic.

Other than Freddy vs. Jason, I think I've only watched the other Friday the 13th movies in chunks and out of order when nothing else was on TV but I'm familiar with the highlights of the series. This is more than Friday the 13th with the serial numbers filed off. Erdelac explores and expands Jason, I mean, Joshua Hodder's origins, giving him motivations beyond wanting to please his mommy by killing horny teenagers. It ties together the incongruent parts of the series and even ties in the seemingly unrelated Friday the 13th TV series after a fashion.

The story is a gorefest at times. The people who have killed Joshua Hodder and ended his rampage in the past team up to try to stop him permanently. Meanwhile, Joshua does what most masked undead killers do - kill people in mass quantities in extremely bloody ways.

Things come together at the end with some twists. No one is safe. The ending was both satisfying and true to the Friday the 13th franchise.

4 out of 5 machetes.

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Rainbringer: Zora Neale Hurston Against The Lovecraftian MythosRainbringer: Zora Neale Hurston Against The Lovecraftian Mythos by Edward M. Erdelac
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rainbringer is a collection of short stories featuring author Zora Neal Hurston by Edward Erdelac.

On the heels of Lovecraft Country and Destroyer of Worlds, I was hungry for more stories featuring both Jim Crow racism and the Cthulhu mythos and already had this on my kindle.

This was great stuff. Zora goes up against various Cthulhu mythos creatures, from Harlem to Haiti to the legendary Lost City of the Monkey-God and various points in between. Erdelac does a good job of writing in various dialects without making it ridiculous and knows how to spin a cosmic horror tale like nobody's business.

They say to write the kind of books you'd like to read. Turns out, I don't have to. Edward Erdelac is already writing them for me. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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The Help

The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My mom has been pushing this book on me since 2010 and my wife is listening to the audiobook so I finally gave in. Yeah, fine, it was great...

There were many reasons I didn't want to read this. No crime, no monsters, no limbs being hack off, etc. Well, instead of cosmic horror, this book portrays the everyday horrors of racism in the early 1960s. The leads all seemed real to me. Skeeter, the plain and tall girl, and maids Aibileen and Minny practically reached out from the page.

I was skeptical about the entire affair at first. Would a white woman be able to accurately portray the plight of black maids in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s? Well, Kathryn Stockett more than stuck the landing. She paints a vivid portrait of what life would have been like for maids of color back then, wrapped in the plot of a white girl writing a book. Things got a little meta for Kathryn Stockett, I expect.

The relationships between Aibilene and Mae Mobley and Minny and Celia Foote were my favorite parts of the book and really sold it for me. Just because there was a minimum of physical jeopardy, the emotional jeopardy was ratcheted up countless times. Would Skeeter get enough people to produce a book? What would happen to Aibilene, Minny, and the other maids if someone caught wind of what Skeeter was doing? What if that c-word Hilly Holbrook figured out what was what?

My wife and I finished the book together in the car after taking our son to the gym. My wife had to use the Dairy Queen bathroom to freshen up after some tearful parts near the end.

Five out of five. I'm still not reading James Patterson no matter how many decades my mom pushes him on me, though.

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The Hobbit

The Hobbit (The Lord of the Rings, #0)The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Bilbo Baggins is recruited by Gandalf to accompany 13 dwarves to reclaim a lost dwarven stronghold, he embarks on the adventure of a lifetime.

I don't remember when the first time I read this was or if I've even read it more than once. I do know that I bought a snazzy illustrated hardcover of The Hobbit at a Borders in 2008, as it says on the intact receipt, and never read it until this weekend.

So everyone probably knows the bare bones of the plot by now. Homebody Bilbo Baggins gets dragged into an adventure, finds a ring that turns him invisible, and gets in a whole mess of trouble. It's one of the inspirations for Dungeons & Dragons and a big swathe of the fantasy genre. I've had fond memories of it for years.

I still dig the hell out of The Hobbit after several decades. Sure, nobody other than Bilbo has any agency and Gandalf is a deus ex machina at a couple points in the tale but it's still a fun journey with monsters, elves, giant eagles, even a dragon. I felt physically weary by the end, much like Bilbo, but part of that was I wolfed this down over the course of a day and a half. It would have been a few hours less but the in-laws stuck around longer than I thought they would.

Tolkien was a linguist rather than a writer and it shows at times. There's some phrasing that was awkward and it takes a while for things to happen. Still, he was an imaginative guy. I wonder how much of the final battle came from his experiences in World War I, or the Great War as it was called at the time. I am not ashamed to say that I skipped all the songs, much as I did on previous readings.

Do I still love The Hobbit? Yes. Do I love it enough to reread Lord of the Rings? Not just yet.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Conquer: Fear of a Black Cat

Conquer: Fear Of A Black Cat (The John Conquer Series)Conquer: Fear Of A Black Cat by Edward M. Erdelac
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When John Conquer gets called to a crime scene, he's tasked with solving the grisly murder of the woman who raised him and a friend of hers. But how does that relate to his other case, tailing the daughter of Harlem's devil, King Solomon Keyes?

I loved the first Conquer collection and the sheer size of this thing surprised me. That's what she said. Anyway, this is 500+ pages of blaxploitation plus magic from various traditions.

This is one of those books where it's best to go in as cold as possible. Conquer's cases take him all over Harlem and the NYC area. There's some interaction with historical figures and places from the time of the tale, the hot summer of 1977. The private dick that's a hex machine with all the tricks goes up against all kinds of crazy shit.

I'm underselling this. Conquer goes through the wringer a couple times in this. Erdelac manages to tie everything together nicely at the end. I have to admit, I didn't see how all the threads would converge at first and a lot of time was spent on things that didn't seem important until they were. Erdelac plays with some PI fiction traditions and did his homework on the various magical practices, as usual. No D&D fireballs here.

Erdelac's writing has come along quite a bit since I first discovered the Merkabah Rider whenever that was. It feels a lot more confident now. I probably would have wolfed this down in one day if my kindle hadn't needed charging near the end. By the end, I was as spent as Conquer was.

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Saturday, February 17, 2024

Business is About to Pick Up!

Business Is About to Pick Up!: 50 Years of Wrestling in 50 Unforgettable CallsBusiness Is About to Pick Up!: 50 Years of Wrestling in 50 Unforgettable Calls by Jim Ross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a Netgalley score. Netgalley still thinks I'm cool.

Anyway, I didn't know what to expect from this since Good Old JR already has two wrestling books out that cover 99% of his career but it wound up being my favorite of the three.

This book celebrates Jim Ross's 50 years of wrestling by revisiting 50 points during his life, from working for Bill Watts and Leroy McGuirk in NWA Tri-State to Mid-South to the Flair vs. Steamboat trilogy to the WWF/WWE and beyond. The deeper focus on those various points make this a worthwhile read for anyone who enjoyed JR's previous books. It doesn't feel like he's treading the same ground, even though it easy could.

My one minor quibble is that by the time it comes out, the AEW chapters will already be a year out of date since the Brawl-Out just happened and CM Punk is still with the company but with the enormous lead time in publishing, that's actually pretty current.

4 out of 5 stars. JR probably has another book in him yet with all the juicy road stories he hasn't shared yet.

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Tuesday, January 2, 2024


Humblewood Campaign SettingHumblewood Campaign Setting by Christopher Pinch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I've had my eye on this for a while and saw Hit Point Press had an "imperfect" version on their website for ten bucks plus abnormally high shipping so I finally grabbed it. I haven't run a campaign in a couple decades at this point and since three of my prospective players grew up on Disney and the other is a furry, this seemed like a resource that would get some use.

First off, some of the character races are adorable. Just check out the Strig knight on the cover! The Birdfolk and their Humblefolk neighbors don't seem overpowered compared to the standard 5e races aside from the Vulpin's charm person ability. The Mapach seems inspired by Rocket Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy but who the hell cares, honestly? That's probably how I'd want to play them. No complaints on the new PC races. I would have no qualms about including the races in this book in a Planescape or Spelljammer campaign to flesh out those settings.

I like the background of the world but I'd like more detail on that. The campaign area isn't that large and a lot of the book is devoted to a series of adventures rather than fleshing out the setting a bit. Alderheart, the main city of the setting, doesn't get as much detail as I'm accustomed though not ever city needs to be detailed as much as The Rock of Bral or City of Greyhawk, I guess.

The presentation is up to 5e standards for the most part. Some of the art is iconic. I have the imperfect version and it's pretty damn good.

So who would most like this? I think if you're group is into stuff like The Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, Disney's Robin Hood, Redwall, and/or Mouseguard, you'd probably get a kick out of this. Who hasn't wanted to run Sir Didymus from the Labyrinth? I think if you'd want to run a campaign just based on what's here, you'd have some work on your hands.

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