Showing posts with label Greg Rucka. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Greg Rucka. Show all posts

Monday, May 9, 2016

Black Magick Vol 1 Awakening by Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott

Rating: WORTHY!

(Note that this was an advance review copy)

This is one of the most engaging comics I've read in some time. It's black (magic) and white - or more accurately, gray-scale, but this took nothing from it and may actually have been a far better choice of "color". The drawing was excellent!

The story is of Rowan Black, a detective with the Portsmouth Police Department, and someone who is my idea of a strong female character. Not that she goes around beating people up - that's not what I mean. She's strong in that she's self-possessed, confident, can handle her own life, doesn't need a guy to validate her, is loyal to her friends, but not afraid to upset them if police work interferes with her social life. Honestly, I really liked this character. I'd also like to see her in a regular novel. I'd like to see her on the movie screen, too. And I could see Tatiana Maslany playing her!

Her social life? Well apart from a drink after work with her fellow detectives, she's a witch and attends coven meetings - not new age pagan and Celtic throwback stuff, but real witchcraft. Here's how invested I was in this story and this is in the first few pages. I was so focused on what the characters were saying that I went through two or three pages and didn't even notice that they were naked under their skimpy robes! I guess I'm not a "real man" any more! LOL! So yes, be warned that this is an adult novel and the artist doesn't shy from nudity.

As in any homicide detective story, a corpse (or two) show-up, but in this case, the more Rowan and her partner investigate, the more it appears to Rowan that someone is targeting her. How can someone else's death be aimed at her? You'll have to read this one to find out! And those who are after her aren't at all concerned how much collateral damage they cause. I want volume 2, and I want it now, or hexes will be cast!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bravo by Greg Rucka

Title: Bravo
Author: Greg Rucka
Publisher: Mulholland
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

p187 "...wondering what she doing..." should be "...wondering what she was doing..."
p187 "...whom she was seeing." doesn't sound right at all - "...who she was seeing." sounds better.

I think it's time to kick 'whom' out of use altogether. It's really whom for whom the bell tolls....

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to say that I went into this not expecting to like it, and feeling that it was going to be a chore. I felt this because I thought I'd finished with Greg Rucka's efforts. I started reading his stuff because of an article he wrote on strong female characters, and I went on to review (unfavorably as it happens) Alpha, Lazarus, and Whiteout, so it was a bit disconcerting to discover this one unexpectedly showing up in my approved box from Net Galley (I'd forgotten I'd requested it!). But a deal's a deal so here's my honest review.

The main two female characters in this novel are "Zoya, who is Jordan Webber-Hayden" (more on that, anon!) and Petra Graziella Nessuno. Neither of them is a strong female character. Both of them are shown to be sadly dependent upon men (one upon the male protagonist and one upon the male antagonist!), and are sorely lacking in other ways, too, so no strong female characters in this outing just as there were none in volume one.

Here's one problem in this regard: The word "beautiful" appears twice in the first thirty-two pages to describe two women. Not once in those same pages did the word 'smart' appear (except to describe a cell phone and the male soldiers). In describing these women there was neither 'thoughtful', nor 'reliable', neither 'interesting', nor 'funny', neither 'tough', nor 'sensitive'. Not even 'tomboy'. Not 'pretty'. Not 'good-looking'. Not even 'valuable' or 'asset'. It had to be beautiful.

Beautiful was the only adjective worth relating vis–à–vis women in this novel! That's the only value they evidently hold. On page 43 the 'B' word appears once more to describe main character Jad Bell's wife, because again, what possible value could she have if not that? Note that my issue isn't with labeling a woman 'beautiful', although it’s rather redundant since most women are in one way or another. My issue is with only labeling them 'beautiful' as though nothing else counts, and with a writer who can only reference them that way.

Bell is the main protagonist - the male protagonist - and Amy is the woman to whom he was married until recently. Perhaps the reason she's his ex is that 'beautiful' is the only thing he can ever think of with which to credit her? She was a cheerleader after all! Or is it the fact that the first thing he does when he goes to visit her is complain that he doesn’t like the house because it has bad 'sight lines" and ask her if she still has the shotgun?

Neither Bell nor his wife are very smart. She still blames him for what happened in the previous novel, when she and their daughter were unwilling and terrified parties to an assault on a theme park by terrorists. In fact Bell had done everything he could to warn her away from visiting that day - short of giving away classified information - but his dumb-ass wife refused to listen to her terrorist-expert husband. That's not the reason they're divorced, but maybe it ought to have been; it certainly would have made the novel a more interesting read.

Whether we’re supposed to intuit this lack of intellect from a photo Amy apparently still has of herself and Bell in high school, wherein he's a football jock and she's a cheerleader, I don’t know. Yes, it’s clichéd and bigoted to suggest that, but that's the common perception, and we’ve been offered nothing to suggest otherwise and plenty to support it in this novel.

The fact that the author himself references the cliché inherent in it makes it no less of one, and the clichés keep on coming. His daughter is named Athena (goddess of warfare, inter alia), and she smells like apples, of course, because having her smell like roses or ocean breeze wouldn't be anywhere near tough enough nor American enough, nor would it imply that she was a teenager ripe enough to be eaten.

This overly protective cliché wherein Bell is depicted as thinking, and worse, acting like both his ex and his daughter need to be swathed in bubble-wrap is far too much. It demeans Amy and Athena and is rather nauseating. There are better ways of showing love and concern than this clunky method, whereby the more I read about those two adults, the more convinced I became that they're not fit parents. I'm assuming that's not the feeling with which the author intended to invest me, but here's a thought: if Bell is so concerned about his family, why in hell doesn't he simply quit the military, and do something else for a living? Now there would be a story.

Athena's parents couldn't be mathletes of course, because you know there is no way in hell such 'losers' would ever be allowed into the US special forces! But could they not have been photographed at a swim meet? At the prom? In the science lab? Naw, that last one is out of the question for the same reason that the mathletes are. Only jocks need apply in a story like this.

This kind of thing is the very reason that I wasn't looking forward to reading this after my first outing with this trope series. I don’t mind me some macho. I don't even mind some cliché and trope if it’s done well, but to get this relentless cliché trope machismo when readers like me are begging for something new, anything trending differently, a bit off the beaten track, something fresh, is just depressing. It's truly sad to find so many authors so unwilling to be inventive, and so many publishers so loathe to allow, much less encourage travel off the beaten track.

Down to business: this novel begins some 72 hours after Alpha when Bell's special ops team are in process of capturing Vosil Tohir known as The Uzbek - the villain from volume one. Why is it them, as opposed to another special ops team? No epxlantion. This team is fresh from a brutal mission in which soldiers were killed, and in which others were wounded. The team is at least two members down so where is the rationale for sending them on another mission immediately, with a new and untried team member borrowed from another squad?

Well there's a "reason" for that latter item which I'll address below, but not for the rest. Remember, this isn't about how tough soldiers are. That's a given, especially for organizations like Delta Force. No, this is about how smart the military is, and apparently we're supposed to believe that our military isn't too smart and has no back-up. You know, the simple act of setting these events a month later instead of just 72 hours would have solved almost all of these issues! Just saying....

Here’s another problem. There's way, way, way too much code-naming in play here in the first few pages. In addition to the oddball, but predictable macho and soldierly code names, we get: "The Architect", "The Lover", "The Soldier", "The Uzbek". It was very confusing and annoying, especially when each of them had real names. It's like listening to someone laying out tarot cards for a reading and just as risible.

Particularly annoying was the endless repetition of variations on "Zoya, who is Jordan Webber-Hayden" Yes! I get it. I don't need it repeated endlessly, including twice on page 166 in the space of eighteen lines! There came a point about two chapters in when I gave up even trying to keep track of who was who and just let it ride, hoping to catch-up later (assuming I decided to continue reading).

Another real nails-on-chalk-board habit of the author's is his indiscriminate use of the rewind button. By this I mean that he would tell the story, then stop and rewind and tell the same thing over again, but from another character's perspective. This frequent halting of the action with the subsequent shuffle and repeat added nothing to the enjoyment and it was extremely frustrating, not least for the fact that there wasn't any way to tell, until you had read on a little way, that there was a rewind in progress. It was as annoying as hell.

Jad Bell's continued involvement with processing The Uzbek after he'd been rendered was way out of control. I'm neither government nor special forces, so I'm not an expert here by any means, but special forces are tapped to do what they're exhaustively trained to do and what they do impeccably well, which is to achieve the mission objective. Well, their mission objective was met and met well - as we've come to expect form these people. There is no reason whatsoever why Bell needed to be involved after that. There's no reason why he needs to be part of the interrogation or transportation of terrorism suspects, yet he's in it all. I found that totally unbelievable.

For that matter, there are a lot of actions in this novel which make no sense - like having the US miltiary operate on US soil in roles that the FBI, the US Marshall service, and others should be fulfilling. It made no sense either that an outsider would remain drafted onto Bell's team after the initial mission. Clearly this was only done for the purpose of facilitating what happened afterwards, which made this part really clunky, especially given the conduct of this man (Tom O'Day). I found it unbelievable that someone in his position would do what he did. It felt completely out of character for the kind of person he'd been portrayed as and was actually an insult to special forces.

This novel had started to grow on me. It's significantly better than the first volume in this series, and it was very slowly improving, but then we got the interrogation, the transportation, the running down of a terrorist, the tailing of a suspect, and none of it rang true. Bell and Nessuno had no place doing the things they were doing and this actually compromised the mission. Both are guilty of serious errors involving misconduct and poor judgment. Indeed, their incompetence loses them a major player on the terrorist side. And where does Bell get off issuing orders to someone who isn't in his chain of command, and who is not seconded to his team? And where does she get off blindly falling into line with those orders? What is she, his handmaiden? So much for strong female characters. Again.

What really got to me in the end was the fiction. Not the fiction that the author is writing, but the fiction that this is a series about some kind of super soldier, because Jad Bell isn't. The bottom line is that he's incompenent and unaccountably meddling in things for which he has no expertise. Now I don't expect a character to be flawless. I expect flaws and problems, and occasional errors, otherwise where's the interest?

One of the joys of reading a good novel of this type is to see a character screw-up monumentally and then get it together and triumph, but this is not that novel. That kind of story has the guts to have the character actually own their issues. Screwing-up in this series is SOP: no-one even thinks twice about it! That's how low standards are here. I sincerely hope our special forces aren't this shoddy and incompetent. Nothing I've ever learned about them leads me to believe they're as bad as Jad Bell, so where then is my motive to offer any allegience to this series?

These guys had the chance to take down two of the major players bloodlessly, and they failed. One of these players died in the process. At one point, the kingpin is held at gunpoint and allowed to walk away. There is a reason given for this which is acceptable, but then we discover that the reason he was even able to get into the home of this family in the first place was that he'd killed the security team which was watching the house. He then sits around chatting with the mom waiting until the daughter gets home, for no explicable reason. he has the mom clal her husband to propose the deal this guy wants.

He leaves and we're treated to a description of the phones and other possessions he took from the guys he killed, which mentions that there is a host of messages on the phones asking the security team members where they are and why they're not responding. Now these are people who were watching the house because of a terrorist threat. the terrorist is in there for some significant time, yet not one single vehicle shows up to check on the unresponsive security team? NO-ONE COMES TO CHECK ON THEM BECAUSE THEY WENT DARK UNEXPECTEDLY????????????????? No one calls the house? This is nothing but lazy writing at best, and bad writing at worst, and that's all there is to it. Stick a shiv in this one. It's done.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Lazarus by Greg Rucka

Title: Lazarus
Author: Greg Rucka
Publisher: Image Comics
Rating: WARTY!
Illustrated by Michael Lark" and Santi Arcas

This is the third of three reviews of work by Greg Rucka, who has an article on strong female characters. Lazarus is yet another really uninspired title as B&N's website shows - there is a over dozen stories with this title on their first page of results alone.

This is the third (and last!) work of Greg Rucka that I ever plan on reading. I started reading his material after I saw a referral to that article. Somehow he has garnered this reputation for writing such characters, but after three different outings with his writing, I see no reason at all for it.

This novel in particular was beyond sad. It's pretty much a Romeo and Juliet redux, and far from promoting a strong female, it’s the graphic novel equivalent of wife-beating, promoting a female protagonist who is just as clueless as Juliet is, and who, as an action figure is really nothing more than a rip-off of Laura Kinney, the female version of Wolverine from the Marvel universe. The opening few panels depict his main character being killed in a very gory and bloody fashion, but that's okay, you see, because she's a Lazarus - she will recover, her wounds will heal, and she'll be as good as new. That must be why it’s okay to repeatedly abuse her. Seriously?

This is how you introduce your strong female character: dead and bloody

This novel is set in a sad future world were the environment has gone to hell, and the world, evidently, is ruled by a few mafioso-style families which control territories - and I'm talking about old west style territories, not segments of a city. The Carlyle (Capulet) family is very strong and controls seeds - genetically modified seeds which will grow in the appalling conditions found out there in ravaged nature. They had a treaty with the Morray family, but it’s put at dire risk when it's discovered that the Morrays (Montague family), which controls weaponry, apparently tried to raid the Carlyle seed vaults.

The Carlyle family 'Lazarus', whose name is not Juliet, but Forever Carlyle, yet who ought to have been named Mary Sue, is an enforcer who is dispatched south to parlay with the Morrays to heal the rift before outright war breaks out and the two families go to the mattresses over it (so to speak). The parlez seems to go well, and Forever travels back to the borderland between the two territories, escorted by the Morray Lazarus, with whom she's...kinda, sorta, 'friends', but even though she's headed north, things start going badly south.

The problem with this story is that it’s pretty obvious from the start what’s going on, so there are no real surprises, and as soon as we learn about the trip back with the male Lazarus escort, it’s obvious what’s going to happen, so where is the mystery and suspense? For that matter, where is the world-building? Nowhere. And why, oh why does Forever carry a sword? Seriously? What's with the friggin' swords?

The world is very sketchily portrayed. We get tedious announcements every few panels giving terse details of location and demographics, but these are not only annoying, they're pointless since they really mean nothing to the reader. I don’t know if they were intended to be shocking, depressing, or just 'cool', but they made no impression on me unless you count rolling eyes as an impression. The human world here works as a caste system, with family members (which appear to be few and far between) at the top, serfs, who are highly expendable employees of the family in the middle, and 'waste' which is everyone else, at the bottom. No one cares about the serfs or the waste. Or about the Lazaruses (Lazari?!) for that matter.

It turns out that while Forever is superficially treated as a family member, no one really thinks of her that way, and the Lazarus program makes no sense. Why only one? And why would a Mary Sue like her have any loyalty to any family? The fact that she does their bidding, putting her welfare at risk on a routine basis, and gets nothing in return means that Forever is really not very smart or perceptive.

Why tolerate this for so long with no complaints and no suspicions? She has no real incentive. Yes, it’s 'family', but she's carrying the entire load all the time, and despite living with her family for so long, she's evidently not got the first clue as to her status or to the internecine rift in her own family. So how is she a strong female character?

Beat ♪ up your ♫ girls regularly, ♪ if you ♫ want to ♪ be loved.♫

Forever is, in fact, an ass-backwards idea of a strong female character. Strong ≠ physically tough. It can include that, but the two are not equivalent sets. Rucka evidently doesn’t get this from what I've now read of his writing, so whence his rep for writing strong female characters? I don't know. Forever Carlyle is definitely a Mary Sue. She cannot fail. She can do no wrong. She has no vulnerabilities - except that she's not too smart.

Worse than this, she is a stereotypical "super-babe" - drawn as a superhero with rather improbable mutant dimensions and proportions, and she is almost literally put through the mill. Since when is a strong female character nothing more than an excuse to depict mindless and repeated violence against a woman? And she's not the only woman who appears in some state of undress either. Nothing new or revolutionary here....

Get your strong female characters half nekkid if possible (and it's always possible!).

I cannot recommend this comic and have no desire to read any more of this series or any more from Greg Rucka's pen. This one is nothing original, nothing interesting, nothing inventive, and the world makes no sense. The only thing strong about it is the distaste it leaves with me.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Whiteout by Greg Rucka

Title: Whiteout
Author: Greg Rucka
Publisher: Oni Press
Rating: WARTY!
Illustrated and lettered by Steve Lieber"

This is the second of three reviews of work by Greg Rucka. Whiteout is written by Rucka who has an article on strong female characters. Whiteout is also yet another really uninspired title as B&N's website shows - there is a over dozen stories with this title on their first page of results alone.

This is volume one of a graphic novel series. It was also made into a sorry excuse for a movie of the same name in 2009 starring Kate Beckinsale. Other than its title and the name of the lead character, the movie has nothing whatsoever to do with the graphic novel. That they even pretend it does by using the same title and main character's name is, in my opinion, nothing but a huge fraud. The novel is actually better than the movie, which is poor and is why I don't carry it in my movie review section, but that really doesn't say a whole heck of a lot about the novel.

The graphic novel is executed as really cheesy line-drawings, which were not that well done. It's like reading a comic strip in a newspaper - except one that's 164 pages long. I had a real problem in that the villain and one of the good guys looked the same to me. I was over 60% of the way into this before I realized that the two were different people - and they were not even of the same gender!

The action takes place in Antarctica, where a US marshal, exiled for some issue with her superior, is trying to track down a murderer. The story is readable; I didn't have any problem following it or finishing it, but it just wasn't any good.

Greg Rucka is a guy who has somehow become known for writing strong female characters, but I've now read two of his stories and I don't see anything special about either of them. In this novel, the main character is Carrie Stetko, the US marshal, who is later assisted by a female British agent (who doesn't even appear in the movie!). There seems to be a strong undercurrent of lesbian attraction going on between these two, which never goes anywhere. Maybe volume 2 pursues that, but I have no interest in reading another volume of this to find out.

Carrie isn't a bad character per se, but she's nothing special, memorable, endearing, or engaging. On a couple of occasions she's shown to be "tough" as exemplified by her being able to throw guys around, but that's not what people mean when they talk about strong female characters! Yes, it can include that, but there's much more to it than that. Other than that cheap-ass attempt at making her "strong", there was nothing about Carrie to recommend her. She wasn't particularly smart or inventive in her investigation, and she wasn't a brilliant cop by any means. The action scenes were pretty tired and lacking in interest.

There are some things which Rucka gets completely wrong. For example, he writes "Pome" when he means "Pommie" (an antiquated term to describe someone from Britain). There's an incident near the end when one of the good guys is being threatened with a gun, but the gun fails to fire because it's so cold that it froze the trigger, which in turn shattered rather than triggering anything. That struck me as too dumb for words. I mean, if it was cold enough to render steel that brittle, then it's sure as hell far too cold for people to be outside without full face protection (or even at all for that matter) as they were depicted here!

In short, I cannot recommend this novel, unless your taste in novels runs to the insipid, tame, pedestrian, and uninspired.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Alpha by Greg Rucka

Title: Alpha
Author: Greg Rucka
Publisher: Little Brown
Rating: WARTY!

Alpha is written by Greg Rucka who has an article on strong female characters, but you won't find any strong female characters here. All the females are appendages to the men, because this is a macho military man kind of a novel. After I read this, I decided that I probably had to visit the improbable characters populating his comic books to find out what he thinks a strong female character should be, and I wasn't impressed there, either.

This novel reads like a rip-off of a movie I saw some time ago about the take-over of a theme park by thieves or terrorists, but I cannot for the life of me recall its name. I guess it wasn't that great, huh?! I've searched on Amazon, on Netflix, and on the Internet, including IMDB, but I've failed to dig up the name of the movie I saw, and IMDB doesn't identify Rucka as the writer of such a movie or as a movie based on anything he wrote.

In this take, a terrorist threat aimed at the fictional Wilsonville theme park a thinly disguised Disney knock off, comes to the attention of government agencies, so Jad Bell, a master sergeant in some special forces outfit or other, is recruited as deputy safety director. Another of his team is working as a security employee. There is a third person, a CIA operative, also working there, but the park's management has no idea that it's a target, nor that there are undercover operatives implanted at the park.

When the terror does strike, it's in the form of a couple of dozen guys who set up a dirty bomb. It turns out they were hired by a US government politician who wanted to literally scare-up funds for defense, but the terrorists take that and run with it, and then demand that this same guy pay them over again what he already paid, otherwise they really will detonate this bomb. It's up to Bell and his team to rescue the hostages, take out the terrorists and defuse the bomb. In short, your standard macho bullshit.

The complication is that Bell's wife is in the park with his deaf daughter, taking a tour which magically happened to be on this self-same day, of course. The daughter, Anthea, does seem to be a strong woman, but she's marginalized, Bell's ex wife (it's always the ex in these stories, isn't it?) is a complete moron. In the first part of the novel, Bell pretty much outright begs her not to visit the park, but he can't tell her exactly why, and so this dip-shit chooses to completely ignore the advice of her terrorist-expert husband. Later in the story, she bitches him out about getting her into this and putting her daughter at risk! What a frickin' numb-skull!

Generally this novel is well-written and I certainly had no trouble maintaining interest in it, but once in a while there was a "Wait, what?" moment. At one point, Rucka writes, "...judders to a sudden, sharp stop." I'm not sure that makes sense. Judders is a word, although it's not one I like. The problem as I see it is that "judders" implies at least a small amount of time for said juddering to happen, which seems to be at odds with the "sudden, sharp stop" portion of the sentence. Maybe it's just me, but I would never have written that. It just sounds too weird to me.

I have no idea, even having read this novel, what the 'Alpha' title is all about, unless it describes the guy on the cover holding his gun like it's a loaded automatic metal dick....

So overall this was not quite a disaster, but neither was it anything memorable, new, inventive, or original and, as I said, it's strongly reminiscent, if not a rip-off, of that movie. So in short, I can't rate this as a worthy read. Others have done far more with less.