Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Dakota North Investigations - a Marvel Trade Paperback Collection

I have always, ALWAYS been a fan of comics with female leads. Wonder Woman. Batgirl. Ms. Marvel (back in the day - now Captain Marvel). She-Hulk (Savage, Sensational, and any others). Black Diamond. Ms. Tree. And, back in 1986, Marvel introduced a brand new title that caught my attention, and which I immediately picked up.

Dakota North Investigations.

Dakota North is a private investigator. She's tough as nails, with brains and beauty to match. In a lot of ways, she reminds me of Ms. Tree, the Max Allan Collins creation from the '80s - and, perhaps, Dakota North is Marvel's homage to Collins' book.  But, unlike Ms. Tree, Dakota North does not have a vibrant supporting cast. Other than her younger brother, the rest of Dakota's supporting cast only make brief appearances here and there and do not take an active role in her investigations as Ms. Tree's did.

In any event, the original series, which sadly lasted only five issues, introduces readers to Dakota, her younger brother Ricky, her father, her assistant Mad Dog, her somewhat love interest Amos, and the enigmatic Cleo. What begins as a simple bodyguard job for fashion designer Luke Jacobson turns into an international investigation, when Ricky becomes the unwitting pawn in an attempt to hide an experimental nerve gas from enemies who want to use it for nefarious purposes. When Ricky is kidnapped, Dakota chases down his kidnappers to Europe, and in a surprising turn of events, once the whole matter is resolved, it turns out her own father may very well have a connection to the woman manipulating events behind the scenes...

The art in the original series was a bit rough about the edges (Tony Salmons, who I was unfamiliar with at the time, and still am today...), but it worked with the story, keeping the fashion completely on the cutting edge (no pun intended). But, apparently readers in the late '80s just weren't ready for this kind of title, and after five short issues, the series came to end.  Personally, I thought this was end of Dakota. So, when Marvel Comics recently offered a trade paperback with way more pages than just five issues could account for, I had to check it out.  Having now read the further adventures of his hard-hitting private eye, I'm glad I did!  It seems Ms. North made the rounds throughout the Marvel universe after the demise of her own series.

From helping Spider-Man save Mary Jane from a killer targeting models in Web of Spider-Man, to lending some aid to the Power Pack children in tracking down a criminal who stole a hidden treasure. A brief appearance in a Wasp story didn't really amount to much, but a four-part story in Daredevil definitely caught my interest. Quite honestly, that four-part story, which involves Dakota trying to help prove that a man on death row is actually innocent. A heart-felt story, well-written, colored in reds and shadows to keep the mood very somber, and filled with several surprising twists (one of which includes Dakota's dear old dad!). It is this last story in the trade that makes me realize Dakota is still a very viable character and could easily make it in the market today (if Marvel would ever realize that not every book needs to be an X-Men, Spider-Man, or Avengers title).

All in all, this trade paperback was a book well-worth reading, and maybe someday Marvel will collect the other stories of Dakota North (because, of course, I went online and discovered Dakota made quite a few appearances throughout Marvel titles over the years) - I, for one, will definitely but it if they did!

RATING:  10 king-size red bulls out of 10 for reviving my interest in this lesser-known character and (hopefully) generating some new readers that could bring her back to life!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Flash - the YA Novel Book 3 - The Tornado Twins

So, with this book, we reach the end of the trilogy of Flash young adult novels written by Barry Lyga.  It has been a fun run (pun fully intended), and I love the way author Barry Lyga has incorporated not just characters from the TV show, but also characters from the DC Universe that have yet to appear in the show (such as Madame Xanadu, as well as others).  With this book, we get the conclusion to all of the threads that have been woven up to now - but the story only left me with one real question...

Why call the book The Tornado Twins?

There are definite spoilers ahead, so if you haven't read the book and don't want to be spoiled about what happens in the book, then stop reading now.  But for those of you who have read the book, or who simply don't mind having plot elements spoiled, then by all means - read on!

The Tornado Twins, Don and Dawn (last names conveniently not revealed for the sake of the story, but comic fans know exactly who they are...), greet Barry as he works to get to the year 6345 - but sadly only makes it to the 30th century. Now, with the book being titled The Tornado Twins, any reasonable reader would expect Don and Dawn to stick around, or at the very least, help Barry in his battle against Abra Kadabra, Hocus Pocus, and the other wannabe magicians. But no - the twins only appear in four chapters of the entire book, and that is simply to help Barry get from 2935 to 6345.  Seriously, that's it.  They serve no greater purpose than as a plot device to help Barry get into the far-flung future so he can defeat the villains.  So, explain to me how that warrants naming the book after them?

Aside from that, the story was the usual fun-fan-fare that is the world of the CW's The Flash.  Cisco creating tech. Team Flash taking down the bad guy (in this instance, Earthworm in the present). The Flash running to save the day, whether it be in the present or the distant future. Lots of fun references to comic fandom (the Cosmic Treadmill, which has yet to make its appearance in the TV show, as well as a cameo by Chuck Taine, who comic book fans know better as Bouncing Boy from the Legion of Super-Heroes!). And, of course, a huge climactic battle that seems unbeatable, until Barry slows down long enough to think it through and comes up with the perfect way to use the magicians' own powers against them, saving both the 64th century and the 21st century!

One interesting tidbit I discovered in this book, that I had not realized from the previous two books (or maybe I did and just forgot between readings) was that these stories are set in the original Flash timeline - in other words, this is the reality that would have existed had Barry not gone back in time and tried to save his mother (thus, creating the Flashpoint timeline). So, in this time, Caitlin is not Killer Frost (at least, not yet - she still could be, though); Cisco's brother is still alive; and all of the events following Flashpoint, such as Savatar, have never occurred. At first, I was a bit annoyed at this, but once I thought about it, I rather liked this divergence, as it allows Lyga to tell plenty of stories without worrying about whether or not it fits into the continuity of the ongoing television show.  Which means anything could happen, and anyone could appear!

(And, thankfully, I just discovered that this is not the end of the series - merely the end of the first trilogy!  The next book comes out in September of this year, and it is a crossover with Arrow!  I am definitely excited for that!)

RATING:  10 mysterious playing cards out of 10 for a more than satisfying conclusion to all the storylines started with book one and for keeping The Flash fun, light-hearted, and enjoyable.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Boystown, Season Three

And the drama continues with season three of Jake Biondi's Boystown...

Last season (or book, if you prefer) ended with Derek's secret love for Cole being played out for everyone to see ... Joyelle running out, Derek hot on her heels. Cole chasing after Derek. And Michael rushing to ensure nothing happens. But something did happen. The car Joyelle was getting ready to get into exploded! Who survived? Who made it away unscathed? And whose lives will be forever changed? And thus begins season three...

The Mancini/Ciancino feud grows worse as an investigation begins into who put a bomb inside of the car that nearly killed four not-so-innocent lives and did kill two innocent people. Derek and Joyelle find their lives forever changed with an unspeakable loss. But with Joyelle's memory of that night gone, will Derek be able to patch up his marriage and start again? And what about his relationship with Cole? Of course, how far will Tyler go to get his chance to be with Joyelle?

They are not the only ones affected by the car explosion. Keith is distraught about almost losing Michael - but that is nothing compared to the threat that looms in the form of Rachel Carson. She knows his deepest secret, and unless he does exactly what she says, he runs the risk of losing Michael anyway. But is keeping Michael worth the price?

Meanwhile, Emmett and Max are thrilled at the prospect of opening a restaurant together. And when Emmett's father dies, he has no interest whatsoever in being a part of the family business that has cost his family so much - but Derek and Justin are determined to keep their business out of the hands of the Ciacinos. The only problem is, Justin can't keep his hands off of Gino Ciacino. But can their Romeo/Juliet romance be enough to keep the two families from killing each other?

At the same time, Logan and Jacqueline must come to terms with the sight that they walked in on - Jesse and Ben in bed together. But who was playing who in that scenario? Logan turns to the bottle again and Jacqueline simply shuts everyone out. But Ben knows Jacqueline's secret - he knows who Jesse's father is. If she doesn't stay with him, he will reveal her secret, which will change the lives of her son and the man who sired him!

And let's not leave out Gino and Marco, and the secret that their aunt holds regarding the fourth Mancini brother - one who has a connection with their own mother! But, what happens when Marco intercepts a private message meant for Gino and discovers not only the identity of that fourth brother, but also the fact that he is right there under their very noses?!

Then, there's the introduction of Jensen Stone and Dustin Alexander, a new waiter and a new manager for Emmett and Max's new restaurant. Each of them has his own secret, and those secrets will no doubt come into play in coming books...

Mysteries abound! Who is the Mancini brother? Who is Jesse's father? And who is so determined to seek revenge that he will set up Emmett and Max's new restaurant to explode during a pre-opening benefit for Cole's mother and others fighting cancer?  Season three definitely has one heck of an explosive cliffhanger (pun fully intended!), for which I cannot wait for Season Four!

Biondi is by far a talented writer, and he has the perfect feel and format for a nighttime soap opera - there simply has to be a way to either get him writing a night soap, or turn this series into a soap opera!

RATING: 10 poisoned cups of coffee out of 10 for escalating the drama, resolving some stories, starting others, and keeping me wanting for more!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Doctor Who - The Secret in Vault 13

It's funny - I was never a fan of Doctor Who back in the '70s, when some American channels ran reruns of the Tom Baker episodes. I thought, even back then, they were cheesy and boring. So, I was surprised when the series returned in 2005 and I found that I liked it.  Although I still don't like the pre-Eccleston years, I have enjoyed the various series and incarnations of the Doctor since then. This newest Doctor, Jodi Whittaker, has really taken the Doctor and the show to entirely new ground, and the books that have come out recently about this 13th Doctor and her companions have been just as enjoyable as the show.

The Secret in Vault 13 is the first Doctor Who novel I have seen that is specifically aimed at a younger reading audience. What surprises me about this book, however, is not just that author David Solomons has captured the personality of each of the characters - no, what surprises me is that truly, there is no difference between this book for young adults and the regular books that come out for adults to read.  The story has the same amount of sci-fi wonder, the same amount of humor interjected throughout, and the same danger, evil villains, and high energy rescues that you find in the regular Doctor Who adventures.

Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. The adventure centers around the Genesis seed (which reminded me very much of the whole Genesis project from the second Star Trek movie...) and the planet where it is being held for safekeeping, along with the seeds of pretty much every other plant life that has ever existed. Just, in case, you know, some evil villain decides to wipe out all life in existence - then someone can use these seeds to recreate life. Of course, the fact that someone knows where this place is makes it dangerous. And danger is what the Doctor and her companions do best!

Solomons sends the Doctor and her companions on a fun quest to find the necessary keys that will unlock the door to the container where the Genesis seed is hidden. To a school where graduation means death. And to a garden in London where when you are invited to dinner, you are actually invited to BE dinner! Of course, the Doctor, Graham, Yaz, and Ryan are up for the challenge as they face a lying artificial intelligence and a giant mole who demands a sacrifice, as well as ... a potted plant?  Yes, I said that right - a potted plant who is out for revenge against Graham! I mean, let's face it: where else could you possibly read a story like this, except in Doctor Who?

By the time I finished this book, I felt like I had watched a fantastic episode of Doctor Who. Characterization was spot-on, the dangers and challenges were faced with bravery and logic, and the Doctor, in her usual style, outwitted the bad guys with her own special style of ingenuity. I know there are some fans out there who are not pleased with the idea that the Doctor has swapped genders and is now a woman, but quite frankly it's not the gender that makes the Doctor - it's the heart(s) that make the Doctor who and what (s)he is. And Solomons has without a doubt provided a story of the Doctor that will please just about any fan of the series.

Hope there are more books like this for young adults - I'll definitely read them!

RATING:  10 strands of unstoppable noughtweed out of 10 for branching out the world of Doctor Who for younger audiences!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Final Shadows - a Bishop Files Novel

I have been reading Kay Hooper's Bishop novels since 2000, when the first novels appeared in the bookstores (the "Shadow" trilogy). From the first book, I was hooked. I mean, seriously, what is there not to love about this series? A group of federal agents who happen to have psychic powers traveling the country to fight psychic killers and helping and recruiting other psychics, whether born that way or who develop powers after a traumatic incident. Most of the trilogies have been the Bishop Special Crime Unit series, but recently she has written and published a three-book series under the "Bishop Files" umbrella - basically, a series about some psychics who are not a part of Bishop's SCU team, nor are they a part of the Haven initiative; rather, they are their own group fighting a shadowy team of psychics with an unknown objective. Until now...

Final Shadows is the final book in this first Bishop Files trilogy. The main characters from the two previous books in this series (Sarah Gallagher and Tucker Mackenzie from The First Prophet, and John Brodie and Tasha Solomon from A Deadly Web) are brought together, along with Bishop and Miranda, as well as Murphy and the very interesting and very unique Pendragon (not going to spoil that one - you'll have to read it for yourself to believe it!). The time has come to bring the war to the shadow organization that has been manipulating things for years - an organization that has been kidnapping and experimenting on psychics. Men and woman around the country have been planning, and the time has finally arrived to take the fight to them.  To these - - dare I say it?






Yes, you read that right.  And yes, that's a huge spoiler if you haven't read the book, but quite frankly, I was thrown for a loop when the beings behind the shadow organization were revealed. For years, I've been enjoying these psychic mysteries, and while this Bishop Files trilogy is set apart from the regular SCU books, it is still in the same world and still has the connection to Bishop and his group. Thus, their entire world is now opened to the prospect that there are aliens living among them - aliens who look like people, act like people, talk like people, and who have been hard at work for decades, trying to figure out how psychic powers work so that they can create their own psychics to go back home and fight against an enemy that is destroying their home planet.

No, I am not making this up.  I wish I were.  This did not in any way feel like a logical conclusion for this trilogy, and the whole alien aspect came totally out of left field.  While I do enjoy some sci-fi series (the old Star Wars, pre-Disney; comic books; an occasional Star Trek), I much prefer more grounded reality mysteries, even those with a psychic twist. But throwing aliens into the mix for this concluding chapter just took me out of the story and kept me wondering what Hooper was thinking when she wrote this.  Heck, I can accept Pendragon much sooner than I can the whole alien abduction story.

I hope that this is the last time that any reference will be made to these aliens, and that Hooper will not be carrying over any elements from this trilogy into any of her future books.  I still have her third book in the "Dark" trilogy to read, so my fingers are crossed that maintains the regular psychic villains that have made her books work so well and be such enjoyable reads to date.

I guess after nearly 20 years, with just as many books in the series, I can't complain too much if one book out of the bunch isn't exactly up to part with the rest. And, ignoring the whole alien element, I did enjoy the interaction of the psychics, and I loved seeing Tasha and Brodie grow closer (and Brodie coming into his powers was a moment to cheer!).  The characterization in the book was definitely standard Hooper fare, so that was one saving grace for the book.

The book and the trilogy are now behind me, so time to move on to bigger and better things!

RATING:  5 screaming babies crying out in terror out of 10 for throwing a huge twist in the works, not just with the alien element, but with Pendragon as well!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Redlands, Volume One: Sisters by Blood

Sometimes I pick something up for no other reason that to support local artists, and other times because the subject matter or locale of the story hits home with me.  In the case of the first volume of Redlands, it is because the story is set in Florida (where I live), as well as the fact I purchased it at a locally owned bookstore in Key West (which happens to be owned by Judy Blume - yes, THAT Judy Blume). Plus, it didn't hurt that the story involved a coven of witches and a bit of horror...

That being said, it has taken me nearly a year to finally get around to reading the graphic novel, and I have to say - I could have waited longer. The story was not overly exciting, and quite frankly, although this first graphic novel collects issues 1 through 6, in those six issues, I don't feel like I really got to know any of the characters, or even feel any empathy with any of them. Which is a shame, because I really wanted to like this.

The premise of the book is that a group of witches, back in 1977, took over the town of Redlands, Florida, killing a number of people in the process. Flashforward to the present, where the town has pretty much become adjusted to the witches who run it - except for the maniacal killer who is painting the town red - literally! The writer tries to integrate some love interests into the story, as well as a young protege who is being protected by one of the witches. And, of course, with any group project, there is one who is no longer thrilled with the choices being made. Yet, the drama in the story feels forced and contrived, and it didn't feel natural. Plus, the several sex scenes throughout the book came across as very gratuitous and unnecessary to the story.

There's not really a whole lot else I can say about this one, without giving away what are meant to be major plot points. The art by Vanesa Del Rey is dark and moody, and while not exactly to my taste, I will say it definitely fits the tone of the story. There is definitely blood, gore, violence, sex, and full nudity (both female and male), so by far, this is not a graphic novel for children. And, since the book ends on a cliffhanger moment, I'm assuming there may be additional volumes in the series out there. I, though, will not be looking for them.

I suppose you can't win them all, and while I have been fortunate over the years to have lucked upon some great stories in the independent graphic novels and comics that I have picked up, sooner or later that luck runs out, and it clearly did with this one.  Ah, well, you never know until you try, eh?  Besides, some other readers may enjoy the story more than I did.

RATING:  3 burning houses out of 10 for taking a chance with a non-super-hero, non-male-centric comic story.