Saturday, December 26, 2015

Top 20 Comics of 2015

These are my favorite comics of 2015, including manga, superheroes, graphic novels, reprints, etc. I try to be as true to how I feel about a book as possible when ranking them, which is why it may seem odd for some to see a superhero title hardly anyone read rank over an acclaimed graphic novel. If I enjoyed my experience of reading it more, it was placed higher on my list.

These are my favorite twenty comics of the year. I hope you enjoy my list, and hopefully check out some books that may have eluded you.

Honorable Mentions
Baba Yaga's Assistant (Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll)
Harrow County (Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook)
Junji Ito's Cat Diaries: Yon and Mu (Junji Ito)
One-Punch Man (ONE and Yusuke Murata)
Princess Ugg (Ted Naifeh)

20. The Legend of Zelda: A Link To the Past (Shotaro Ishinomori) - I subscribed to Nintendo Power growing up, so I have fond memories of the comics that ran in the magazine, including this classic from master Shotaro Ishinomori, creator of manga such as Cyborg 009.  Based on the Super Nintendo game of the same name, this is a lovingly-illustrated, frantically-paced story full of hideous monsters and plenty of action.

19. Spider-Woman (Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez) - Only a few issues of this new Marvel title are out, but it's already one of my favorite superhero comics.  The fantastic artwork, complete with bright colors and clean lines, compliments the exciting action that Hopeless injects into this story that sees Jessica Drew juggling pregnancy with being a hero.  Training a new team of heroes, and thwarting the plans of skrulls, Jessica Drew proves that she's still a force to be reckoned with, despite her delicate condition.

18. Moose (Max de Radigues) - Shy high schooler Joe is bullied terribly by another boy in his class, and escapes his oppressive life by enjoying nature.  This is a quiet, beautiful book with quite an unexpected turn of events that leads to a morally ambiguous ending.

17. Planet Hulk (Sam Humphries and Marc Laming) - In Battle World, there is a land ruled by hulks that the rest of the world fears, and with good reason, as it is a barbaric place where only the strong survive.  Good thing that Steve Rogers has been hardened by life as a gladiator.  Together with his trusted partner, Devil Dinosaur, Steve navigates the land that tries its best to eat him, in an effort to save a lost friend.  Laming's artwork is lush and vibrant, and perfectly captures the action and danger of Humphries' story.  And it's Steve Rogers with a t-rex, for Pete's sake!

16. Ms. Marvel (G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona) - Kamala Khan continues to entertain as a Muslim inhuman who protects her hometown of Jersey City from the many evils that threaten it.  Kamala is a well-rounded character who actually acts like a teenager, full of contradictions and whiny moments, but is also brave and selfless when she needs to be.  This is a bright superhero romp full of teenage angst and secret identities that brings to mind some of the best of its predecessors.

15. Just So Happens (Fumio Obata) - The beautiful watercolors of Obata's work captures the quiet story of a woman returning home perfectly.  During an especially trying return to her hometown in Japan, Yumiko contemplates her life, her past and her connection with Japan, while surrounded with the expectations of her family and the life waiting for her back in London.

14. Doctor Strange (Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo) - This team was made for a book such as this.  Bachalo's stylized artwork coupled with Aaron's sharp storytelling make this book about a sorcerer wielding powerful magic and battling creatures of darkness, the best book currently coming out from Marvel.  It's bizarre, funny, action-packed and full of mystery and wonder.  I've never really had much interest in Doctor Strange, but this is certainly making me look at the mystical side of Marvel in a new light.

13. Gotham Academy (Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan and Karl Kerschl) - Set in the Batman universe, Gotham Academy is a prep school full of hidden motives and monsters, secret passageways and ghosts.  The very Gothic atmosphere is seen through the eyes of Olive Silverlock, whose past is shrouded in as much mystery as the school itself (and who is constantly playing Nancy Drew and getting into general mischief).  This book sucks you in to its murky pages and leaves you wanting more.

12. Angel and Faith: Season Ten (Victor Gischler and Cliff Richards) - Angel and Faith protect Magic Town from all sorts of evil threats, including those from Angel's past.  Gischler writes the characters perfectly, while Richards draws the hell out of them.  This is a consistently high-quality book that continues to see its characters evolve with the ever-changing universe they live in.

11. Nimona (Noelle Stevenson) - Nimona has become the apprentice of the supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart, but soon finds that the rules of the superhero game and the motives of those involved aren't exactly what she expected.  Funny and unexpectedly tender at times, Nimona is a fun book with a lot of heart.

10. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer: Season Ten (Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs) - The relationships between Buffy's supporting cast is put to the test in this season's Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.  With tough vampires and demons thrown into the mix, this is a high stakes adventure comic.  Gage and Isaacs have proven that their amazing Angel and Faith run last season wasn't a fluke, as they bring the funny and tense action to Buffy and friends.

9. Master Keaton (Naoki Urasawa) - Insurance investigator and former member of the SAS, Taichi Hiraga Keaton uses his wits to Macguyver his way out of bad situations and uncover nefarious plots in this early work from the master of suspense Naoki Urasawa.  This captivating manga is engrossing and full of mystery and action, and illustrated in stunning, painstaking detail.

8. Captain Ken (Osamu Tezuka) - As long as the Osamu Tezuka translations continue to come to America, I will continue to buy them.  This is another amazing manga from the master, with the top-notch cartooning we've come to expect to see from him.  Captain Ken puts a stop to scoundrels on Mars, while sympathizing with the Martians under the Earthlings' tyrannical rule, in this western/science fiction/fantasy.  And he may have a connection to the beautiful girl who arrived on Mars around the same time.  Funny, tragic, breath-taking and dramatic, Tezuka has flawlessly blended the elements of different genres to create something wholly unique and unexpected.

7. The Valiant (Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt and Paolo Rivera) - This self-contained mini-series that brings together characters from Valiant Entertainment is my favorite superhero comic of the year.  Bloodshot and the Eternal Warrior protect the reincarnated Geomancer as she learns to utilize her powers, while The Immortal Enemy attempts to kill her, as he has done several times in the past.  The villain is unstoppable and the stakes are high in this amazing comic that is hard to put down.  The Immortal Enemy is genuinely scary; the horror in this comic very effective.  The action is clear, and the art is detailed and clean, thanks to Rivera, who translates Lemire's and Kindt's dark vision to perfection.  With unexpected twists and turns, this is everything a reader could want in a superhero comic.

6. Gunnerkrigg Court (Volume 5): Refine (Thomas Siddell) - The latest volume of Gunnerkrigg Court sees Antimony and her friends continue to evolve in a magical world of beasts and robots, alongside Siddell's stellar artwork.  There's a nice balance here of quiet character moments and heated action, continuing to secure its place as one of the best comics out there.

5. Descender (Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen) - This science fiction comic about robots is very imaginative.  It specifically follows a robot that looks like a little boy, TIM-21, who is being hunted by bounty hunters, and may have some connections to some scary technology.  There's a great cast of characters with varied motives, a mysterious cataclysmic event that occurred in the past, and some stunning watercolor artwork from Nguyen.  Lots of action and a real sense of wonder.

4. Frontier #7 (Jillian Tamaki) - Frontier features a different cartoonist each issue, and the seventh issue, featuring Jillian Tamaki, blew me away.  It's done in a documentary style that chronicles an internet phenomenon, some eerie music/sounds from SexCoven.  Its origins are mysterious, and the trances it supposedly puts people in, and the effect it has on people, is downright chilling.  This comic is just a really cool, creepy concept, and in other hands, it would not have been as effective.  It really does seem like this cult thing that could have blown up, with some people dismissing it, and others becoming obsessed.  The ideas here are inspired, and Tamaki really showcases her skills as a storyteller in a big way.

3. SuperMutant Magic Academy (Jillian Tamaki) - And more Jillian Tamaki.  This collection of Tamaki's webcomic features an oddball mix of teenagers dealing with angst and authority, while adjusting to their unique magical powers.  This is mostly a series of vignettes, but leads to a satisfying story that ties up loose ends.  This comic is really all about the characters and how they interact with one another.  It's funny, heartfelt and very honest about adolescence.  It also has magic, so there's some crazy stuff going on, but the result is a lovely comic about teenagers trying to figure out who they are.

2. Killing and Dying (Adrian Tomine) - Adrian Tomine is no stranger to acclaim - in fact, he had my favorite comic of 2007 with his powerful graphic novel Shortcomings.  His latest is a collection of six stories, mostly from his Optic Nerve series.  Many of the stories are about people struggling to find themselves, and while each are very different from one another, they are all terrific and most of them are quite moving.  Tomine has a way of capturing moments in a way that make them feel genuine, and you kind of can't help but feel a real connection to his work.  Whether struggling to be taken seriously as an artist, or fumbling through an abusive relationship, these stories are powerful.  My favorite story in this collection is "Amber Sweet," about a girl in college who wonders if it's her imagination that people are talking about her, until she discovers a porn actress who looks almost exactly like her, throwing her world into a tailspin of self-doubt and embarrassment.  Tomine gets a lot of things right with his work - characters, pacing, dialogue - and he draws it all with a confident hand.
1. The Wicked + The Divine (Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie) - Gods are reincarnated every ninety years for two short years in The Wicked + The Divine, which sees gods from various pantheons demonstrating their abilities for the masses of the modern world.  Gillen manages to make the type of story we've heard before into something completely fresh and inventive, with imaginative storylines, screwed-up characters, and pop culture commentary.  McKelvie's art has never looked better, utilizing a colorful palate for these gods to come to life in all of their destructive, self-absorbed glory.  It's no secret that I've been a fan of these two creators for years now, and they have really outdone themselves with this fantastic series.  It's been a long time since I've been so engrossed in a mainstream comic as when I read through the second collected volume in particular, with its twists and turns, petty rivalries, and moments that literally made my jaw drop in shock.  This is a spectacular comic, and was the most exciting book I read all year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Check out a Q&A session I had with Library Journal here, where I discuss Yokai, the inspiration for my works and self-publishing.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

YA Pioneers: Nicholas Adams

YA may have blown up over the past decade, but it used to be a small section of bookstores.  In the early nineties, it consisted mostly of "teen thrillers," which mostly featured dark mysteries and serial killers, although there was some supernatural fare as well.  The authors of those days were ahead of their time and built an audience in teenagers, and paved the way for the YA that is beloved by so many today.

Many YA writers were established in other genres before venturing into YA, but used pseudonyms.  An adult romance author, for example, would clearly want to distance herself from horror novels aimed at teenagers, and could adopt a different pen name to do so.  Sometimes, the reasons behind pseudonyms aren't so obvious.

YA Pioneers

Nicholas Adams is a curious case.  It's actually a pen name that was created by Daniel Weiss Associates that was used by several authors to write teen thrillers during the 90's. 

Clay Coleman was the first author to use the pen name, in 1990, to kick off a series for HarperPrism, with the novel Mr. Popularity.  The series, Horror High, would continue for several volumes and would cite "in the tradition of R.L. Stine" to entice readers (that, and a $1.99 special introductory price).  The series followed students from Cresswell High School as they tried to avoid being murdered by various killers.  Clay Coleman would continue to write Horror High novels for four additional installments, the books published at a rapid monthly pace, before his run ended with Sudden Death, whereupon other authors took over.  Bruce Fretts wrote Sudden Death (Horror High #6), Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald wrote Pep Rally (Horror High #7) and Sherwood Smith wrote Final Curtain (Horror High #8) in 1991, whereupon the series would take a three year hiatus before returning in 1994.  Later books donning the Nicholas Adams name would cite Horror High as a bestselling series, so they were very successful.  When Horror High returned to bookstore shelves three years after "Nicholas Adams" ended his run, it was taken up by Nigel Robinson, who would pen seven more books in the series, beginning with Symphony of Terror in 1994.

Most of these authors had success outside of Horror High, where they dropped the Nicholas Adams pseudonym, with perhaps the exception of Bruce Fretts, who I can not find any other listing for.  Clay Coleman wrote six books in the Escape From Lost Island series between 1990 and 1991.  Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald have written many fantasies and mysteries and won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature in 1992 for Knight's Wyrd.  And Sherwood Smith has had plenty of success in the fantasy genre, writing for Fantasy Realm Magazine, as well as various series, such as Exordium, a continuation of L. Frank Baum's Oz series, and the Wren books.  Smith's "Mom and Dad at the Home Front" was a finalist for the Nebula Award for Best Short Story.

Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald would also write more YA in the form of the werewolf book Bad Blood in 1994.  They would publish two other books in the series over the next year, through Berkley.  They would return to HarperPrism and the Nicholas Adams pen name for one final novel, 1994's Vampire's Kiss, as well as the novella Blood Brothers, which was included in the book 3 Times the Fear, alongside stories by Bebe Faas Rice and Mark Sumner.

John Peel would be the next author to take on the pen name of Nicholas Adams after Horror High, writing I.O.U. for HarperPrism in 1991.  The book would be published in the U.K. as part of HarperCollins' Nightmares line, which was an attempt to compete with Scholastic's highly successful Point Horror line.  I.O.U. is named a bestseller on covers of later books.  Peel would go on to pen Horrorscope for the Nightmares line, while the 3 Times the Fear anthology book would be included in the line as well.  Santa Claws, which John Peel wrote in 1991, would not be included in the Nightmares line.

John Peel would also go on to write several more teen thrillers as John Peel, beginning with Talon in 1993.  In 1995, Peel launched a new series, beginning with Dances with Werewolves.  The series, Tombstones, would only last two volumes, however.  Peel has otherwise had a successful career writing novelizations for franchises such as Dr. Who, The Outer Limits and Star Trek, as well as middle grade fiction, like the Diadem: Worlds of Magic series, 2099, and installments of Are You Afraid of the Dark? 

Nicholas Adams YA titles

Mr. Popularity (Horror High #1) (1990)
Resolved: You're Dead (Horror High #2) (1990)
Heartbreaker (Horror High #3) (1991)
New Kid on the Block (Horror High #4) (1991)
Hard Rock (Horror High #5) (1991)
Sudden Death (Horror High #6) (1991)
Pep Rally (Horror High #7) (1991)
Final Curtain (Horror High #8) (1991)
I.O.U. (1991)
Santa Claws (1991)
Horrorscope (1992)
Vampire's Kiss (1994)

Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald YA titles

Bad Blood (Bad Blood #1) (1994)
Hunters' Moon (Bad Blood #2) (1994)
Judgment Night (Bad Blood #3) (1995)

John Peel YA titles

Talons (John Peel) (1993)
Shattered (John Peel) (1993)
Poison (John Peel) (1994)
Maniac (John Peel) (1995)
Dances with Werewolves (Tombstones #1) (John Peel) (1995)
The Last Drop (Tombstones #2) (John Peel) (1995)

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Best in Music 2015

The following are my favorite songs and albums of 2015, a fantastic year in music.

10 Best Albums of 2015

1. Till It's All Forgotten by Farao - This folk-pop album is stunning.  Farao isn't afraid to experiment with sound, and the result is a slew of mesmerizing melodies that hypnotize your senses and make you feel the music.

Key Tracks: Hunter, Warriors, Silence

2. Liberman by Vanessa Carlton - Deceptively simple, Carlton's sound draws you in with its haunting melodies, strings and piano.  The sound is refined, sophisticated and ultimately, makes you want to put this on repeat.

Key Tracks: Take It Easy, House of Seven Swords, Operator

3. The Desired Effect by Brandon Flowers - A love letter to 80's music, Flowers has devised an album full of catchy pop sounds that dare you to sing along.  Full of energy and life.

Key Tracks: Can't Deny My Love, I Can Change, Between Me and You

4. Delirium by Ellie Goulding - Goulding's raspy voice dominates this album full of awesome dance music.  Littered with unique sounds, interesting melodies and haunting vocals, Goulding's latest offering is another mark of quality for the impressive singer.

Key Tracks: Keep On Dancin', Holding on for Life, Winner

5. Honeymoon by Lana Del Rey - Lana croons her heart out in Honeymoon, with her trademark dark lyrics tainting her honey-sweet voice.  Despite only a year since her last full album, she manages to create lineup of haunting tunes that gets under our skin.

Key Tracks: Music To Watch Boys To, High By the Beach, Art Deco

6. Love Stuff by Elle King - With her raspy, smoky voice, Elle King belts out the alternative-country-pop songs that dominate this record, commanding attention.  The songs can be sultry when she wants them to be, and also very folksy, resulting in a great mix of sounds unique to King.

Key Tracks: Ex's & Oh's, America's Sweetheart, Ain't Gonna Drown

7. E-MO-TION by Carly Rae Jepsen - Jepsen has proven that she can craft some extremely catchy pop songs, so any fears of her becoming a one-hit wonder have been put to bed with this album chalk-full of quality pop music.

Key Tracks: Run Away With Me, I Really Like You, Warm Blood

8. The Day I Died (Single) by Alex Winston - While technically a single, this has three songs on it, which rivals what some EPs contain, and these songs are top-notch.  Frankly, with the quality I see here, this could have climbed much higher on this list if there had been more songs available.  Alex Winston can croon haunting melodies as well as fast-paced 80's-inspired pop with the best of them, and surely has a bright future ahead.

Key Tracks: The Day I Died, Down Low, Dead End

9. L.O.V.E. by Lindsay Perry - Apparently Apple can't decide how to classify this album, as it showed up in Jazz, then Blues, before settling into Pop.  Not that it's hard to see why - these catchy tunes have a smokiness to them, simplified by Perry's gravely voice.  In the end, this is a beautiful, unique sound that I want to hear more of.

Key Tracks: Slow Creepin', Fabric, Don't Let Me Leave

10. Confident by Demi Lovato - Lovato's latest proves that she's more confident than ever.  Her vocals have never sounded so strong, her music so bold.  This is just a great pop album full of great dance tunes and power ballads.

Key Tracks: Cool for the Summer, Wildfire, Stars

Honorable Mentions
BADLANDS by Halsey
Fingerprint EP by Kita Klane
Home by Dustin Tebbutt
Hourglass by Emily Hearn
Pagans in Vegas by Metric

30 Best Songs of 2015

1. Ex's and Oh's by Elle King - With her smoky voice and cheeky lyrics, Elle King has crafted the best song of the year.  Full of spunk, King rocks out in this song, belting out a chorus that won't be ignored.

2. I Can Change by Brandon Flowers - With an 80's flare, Flowers created a pop song that feels exuberant.  Polished to perfection, this is one solid, feel-good song.

3. Warriors by Farao - Man, this is a beautiful song.  It's full of unique sounds, but also somehow manages to sound organic.  A stunning accomplishment.

4. Cascades by Metric - A fantastic electronic sound, complete with a voice distorted to the point to almost sounding like a robot, makes this interesting, but beyond that, it's also a brilliant song with a real kinetic energy.

5. Here by Alessia Cara - This relatable song about feeling out of place at a party has a momentum that's hard to ignore, coupled with clever lyrics that make this a real force to be reckoned with.

6. Sparks by Hilary Duff - After being absent form the music scene for years, Duff needed quite the standout song to make her comeback, and she didn't disappoint.  This pop song is one of the catchiest in years, with a great whistling portion of the refrain that will have you whistling right along.

7. Look What We've Become by Grace Potter - Nobody rocks out like Grace Potter, and she does it spectacularly in this powerful song.

8. Delilah by Florence + The Machine - This song has a slow opening that hints at what's to come, but nothing can prepare you for the frenzied chorus that carries you along with it.

9. Operator by Vanessa Carlton - Boasting some brutally honest lyrics, this song has a beautiful, haunting sound that's both catchy and refined.

10. The Shade by Metric - An electrifying song with a great build up to the refrain, this is a stand-out song for any album, even if I picked another song for its better on this list.

11. Soap by Melanie Martinez - I love when unique songs can be incorporated into songs to enhance them, and Martinez has proven to be the queen of this skill on her album Cry Baby, this song easily the standout, with its bubbles popping in wake of the chorus.

12. Earned It by Madilyn Bailey - This slow burner is dripping with atmosphere and emotion.

13. Cool for the Summer by Demi Lovato - A great, danceable pop song that dominated the summer.

14. Cinnamon by Josh Herbert - This is a sexy, summery song that has a great energy to it.

15. FOOLS by Troye Sivan - This dreamlike song has a great sound that made me play it on repeat constantly.

16. Written In the Water by Gin Wigmore - With her gravelly voice, Wigmore rocks out in this catchy song.

17. Up by Olly Murs (featuring Demi Lovato) - This is a great feel-good song that builds toward a great chorus.

18. Tuxedo by Clare Dunn - Usually I find more to like in country music in any given year (there was a time where it was basically all I listened to), but songs that stand out are harder and harder to find in the genre.  Luckily, Clare Dunn has crafted a fantastic country song, so she represents on this list.  Sassy, with a great refrain and fun lyrics, this is a song with crossover appeal.

19. Golden by Michelle Chamuel - A sunny song with impressive vocals.

20. Fingerprints by Kita Klane - A sexy song that has a dangerous feel to it that's divine.

21. High By the Beach by Lana Del Rey - A seductive, lazy song that feels like summer.

22. Blue Skies by Lenka - I like that Lenka's songs are always so positive and sunny, and this song pretty much personifies that energy that she brings to her music.

23. Propaganda by Kat Vinter - Impossible to stop singing that refrain once you've heard it a few times.

24. Room by Liza Anne - A haunting song that sort of has the feel of a memory, with lyrics that sync beautifully with the fluid sound.

25. Run Away With Me by Carly Rae Jepsen - Another fantastic pop song that's hard to get our of your head, from Ms. Jepsen.

26. Mine by Phoebe Ryan - I like the breathy voice that Ryan uses in this catchy pop song.

27. Me & the Rhythm by Selena Gomez - Selena has proven she can churn out some great dance tunes, and her latest album doesn't disappoint, especially when it comes to this gem.

28. Home by Dustin Tebbutt - A quiet song that grows more powerful and lovely with every listen.

29. Eupohoria by FMLYBND - A song that's great fun, with a chorus that just sort of bursts with joy.

30. Sleep Peacefully by Lily Kershaw - A beautiful ballad, simple and pared back, set to strings.

Honorable Mentions
Bodyache by Purity Ring
Clay by HANA
I Can Be Somebody by Erin McCarley
Water Under the Bridge by Adele
What a Broken Heart Feels Like by Striking Matches

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Grading the All-New, All-Different Marvel: Round Two

Here are more books from the All-New, All-Different Marvel, and how they stack up.

All-New, All-Different Avengers #1
Mark Waid, Mahmud Asrar and Adam Kubert

Miles Morales stumbles upon something he shouldn't have in the first issue of the new flagship Avengers book, and craziness ensues.  While we don't get to see how all of the players fit into this title, it's an interesting group, to say the least, and there's a great exchange between Nova and Ms. Marvel that hints at how these characters are going to interact.  Very fun.

Grade: A-

Angela, Queen of Hel #1
Marguerite Bennett, Stephanie Hans and Aaron Kim Jacinto

This sounds like it would be a really exciting book with a cool premise.  Unfortunately, it's pretty forgettable.  The art is, well, a little too 90's for my tastes, and the battles murky.  For some reason, I keep thinking that Angela should be a lot cooler than she's portrayed in Bennett's interpretation of her.  The ideas are there, but the character herself is a little too wishy-washy.  She was portrayed as a force of nature in Guardians of Knowhere, and that's kind of how I see her.  Angela's own series have just left me frustrated.

Grade: D+

Extraordinary X-Men #1
Jeff Lemire and Humberto Ramos

The first issue of this new X-Men series gathers the mutants together in a story that feels how a classic run of X-Men should feel.  Magik is, as usual, a cool bad-ass.  Storm is striking as leader.  The original Jean Grey is an interesting addition, even if she doesn't really want to be there.  It'll be interesting to see how things come together, but the introduction of this team has been very enjoyable, and that's how a comic should be.

Grade: B+

Hercules #1
Dan Abnett and Luke Ross

Hercules may have the powers of a god, but he also takes the time to help a kid whose sister is acting strange.  Hercules is his typical arrogant self in this new title, and has a mysterious roommate, who is sure to play a big role in future issues.  The art is solid and the action is clear and thrilling, but at this point, the stakes just aren't very high, and for a god, I need some high stakes to make me feel any real sense of danger.

Grade: C

Howling Commandoes of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1
Frankie J. Barbiere and Brent Schoonover

The new Howling Commandoes, led by Dum-Dum, consists of various monsters of the Marvel Universe in a Thunderbolts-type of set-up.  They're under lock and key when they aren't in the field.  The players include Man-Thing, Werewolf By Night and Hit Monkey, working for the S.H.I.E.L.D. group S.T.A.K.E., Supernatural Threat Analysis and Kill Experts.  It's fun to see these Marvel monsters go at it in the field, and the premise is cool, but the first story was underwhelming.  That's not necessarily a bag thing, since they had to introduce a lot of characters and their powers.  The threat they face here is a little different at least, but hopefully the threats will be bigger and badder in upcoming issues.

Grade: B-

Illuminati #1
Joshua Williamson and Shawn Crystal

The Hood collects supervillains for a new team of bad guys in Illuminati, which is awesome in itself, but Williamson goes about introducing the concept in an interesting way as well.  We see this first issue mostly through the eyes of Titania, who is trying to start a new leaf, aided by She-Hulk.  Unfortunately for Titania, things don't go her way and she is blamed for things beyond her control, even when the heroes show up.  And then The Hood shows up to make her an offer she can't refuse.  This first issue is great, and with the interesting way that the first issue was crafted, I have high hopes for this series.

Grade: B+

Ultimates #1
Al Ewing and Kenneth Rocafort

An odd group of characters get showcased in the new Ultimates book.  Black Panther and Captain Marvel are the big names, with America Chavez, Spectrum (formerly Captain Marvel) and Blue Marvel.  We get to see how their teamwork works in this first issue that introduces the team nicely, along with the sort of omniversal threats they will be facing throughout the series.  It was a well-executed intro, but for some reason, it still left me a little cold.  Beautiful art, nice action, but perhaps these extremely powerful characters needed to be a little more grounded.  Still, it was plenty fun.

Grade: B

Monday, November 16, 2015

Grading the All-New, All-Different Marvel: Round One

Secret Wars is not over, but the delays haven't kept Marvel from launching their new books in the All-New, All-Different Marvel.  Here is how the first wave of books rate...

Doctor Strange #1-2
Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo

Well, this is a match made in heaven.  Jason Aaron is a writer bursting with creativity, and Chris Bachalo has a beautiful art style well-suited for the, well, strange.  This new Doctor Strange title really illustrates why this character is so much fun, with weird magic, mischievous demons, and cool characters.  This is the Doctor Strange book people have been waiting for.

Grade: A+

Guardians of the Galaxy #1
Brian Michael Bendis and Valerio Schiti

Star-Lord may be MIA, running a kingdom and all, but Kitty Pryde takes his place in a book that captures the spirit of the best Guardians of the Galaxy stories. With Rocket in charge, and The Thing joining the rag-tag team of heroes, this feels like a fresh start to the series. There's a fun dynamic between the characters here, with plenty of action and questions to keep readers on their toes. 

Grade: A-

Karnak #1
Warren Ellis and Gerardo Zaffino

Warren Ellis returns to Marvel Comics to take on the inhuman Karnak, who has the ability to see the flaws in things, which he then usually exploits to his advantage.  The mysterious inhuman is aiding S.H.I.E.L.D. with inhuman problems in this new book, when he's not watching over The Tower of Wisdom.  Karnak is appropriately portrayed as cold and practical, and is rather scary.  Ellis writes this book with confidence, and Zaffino captures its mood perfectly with his pencils.

Grade: A

Uncanny Avengers #1
Gerry Duggan and Ryan Stegman

Inhumans are thrown into the mix in this new version of Uncanny Avengers, blending Avengers and X-Men characters.  Uncanny Avengers has been a top book of creative talent in the past, until this new iteration, and boy, does it show.  The art is competent, but utterly average,  The story focuses too hard on trying to convince readers that an old Captain America and Deadpool are cool.  Characters with interesting stories previously, such as Rogue, are wasted on dull subplots.  There's just no innovation here and it feels sloppily executed at that.

Grade: D-

Uncanny Inhumans #1
Charles Soule, Brandon Peterson and Steve McNiven

With this creative team, you already know going in that it's going to look amazing.  It's also a great take on the inhumans, mixing things up with Beast, Johnny Storm and Kang the Conquerer.  This book opens with an intriguing scene of Blackbolt leading a group of inhumans through time to try to locate his son, and puts his team in danger as Kang gets involved, trying to thwart them.  Reader is a cool new inhuman that's been thrown into the mix, and there are plenty of twists to shake things up.  This is already shaping up to be a great new chapter for the royal family.

Grade: B+

Thursday, November 12, 2015


I'm very excited to announced that "Yokai" is the winner for Fantasy in Library Journal's Self-Published Ebook Awards! 

I never expected any sort of recognition for "Yokai," especially when I submitted to this contest.  I guess when you hear so many "no's" in this industry and people don't respond the way you expect to something you've poured your blood, sweat and tears into, you just get used to rejection.  When I saw some notifications on Twitter a few hours ago, I saw tweets announcing the winners to Library Journal's Self-Published Ebook Awards, with my name attached to them.  And then, I clicked the link and sure enough, "Yokai" was listed as the winner for Fantasy, selected by a volunteer committee of librarians.  Just the fact that people who have dedicated their lives to books, to surrounding themselves with books and opening new worlds to the people who enter their sanctuaries, found themselves enjoying "Yokai" is fantastic.  That they bestowed such an honor to "Yokai" - naming it the best in Fantasy - I don't even have the words to convey my appreciation.  It is a true honor.  Check out the announcement and list of winners and runners-up here.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Top 100 Horror Movies

The Descent (2006)

The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Ring (2002)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The Exorcist (1973)
The Shining (1980)
Black Sunday (La Maschera del demonio) (1960)
Halloween (1978)
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
I Walked With a Zombie (1943)
The Haunting (1963)
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Jaws (1975)
Scream (1996)
Alien (1979)
John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)
The Evil Dead (1979)
Hellraiser (1987)
Night of the Demons (1989)
Aliens (1986)
Psycho (1960)
Funny Games (1998)
Friday the 13th (2009)
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Inferno (1978)
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1987)
The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)
Scream 2 (1997)
Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
Dracula (1931)
The Cat and the Canary (1927)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
Nosferatu (eine Symphonie des Grauens) (1922)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Godzilla (Gojira) (1954)
Cabin In the Woods (1998)
28 Weeks Later (2007)
Hostel (2006)
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Onibaba (1964)
The Wolf Man (1941)
Diabolique (1955)
Frankenstein (1931)
Gremlins (1984)
Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
Poltergeist (1982)
Pet Sematary (1989)
High Tension (Switchblade Romance) (2005)
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
The Unnameable (1988)
It Follows (2015)
Under the Skin (2013)
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Audition (2001)
Crimson Peak (2015)
Broken (2009)
Let the Right One In (2008)
The Mummy (1932)
The Awakening (2011)
Pumpkinhead (1988)
The Orphanage (2007)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Wolf Creek (2005)
Inside (2007)
Martyrs (2008)
30 Days of Night (2007)
The Fly (1958)
Creepshow (1982)
Misery (1990)
Paranormal Activity (2007)
Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Subspecies (1991)
Baron Blood (1972)
Scream 4 (2011)
Daughters of Darkness (1971)
The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
Suspiria (1977)
Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)
The Strangers (2008)
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
The Babadook (2014)
The Uninvited (1944)
Black Sabbath (1963)
The Birds (1963)
The Innocents (1961)
The Conjuring (2013)
The Grudge (2004)
Puppet Master (1989)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Oculus (2013)
Slither (2006)
Insidious (2010)
Sleepaway Camp (1983)