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Archive for April, 2011

Book Review- Patient Zero

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the things I love about my job as a writer for Comic Book Resources is that it puts me in touch with a lot of cool and creative people. It also has introduced me to the work of a lot of fabulous prose novelists who go on to pen comics. My CBR work introduced me to the novels of Richard K Morgan, and Charlie Huston. It also introduced me to the work of another writer whose quickly becoming another one of my favorites, Jonathan Maberry.

In his work on comics like “Black Panther” and the one-shot “Punisher MAX: Naked Kill” Maberry showed he could write tough and charismatic men and women. From there I went on to try his first novels, the “Pine Deep” horror trilogy. In that series of novels he showed he could write tough but believable characters fighting back against supernatural evil. It was an epic story for me it was almost a modern day horrific “Lord of the Rings.” So I was very curious to try Maberry’s latest series of prose novels starring Joe Ledger, an ex-soldier turned cop who gets recruited to fight techno terror. I just finished the first novel “Patient Zero,” and I’m happy to say I enjoyed it. It read like a mash up of the best elements of the TV series “24” and the video game series “Resident Evil.”

“Patient Zero” begins with Ledger, in his final days as a cop, participating in a raid in a warehouse suspected of terrorist activity. He displays courage, cunning, and incredible combat skills. Several days later a shadowy government agency called the Department of Military Sciences picks up Joe and puts him in the same room as one of the terrorists from the warehouse raid. The problem is though that Joe killed that terrorist during the raid. The terrorist has now risen from the dead as a zombie thanks to a mysterious plague.

The head of the DMS, the enigmatic Mr. Church, offers Joe a position with the agency and after a moment of reluctance he accepts. The hunt then begins for the source of the plague and the terrorists behind it before they release it and destroy society. It’s a fun and exciting story that’s incredibly well paced and full of well choreographed action scenes. Admittedly in the early part of the book there were some slow scenes where Maberry spent a little too much time focusing on villains instead of his more interesting characters like Ledger, Mr. Church, and the soldiers that make up Ledger’s commando force, Echo Team.

In Ledger, Maberry has a particularly compelling protagonist. He’s extremely capable and dangerous soldier, but he’s still human. At certain points of the story Ledger’s moral cop persona bumps up against into his take no prisoners soldier persona. Plus he’s a guy who feels. Early on we learn a horrible tragedy happened to him when he was young. Plus at different points in the story Ledger comes face to face with some pretty horrific stuff. In the end he weathers it and because it’s the first book in the series you know he’ll be back for more. There is a sense though that Ledger can only keep up these adventures for so long; that sooner or later the horror may even be too much for him. You know until that point though he’ll keep sticking his neck out and that vulnerability and sense of selflessness makes him a pretty compelling hero.

Maberry also surrounds Ledger with an interesting cast of allies. I’ve already mentioned Mister Church and the soldiers of Echo Team. There’s also Doctor Rudy Sanchez, Joe’s best friend and psychiatrist. Rudy also get’s dragged into the shadowy world of the DMS. He may have not be a soldier but Rudy proves to be just as effective and capable character as Joe. At one point he even stands his ground and protects a group of children from a zombie terrorist.

I mentioned that early on the passages with the villains tended to drag a little but but as the book picked up the villains became more interesting. The main villains of the story were violent Muslim fanatics who came up with a plague that turns people into zombies, but they weren’t the only villains of the book. I liked that. In fact the terrorists scheme is made possible by a greedy corporate CEO who wants to exploit the zombie plague to make a profit. It made things feel complex and interesting.

So “Patient Zero” was packed with fun characters and an exciting story that blended moments of zombie horror with exciting action scenes. The hand to hand combat scenes were particularly compelling. Maberry is an experienced martial artist and you can tell from his his hand to hand fights. The way he describes them feel authentic and energy charged.

When you pack all those elements together you get a fun and very cool story. So I loved “Patient Zero” and look forward to Joe Ledger and Echo Team’s next clash with techno terrorists and monster makers

Categories: Book Review, Joe Ledger

The Problem With ABC’s V

So I just finished watching the second season finale of ABC’s “V” and I think I now know what teachers feel like when they have a talented student that only applies themselves occasionally. Last season, the pilot episode of “V” was strong and very compelling. It got me excited. Subsequent episodes though were incredibly frustrating. Focus was placed on characters who were more annoying than interesting and the most frustrating aspect of all was that the show never seemed to go anywhere. Sure there were plenty of shocking revelations but the Visitors invasion of Earth was painfully slow and the main cast of characters never seemed to accomplish anything.

The show then went on break for several months and when it came back for the second half of its first season it felt refreshed. Things didn’t move forward too much but certain characters were more developed. They even gave the show’s heroes a big win at the end of the first season.

So I was excited when ABC chose to renew the show for a second season. Unfortunately that excitement was quickly diminished when the second season began. Because the second season repeatedly left me feeling that once again the characters were accomplishing very little and unlikeable characters were being forced down our throats. There were occasional bright spots like the episode where the main Fifth Column Resistance cell tried to assassinate Anna. It was obvious they were going to fail, but the characters did succeed in killing Anna’s top lieutenant Marcus. Or so we thought, because the visitors managed to revive him a few episodes later.

Other accomplishments were quickly nullified to. The series protagonist , FBI agent Erica Evans, played by Elizabeth Mitchell managed to become leader of a world wide resistance group. When that happened I once again got excited. It seemed like our cast of characters were going to be proactive and accomplish something, but by the end of the season the movement ultimately ended up doing more harm than good. Not only did they accomplish nothing, their actions actually furthered the visitors’ goals!

The season finale again showed some promise. It was a carnage filled episode where the visitors struck back and many heroic characters were killed. So it felt like the visitors’ invasion was progressing. They even employed a new firghtening weapon in their invasion. And on the heroic side we got a glimpse of a promising secret organization that showed that maybe the humanity isn’t as inept at they were made out to be this season. Best of all the show finally did away with it’s most annoying character Erica Evans’ son Tyler, played by Logan Huffman.

So at the end of season two of “V” I’m feeling more frustrated than hopeful. The show has proven it has potential. It has talented writers working onit like crime novelist Gregg Hurwitz, writer of Marvel Comics’ late and under rated “Vengeance of Moon Knight” series. And Rockne S. O’Bannon, the creator of one of the best sci-fi tv shows ever, “Farscape”, joined the show’s writing staff this season. The show also has some strong actors. Elizabeth Mitchell, Scott Wolf who plays reporter Chad Decker, and Laura Vandervoort, who plays the visitor Lisa, all had strong years. Plus this year, one of the best actors from “The Shield”, Jay Karnes, joined the cast as FBI agent Chris Bolling. Even with all that talent though this season of “V” still managed to disappoint me.

ABC has yet to renew “V” for a third season. I hope they do, but if a third season happens it needs to be better than this previous one which was ultimately frustrating and disappointing. If a third season of “V” happens this is what I’d like to see as a viewer and fan of the show:

The status quo moves forward and things change. This season the producers and writing staff clung tightly to the cold war aspect of the series which has the world believing the visitors to be agents of peace and the heroes’ secret resistance cell fighting back and trying to expose them. Clinging to that status quo made the show feel like nothing really happened and like some episodes didn’t matter. Give the viewers what they want. Have the V’s conquer Earth and give us a series about valiant resistance cells of humans and visitors sympathetic to the human cause fighting back against the reptilian invaders

Death needs to matter especially with the Visitors. There have been two memorable instances on this show where a Visitor character was killed and then resurrected. In both instances it benefited the Visitors’ cause, but instead of making things feel more dire, it felt just cheap. One character that was brought back was a secret human sympathizer and resurrecting him nullified his heroic sacrifice at the end of the first season. The other character that was resurrected was Anna’s right hand man Marcus, and bringing him back robbed the good guys of their only major
win this season

Visitor High Commander Anna needs to be brought down a peg. Morena Baccarin who plays Anna has made her a villain you love to hate, but hate just a little too much. The fact that I do have a visceral reaction to the character suggests that Baccarin is doing something right, but the character is so infuriatingly smug and not in a charismatic way. The way she constantly out maneuvers characters and then gloats about it doesn’t make for an intriguing villain. It makes for an annoying one. So it’s okay to have her lose occasionally. It might maker her a multi faceted and intriguing villain.

Do something with Project Ares. In the second season finale, a top secret joint task force made up of the military forces from many countries was introduced. They were called Project Ares and in a nice homage to the original “V” series Marc Singer plays one of their top agents. Jay Karnes’ FBI agent was also revealed to be a member. We only saw them for a couple of minutes but Project Ares seemed very capable. So if there is “V” a season three I’d like to see them prove that by being proactive and actually achieving some meaningful victories against the visitors. I obviously don’t want to see them win all the time, but when you’re watching a show you want to feel like its heroes occasionally accomplish some meaningful victories

Categories: TV Thoughts

Book Review- Gone Till November

You’ve got imagine that a seemingly routine traffic stop has got to be a frightening thing for a police officer. Most of them are exactly that, routine, but you never know what could be waiting in the car that gets pulled over. It could be a mother of four awaiting you with tears in her eyes, or it could be a heavily armed and violent man ready to draw down on you.  It’s that unpredictable nature that kicks off Wallace Stroby’s novel “Gone ‘Til November”

In the beginning of “Gone ‘Til November” Sarah Cross, a Sheriff’s Deputy in a small Florida town, is working the night shift and is called to the scene of a traffic stop that ended in violence. When she arrives she encounters another deputy, her ex-boyfriend Billy Flynn. Billy claims that 22 year old African American man he shot was fleeing the scene and drew a gun on him. Sarah’s instincts tell her something is awry, but when the shooting is investigated She testifies that what she saw matched up with Billy’s version of the story

Unbeknownst to Sarah though, the man Billy shot was on an errand for a New Jersey drug gang. Part of that errand involved delivering a large sum of money, which is now missing. So the gang’s head dispatches, Morgan, a veteran hit man to Flordia to find out what happened and get his money back.

The story follows both Sarah and Morgan’s investigations into what happened that night and the more they uncover, the more it seems like Billy did something horribly wrong. The final reckoning comes in an explosion of violence at an abandoned sugar refinery.

With Sarah, Stroby has a very human and compelling protagonist. She’s the only female Sheriff’s deputy in town so she constantly has to prove herself. Plus she had a son with leukemia that she’s utterly devoted to.  So Sarah is a very noble character and you want to root for her. Stroby gives her two big flaws though and those flaws make the story ultimately unsatisfying.

The first flaw is her attraction to Billy. I could understand why Sarah might be initially attracted to him, but for pretty much the entire book Billy proves that he’s a repulsive, shallow, and self centered individual. Sarah is a shrewd, caring, and dedicated cop and mother and yet she falls for Billy’s manipulations through out much of the story. Even in the end when she knows Billy has done something horribly wrong she still cares. Which leaves me ultimately wondering why? We as the readers never get to see Billy’s good side; the side that Sarah might have fallen in love with. So rather than emphathising with Sarah. I end up questioning her poor judgement.

The other other flaw is when Sarah gets into trouble she’s usually not able to get out of it herself. This makes her human, but it makes her seem less capable and it’s a shame.  Sarah is an interesting character but she would be a much more interesting character if she didn’t need a rescuer.

Morgan is one of the characters that rescues Sarah, and Morgan ends up being my favorite character in the book. He’s a veteran hitman who has become tired with his violent life style. He has designs on double crossing his boss and using the missing money to pay for cancer treatments and to set himself up with a new life.

When the story follows Morgan you can tell Storby is having a good time. The character is a loner, but he’s incredibly charismatic. If they ever make a movie of “Gone ‘Till November” I can see Smauel L. Jackso being offered the part. He would be the perfect Morgan: cool, deadly, charismatic, and sympathetic.

The plot, pacing, and tone of “Gone ‘Til November” are all handled well. The story moves quickly and cuts back and forth between Sarah and Morgan, which keeps things interesting. You get to see both characters in some haunting and human moments. So “Gone ‘Til November” is an entertaining, but ultimately unsatisfying read. It had an interesting story, some fun bits of action, but it’s too flawed protagonist kept the story from being great.

Categories: Book Review, Uncategorized