Boosting The Signal: A Look Back At Firefly

They say you never forget your first.
And for me, that first was Firefly.
The first Sci-Fi franchise I found all on my own little onesie, no influence from Family Guy doing a spoof, no slight urging from a friend, no podcast making me warm up to it over time.
Firefly was all me, and all mine.

I grew up watching Buffy, but I missed the show when it first aired because this was the era before the internet and in a time when I would see “From The Creator Of” and not know enough to care what that meant.
So, in more ways then one, I missed the boat.

Now, I distinctly remember the trailers for Serenity when it was still coming soon and thinking it looked so damn weird.
The image of that weird girl, River, with her ballet like twirling and slashing while holding those things that looked like battleaxes always stuck out as something strange and different…and, at the time, not for me in any way, shape, or form at all!

So cut to a few years later and the introduction of Blu-Ray Disc, the cutting edge, the next evolution of home video!
Pre-The Clone Wars, for me at least, walking through the home video section at Walmart and I see this weird lookin’ sci-fi movie cover with its striking looking woman, this intense looking dude, and that beautiful ship.
It only cost $10 or $15, so I took a shot.

Now, for those unfamiliar with Firefly/Serenity, this was a dumbass dipshit move as Serenity is basically the series finale of Firefly.
I don’t want to spoil too much for those of you that don’t know the series and movie, but there are key character deaths, the biggest questions are answered, and I’m pretty damn sure all the mysteries of the series are solved.
So, yes, I watched that first.
But I didn’t give any amount of a shit, I loved it!
The humor, the action, the cast, and most of all the ship itself.
That homey, fully realized, eye-catching, and perfect boat was, and remains to this day, to be one of the biggest selling points for me.

Now, after watching the movie, I definitely felt like I missed something somewhere.
Until I dove into the special features, I never knew Firefly existed beyond the off-handed Family Guy joke about all of the shows that FOX had cancelled.
Those few bonus features opened up a whole new world!
Not long after I found the series on DVD, quickly I watched it and the movie in order.

Recently, I rewatched all fourteen episodes and the movie again and I feel basically the same as I felt over a decade ago, the same as the Browncoats that have been there since the premiere back in 2002.
This was, and continues to be, a wonderfully original series in style, tone, and use of language that was cut down well before it ever got a chance to hit its heights.
But what we were left with still set a damn high bar that most shows still don’t get near.
Pretty much the entire cast has gone on to great success in other shows, some on FOX.

And the quality and cast aren’t the only lasting pieces of this show’s legacy, because this little red headed stepchild of a franchise has rippled through even the heaviest of heavy hitters.
For example, I don’t think a single person can look at Solo and The Mandalorian (both of which I completely and utterly love) and seriously say that Firefly didn’t influence them.
Solo even has the space train robbery for christsake!

Now, in the age of the ever vocal internet, fans have been outspoken enough to warrant multiple comic series and 4 novels, so far.
In Serenity, Mr. Universe said what has become a sort of rallying cry for Browncoats everywhere “You Can’t Stop The Signal”, and that is more than fitting.
But after rewatching the entire show, another quote feels even more appropriate “When ya can’t run no more, ya crawl.
And when ya can’t do that, ya find somebody to carry you.”
We may never get any more filmed content from this franchise, but I’m glad the legacy will be carried on through comics and novels.

Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her continued editorial assistance.

Daphne And Velma: The Vanishing Girl Review

Seemingly since the Scrappy era (more modernly with Get A Clue) there has been this weird notion to break off the gang into different pairings, for whatever reason.
More recently, there’s been an uptick in telling origin stories of the gang (The Mystery Begins, the incredibly cringe inducing Daphne & Velma movie, & the upcoming SCOOB!), to varying degrees of success.
So, how does this novel that combines those two very things fare?
Well, gang, it looks like we have a mystery to solve!

As always, this is your official ***SPOILER ALERT***

First and foremost, this book is earnest as hell.
This is most definitely not a story of 4 fun loving teens traveling the country solving mysteries with a big, goofy, loveable talking dog in tow.
This is the most serious treatment of the characters to date, and that’s both a good and bad thing.
Good because, like Mystery Incorporated, it gives me exactly what I always wanted to see from this franchise, a slightly less goofy and more serious series of mysteries.
The down side to all that earnestness being that the main attraction to the franchise, the aforementioned loveable and goofy talking dog, is declawed and dull down to almost being a footnote.
That’s right, gang, Scooby doesn’t talk at all, he’s just a normal dog.
Which works for this iteration, but does take away a big piece of the puzzle.

Let’s get this out of the way now so we can move onto the fun shit, my only major issue with this book/continuity would be the personalities and characterizations of the gang and their backgrounds.
For one, they all seem like rich, or formerly rich, kids with inattentive, dismissive dickhead parents.
But also, Shaggy throws the best parties in town, but really has no interest in them.
Fred is an aloof hippy dippy yoga lover.
The only ones that actually feel right are Daphne as a bit of a bratty child of divorce, whose mother is a multi-millionaire game designer, and Velma, in that she’s a lonely social outcast who feels like she’s probably the smartest person in any room she may enter…in the vein of what the incomparable Mindy Cohn was doing in Mystery Incorporated, just without the controlling psycho attitude.
Fred and Shaggy feel like they were dumbed down and swapped, for no real reason other then they just aren’t the focus of the story.
It’s a little frustrating, but through the comicbook “Multiverse” filter, I can deal with it.
Onto the good stuff!

The thing I enjoy the most is that this is clearly influenced by my absolute favorite Scooby series, Mystery Incorporated!
And it goes beyond just the town using the Crystal Cove name, the darkness and spooky edge to all of the mysterious goings on are just magnificent.
This version of Crystal Cove has its own founding curse that the town uses to wrangle in a tourist trade.
The curse of Crystal Cove is that generations before, every member of the town just up and disappeared without a trace.
Every year the town holds a festival to mark the day, and the ghosts of the missing still haunt the town to this day.

In my view, I think it’s pretty clear that author Josephine Ruby (a mysterious pseudonym for someone whom not much is known about, that nods to Scoob’s creation) loves Velma, because she’s the most fleshed out and faithful.
And bonus, unlike Mystery Inc, Velma is so damn likeable from start to finish that if you didn’t love her before, you probably will by the end.
Velma is that lonely kid that everybody fucked over and likes to push around, make eat shit until they need her and then they come a-callin’.
Daphne and Velma were once the best of friends, and it all changed once Velma saw something she wasn’t meant to see and told Daph, the reaction was less than ideal, and Daphne turned on her in a big bad way.
The plot forces them to put aside their differences for a common good, but the oldest wounds have the deepest scars.

To start wrapping up, I truly did love this book far more than I expected I ever would.
There is some of the anticipated “boys are trash & girls are perfect” type of tripe you get in these types of novels, but not overwhelmingly so.
This new continuity is familiar and interesting, Ruby is building her own world and it works well enough to keep me interested and welcoming future installments.
The cliffhanger left me wanting the next book now!
I so hope that these sell well, because this is the first step on the path to one of the last two pieces of Scooby I crave most: Serious, full length, Scooby novels!
I need somebody, potentially even Ruby herself, to write serious novels about the whole gang, in the same way Mystery Incorporated did, but in prose.
The best books ignite your imagination, and this did in so many ways.
Check it out, gang.

Let us what you think of this review in the comments below or share this post on Twitter with the Hashtag #TNBBookReview.

Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her continued editorial assistance.

Day By Day Armageddon Review

Ten or so years ago, when my zombie love was hitting its first of many peaks, I stumbled across an interesting looking zombie diary.
Once I got it home, I figured out it was the sequel and quickly made sure to get the first installment because the concept alone sounded so cool.

But still, I was worried.
Over the years, I have watched damn near every zombie movie I could get my hands on, I would read any zombie books I stumbled across.
And 70% of the time I would be disappointed by dogshit effects or cheesy ass dialogue and attempts at suspense.
Zombie fiction is hard as hell to get right, and even the masters sometimes stumble.
But when it’s good, it’s so damn good.

So where did this fall on that oh so hard to hit target?
Lets find out!

As always, this is your offical ***SPOILER WARNING***

After a drunken night out partying, a Naval Officer makes a New Years Resolution to start keeping a journal.
January 2nd an outbreak in China is mentioned offhandedly.
January 10th, all hell is starting to break loose.
By the time the book ends, on May 19th, this unnamed military man and his fellow survivors have been through the ringer and the biggest shit storm is about to fully unload on them.

The 1 issue I have is that the main character never gets a name, but given the format it does make sense.
Who writes a diary in 3rd person?
Even so, it would have been nice to have an inside cover inscription or page where the narrator wrote his name and age.
That’s helpful information to have if he or his descendants look back on this years in the future.

Now, having said that, the rest is so damn good that it’s easy to forget that one minor quibble.
As the world descends further and further into chaos, the world is painted just as bleak and frightening as you’d expect.
There are a few moments of hope sprinkled throughout, so it’s not all depressing, but it really does capture what I imagine a zombie apocalypse would be like.
The hunt for food, supplies, and any fellow survivors that you could trust to help you make it until somebody figures out a way to fix the now broken world are all fully fleshed out.
J.L. Bourne’s actual military experience and knowledge adds credibility, believability, and depth to moments of technical rigging, flight, and weapon handling.

By the end, our protagonist has gathered a pretty good sized group of survivors together including his neighbor John and his dog, a family of 3 they tracked through frightened radio transmissions, and a woman whose car was surrounded.
The main character travels through Texas collecting this new tribe of the living at sometimes great costs.
There are some really fresh ideas in these journeys, particularly when they hole up in an air traffic control tower.

The 1st time that I read this book, I burned through it in a single day.
This time, I read it in 4.
Weighing in at 200 pages, this story zips by at a pace that’s hard to believe.
From the jump, it’s pretty damn enthralling, but by the time you hit the final page you’re left disappointed that it doesn’t keep going for another 200 pages.
Long story short, it nails the bullseye of the aforementioned target.
It’s just as good and creepy now as it was 10 years ago.
A good story is a good story, gang.

Let us what you think of this review in the comments below or share this post on Twitter with the Hashtag #TNBBookReview.

Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 & @Gigoamk30 for their continued editorial assistance.

Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I.: Hair Raising Review

I’m writing this with a sizable amount of sadness.
You may think I’m kidding, but I’m dead serious…no pun intended, but hopefully noted and appreciated nonetheless.
My sadness is prompted by this being the final Dan Shamble novel/story I have to review, for now, and it has been one hell of a journey so far.
This was also the first Shamble that I read way back in December 2016, this is what hooked me into the series.

So knowing in context, and knowing where it goes, the question that I’ve got to answer kind of needs to be “how does this stand up to the second go round, the test of time, and the rest of the series?”
Let’s try and find the answer to all that.

As always, gang, this is your standard issue ***SPOILER ALERT***

Dan, Robin, Sheyenne, McGoo, and all of the things that go bump in the night are back for more scary and extra hairy action.
An organ harvesting operation is killing vampires and other homeless monsters, a vindictive ex-wife is desperately trying to screw the zombified father of her son out of child support and visitation, a crematorium claiming to burn the remains of the recently departed…the only problem is that the recently departed are still physically around to prove they’re running a scam, an all out war is brewing between the full moon werewolves and the full timers, and a voodoo tattoo shop, a zombie mobster and his bad luck stricken harpy girlfriend are all among the cases we have the pleasure of watching unfold in this visit to the Unnatural Quarter.
With a case load that heavy, it’s a damn good thing zombies don’t need much sleep!

While you absolutely do not need to read these novels or stories in order, it does make it a far more enjoyable experience.
You get all the info you need, but if you have actually read what Dan is referencing then the tiny throw away mentions to continuity that seem like incidental jokes are exactly what nerd wet dreams are made of.
I think I’ve mentioned a few times in these reviews that Kevin J. Anderson is definitely one of us minutiae loving nerd types, and that alone proves it.

Another nerdery attribute that is a strength of KJA’s is the seemingly endless and effortless ability to not only juggle, but service, weave, and solve multiple storylines in logical and satisfying ways.
I mentioned a shit ton of the plot lines above in my summary, right?
Yeah, well, there are at least two or three more that I didn’t even mention, and not a one feels rushed or forgotten at any point.
The dude spins more story plates than a season of Game Of Thrones, and, if the outcry is any indication, to a far more satisfying conclusion as well.

This, if only for sentimentally sake, may be my favorite book in this series.
And the Scooby-Doo shout out has nothing to do with it.
Book 1 was a great introduction to the world, Book 2 expanded and made it bigger, Book 3 settles in and plays with what has been established in the best ways.
While this is only the third book, Anderson clearly understands this world and every aspect of the biases, histories, and lore of it.

I’ve long described this series as The Rockford Files meets The Munsters or The Addams Family, and that still rings true.
But I feel I have to add that it’s seasoned with a dash of Monk at the end to bring it all home and make it sing.
The attention to detail makes it perfect for us comic book fans, but again I need to stress that those references absolutely do not make this a difficult entry point for new readers.
It was mine, and I’m damn glad it was.
So if you’ve been waiting to check out this series but you haven’t been sure where to dive in at, take it from my first hand experience that this is as good a spot as any.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go try not to be all depressed and whatnot while I patiently await some of that sweet sweet Shamble news dropping like manna from above.

Let us what you think of this review in the comments below or share this post on Twitter with the Hashtag #TNBBookReview.

Special thanks go to @ACFerrell1976 for her continued editorial assistance.

Iron Man: And Call My Killer…MODOK! Review

I’m just gonna put this right at the top: if you are picking this up expecting the cocky Robert Downey jr. version of Tony Stark from the MCU, you will be disappointed.
With that out of the way, one of the things that’s most interesting to examine in this, and most of these older novels, are the changes that have happened since these novels dropped and become fundamental pieces of the characters.
So let’s dive in deep and see what some of them are, gang.

As per usual, this is your official ***SPOILER ALERT***

With only 189 pages, it’s not a convoluted story, and that’s a good thing.
After an attempted kidnapping at a college speaking gig and a robbery that stole the Iron Man blue prints from Stark International headquarters, Tony decides to sell an unarmed, stripped down version of the red and gold armor to the highest bidder.
The behemoth man monster MODOK, running low on funds and credibility for his ner-do-well organization AIM, concocted the nefarious plots against Stark and his alter-ego to get the suit and carry out more villainous operations to take over the world.

One of the biggest changes that have come down the pike that may stun folks would have to be the marriage of Happy & Pepper.
That’s right, gang, 40 years ago they were happily hitched!
That’s something I knew and forgot, and when I read it I damn near unloaded a entire house worth of bricks in my undies.
Even in the comics, as far back as I have been reading the funny books, Tony & Pepper had been circling each other.
The other big difference MCU fans will immediately notice is that Tony is still in the super closet as he’s told the world Iron Man is just a bodyguard of his.
So kickin’ back into that mindset is fun and (as I touched on in my Incredible Hulk: Stalker From The Stars Review) that’s really key to this particular series of Marvel novels.

Are they in depth & revelatory character studies that get to the heart of the human condition?
Fuuuuck no, man!
Are they fun, full of thrilling comic booky adventure, excitement, characters, & hints at continuity?
100%, hell yes.
And you don’t need to have read 500 issues to understand either, Tony’s origin is given a refresher here for 2 probable reasons.
1. To make sure you understand where this specific version of the character is coming from.
2. To hook in people who may have never read a comic and make it easy to dive in and get a good feel for this world.
And it works perfectly.

As I sort of said in my Hulk review, this is what comic books and comic book based stories should be, gang.
You don’t need to always juggle 427 characters, tie-in issues, and story threads.
Sometimes, just a simple story of a hero and a villian covers all your bases and scratches the itch.
Simple and effective is what made these characters stand out, and that’s what I want to see again.
This series of novels are exactly what I want, and I can’t wait to find more of them.

Let us what you think of this review in the comments below or share this post on Twitter with the Hashtag #TNBBookReview.

Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life Review

The phrase “And Now For Something Completely Different” is now a cliche when talking about anyone or anything related to Python.
It’s like talking about James Bond and mentioning gadgets, cars, and Bond girls, or cool entrances in superhero movies.
We get it, you know the thing.
But Idle opening up like this kind of epitomizes that oft quoted Cleese line.

Since this is an autobiography, I don’t think it really needs one, but just incase, this is your obligatory ***SPOILER ALERT***

I’ve been an Idle and/or Python fan for as long as I can remember, and yet this book somehow seems to deepen my appreciation for both.
He took a path into entertainment that’s been demolished by modern day standards and requirements and it’s fascinating to read about.
It was a path of opportunity seizing and having something to say, and that something isn’t anything harder to comprehend than “let me entertain you”.
And you may notice I won’t be calling him a comedian, but an entertainer.
This dude has tried his hand at pretty much every single form of entertainment in his 76 years, he’s probably even done some weird ass greased up, nude, interpretive dance, though he doesn’t mention it.

But it’s not all giggles and fun.
While it seems like he’s lived a life of nothing but bright side, the most resonant chapters are those where he talks frankly and openly about death and the friends he’s lost along the way, from musicians to comedians to actors.
The one that struck me hardest and was most unexpected to find the depth of would be Robin Williams.
After many mentions earlier, he spends an entire chapter recounting his meeting and bonding with this utter goddamn genius.
Idle was riding high, coming off of the 2014 reunion and farewell Python performances at the O2 when he got the call.
It shows Robin in a light that a fan could never have seen and it’s heartbreaking all over again.
The end chapter where he looks at his own eventual death is similarly hilarious and heartbreaking as well.

The only disappointment for me would be that he didn’t cover my 2 favorite movies of his thoroughly enough.
The first, Nuns On The Run, which only gets a paragraph of coverage, where as I could read an entire book about that particular flick.
The other, the chaotic but brilliant The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, gets a bit more detailed and actually leads him to a revelation about his old friend Terry Gilliam and the tumultuous nature of his sets.
Both are serviceably covered, but I love them so much that I greedily want more.
And isn’t that the goal of every entertainer, leave them wanting more?

Boil it all down and this is the tale of a kid going from orphanage to Icon, and every step he took from one to the other.
He recounts how, where, and when he met the five other dudes with whom he would come to be collectively know as Monty Python, obviously.
But it runs a bit deeper than that.
There’s a soul to his story that, upon reflection, most autobiographical tales lack.
By definition, an autobiography is an exercise in introspection, but he comes at it from a seemingly wiser angle.
The title of this book isn’t just a line from a strange and anachronistic song in a movie, it’s truly his philosophy.
In the darkest of times, he faced it with a joke and a smile.

Let us what you think of this review in the comments below or share this post on Twitter with the Hashtag #TNBBookReview.

Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

Also, as this is probably the last book review I’ll get to this year, I want to thank everybody for reading and sharing all of them and every other post we’ve put out in the last 12 months.
We greatly appreciate the support more than you know, gang.
So until next time, thank you so much.

Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I.: Unnatural Acts Review

Second books can be tough, they often make or break a series.
Obviously, Book One always has the tough task of setting up a world and its inhabitants.
But the second installment of a series should always expand and build on all the work that was put into that world during that first outing.
Yes, this is a review of a Dan Shamble book, so you know I like it.
But as I said last time, I’m trying to look at these with fresh eyes, and this is also my first chronological read through.
So does it do a good job expanding upon what the first book brought to the table?
Let’s find out!

As per usual, this is your requisite official ***SPOILER WARNING***
And I mean it this time!

Back in the Unnatural Quarter, things are moving along normally.
Businesses are thriving, including the local brothel.
Yes, you read that right, there are monster whores in this book.
Now if you read that particular sentence and it doesn’t cause you to buy this, pull the ripcord now, cause you clearly have no discernible sense of humor at all.
MONSTER WHORES, MAN!!!
Of all shapes, sizes, races, breeds, and levels of physical contact.
We have Zombies, and Ghosts, and Vampires (oh my!), Werewolves, Suscubuses (if you get that joke, 10 points to your house), and even a Mummy Cathouse wrangler.
Something so ridiculous and hilarious wouldn’t even cross my mind to think about, I’d figure werewolves would just rub their lipstick and move on.
But the fact that monster hookers are included in this would goes to show the depth of thought that KJA put into this.

The other new cases and concerns this go round include a clay golem fighting for emancipation, the ghost of a notorious bank robber that’s trying to figure out his after life, an unnatural hating senator with a deep secret, a long written off brother, a mixed monster couple fighting to move into the neighborhood they want, a mob like company taking over the Quarter bit by bit, and “Shakespeare’s” ghost’s acting troupe facing harassment.
To put it in more succinct terms, Dan & Co are swamped with way more problems and headaches than last time.

Probably the most interesting of these story lines for me would be the brother.
Sheyenne, Dan’s ghostly girlfriend, is confronted by her deadbeat brother, Travis, who comes to town and stirs up a shit storm and a half.
We all know somebody like this dillhole, the scumbag family member that gets mixed up in multiple shady schemes and somehow always comes out smelling like roses.
The dude that will sell out his sister just to get ahead, which is exactly what Travis does…twice!
Once when he sells the last family heirlooms that Sheyenne has to cover old debts and once when he goes to the Full Moon brothel and tries to get down with the resident succubus…then joins the crazy senator in his crusade against unnaturals.
It’s pretty heartbreaking for Spooky, and leaves her in an incredibly vulnerable spot, compounded by Dan having so many problems that cause him to head to Full Moon himself.

***HEADS UP, SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH TO AVOID SPOILING THE END OF THE BOOK***
And that breakdown in communication between Dan and Sheyenne leads to one of the most heart warming, yet disturbing and, some how, also hilarious things I have ever read in my entire life.
The closing pages of the book, after they mostly work things out and are back on more steady ground, sees Spooky trying to go the extra mile and do something special for Dan.
Being a ghost, they can’t do the horizontal hula because she can’t physically touch Dan.
But she can move inanimate objects.
So she gets Dan up to his (often unused or visited) apartment above the office, takes him to his bedroom, and, in an attempt to give him the entire experience of a fully functional romantic partnership, she dons a sex doll suit as a skin so they can re-engage the physical aspects of their relationship that were lost with her own death.
Gang, it is the most fucked up and romantic thing ever!
Also, it’s an utterly original concept!

In my introduction I asked a very specific question (again, we all know at this point if I’m talking about a Dan Shamble book I thoroughly enjoyed it), so does this expand on the first book?
Yes, it does.
The monster brothel isn’t the only critter run business we learn about, we hit up one of the most mundane types of businesses I can think of, a Pawn Shop.
But the twist here is this one is run by a goblin who tends to horde all of the stuff that comes in, especially if it’s shiny.
Something like this really goes to show how deep KJA gets this time, trying to expand and show that life really has gone back to normal and that monsters are fully integrated into society.
They own businesses, they engage in providing entertainment, they’ve made the Unnatural Quarter a tourist stop and lightning rod for controversy.

Without getting too deep on the controversy, I will say this: KJA is a prophet!
He totally called the era of politicians regularly vilifying people and trying to legislate against shit that they and their families have done or taken part in.
I remember when I first read this, I was stunned by the parallels to what was happening in the realm of politics at the time.
Here we see a senator who’s disgusted by the monsters who just want to live, work, and play without catching hell for, ya know, existing…kinda spooky, right?

To wrap up, one of my favorite things about this series is the continuity (and you can hear KJA bust my balls a bit about it in my interview with him from Book Club 5 Ep 2 HERE) and attention to detail that he painstakingly crafts.
Minor bit characters pass through, giving this world the depth we nerds CRAVE.
Reading in order makes this series feels like one of those fancy pants French meals you hear about that take hours to enjoy.
Book 1 was a great simple entree to get you warmed up, Book 2 feels like a 1st course with a few more complexities and flavors to keep you interested.
With that in mind, I can’t wait to revisit Book 3 and savory the experience.

Let us what you think in the comments or share this post on Twitter with the Hashtag #TNBBookReview.

Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.