Fantastic Four: Redemption Of The Silver Surfer Review

In my experience, Marvel’s First Family has, no pun intended, a rocky history outside of the four color realm.
I’ve read a few novels over the years that have been dull, to put it lightly, and, though I enjoyed the first two, the movies have been been generally derided by the vast majority of fans.
So going into this, I was a wee bit worried.
But were those worries unfounded?
Let’s find out, gang!

As per usual, consider this your official 22 year ***SPOILER ALERT***

Michael Jan Friedman is a dude whose work I have always dug.
I will admit I haven’t read all of his books and stories, but what I have read has never disappointed me.
The Marvel stuff he has written has always left me feeling like this is a guy that spent his time wallowing in comics and nerddom (a fact I also noticed while reading his X-Men/Star Trek The Next Generation novel, Planet X), this book does nothing to disabuse me of that notion.
To put it plainly, he fuckin’ gets it, man!

It’s beyond obvious from the jump that he knows these characters well. Specifically Silver Surfer, who he quickly and economically gets across the back story and guilt of.
For those who may not know, this is a dude that spent too many years condemning entire planets, races, and civilizations to death for the devourer of worlds, Galactus.
Silver Surfer has spent all the years since he broke away from Galactus trying to balance the scales in anyway he could, which gives us our title and a solid A-plot that’s deftly disguised as a potential B-plot.

Which leads me to my only real, and admittedly minor, issue with this novel.
The Surfer is the star of this book, he’s not a guest in any sense, but our titular heroes do feel almost like guest stars.
I don’t hate that Norrin Radd is in the spotlight at all, but it does feel a bit like the Fantastic Four title was used for the wider general name recognition.
And believe me, it works perfectly to hook you in!
But I did finish the story wishing that I had gotten at least 1 chapter that focused on the FF together before the trip to the Negative Zone and maybe one at the tail end just to beef up their presence a little.

The fact that the Negative Zone and it’s inhabitants haven’t been the focus of one of the movies is a damn shame, and this book is full of all the evidence you could need to support that.
Reed, Ben, and Johnny are prompted into the alternate universe when an old foe, Blastaar, sets hostages up for slaughter right near their outpost in the zone.
Blastaar lures them in, not for a fight this time but for their help, having felt their combined power first hand, to defeat a coming threat – a destroyer of worlds, much like Galactus, named Prodigion.
The trio decide to look on as Blastaar tries to destroy Prodigion’s ship and crew as something feels off.
Johnny is injured and taken aboard the vessel, Sue and the Surfer show up to help, and things get even more complicated than any of them were led to believe.
The turns in this are great.
Prodigion going from villian, to hero, and back and forth again until his final reveal leave you with a great sense of mystery and suspense until the end.

Bottom line: Surfer’s story is suitably heartbreaking and involves a chance at happiness, and the aforementioned redemption, he has so desperately craved for the 1st time in ages and it’s handled with the care and ease of somebody who has the writing and in universe experience to give it the weight it deserves without being laughable.
If you are a fan of the FF and their supporting characters, snap this up if you stumble across a copy.
Now I’m gonna go searching for more of Michael Jan Friedman’s TNG work.

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

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Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories Science Fiction Vol. 2 Review

The fourth and final (at least for now) volume of Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories short story series was released back in February.
This outing was another visit to the much beloved genre of Science Fiction which, for those among you who haven’t been keeping up with the main show, is a genre I have taken a deep dive into since I read the first volume.
With these new experiences in that area, I was wondering how this collection would hit me.
Strap on your space suit and let’s space find out…in space!

I have to say, as per the usual with this series, I think the short intros he writes to each story may be my favorite part.
It really seems to give each story a bit more depth to hear where it came from, who or what inspired it, or how long he kicked it around before he dropped the final product on his editors.
Even with the stories that aren’t my favorites, it is at least interesting to have the back story.

As for the stories themselves, this go round I found myself engaging more with the shorter among them.
Not that the longer ones are bad, but I think it may be a bit of brain training and expectation with this anthological format.
The shorter stories here tend to have a bit more of a reveal or “Ah-ha” feel than the longer ones do which, to use TV as a comparison, I feel like most anthologies shows do better than episodic series.
And I like that.
I like the quick and clever economic nature of it all.

I think every subgenre of Sci-Fi gets its day in the sun in this volume, and a few have fun and interesting spins that almost make you forget you are reading a Science Fiction story, which I think is something that some of my favorites do best.
If you need some Military Sci-Fi stat, you are covered with a few novellas.
But there are also stories of time travel, genetic manipulation, alien contact, and a transformational hooker…you know, that tired old trope!

I always try to give you some of my favorite stories when I talk about short story collections, so in no particular order, the top 3 stories that I would say you can’t miss are:
Technomagic, a story of a stranded alien that becomes a world famous magician.
Prevenge, a time travel tale that is reminiscent of Minority Report, with a bit more investigation.
A Delicate Balance, a dark story about seed colonies and a severe miscalculation that leads to forced population control.
All are wonderfully distinct and showcase the variety of this writer and this genre.

So to wrap up I have to say that after reading and reviewing all 4 volumes of this series, I feel like a jackass.
For a decade or so, if folks would mention Kevin J. Anderson I’d always say “The Star Wars Guy!?” or “Awww, The Last Days Of Krypton!” and now that almost feels reductive.
Don’t get me wrong, Shamble aside, Last Days is still hands down my favorite KJA book, but the dude has way more shades and layers than just Krypton, Star Wars, & X-Files.
The goal of this series was probably to collect a bunch of stories he had the rights to and get them back in print, but they have been damn eye opening as well.
I’ll call that a happy accident and wait patiently for him to get enough material together for a fifth installment, and whatever else he’s ready to produce.

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 and @gigiamk30 for their editorial assistance.

A Million Ways To Die In The West Review

I’m not sure how many people are aware of this little nugget of truth or not, but back in the day, right around say…1882ish in a dusty town located eerily near a place that was somewhat reminiscent of Arizona, it was really fuckin’ rough, man.
And when I say rough, I don’t mean “awww balls, the wifi is down again, how ever am I gonna see porn stars hump in 4K ultra high definition now!?”, no, I mean everything seemed as though it was out to kill you.
To boil it all down, there were, in fact, A Million Ways To Die In The West!…ya see what I did there?
I’m feeling awfully clever now.
So let’s take a look at this filthy bastard of a book and see if there’s any gold in them thar hills!

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

Seth MacFarlane, creator or co-creator of Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show, and The Orville made a big splash in the realm of feature films with 2012’s TED.
It quickly became one of the highest grossing R-rated comedies, and the inevitable question was hurled at Seth.
“What are you going to do next?”
His reply was this movie, and for reasons that I still don’t quite understand, it didn’t really light the world on fire.
Part of me thinks folks still aren’t ready to embrace westerns again and part of me thinks folks are still uncomfortable with such raw filthy jokes coming out of actual human mouths.

Whatever the reasons, I actually loved the movie and think it gets exponentially better with each subsequent viewing.
But one of the things I loved most about the entire experience of the movie was that it was announced that there would be a novelization of the movie written by the writer and director himself, MacFarlane.
Now, anybody who reads these reviews regularly knows that one of my favorite types of novels would be media tie-ins, especially movie novels.
And when after years of looking I finally found this, I was pumped to dive in…then I waited 2 years for it to call out and demand to be read.

Albert Stark is a sheep farmer (and not a good one at that) who hates the raw, untamed west with a passion.
It’s hot, everything and everyone wants to kill, cut, trample, squash, harm, or otherwise mame and dismembered you, his heartless girlfriend just left him for a douchenozzle, and he’s ready to head to civilization, San Francisco!
But a strange and breathtaking new woman, that won’t talk about her past, comes to Old Stump and gives him a reason to hang around town for a spell longer.

This novel really is a strange one, since you rarely see comedy movies get novelized.
In a way, this book reads like a narrative joke book.
Which oddly actually attracts me to it more because it’s so different than most movie novels.
Really, the worst thing I can say about this is that it follows the movie too precisely, which is a trend I am noticing more and more in recent years with novelizations.
There is very little flourish or expansion on what you see on screen, at most there are about 10 alternate lines or jokes.
Mostly, the new prose is added contextual content that you can infer from looks and the relationships featured on screen.

Honestly, the real draw here is seeing how Seth’s voice sounds in a richer and fuller story format.
We know he can handle the coldness of the script format, but there are some writers who seem to struggle in jumping between the 2.
Yeah, well, Seth ain’t one of them.
His descriptions pop (especially if you’ve seen the astoundingly beautiful movie), his pacing is brisk but not rushed, the characters feel as defined on the page as they did on screen, and it’s just plain fun.
The only problem I have with his style would be that there are no chapters in this book at all, it’s just one long piece.
Sure, it has the normal transitional breaks you expect, but if you are a goal oriented reader that loves the mini accomplishment of “I’m gonna read two chapters before bed.” you are S.O.L. and J.W.F. my friend.

Bottomline, I love this story in both formats.
I don’t know what his plans are, but I would love to see Seth write more novels, but originals in the future.
Something that allows him to not feel like he has to so closely follow a prelaid path.
I want to see him unleashed.
Or, hell, I’m sure he has an idea for an episode of The Orville that’s just a bit too big for Hulu!

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

Mr. Monk Is Cleaned Out Review

For those that may not know or remember, Monk was a USA Network TV series about a modern day Sherlock Holmes (with, somehow, more idiosyncratic quirks) and his assistant Natalie (for our purposes, Watson) who were consultants with the San Francisco Police Department to solve various murders and mysteries.
It ran for 8 seasons, and the series finale for this show even held the record for the highest rated single episode of television for a while.
In short, this was a major TV intellectual property, so of course there was a series of novels based upon it.

This particular book is the 10th original novel in the series, and it was written by a man that worked on the show and wrote all of the previous 9.
After working with a character for that long, one would imagine that not many could handle the world and its inhabitants better.
So let’s dive in and see just how good of a handle Mr. Goldberg has on Adrian Monk and his universe.

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

The short reply is that Lee Goldberg may need surgery to ease up his grip on Monk, because 10 books in it’s still vise like.
The dude knows the ins and outs of every nook and cranny of Monk, Natalie, Stottlemeyer, & Disher.
He knows every inch of their minds, quirks, assorted little ticks, and attitudes.

Here’s what happened: Monk gets fired as a consultant with the SFPD due to budget cuts again.
All the while one of the biggest trials in the history of the Bay Area is about to begin for a man, Bob Sebes, who stole billions in an insane ponzi scheme that fleeced thousands, one of that group being Adrian Monk.
Jobless and penniless, and with all of the witnesses that can put the palindromicly named Sebes in prison dropping like flies, Monk can’t help but solve the murders…no matter how much Natalie tries to stop him and save their jobs.

The genius of these books is that, again in Holmesian tradition, Natalie plays our narrator.
Now, in the series, there was no narration, so you might think it would be a bit jarring to suddenly go so intimately into a character’s mind and read their every thought.
But not at all!
Natalie, though often meek on the show, has the best position to tell you every detail of the mystery and then give you moments to cool down and mull over the progress and frustrations of the story when she’s away from Monk that an omniscient narrator would make feel cold and detached.
And you get to see more of her fiery side, which makes her a more fleshed out character and improves/shades Traylor Howard’s already great performance.
It was the perfect choice from the start of this series and it continues to serve it well 10 deep.

Much like his brother Tod (read my review of Tod’s novel Burn Notice: The Reformed HERE to see exactly what I mean), Lee has the ability to translate the characters from the screen to the page with impeccable precision.
Which makes me wonder what was in their water growing up, how the hell did it bring forth such skillful writing talent?
The dudes know how to tell an extended story (compared to the shows these books are based on) and not have it feel stretched too thin to meet a page count or not spin its wheels on any unnecessary down beats that bore.
Just out of curiosity, I have always wondered how many episode scripts these novels equate to?
It feels like 2-3, but I am interested to find a hard answer just for a better understanding of the content they provide.

So to wrap up, Monk has always been a tragic and tortured character, and while that is a bit more exaggerated in these books than it was in the show, these stories are a great way to understand and spend more quality time with a character that spent 8 years and more than 100 episodes showing us that it’s okay to be flawed or damaged.
It’s okay to be different or weird.
It’s okay to be…you.
You just have to find your path and your Natalie to help you keep your shit together, gang, cause it’s a jungle out there.

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Review

Movie novels can be a strange beast, I love them but they are sometimes the most mixed of bags.
In some cases, movie novels put lip stick on a pig and give you the false impression that a terrible movie is watchable.
In most cases, a solid movie novelization can make a good movie slightly better by giving each scene more depth, impact, and context.
In the best cases, a great movie novelization gets you inside the characters heads in most scenes, elevates what is there and then gives you great shit that’s not in the movie but fits in so well that you wish it was.
Which category does this fall into?
Let’s find out!

This is as good a time as any to give the obligatory ***SPOILER ALERT***

Let’s start off with my only real complaint, there’s not much new content here.
By my count, there are about 6 new scenes in this novel that weren’t in the movie.
And, sadly, all of them are super short and zip by too damn fast.
This is really one of the stand out things about movie novels that I love, even if they’re spectacularly non-canonical.
The Star Wars Episode III novel notably had a ton of them, including the Dooku/Sidious scene before Obi-Wan & Anakin come in to battle Dooku.

Now, like I said, that’s pretty much my only complaint.
The rest of this novel is, appropriately, golden.
Waggoner, unlike some folks who get tasked with adapting a film/script into a novel, handles this with ease.
Perfectly describing and embellishing what I know and love from the movie while still somehow making it feel fresh and not like he just added “said Eggsy” type of stuff to the script…which happens painfully too often in this line of work.

His prose flows in an incredibly easy to breeze through fashion as well.
I was thoroughly impressed with his abilities here.
His skill at getting into the characters’ heads is refreshing, especially his grasp on Poppy (the leader of The Golden Circle drug empire) and the President’s Chief Of Staff Fox.
We get background on Poppy and how her militaristic parents raised her to be the batshit cornball loon that she gleefully is.
In Fox’s regard, besides what we see in the movie, we learn how it is to work for a man baby world leader that has his staff so on edge that they self medicate to the point they are doped to the gills on illegal pills in their off hours.
Also, as you may glean from the description of Fox’s situation, the political subtext is easy to spot in here, made more obvious by checking when it was written…if ya know what I mean…***WINK WINK***!!!

Bottom line, not only are these movies great, this Novelization is rock solid, gang.
I really can’t thank @MemeEmSteveDave enough for talking these movies up a few years back when I talked to him and getting me interested, because I feel deeply in love with both of them when I saw them and this novel is a beautiful extension of the 2nd movie.
If you haven’t watched them, get on it.
Then check this out and wallow in the universe for a bit longer while we wait for the next one and, with any luck, Waggoner’s return to adapt it.

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

Star Wars: Maul: Lockdown Review

This book ended up being the final novel released in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, aka Legends, timeline.
I have no clue if Joe Schreiber knew at the time he was writing it that he was the penning the swan song for an entire line of continuity or not, but none the less he was swinging for the fences.
The question at this point is did he get it over the wall or did he swing wild and fling his bat at the pitcher, slamming him in the face and unleashing a torrent of blood, causing a bench clearing brawl the likes of which have never been seen before or since that will go down in history as…I may have gotten carried away just then, and I don’t even like baseball, but I think you see my point…let’s answer that question in less gory detail.

Consider this your official ***Spoiler Alert***

Sidious sends Maul undercover into a prison to meet with a mysterious weapons dealer to get a device to further one of his many secret plans and bring forth the Sith takeover we all know is coming.
Through algorithmic match making, this prison is a hub of fights and high stakes betting that brings the attention of the galaxy and some of its more seedy underworldy types.

This is the 3rd and final of Joe Schreiber’s Star Wars novels and I’m trying to decide if this is better than the 1st or not.
The race is so damn tight.
Death Troopers brilliantly handled Han & Chewie appearances while mixing in some kickass Zombie attacks.
This has Maul, Sidious, Plagueis, and Jabba in Pre-Phantom Menace action.
He has a way of dealing with these legacy characters that makes them feel less like untouchable art pieces and more like action figures that are going to get beat up and thrown back in the toy box for the next writer to take out and toss around for a bit, and I mean that in the best possible way.

His handling of Maul is great, displaying the pure stoicism of this brutal fighter is spot on.
Sidious takes lightsabers and the Force out of the arsenal of the horn headed apprentice, to keep his dark side allegiance secret, and it gives us a great insight into how his mind works and how he has been trained to adapt.
We see a new detective side to him as well as we follow him chasing down leads and rumors in the prison, hunting the arms dealer and coming to multiple deadends.
He almost comes off like The Punisher in that respect, and I loved it.

There are twists aplenty, and not a one had that all too familiar feeling of “are you seriously gonna try this hokey shit?” that can often be found in books/story that try to be too clever or deep for their own good.
They all have an air of “aw hell, why didn’t I see that coming?” to them.
One unexpected twist I’ll share is when Darth Plagueis shows up and starts undermining the plans of Sidious, confronting him about it to pretty much let him know he’s aware of the ongoing shenanigans, and then he cooly moves past it to discuss the grand plan for the approaching Sith takeover.
It’s tense as hell and almost worth the price of admission alone.

Tip to tail, this is a damn good book.
And while I enjoy the new main continuity, I hope at some point in the future that Disney/Del Rey will open the door and let the EU/Legends continuity thrive again.
Because if this is the level of story they were pumping out at the end, there were plenty more great stories to come.

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

The Incredible Hulk: Stalker From The Stars Review

Back in wild and wonderful 70’s, the Marvel Universe was still in its formative years.
16 years after The Incredible Hulk made his 4 Color Debut, the rage filled Jade Giant stars in his very 1st prose novel.
But at only 179 pages long, does this story delve any deeper into the character and his history than the low page count would lead you to believe?

As per usual, consider this your official ***41 year old Spoiler Alert***

I knew from the Stan Lee introduction that I would love this book.
You have to understand, this was Stan at the height of his comic ambassador powers, before Blade, X-Men, and Spider-Man made Marvel a beloved household brand.
In these few paragraphs you can see why everybody loved him, his energy and charisma seeps through the ink and paper.
His death was still incredibly fresh in my mind as I started reading this book and it ended up making for a great tribute to The Man.

As for the actual prose content of the novel, it did not disappoint.
A guilt ridden Rick Jones (the often forgotten kid that Bruce Banner saves, leading to the birth of the Hulk) makes his way to an idyllic small American town in search of renown gamma scientist Rudolph Stern’s help.
Once he gets to Crater Falls, a sinister plot of mind control and ancient extraterrestrial evil unravels and brings The Hulk, General Thunderbolt Ross, and a long buried beast to a climactic battle with Earth ending ramifications.

If you listen to the pod you have heard us bitch and complain numerous times about the overcomplicated nature of modern comics and their stories.
Well, this is a perfect encapsulation of what we keep saying we want.
The story has depth, detail, and a sense of history without bloating into a tale that’s mired in frustratingly unnecessary nonsense.
The overall vibe of the book feels like the perfect parts of the comics of the day mixed with the simplicity of what is probably still the most well known version of Hulk, the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno show.

One of the problems with reviewing a book that has multiple authors like this is figuring out where to lay blame or praise.
Thankfully, I don’t have a single complaint.
Len Wein & Marv Wolfman are giants of comics (Len actually had a run on Hulk before co-writing this novel) and Ron Goulart (Joseph Silva) wasn’t a slouch.
I think Len brought the Hulk experience/knowledge and they all brought the writing skill and when it’s mixed this well you get a hell of an adventure.

To wrap up, I love the story of a lonely tortured man that the show did so well and is on display here.
I love the over the top feats of strength and heroics included that we never saw on screen until the movies.
This man, this monster, and this story are all so worth your time.
Reading this only makes me want more of those early Marvel novels, and the hunt is on, gang.
I really hope I can find them and tell you all about them soon.

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.