Adam Bender reviews… Comics!

Reading comics is one hobby that’s stayed with me since childhood. A new crop of writers and artists are keeping the genre fresh and telling smart stories that even mature readers can love.

Here’s some of my recent Goodreads reviews, reprinted for your bloggy enjoyment. Let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions on what I should read next!

Batman, Volume 1: I Am GothamBatman, Volume 1: I Am Gotham by Tom King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After the great Snyder / Capullo run, I was skeptical of a fresh creative crew coming on board, but the new team of King and Finch really works! It’s a bit of a slow start with the initial “Rebirth” comic (which happens to be co-written by Snyder), but I raced through Batman #1-6, enjoying every minute.

King packs in the action without losing the intelligence of a good Batman comic. And whereas I felt Snyder sometimes gets a little excessive with trying to be epic, King’s narrative approach feels a little leaner and more streamlined. Finch’s art is also exceptional — it just has a real classic feel with action that’s easy to follow.

I also loved King’s superb work on The Vision, so I’m excited to find out where he takes Batman next!

Speaking of King’s Marvel Comics series…


The Vision, Volume 2: Little Better than a BeastThe Vision, Volume 2: Little Better than a Beast by Tom King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, Tom King knocks it out of the park again in the second half of his Vision story. This book’s got everything — a clever premise, memorable characters, beautiful art, robots with feelings… If you like sci-fi, even if you don’t necessarily consider yourself a comics fan — you owe it to yourself to read this book. King is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers in comics today.

No need to have any background on The Vision, though you’ll definitely want to start with The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man. Maybe watch the second Avengers movie if you want a quick take on his origin, but not necessary.


Superman: American AlienSuperman: American Alien by Max Landis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fresh spin on Superman, this mini-series captures what it’s like to grow up feeling like an alien. It gives the Kryptonian a humanness that often gets left out of stories about the Man of Steel. The artwork varies in style with the tone of the story, showcasing some of the best artists in comics today.

The hardcover edition is beautifully presented with vivid colors and interesting extras showing original sketches and layouts. One complaint with that edition, however, is that occasionally part of the image and even text gets caught in the fold due to the way the pages are bound together.


Descender, Volume Three: SingularitiesDescender, Volume Three: Singularities by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Volume 3 loses some of the momentum of previous books, with each issue focusing on flashbacks to flesh out the backgrounds of various characters. These characters needed more fleshing out, so it’s good to get to know more about them. Also, the issues about the robots characters are particularly clever. But like season two of Lost — when it took many episodes to resolve a single, short event — this book doesn’t do much to resolve the cliffhangers from Volume 2.

Of course, it’s hard to nitpick a book that looks this good. Nguyen’s watercolors shine once more, transporting the reader to a fully envisioned sci-fi universe. And Lemire continues to do a great job mixing action, humor and the bittersweet.

Just don’t come into this one expecting much progression of the main plot.


Well that’s all for today! Follow me on Goodreads to keep tabs on what I’m reading!

Haunting ‘Secret Path’ Tells Tragic Indigenous History Through Art and Music

Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire

In 1966, an indigenous Canadian boy named Chanie Wenjack ran away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School. He attempted a 400-mile walk home along the railroad through freezing weather, without knowing if he was even going the right way.

Through Chanie’s journey, Secret Path — an innovative combination of music and graphic novel available on Amazon as a paperback/MP3 download —  illuminates a darker part of North American twentieth-century history. Gord Downie of Ontario band The Tragically Hip wrote the words and music, while fellow Canadian and breakout comic book star Jeff Lemire drew the sequential art.

The first time I experienced Secret Path, I read the graphic novel with the music on in the background. The book is short enough to read within the album’s 41-minute running time, and is split into sections by song, so it’s easy enough to take this approach. Taken together, the music and art flow together well, with the images enhancing the words sung by Downie and the mostly acoustic folk rock bringing out the emotions in Lemire’s expressive character-work.

Since then, I have listened to the album quite a few times on its own. The music definitely can stand on its own. With the additional talent of Dave Hamelin from The Stills (another Canadian favorite of mine), Downie’s album carries the listener through the emotional highs and lows of Chanie’s walk, effortlessly evoking images of the boy’s tragic walk.

And as I listened, I found myself flashing back to the beautiful artwork by Lemire. I’ve been a fan of Jeff for some time — especially his more indie work like The Underwater Welder and Essex County, but also some of his writing credits for DC Comics including Animal Man. Lemire has a unique art style that I recall actually put me off the first time I laid eyes on it. But when I pushed ahead anyway, Lemire’s haunting compositions transported me to another world. From the first page of Secret Path, Lemire makes readers feel instantly sympathetic to Chanie’s plight. And he leaves us angry with the country that let such tragedies occur.

Angry, perhaps. But also glad that these fine creators have exposed this hidden history through such accessible storytelling. It’s beyond cool to see a project with such important purpose come together into an artistic masterpiece. What’s more, proceeds from the project will be donated to The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

So don’t wait — take the Secret Path. It’s a road worth traveling.

Adam Bender reads… Totally Messed-Up Possible Futures for the Human Race!

My reviews of Pines, DMZ and Injection

He also reads other people's books.
ADAM ALSO READS BOOKS BY OTHER AUTHORS

When Adam Bender’s not writing, he’s reading. Or doing other stuff, maybe. I mean, he can’t just be reading or writing all the time!

But I digress (and switch suddenly to first person). Here is a selection of my latest book reviews on Goodreads. If you’re a Goodreads user, please follow me to keep updated on what I’m reading. You can even review my books if you want! The shoe is on the other foot now, eh?

Hm, that’s a weird expression. Oh well. Without further ado, here are three books about totally messed-up possible futures for the human race! Thanks for the nightmares, Blake Crouch, Brian Wood and Warren Ellis.


Pines (Wayward Pines, #1)Pines by Blake Crouch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pines, book one of the Wayward Pines trilogy, is a fast-paced thriller with a dystopian twist. The writing is lean with short paragraphs and descriptions that wouldn’t look out of place in a screenplay (Come to think of it, that probably made the story very easy to adapt for TV). And while not totally original, it’s undeniably fun.

Crouch acknowledges the influence of Twin Peaks on his novel, saying that he wished to recreate the feelings experienced when he watched the David Lynch show as a boy. It’s obviously a big influence (right down to the name of the town — whoever named “Twin Peaks” could have easily named “Wayward Pines,” too). But I was also reminded a lot of the Wool series, particularly the explanation for what’s going on. There’s also some elements that seemed ripped from Tarantino, like the Kill Bill-esque nurse in old-fashioned uniform wielding big syringe (of course, Tarantino probably ripped this off of something else). But even if Crouch is taking elements from other creators, I must admit that I admire his taste in influences.

Look, this book isn’t going to be on a list of best American literature, but I can’t deny I had a lot of fun reading it. It’s not overly time-demanding, and I even read it free through Amazon Prime. Next time you need a quick dose of Twin Peaks-y dystopia, you could do worse than the Wayward Pines series.


DMZ, Vol. 1: On the GroundDMZ, Vol. 1: On the Ground by Brian Wood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fast-paced introduction to an exciting dystopian future where America has entered a second civil war. As epic as that sounds, Wood keeps the focus on character to hook the reader in this graphic novel from Vertigo. It all feels very current, too, in light of today’s splintered politics.

Volume 1 just gives a taste of the overall story and feels very much like the introduction. It’s gripping all the same and left me excited to read more. I’ll definitely be continuing this series.


Injection, Vol. 1Injection, Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’d tell you what it’s about, but I think the author would rather you find out for yourself. This is one of those graphic novels where you don’t quite know what’s going on until the end, and even then you’re kind of like, “Well that’s messed up.”

I do have to give the creators credit for this — I read this in one sitting. Despite all the technical jargon coming out of the characters’ mouths, Injection never gets bogged down with a lot of exposition. And the artwork kept my eyes moving from panel to panel. But would I read Volume 2? I don’t know. Maybe if I saw it at the library.

It might be that none of the characters are that likable. They certainly have distinct voices, but … I found it difficult to really sympathize with or get behind anyone.

A warning for those sensitive to violence/gore: this book probably isn’t for you. It’s not that there’s a lot of action, really, but when the knives come out, they REALLY find their target, if you see what I’m saying.

If you’re a fan of Ellis and Shalvey’s excellent Moon Knight run, you might want to give this a go. But you may end up wishing you were reading a new volume of Moon Knight.


Well, that’s the end of today’s edition of Adam Bender reads … If you’ve read any of the above books, I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree with my reviews in the comments below! Or let me know what books you think I should read next!

Three books about travel — Kind of

He also reads other people's books.
ADAM ALSO READS BOOKS BY OTHER AUTHORS

When Adam Bender’s not writing, he’s reading. Or doing other stuff, maybe. I mean, he can’t just be reading or writing all the time!

But I digress (and switch suddenly to first person). Here is a selection of my latest book reviews on Goodreads. If you’re a Goodreads user, please follow me to keep updated on what I’m reading. You can even review my books if you want! The shoe is on the other foot now, eh?

Hm, that’s a weird expression. Oh well. Without further ado, here’s reviews of three books about travel! No, really. Travel. Today I review a classic Bill Bryson book about his wanderings in the UK, a sci-fi espionage novel by Dave Hutchison about traversing the remnants of future Europe, and a much-hyped sci-fi novel by Ernest Cline about flying through space.


Notes from a Small IslandNotes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I always have a lot of fun reading books by Bill Bryson. He writes in an immensely readable fashion, with great wit that is a mix of British and American humor (makes sense since he’s lived extensively on both sides of the Atlantic). I studied abroad in London for a semester, so I especially enjoyed Bryson’s commentary on English culture in this one. Looking forward to reading his new followup — The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain!


Europe In AutumnEurope In Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like the idea a lot. Europe in Autumn is an espionage novel set in a near-future Europe that has fractured into many smaller countries, and things are about as chaotic as you’d expect. It’s a pretty big concept that gives author Dave Hutchinson flexibility to go in a lot of different directions.

Perhaps this is a disadvantage as well — as some other reviewers point out, in this book we have a series of loosely connected episodes and a lot of minor characters. The book doesn’t really drive forward until the end when we final get a sense of an overarching story.

However, in a way I enjoyed this episodic/serial structure. Much like a short story collection, it’s a great format if you’re the kind of reader that doesn’t have time every day to read. You can kind of dive in and out without getting lost, and still feel a sense of accomplishment when you complete each episode. Hutchinson held me with his writing — occasional spots dragged, but there was always something around the corner to grab my interest again.

Still, this book definitely represents a slow-burning lead-in to a sequel where–I’d imagine–most of the meaty action comes into play. The further into this book I read, the more I felt like it was just setting up the real story. With the right payoff in a sequel, I might grow a greater appreciation for the long setup here.


ArmadaArmada by Ernest Cline
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I loved Ready Player One so I was eager to read Ernest Cline’s newest book. I have to say I’m a little disappointed with Armada.

The biggest rule that Cline breaks is “Show, Don’t Tell.” He writes in a breathless, enthusiastic way, but the whole time it felt more like a friend describing his favorite scenes from a movie. Yeah, that sounds like a cool movie, and I might want to go see it, but I didn’t myself feel involved in the scene.

The constant references to sci-fi books, games and film — while fun — occasionally felt like a kind of cop-out. Rather than describe what a base looks like, Cline will conveniently compare it to a set from Star Wars. All the references can also take the seriousness out of a scene. Like, if you’re really in the middle of a war against aliens, are you going to be thinking so much about which movies really did a good job at capturing the experience?

I feel like maybe I’m being a bit harsh, because the book does have a fun premise and Cline does have a talent for mixing geek references into his prose. I have no doubt that younger readers will get a kick out of this. To me, it just feels a little thin on substance, and — having really liked Ready Player One — I know Cline can do better.


Well, that’s the end of today’s edition of Adam Bender reads … If you’ve read any of the above books, I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree with my reviews in the comments below! Or let me know what books you think I should read next!

We, The Watched acclaimed by Kirkus Reviews

I felt especially honored today to receive a glowing review of my debut novel, We, The Watched, from Kirkus Reviews, a highly respected institution in the book publishing world.

Check out this amazing excerpt:

Fueled by a brilliantly nebulous backdrop, this briskly paced, action-packed novel is undeniably a page-turner of the highest order…

A deeply allegorical and powerfully thought-provoking dystopian must-read.

KIRKUS REVIEWS

We, The Watched coverHead over to Kirkus to read the full review! Then, if you haven’t read it yet, check out this page for a list of stores to buy We, The Watched in digital or paperback. You can also get the eBook for FREE by joining my mailing list!

Told from the unique first-person perspective of an amnesiac, acclaimed novel We, The Watched places the reader in the shoes of Seven as he struggles to go unnoticed in a surveillance society and discover his true identity. Seven enters a dystopia where the government conducts mass surveillance and keeps a Watched list of its own citizens. The Church has become as powerful as the State, and people who resist are called Heretics and face execution.

I want to address the reviewer’s one criticism about sexism on the part of the protagonist. The reviewer makes a fair point here, and it’s something that I consciously improved upon in the sequel, Divided We Fall, and my writing since then. I definitely take these kinds of concerns seriously, and I’m glad this criticism did not stop the reviewer from recommending We, The Watched as a must-read.

Hope you enjoy We, The Watched — I can’t wait to read YOUR review!