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!

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!

Suicide comedy, zombie Jughead & epic gamers: What I’m reading

Authors are always reading. I mean… when they’re not writing, of course. Authors gotta write.

Personally, I like to write short book reviews on Goodreads (follow me!). Here’s a selection of some of my favorite recent books.

A Long Way DownA Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nick Hornby writes like people talk and his books are about ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives. A Long Way Down presents one his most dramatic premises — four people intending to commit suicide run into each other on the top of the same building.

Hornby takes a unique approach of alternating perspectives every chapter. The effect is not unlike a documentary, in which interviews with several people are woven together to create a single forward narrative.

Because of the three act structure, large amounts of dialogue and relatively static set pieces, I could really imagine this acted out on the stage. In that way, it felt a little less “novel-y” than other novels, but if that kind of thing doesn’t bug you, then full speed ahead.

I should add that this is a funny book. Yeah, okay, it’s about suicide. But it’s great fun watching the characters’ personalities clash. In many ways they don’t like each other, but at the same time they realize they need each others’ help to keep going.

I really got to liking each of the characters, too, even though they’d done things (and continue to do things) that are not completely likable. And really, it’s a testament to Hornby’s talent that he can pull off a comedy about wanting to kill yourself so effortlessly.

 

Afterlife with Archie Book 1: Escape from RiverdaleAfterlife with Archie Book 1: Escape from Riverdale by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Who knew adding zombies to Archie would make it so good?!

I never really got into Archie Comics, but this fresh spin goes all in on the horror while preserving the characters everyone knows (yes, Archie is still waffling between Betty and Veronica).

I can’t say enough about the artwork by Francesco Francavilla — who is known for his horror stuff and not your typical Archie artist — so I won’t try.

So yeah, Afterlife with Archie is a total blast. Read it now!

 

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ready Player One is the geekiest book I have ever read. That’s a compliment. Gamers, sci-fi and fantasy lovers — this is your book.

Even if you don’t understand all the references, you’ll understand some of them and get a big grin on your face. Meanwhile, the fun narrative — mixing action, comedy and romance — will keep you reading every day until Game Over.

If I have to nitpick, I’d say there’s sometimes a bit too much explanation about how the world functions, both in the virtual OASIS and the dystopian near-future real world. The hero Parzival often pauses to explain the rules when probably the reader could figure these things out along the way.

In the end though, I think your enjoyment of this book ultimately comes down to whether you like fun. Do you like fun? Yes? Well, then…

Ready Player One!

Check out all my book reviews!

Seeking honest reviews for We, The Watched

wethewatched adamAs an indie author, I have a smaller marketing budget and word of mouth is very important. One of the best ways to convince readers to give my books a try is to show them reviews by other readers like them.

I’m not just talking about super-glowing reviews (though these are nice). I’m talking about honest, objective customer reviews that clearly lay out the good and bad elements of a given novel.

Negative reviews are not always a bad thing — it’s possible that reviewer didn’t like a certain element of the story that another person might love. By calling out what you don’t like, others can decide if that’s a deal breaker or a deal maker.

As an incentive for honest reviews, I have just launched my first novel We, The Watched on Story Cartel. For the next four weeks, you can download the complete eBook for free. When you write a review, you are entered into a contest at Story Cartel to win Amazon gift cards and other great prizes.

Update: Sorry folks, the Story Cartel deal is now over. However, you can still get We, The Watched for free on NoiseTrade! By downloading the book, you’ll also be added to my newsletter and receive updates on my writing and advance looks at upcoming stories!

Get We, The Watched for free in exchange for an honest review on Story Cartel.
Get We, The Watched for free in exchange for an honest review.

If you have already read We, The Watched and/or Divided We Fall, I’d of course still love to hear what you think. Please leave a review on the website of the store you bought it, as well as Goodreads if you are a member.

As an indie author trying to expand his audience, I really appreciate all your help!

So many solo albums!

Now I’m not saying I’m getting old or anything, but I seem to have hit that age when all the songwriters from the bands you like decide to go solo. You know, stretch their wings creatively, as it were.

No, seriously. I think I’ve bought more solo / spin-off albums this year than any other year in my life.

Anyway, where there’s a theme, there’s a blog post, and so I now present to you: “So many solo albums!”

Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

Let’s be honest. Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) has been a solo act for a while now. I mean that’s why Graham Coxon ditched Blur (the first time) right? Gorillaz is collaborative in the sense that any song with “featuring” in the title is collaborative … which I guess is, sort of collaborative.

But I digress. Albarn brings his best creative juices to his first true solo album. This is classic Damon — happily sad (or is it sadly happy?) tunes with social commentary and intriguing bleeps and bloops. It’s not exactly the kind of music you’d blast out of your convertible in the summer, but cuts like “Mr Tembo” are sure to get your head pleasantly bobbing.

Dan Wilson – Love Without Fear

You know who Dan is. He wrote “Closing Time” for his old band Semisonic.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end,” so after Semisonic, Dan began scooping up Grammy awards left and right for his writing with acclaimed acts like the Dixie Chicks and Adele (He wrote “Someone Like You”).

On his second solo album, Dan once again shows his songwriting chops. There are a bunch of a really solid songs on this one, including “Your Brighter Days” and “I Can Never Stay Mad at You.”

I must admit there’s nothing on the album quite as shout-along-fun as the best Semisonic tunes, but Dan Wilson is a guy who doesn’t write bad songs. Hell, even “Get a Grip” was catchy, and that was about masturbation.

Owl John (eponymous)

Okay, so that was two guys from the ’90s in a row. But here’s a more modern example — Singer Scott Hutchison from Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit released an album this year under the name Owl John.

I’ve got to say, while I’ve always liked Frightened Rabbit a bit, Owl John has fookin’ swooped out of the fookin’ sky and made that fookin’ bunny its fookin’ supper. (Sorry for all the cursing but that’s how they roll in Scotland. Just sayin’.)

Whereas Frightened Rabbit songs can sometimes get a bit rambly, the songs on Owl John are always tight and melodic. My only complaint is that the album ends too soon. Here’s hoping Owl John isn’t a one-off.

Grant Nicholas – Yorktown Heights

Right, so technically with the guy from Feeder we’re back to the ’90s, but the band’s best album Comfort in Sound came out in the mid 2000s, all right?

Feeder has lately seemed to be undergoing a sort of identity crisis, at one point even pretending to be a new punk-ish band called Renegades, before releasing that album under the name Feeder anyway. I think the problem is that they have three types of fans — the ones that like that hard and fast songs, the ones that like the more mid-tempo, orchestral epics, and the ones like me who like a balanced mix of each.

With his first solo endeavor, Welsh singer/guitarist Grant Nicholas has indulged in his more thoughtful acoustic side. For the most part, it works. These songs are full of hope, and on catchy single “Time Stands Still,” Grant sounds happier than he has in years.

My only worry is that Grant is going to start putting all his quiet songs on solo releases and all his more rocking songs on Feeder albums. Comfort in Sound struck the right balance of both and I’m hoping we’ll see another album like it in the future.

Tweedy – Sukierae

That’s Jeff Tweedy, from Wilco, and his son Spencer. And on his debut solo album, the Tweedys (Tweedies?) sounds pretty much like Wilco.

As he admits on Sukierae: “I’ve always been low key / Well, you know me.”

Now, I don’t like all of Wilco’s albums, but I was a big fan of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and their last album, The Whole Love. This solo album is much in the vein of those two releases — bluesy rock with a sprinkling of distortion, robotic blips and a little county twang for good measure.

With 20 songs and a runtime of over an hour, it’s not exactly the most focused release. But it’s all very listenable, perfect both for concentrated headphone sessions and those other times when you just want some nice background music.

I’m not exactly sure why Jeff Tweedy decided this couldn’t just be a Wilco release. Politics? Wanting to sound like a brand new act? But I can’t complain about the results.

Julian Casablancas + The Voidz – Tyranny

They can’t all be winners. Spinoff albums often are about indulging a band member’s more out-there ideas, and on Tyranny the singer from the Strokes indulges.

For me, the worst Strokes songs are the ones where Julian screams a lot and — conversely — the ones where he’s awkwardly quiet. This unfortunately is a good summary of Tyranny.

There are a couple of songs with catchy riffs (“Crunch Punch”) and there are moments I would deem intriguingly ambitious (“Nintendo Blood”) — but mostly this is a weird and overlong album. It’s not anywhere near as “bad weird” as MGMT’s infinitely disappointing self-titled release last year, but I got nightmarish flashbacks all the same.

I mean, whatever happened to just sounding cool for three minutes?

Let’s hope Julian’s gotten the strangeness out of his system for the next Strokes LP.

That’s it for now, though a couple of weeks ago I learned that Tim Wheeler from Ash is preparing a solo album, too. Something tells me I’ve got to go find out what the kids are listening to these days.

By the way, if you agree or disagree on any of my reviews above, I’d love to hear it. Please leave a comment below!