Tag Archives: Harry Dresden

Why I Hate Halloween – Or, My Hallowe’en Candy Came Early

Normally, I would wait to review the Avengers Assemble episode “Why I Hate Halloween” until more of season four had aired. But given how good an episode it was, and how often I rant and rave against Marvel’s PC posturing, I figure they deserve to know when I think they have done something right.

And I have to tell you, readers, they did “Why I Hate Halloween” just right!!! 😀

For one thing, this episode was entirely lacking in PC appeasement. For another, neither Captain nor Miss Marvel was present. When I saw the title for this show listed on Wikipedia, I thought for sure I would have to sit through another episode featuring Khan and Danvers trotting across the screen, belting out the lyrics to “I am Woman, hear me roar!” for half an hour. I was not looking forward to this episode.

When it started, though, I realized my old friends were back on screen. And it was Hawkeye, one of my top two favorite Avengers, rattling off the introductory details through a series of hilarious zingers.

On top of this, Hulk was smashing down doors and HYDRA goons; Cap was slinging his shield while Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor, and Falcon attacked the bad guys as well. I began to smile, feeling my tense anticipation of a lecture dissolve as I did. Far from finding an episode I would hate, a treasure had been dropped in my lap. So I did not look said gift horse in the mouth but accepted the original Avengers’ reappearance with happy eagerness.

I have to tell you, readers, this show delivered. Bonus points, it is almost entirely centered on Hawkeye, who is tasked with protecting HYDRA scientist Whitney Frost (a.k.a. Madame Masque) from King Dracula and his vampire hordes.

According to Assemble, this is not the first time Drac has had issues with HYDRA. Back in World War II, he formed an alliance with Cap and the West to protect his home turf, Transylvania, from a HYDRA invasion. And no, Cap was not exactly happy to be working side-by-side with the vampire-in-chief. But at the time HYDRA was a bigger threat, so he did his duty and protected Transylvania, fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the leader of vampires everywhere while he did it.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” only goes so far, though. In the present day Cap and Drac are far from allies or friends.

And on this particular day – Halloween – things really are not going the Avengers’ way. Having just mopped up Frost’s HYDRA base, they find the genius scientist has been trying to augment HYDRA soldiers using vampire DNA.

Yeah, I know. This is a stupendously brilliant idea. Use vampire DNA to make an army of keen-sighted, super strong, super fast soldiers. On paper, it sounds great and nothing could possibly go wrong with it.

But anyone with a lick of sense knows better than to tick off one vampire, let alone the vampire king. This brainless HYDRA woman has just bought herself a mess of trouble, which she does not realize until vamps start popping up in the HYDRA base to get her. Dead vampires are a whole lot less scary than the ones that can jump on you and turn you into a vamp, readers. Just ask Harry Dresden.

Well, the Avengers being the heroes they are, they defend Frost from this first wave of attacking monsters. But they cannot keep her among them and prevent the vampires from getting to her, or her from running away when their backs are turned. So Cap orders Hawkeye to take Frost to one of the team’s hidden bunkers called “the Beach House.”

What is Hawkeye’s immediate reaction? “What?! No way! C’mon, you know I hate the Beach House!”

I nearly laughed out loud. As it is, I was smiling so hard I’m lucky my face did not crack.

Despite his protest, Hawkeye does as he is told. Using a HYDRA sky cycle, he takes Frost to the Beach House, which is actually in the mountains in Vermont. He sets up the defenses for the place and brings Frost inside to wait out the night.

But things get complicated when HYDRA tries to spring his charge from house arrest. They send Crossbones and Crimson Widow (Yelena Belova) to evac Frost, but the two only succeed in getting caught inside the house when Drac and an army of vamps show up.

The king of the vampires tells them to hand over Frost and he will let them all live. (Yeah, sure…) Again, Hawkeye has the perfect comeback, “Not gonna happen, Tooth Boy!”

Again, I nearly laughed out loud.

Hawkeye points out that vampires cannot enter houses unless invited in, stating he knows the rules about how they operate. Since they need an invitation, Hawkeye can keep them out simply by telling them to take a hike. Drac admits he has a point, but then asks what good that will do if there’s no house in which he and the others can stand. He subsequently orders his minions to start tearing the Beach House down, leaving Hawkeye to take charge of the three HYDRA villains in order to fulfill his duty to protect Frost.

I will do my best to avoid spoiling the rest of the story, readers. If I have succeeded in whetting your appetite, please take the time to find this show and watch it. It is worth the almost thirty minutes of your time that it will take up.

But, you ask, why do I like this show so much – other than the obvious reason that it stars one of my favorite characters? It is not just the fact that “Why I Hate Halloween” focuses on Hawkeye. It is how Hawkeye behaves in this episode which made me like it so much.

Going back in Thoughts on the Edge of Forever’s archives, you will find a number of posts about Avengers Assemble’s first and second seasons. In most of them, you will find I have a big bone to pick with Marvel’s writers. During the show’s first two seasons, they portrayed all the Avengers – but especially Hawkeye – in varying stereotypical, liberal ways. Of the seven, Hawkeye got the shortest end of the stick, and I was NOT pleased with that. (See previous posts to learn why.)

Season three of the series changed tack, allowing the heroes to act more like themselves than they had in the prior arcs. This gave Hawkeye a chance to shine, and I duly admitted my contentment with this change. Accordingly, I also expressed my displeasure with the first few episodes of season four when he and the others were forcibly removed and replaced with two PC characters (Danvers and Khan) and one with a liberal chip on her shoulder (Wasp).

This episode showed the World’s Greatest Marksman doing everything I had ever wanted the writers to allow him to do in one half hour package. During this installment Clint got to show his resourcefulness, his compassion, his skills, his sense of humor, and his confidence to the utmost. The writers finally let him prove that he is very intelligent, not to mention quite capable of thinking on his feet when others could be or are panicking. From start to finish, the writers let Clint Barton be Clint Barton. They let him be the mature, confident marksman with the snappy patter and heart of gold which he has been for years in the comics. (High falutin’ time they did this, too!)

They also let the HYDRA jerks pick on him and call him the weakest Avenger, an old jibe which has never failed to get under his skin and make him wonder whether or not he actually belongs on the team comprised of “Earth’s Mitghtiest Heroes.” Hearing it delivered in varying ways throughout the show would have made me angry if Clint had not managed to hide how much the taunts actually bothered him. Only at the end did he admit that the sneers had started to undermine his confidence. Seeing him vulnerable, for just a minute there, made up for the mistreatment the writers heaped on him in the first two seasons.

In turn, the writers also let him teach Frost a lesson or three. A proud woman who is supposedly a genius, I have to say, she came off as dense for most of the episode. Which, actually, is true to life; joining the Dark Side does not make you smarter, readers. If anything, it makes you stupid. Case in point would be this dame’s decision to subject vampires to scientific tests to augment living humans’ natural abilities. Vampires – seriously?! How harebrained is that?! Do you WANT to die?!?

But the most important point here is that the writers for this chapter at long last did justice to their character and his environment. They made a compelling standalone show of great value which restores Clint’s dignity as a character, a superhero, and an Avenger. I am not kidding when I say my Hallowe’en candy came early with this episode. It did, and it was long overdue, readers!

By this I mean that I finally got to see one of my favorite Marvel heroes being everything I knew he was and could be. At the end of this show, I was cheering with delight – even when the writers resorted to the old gag of getting Clint in trouble with the Hulk. Since this time it was the result of an honest mistake on his and Big Green’s part, I can let this one joke slide. It seemed to round out the episode nicely – although why Hulk would think to wear that particular costume after a night fighting vampires is beyond me!

Speaking of the not-so-jolly Green Giant, Hulk came through this show with flying colors, too. So did Cap. Neither of them had huge amounts of screen time, for transparent reasons, but what time they did have was used well and artistically. They also behaved according to pattern, and Cap actually got to tell a joke without looking stiff or uncomfortable doing it. I mean, the only thing the writers did not do with this episode was gift wrap it. It was practically a present to Marvel fans – and Cap, Hawkeye, and Hulk fans in particular. It was almost like a thank-you letter straight from the writers’ desk to the fans.

Of course, some may wonder if this is a sign that things are looking up in the Marvel Universe(s). I rather doubt that. This episode was wonderful, stupendous, and utterly amazing – and it could very well have been a one off. Marvel has a new series of “Legacy” comics out now which I do not like the look of at all. Sam is still using Cap’s suit and shield (and still spewing anti-American claptrap); Jane Foster is still prancing around as Thor, and Ironheart has replaced Tony, who has somehow vanished. This is after he had been in a coma since Civil War II. Apparently, they had him using a holographic interface to communicate with the outside world before he pulled a Houdini (putting the lie to the myth that comas equal permanent vegetative states or brain death when they did this).

It also turns out that HYDRA Cap was some kind of clone or something, not the real Steve Rogers. This means that the Real Cap is dealing with the fallout his dopplegänger caused while he was elsewhere. It seems that HYDRA Cap took over half the world and put a lot of people in front of firing squads or some such thing. Naturally, this totally ruined Real Cap’s reputation now that he has returned from the Nevernever – or whatever Marvel equivalent there might be – to clean up the mess.

You know, maybe they should rename it “Awful Comics” instead of Marvel Comics. There is not much marvelous in these new stories; just a lot of depressing horse pills which leave a lousy taste in readers’ brains.

So no, I do not think “Why I Hate Halloween” marks the beginning of a trend. At least, I do not believe that right now. Considering the pleasant surprise the writers handed me this week, I could be in for more. While such a hope is faint, “hope springs eternal in the human breast,” and I am not going to lose hope that Marvel can right their ship. I am just not going to hold my breath while I hope for it to happen. I like living too much to try the opposite.

Anyway, readers, take the time to look up “Why I Hate Halloween.” This is good Marvel fare, believe me. If you are a Hawkeye hater, you can at least enjoy it for Cap and Hulk. Or the explosions. Or the vampires. And if none of that will win you over… (Author shrugs.) Oh, well. I tried.

Avengers assemble!

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Book Review: Timothy Zahn’s Quadrail series

Image result for Timothy Zahn Quadrail series

To this blogger’s great distress, I have not read many Timothy Zahn works which were not written under the auspices of Lucasbooks. What can I say? The man writes great Star Wars stories!

But, while he may be best known for those novels, Timothy Zahn does not confine himself to this beloved niche. He has written many of his own books and has a couple of series going, with his own characters, histories, and tech.

One of these is his Quadrail series. This series focuses on one Frank Compton, a detective who works for the aliens that run the Quadrail. The Quadrail is an alien-built galactic space train that travels through the galaxy at the speed of light. How humanity became aware of it, I do not know. I have read only three books in the series so far, and those are The Third Lynx, Odd Girl Out, and The Domino Pattern.

Image result for Timothy Zahn Quadrail series Image result for Timothy Zahn Quadrail series Image result for Timothy Zahn Quadrail series

Frank’s main enemy in the series is the Modhri. The Modhri is a kind of hive mind entity which infects people – aliens and humans – with tiny organisms. These organisms are undetectable to the host, and they would only be seen in a very thorough microsurgery operation. Through these colonies of organisms, the Modhri can view what the hosts view and take control of them – motor functions and minds both – any time he feels like it.

And there is not a darn thing the hosts can do about it, in part because they can never remember what happened while they were being controlled. They are the typical living robots who have no idea they are anything but normal.

Why is the Modhri doing this? Galactic domination, of course – he has the power to achieve it, after all. Why not use it?

Frank has been fighting the Modhri for some months now with the help of Bayta, a half-human, half-alien hybrid who is perfectly up to date on a zillion different scientific facts but whose social skills are severely stunted. It is hinted that she and Frank are rather charmed with each other. ‘Course, when a girl-guy team saves each other’s lives often enough, that tends to happen.

I am not going to spoil more than I already have. Frank Compton is, now that I think about it, rather like the wizard/detective Harry Dresden, from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. Except that Frank has to deal with aliens and tech instead of magic, fairies, and angels. Not sure which world I would rather have, though I think aliens are a mite less intimidating than angels.

Both Frank and Harry have a snappy sense of humor, they both deal with threats the general public is unaware of, and they have no problem referencing popular culture – though Frank’s pop culture is mixed with aliens and space travel, so it does not hit home quite as frequently as Harry’s does. The two characters probably display this kind of humor as a way of dealing with the stress of fighting things no one else knows about. I have to say that this is one of the reasons why I enjoy characters such as Frank Compton and Harry Dresden so much.

Well, readers, you will find no more spoilers here! Go ahead and find the Quadrail series. I hope you enjoy it!

Later,

The Mithril Guardian

Image result for Timothy Zahn Quadrail judgement at proteus

Book Review – The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

Whew! What a read!!!

The subject of today’s post is an unusual book written by a well-known author. It is a new book and a fabulous read – I literally had to force it out of my hands! But, before going on about this novel, readers, I would like to say a few things about the author.

Jim Butcher is an writer whose books have landed on the New York Times bestseller list several times. A fantasy/sci-fi writer, Mr. Butcher’s most famous series is probably his Harry Dresden novels. Harry Dresden is a wizard/detective based in Chicago. He deals with werewolves, vampires, ghosts, faeries (small and big), as well as other wizards.   He has even met and talked to angels – good and bad!

I have read a couple of Harry Dresden novels and discovered a few things about Jim Butcher in the process. One, he is a huge fan of Star Wars. This is evidenced not only by his own admission at the back of some of his books, but by Harry Dresden’s constant quoting or referring to the original Star Wars trilogy. (I wonder what he thinks of The Force Awakens?)

Two, Mr. Butcher also knows about and enjoys other genres/series, which he also references in his novels. Harry Dresden mentions Marvel characters, the Looney Tunes, The Princess Bride, and even Disney movies throughout his adventures. Harry is by far the wittiest character I have yet seen Jim Butcher write. Though I do not necessarily like everything in the Harry Dresden stories, Harry himself is definitely one of my favorite characters. I am always rooting for him to win.

Another book series by Jim Butcher which I have (sort of) read is the Codex Alera series. Okay, technically, I only read the one book. But that was an excellent story, too! Mr. Butcher is said to have received the idea for the Codex Alera series from a fan or casual reader of his work. This man bet the author could not make a series out of two bad story ideas. So Mr. Butcher challenged him to name two bad story ideas, and he would try to make a good story out of them. The fan came back with The Lost Roman Legion and Pokémon.

Mr. Butcher succeeded admirably in combining the two, I think. And having never seen Pokémon (except in television advertisements and toys), that connection was not immediately obvious to this reader. The Roman connection, however, was extremely hard to miss!

Now, Mr. Butcher has done it again. His newest book, The Aeronaut’s Windlass, came out not too long ago. It is the first book in his new series, The Cinder Spires. Visiting the library sometime back, I saw the book on a shelf of newly acquired novels and literally snatched it up. No way was I going to let this story pass me by! Grabbing a chair, I started reading….and reading…and reading!

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is set in the far future of Earth. Apparently, by this point Earth has been transformed into an alien jungle. Thick mists separate the land from the sky, and while light still gets through, it does not do so in the way in which we are accustomed. And in this future, normal creatures have either vanished entirely or morphed into monsters that prey on humans. As a result, humanity survives in tall, manmade skyscrapers called Spires.

The Spire at the heart of this story is Spire Albion. Several characters in the novel end up working together later on, forming the core group whose exploits will doubtless be the center of this new series. My favorite character in The Aeronaut’s Windlass, however, is Captain Francis Madison “Mad” Grimm, of the Albion privateer ship Predator.

Okay, now I have to back up a bit. Obviously, since humans live in the Spires, there are no seas for them to sail. Instead, the humans in The Cinder Spires sail through the air or, when need be, through the thick mists that shroud the Earth. The ships have a combination of steam powered and crystal powered engines. It is for this reason, seemingly, that Mr. Butcher and others call the Cinder Spires series a “steampunk” saga.

Almost everything in the Spires is run by steam engines, apparently. These engines, aboard airships, receive their power from crystals specially grown in the houses of the Spire’s nobility. Oh, and nothing in the Spires is made of exposed steel or iron. Once that metal is open to the elements, it rusts and falls apart within days. Everything is made of copper, brass, or some other metal. Anything that is made of steel or iron is covered by either of these metals so that it will not corrode.

The airships’ engines, run by the crystals I mentioned before, keep the vessels aloft by riding on the etheric currents that flow through the atmosphere. These currents flow around everyone – even in the Spires! There are, though, some people who have etheric currents flowing right through them. These people are wizards known as etherealists (all of whom are nuts as a result of constantly having etheric currents flowing through them; as usual, some of these wizards are good crazy, and others are bad crazy). You can tell Butcher is a thorough-going Star Wars fan. Etherealists use etheric currents like the Jedi or the Sith use the Force! Both the currents and the Force flow around and through people all the time, after all!

Captain Grimm is a great character. Cashiered from Spire Albion’s defense fleet for cowardice, Grimm is no coward. But the latest prize he tries to snare in his privateering business is only bait for a trap to catch him and Predator. Narrowly escaping that disaster, Grimm loses several men in the skirmish. But the worst damage is to Predator’s core crystal. It has cracked, beyond repair. Core crystals for ships are so expensive they are practically priceless. The only ships that can afford them are Fleet ships. So the chances of Grimm gaining such a crystal are…. nil, nada, and zip.

But Grimm is determined not to give up his ship. Ever since he got out into the open air, he has loved nothing else. The idea of living a Spire-bound life horrifies him, and by this point, it would probably qualify as a death sentence. He will not give up his ship. Somehow, some way, he has to get her skyworthy again.

The opportunity to get Predator in the air again presents itself when Grimm accepts a dangerous commission from the (figurehead) ruler of Spire Albion himself, Spirearch Addison Albion. Unfortunately, I have to leave the description right there readers. I have given quite a few spoilers already. If you do pick up this book, it would be good if you found a few surprises! 😉

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is an exciting adventure – a real page turner! Butcher draws his characters and the world they live in with a precise pen, wasting no words and scattering humor throughout the novel. As always, he keeps some details about this new world to himself. His readers fall in love with the characters and most of their world, while he leaves just enough unexplained, so that we readers have to say, “When is the next book released?! We want more!

Grimm is my favorite character in the whole book, as I said. Mr. Butcher described the novel as a combination of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen “meets Sherlock Homes meets Horatio Hornblower,” prior to the novel’s release. I think this is one of the reasons Captain Grimm appealed to me so much. I was introduced to Hornblower through Masterpiece Theater as a child, and I have had a special love for Mr. Hornblower, the sea, and wooden sailing ships ever since.

Grimm’s skills as a captain are spectacular. If I do not miss my guess, Spire Albion is based on 19th century England, and Grimm has at least some resemblance to her most famous privateer, Francis Drake. He also has a dash of Captain James T. Kirk in him. Star Wars fan that he is, Mr. Butcher doubtless realized (as others have), that Star Trek was more accurate in terms of how it presented space travel as the future form of seafaring. Captain Kirk was drawn accordingly, and so is Captain Grimm, whose ship also plies the skies – though not the galaxy!

Most of Grimm’s character, however, is his own. Despite his resemblance to other heroes, fictional and historical, he is a great protagonist for this new series. As a friend of mine said, “He is smart in how he handles his ship, and wise in how he handles his people.” Grimm reads and takes the measure of his enemies with the care of a scientist, never ceasing to think or wasting his assets if he can help it. He deeply cares about his crew, and remains concerned for the welfare of the young guards whom the Spirearch charges him to support and protect in the novel.

This is a truly tremendous, fascinating book, readers. And the series that follows it can only get better from here! So grab a copy of The Aeronaut’s Windlass and settle down with it as quickly as you can, if I may be so bold! It is well worth reading!

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian