X-Men Red Volume 1: The Hate Machine by Tom Taylor, Mahmud Asrar and Pascal Alixe

X-Men Red Volume 1 Cover.jpg

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Publication Date – 18 September 2018

 

Writer Tom Taylor and his artistic team have created an excellent and thought-provoking new X-Men series that not only follows the reintroduction of one of comics’ most interesting characters to the turbulent Marvel Universe but once again examines the real world problems of hatred and prejudice.

X-Men_Red_Annual_Vol_1_1_Johnson_Variant.jpg

For years, Jean Grey’s fate has always been tied to the universe-ending Phoenix Force, the cosmic entity of rebirth and destruction that is constantly seeking the most powerful host it can find.  However, following her latest resurrection during the events of Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey, Jean has renounced the Phoenix power once and for all and is now determined to live her life on her own terms.  Still one of the most powerful mutants in the entire world, Jean Grey sets out to restore her connections and find her place in a world that has changed dramatically since her last death.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that mutants are still feared and hated by a world that doesn’t understand them.  Despite all the adventures and endeavours of Charles Xavier and his X-Men, animosity towards mutants has never been higher.  Determined to change the world for the better, the resurrected founding member of the X-Men sets out to achieve her vision for the future and change world opinion about mutants once and for all.  To do that, Jean first attempts to create a mutant nation at the UN.  But when she is framed for the murder of politician, Jean is declared a criminal and mutants are subject to greater hatred from mankind.

X-Men_Red_Vol_1_1.jpg

Realising that someone must be behind the recent upswing in anti-mutant sentiment and determined to protect those mutants targeted by hatred, Jean forms a new team of X-Men, made up of Nightcrawler, Storm, Namor, Gambit, Gentle, Wolverine (Laura Kinney – X-23), Honey Badger (Wolverine’s adorable clone) and newcomer Trinary.  But even as Jean and her team fight to save those mutants being targeted, more hatred and attacks are occurring around the world.  The sinister Cassandra Nova is determined to wipe mutants out once and for all and views Jean Grey as the greatest threat to this goal.

Following the end of his All-New Wolverine series, Australian author Tom Taylor returns at the head of a brand new X-Men series, X-Men Red, which takes fans back to the basics of the X-Men franchise.  Volume 1 of X-Men Red is made up of issues #1-5 of this new series, as well as Annual #1.  After enjoying Taylor’s work in All-New Wolverine (check out my review here: https://unseenlibrary.com/2018/09/08/all-new-wolverine-volumes-1-6-complete-series-by-tom-taylor/), I was excited to see him continue to work with Marvel, especially as it allows him to expand on characters and story elements he introduced in his previous Marvel series.  Most of the artistic work in this new series has been produced by veteran artist Mahmud Asrar, who has significant work in DC, Image, Marvel and other publishers.  X-Men fans may be familiar with his work on All-New X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men.  Asrar was the main artist for issues #1-5, while the work on Annual #1, which is placed at the start of the volume, was drawn by Pascal Alixe.

X-Men_Red_Vol_1_2.jpg

It is always fun when starting a new superhero team comic book series made up of established characters to see which heroes the creative team will include in their version of the team.  Taylor has certainly chosen an intriguing and previously unseen mixture of characters for this new X-Men series, and it is interesting to see which characters he focuses on.  The central character of this new team is the newly resurrected Jean Grey, the red in the series title.  This is one of the few times we see Jean step up to lead a team, as she is no longer in the shadow of her mentors or former lovers.  Aside from Jean, the main team members are Nightcrawler, Wolverine and Honey Badger, who are featured in all the issues contained within this first volume.  It was great to see Nightcrawler given such a prominent role in the comic, and it feels like it’s been a while since he’s been such a major character within an X-Men series.  I also liked new character Trinary, who is introduced in this series and is given an interesting set of powers.  Trinary is from India, and has technopathy powers, or the ability to manipulate technology.  Introduced as a new mutant who is attempting to fight the good fight in her own way, Trinary is given a key role in the series understanding the full nature of the technological attacks of the volume’s antagonist, while also taking over a sentinel to use as the team’s new primary source of transportation.  I think this character is given a great introduction, and could have an interesting future in the Marvel universe.  Other characters, Namor, Gentile, Gambit and Storm join the team at various points in the volume, and have a slightly reduced role, appearing for some of the big team ups, with only some short introductory storylines.

I was especially happy to see Taylor transplant the main characters of his previous All-New Wolverine series, Wolverine and Honey Badger, into his next project.  As I mentioned in my previous review, this version of Wolverine, Laura Kinney, also known as X-23, has always been one of my favourite X-Men characters, so I was very happy to see her used again in this series.  She plays a similar role in this team to the original Wolverine, as the silent infiltrator and bodyguard who is loyal to the team’s leader, who in this case is Jean rather than Professor X.  Just like in All-New Wolverine, the heart and soul of this series is definitely Honey Badger, Laura’s clone, who, as well as being a full member of the team, is the series’ comic relief.  Her humorous interactions with all the other characters in the book, especially the stern and serious characters, add a good amount of levity to the book.  Having her refer to Namor as Abs-lantis, or making Gambit hurriedly justify his actions for blowing up Honey Badger by saying it was “for strategic reasons” is particularly amusing and definitely made me smile.  However, the best line in the book has to be given to Wolverine, who casually replies to Jean’s amusement about Laura’s excitement about being in an underwater city with “Being Wolverine doesn’t make me impervious to the wonder of a #$%@%$& mermaid”.

X-Men_Red_Vol_1_3.jpg

One of the most defining things about the start of this new series is how it focused on the evolution of the character of Jean Grey.  Despite being a founding member of the X-Men, Jean’s most significant storylines have usually been about her relationships with Cyclops and Wolverine, or her connection to the Phoenix Force.  Now, after coming back to life, Jean has stepped out of these currently deceased characters’ shadows and starts her own attempt to change the world, as she is no longer content to return to her old life.  Essentially, Taylor is trying to set Jean up as the new Professor X, with her own vision for mutant kind and her determination to change the world for the better and end the current level of hatred and prejudice.  While she has her own unique style and vision, there are a lot of call backs to the original Professor X, including the standard “To me, my X-Men” saying that Professor X and other X-Men leaders utilised throughout X-Men history.  I also enjoyed seeing a Jean Grey that is no longer defined by her relationship with the Phoenix Force, especially as Jean lets it be known that the Phoenix Force was holding her back.

It was also nice to see Jean repair the relationships she previously lost with several prominent X-Men characters, as well as establishing new relationships with characters she’s never had a chance to meet before.  This is particularly prevalent in Annual #1, which starts the volume, as she reunites with her surrogate X-Men family, which is heart-warming, especially as there is a focus on her friendship with Nightcrawler, who spends the volume as her BFF.  I also really enjoyed seeing her think about her relationships with Cyclops and Wolverine.  For the first time in X-Men history, Jean is alive when Cyclops and Wolverine are both dead, and must focus on the world without the two men she’s loved.  As such, she spends time adventuring with the daughters of these two men, Rachel Grey and the new Wolverine, and meeting up with them is one of the first priorities she has returning to the world.  I liked how one of the definitive love triangles of Marvel Comics is acknowledged in this new series, even though two points of the triangle are currently dead, and the focus of Jean’s relationship with the next generation of these characters was a clever idea.  I’ll be very interested to see what relationships are explored in the future, with all sorts of different iterations or offspring of Jean and Cyclops out in the world at the moment.  It will also be very intriguing when the original Wolverine is resurrected to see what role he plays in this series, as the creative team will have to have a look at the relationships that this character has with Jean, the current Wolverine and Honey Badger, a new daughter character he’ll have to interact with.
X-Men_Red_Vol_1_4.jpg

Since its earliest days, X-Men has always been about the fight against prejudice, as the hatred the mutant characters experience has often been seen as an analogy for social issues such as racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.  Taylor and the creative team behind X-Men Red continue this tradition of using their X-Men series to reflect social issues, in this case focusing on modern issues such as the latest rise of the extreme right-wing, intense nationalism, islamophobia, fear and concern about refugees and migrants, as well as racism.  All of these social issues are reflected in the portrayed hatred of mutants in this volume, with various elements of recent world events shown directed towards the mutant characters.  For example, you have Poland attempting to use their military to round up and detain mutants, similar to how some countries have been using their military to stop or detain refugees.  In another very unconcealed scene, rioters carrying tiki torches start attacking mutants, not considering them people, and even killing one mutant counter protestor, in events that are reminiscent of those of Charlottesville.  There is also a focus on the damage or the impact that social media and the internet can have on these events, as many of the anti-mutant events or rhetoric are contained online.  This will be very familiar to readers, as it is impossible not to see the online hatred that many anonymous people direct towards various groups around the world, and at least the one in the comic may be the result of supervillain plot.  Overall this focus on prejudice is a familiar subject to X-Men readers, and many will appreciate how the creative team have tried to bring in modern issues in this new series.  The creative team do end Volume 1 with a message of hope, with some of these antagonist people given a proper understanding of an opposing viewpoint, momentarily giving up their hatred and prejudice, and is something aspire for in the real world.

The artwork within Volume 1 of X-Men Red is just gorgeous and a real highlight of the book.  As mentioned above, Alixe does the artwork for Annual 1, while Asrar does the artwork for issues #1-5.  Both artists’ works are visually distinctive and give the reader something different when it comes to character design, displays of power and fight sequences.  Asrar in particular does some gorgeous backdrops and landscapes, as the stories he is illustrating see the characters go to all sorts of locations, including India, underwater cities and Wakanda.  There are a lot of well-drawn action scenes throughout this volume, although I found the final pages of issue #1 to be some of the most powerfully drawn in the entire volume.  Not only is there a somewhat graphic scene for a Marvel comic but the final panel shows the look of despair on the main characters as the volume’s antagonist makes her first move.  The artistic team of X-Men Red have outdone themselves in this first volume, creating some superbly drawn artworks that are catch the eye and the imagination.

X-Men_Red_Vol_1_5.jpg

X-Men Red takes this new version of this iconic superhero team back to the sort of storylines that made the X-Men such a smash hit in the first place.  With a resurrected Jean Grey taking the lead, Australian author Tom Taylor and his creative team have cleverly brought current social issues to the forefront of their new series while also doing some superb character work, including redefining one of the original X-Men.  This is a great start to an amazing new comic series and a fantastic read for fans of the X-Men franchise.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson

Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson Cover.jpg

Publisher: Michael Joseph

Publication Date – 3 September 2018

 

From debuting Australian author Benjamin Stevenson comes this chilling and intelligent murder mystery that builds a thrilling case with some sensational twists around an intriguing true crime documentary plot device.

Four years ago, in the small Australian country town of Birravale, Curtis Wade was arrested and tried for the murder of young woman Eliza Dacey.  Hated by the entire town and viewed as an outsider, Curtis was quickly found guilty of the crime with very little evidence presented at the trial.  Everyone was convinced of Curtis’ guilt until podcaster and documentarian Jack Quick decided to get involved.

Noting some inconsistencies in the case and sensing an opportunity for fame, Jack decided to make a true crime documentary series, presenting the local police as incompetent and biased.  His series becomes an overnight hit across Australia, and his edited footage convinces many in the country of Curtis’s innocence.  But the night before the finale is due to air, Jack notices a piece of crucial evidence near the murder scene that could prove that Curtis is guilty after all.  Determined not to ruin his series, and convinced that no matter what happens Curtis will never see the light of day again, he disposes of the evidence.  However, thanks to his series, Curtis is released on retrial, and then a second murder is committed, with several grisly details of the first case replicated.  Has Jack just let a murderer go free?

Returning to Birravale, Jack must once again dive into the secrets of a town that hates him for the way his show portrayed them.  As Jack attempts to solve this crime, he must overcome his own past while also dealing with the guilt of the situation.  But did Curtis commit this new crime, or is he being framed by the real killer?  Whoever the murderer is, Jack is wrapped up in their game and for once he needs to reveal the whole truth.

Greenlight is the first novel from Australian comedian and author Benjamin Stevenson and represents a brilliant and exhilarating debut.  This book has an amazing central storyline with a massively intriguing mystery that focuses on the innocence or guilt of the man who has already been both convicted and found innocent of the same murder.  The protagonist must look at whether the person he released from jail committed the murder he was originally convicted of, as well as a second, similar murder that occurred after the suspect has been released.  The reader is constantly left guessing about whether the prime suspect, Curtis, has committed either or both of the crimes, or whether he is actually innocent.  At the same time, the reader is presented with a series of plausible alternative suspects who have motive for either of the murders or, in some cases, the same motive for both of the killings, and this creates some exciting doubt about the original suspect’s guilt.  The final reveals and twists of this case are rather shocking and will definitely provide the readers with some excellent surprises.  Stevenson does a good job providing a lot of hints and foreshadowing in his text, and readers will enjoy seeing how these cleverly scattered clues are brought together in the end.  Overall, this is a hell of a mystery and the author does a fantastic job tying the investigation into the book’s other elements.

One of the most noticeable and outstanding parts of Greenlight is its true crime elements and how this affects both the story and the way that the book is written.  Ever since the dramatic popularity of the 2015 Netflix true crime show, Making a Murderer, various books and shows have attempted to emulate the documentary setting in their works.  What I liked about Stevenson’s book was that, rather than dealing with the creation of the documentary, it is mostly set some months after the television series was released and instead takes a look at the consequences that the show has had.  Not only is a potential murderer released, but various lives and careers have been ruined as a result of the protagonist’s actions.  It is absolutely fascinating to see the various ways that the reaction and follow-up of the true crime television series comes into play through the story.  The protagonist has to deal with a series of characters who are annoyed or angry about their portrayal in the series, which informs the help, assistance or compassion that these characters give.  The success of the series also affects the police response, leaving the protagonist much more open to investigate the crime.  It is also intriguing to see a television show being used as a motive for murder throughout the book, as the second murder could potentially be tied into righting the wrongs that the show caused.  Stevenson covers all these elements incredibly well, and the examination of the consequences and damages of a successful true crime documentary series turns out to be the perfect backdrop for this captivating murder story.

On top of the powerful mystery and the terrific plot focus, Stevenson has also created an interesting central protagonist who serves as the point of view character for most of the book.  The main character, Jack, is the documentarian who makes the show that gets the mystery’s main suspect freed from jail.  Watching the guilt and shame that this character experiences as a result of his various actions, such as the creation of the show, tampering with evidence and editing the videos to tell a specific story, is a great part of this story, and it serves as a perfect motivation for this character’s continued and at times frantic investigation.  Watching the character understand the full extent of his questionable actions, especially after the second murder, is an outstanding part of this book that highlights Stevenson’s strong writing ability.  It is also interesting to see how his experiences creating a documentary have affected his judgement and the way he perceives the world.  The protagonist now sees the slanted way many of the characters talk when it comes to case, and he is constantly trying to determine what role the people who are involved in the case would have in a television show, such as a main character or a supporting cast member.  The author also creates some interesting character background for Jack that works well with this story, as guilt and trauma from his childhood combines with the current extreme blame and he is currently feeling.  Stevenson also produces an accurate and powerful description of an eating disorder that Jack is suffering from, and not only is this description respectful done and informative, but it adds another level to this excellent main character.

A large amount of Greenlight’s plot is set in the fictional small, winegrowing country town of Birravale in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales.  This serves as a great background setting for the murder investigation as the small town secrets and attitudes play a huge role in the overall mystery.  Stevenson does an amazing job portraying a winegrowing community, and provides some interesting details that come into play in a number of ways and often result in a number of potential murder motives.  The small-town setting also works well with the post true crime series plot element, as the protagonist encounters an entire town that has been portrayed in a negative light throughout this series and is viewed in a different way by the rest of the country.  Seeing these resultant attitudes and the impacts his series has had on the town works wonders for the main character and is a great part of this book.

In his debuting novel, Australian author Benjamin Stevenson has created an incredibly captivating mystery storyline.  Greenlight contains a number of outstanding elements, from shocking plot twists and reveals, an excellent central character and an utterly fascinating central plot device, all of which come together into one amazing novel.  This is an exceptional first book from Stevenson which highlights both his fantastic ability and his huge potential as a crime writer.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

After the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson

After the Lights Go Out

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Publication Date – 1 August 2018

 

From bestselling Australian author Lili Wilkinson comes After the Lights Go Out, an incredible and powerful young adult adventure set in the heart of the bush that asks the impossible question: should a person choose family or community in an emergency?

Seventeen-year-old Prudence Palmer is a young woman living outside the small Australian outback town of Jubilee with her father, Rick, and her younger twin sisters, Grace and Blyth.  To the other inhabitants of the town, they are just another mining family, living close to Rick’s workplace.  However, they are actually hiding a much deeper secret: they are doomsday preppers.  Convinced that the world will soon suffer some form of imminent catastrophe, Rick has moved his daughters off the grid to Jubilee and has constructed a hidden bunker out the back of his property.  Filled with a substantial amount of food, medicine, equipment, weapons and entertainment, the bunker has everything they need to survive the end of the world.  The girls have also been trained to survive and are ready to react against a variety of scenarios.

While Rick is sure a world-changing disaster is just around the corner, Pru is less certain, and is happy to keep her family’s activities a secret.  So it is a great shock to her when something actually happens and every electrical device, modern car and generator in Jubilee suddenly fails.  With Rick gone, Pru and her sisters must suddenly implement their survival plan without their father’s guidance and make the hard decision to hide their bunker and supplies from their friends in the town.  With food, water and medicine becoming scarce, and with no transportation, communications or other vital necessities, the town starts to fall apart.  As the situation gets even worse, Pru and her sisters must decide between helping their friends or doing as they have been trained and survive alone.

Lili Wilkinson is an exciting Australian author who has produced 10 intense and dramatic young adult novels since her 2006 debut, Joan of Arc: The Story of Jehanne Darc.  Her eleventh novel, After the Lights Go Out is an outstanding standalone book that could potentially replace Tomorrow, When the War Began as the go-to disaster story for Australian young adult audiences.  This book contains a dramatic and moving main story that plunges the world into chaos and places the potential survival of a small town in the hands of one young woman.

At the heart of this book lies a tough moral dilemma for the narrator Pru when she must decide between helping her local community and guaranteeing her family’s survival.  Pru’s father, Rick, a hardcore survivalist, has stocked the family bunker with enough supplies to keep Pru and her sisters alive for several years.  He has also taught his daughters to never help anyone but themselves, and to keep all their supplies for the family.  When a disaster strikes and Rick goes missing, it is up to Pru and her sisters to make the decision, and at first they choose to keep the bunker and supplies hidden from their friends in Jubilee.  As the situation in the town gets worse, Pru’s guilt conflicts with her father’s training and instructions.  This internal debate is intensified when she falls in love with newcomer Mateo and watches him and his mother doing everything they can to save the townsfolk, despite the fact they are not locals and have no significant connection to people living there.  Watching Pru’s internal struggle and the external debate with her sisters is intense, and the reader is left wondering what they would do in a similar situation.  How Pru’s eventual decision affects her family and her relationships with the people of Jubilee is very memorable, and hits all the right emotional notes in this excellent story.

After the Lights Go Out contains an intriguing examination of the doomsday prepper phenomenon that is currently occurring around the world.  The main character’s father believes every single conspiracy theory that exists and is determined to prepare his daughters for anything.  It is clear that Wilkinson has done some significant research into survivalists and their various techniques, and as a result her characters are prepared for every doomsday scenario and have a ton of supplies and a high-tech bunker at their disposal.  There is a lot of discussion and exposition about the various survivalist conspiracies, plans to live in an altered world, the necessary techniques and the ideal supplies that every prepper should have.  Despite most doomsday preppers being American, many of the techniques in this book have an Australian flavour to them, as the girls know the local fauna, flora and means of survival out in the harsh bush conditions.  While every preparation the Palmer family has undertaken is fascinating to read about, I found the examination of the improvised medical techniques the characters use to be particularly outstanding.  This includes including one memorable and somewhat graphic sequence where the narrator needs to perform some rudimentary dentistry.  Overall, the use of the doomsday preppers’ planning and theories is an incredibly intriguing part of this story that provides the reader with some cool facts and the results of the author’s in-depth research.

Wilkinson has also populated the book with some excellent characters who really bring the story together.  While the Palmer sisters are good central characters and Pru is a great narrator who has to make a huge range of tough decisions, the best character has to be the Palmer father, Rick.  Rick is a crazed survivalist who is convinced that the world is about to end and whose paranoia has driven him to outback Australia.  When one of his disaster scenarios actually comes true, he becomes even more erratic, and watching his fears overcome his love for his daughters is very tragic to behold.  There is also Mateo, the young American tourist and liberal city-slicker who is essentially the opposite of Pru when it comes to life experiences.  The relationship between him and Pru is nice.  It evolves at a natural pace and offers the reader some different insights into the situation and the motivations of the Palmer sisters.  Another effective character is Keller Reid, the older boy with an unhealthy obsession with Pru’s younger sisters.  Keller is a particularly despicable character who serves as a very annoying minor antagonist who moves the plot around.  Watching him through the narrator’s eyes, you cannot help but hate him and hope he gets some eventual comeuppance.  The other townsfolk of Jubilee are a good mixture of characters, and it’s nice seeing them come together as a community rather than break down and kill each other as Rick believed they would.

Another part of this book that stood out to me was Wilkinson’s use of the powerful Australian landscape and the examination of small country towns.  The author provides some vivid images of the distinctive Australian bush, and looks at the various features that make it an intriguing backdrop for a story about survivalists.  The author also produces some exceptional portrayals of the close communities that exists in small town Australia and how they their isolation might be both a benefit and a detriment to their survival in a doomsday scenario.  It is definitely a unique setting for a catastrophe novel such as After the Lights Go Out, and one which I felt really added to the beauty and intensity of the story.

I really enjoyed this book and thought it was an incredible piece of literature from Wilkinson.  Because of its excellent story and the phenomenal look it takes at survivalists and their viewpoint of the world, I think this book is perfect for its intended young adult audience, which could prove to be very empowering and enjoyable read for them.  Parents should aware that there are some adult moments and a couple of graphic scenes, but this excellent and informative story is worth the risk.  After the Lights Go Out is a deep and powerful five-star book that provides its readers with an excellent examination of doomsday preppers.  This is definitely one of the best young adult books I have read this year and I cannot recommend this outstanding Australian book enough.

My Rating:

Five Stars

All-New Wolverine: Volumes 1 – 6: Complete Series by Tom Taylor

All-New_Wolverine_Vol_1_1_Lopez_Variant Cover.jpg

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Publication Dates:

All-New Wolverine Vol. 1: The Four Sisters – 24 May 2016

All-New Wolverine Vol. 2: Civil War II – 8 November 2016

All-New Wolverine Vol. 3: Enemy of the State II – 3 May 2017

All-New Wolverine Vol. 4: Immune – 29 November 2017

All-New Wolverine Vol. 5: Orphans of X – 27 February 2018

All-New Wolverine Vol. 6: Old Woman Laura – 24 July 2018

 

Prepare yourself for an all-new Wolverine in this exciting new series from Tom Taylor and a skilled team of Marvel artists, as one of the best characters in the Marvel Universe, X-23, rises to take the place of one of comic’s most beloved superheroes.

Following the death of the original Wolverine, Logan, in the 2014 series Death of Wolverine, Marvel chose to elevate his clone and surrogate daughter, X-23, to the role of Wolverine.  Starting in 2015, the All-New Wolverine series followed X-23 as she took on the moniker of Wolverine and made it her own.  Originally running between November 2015 and May 2018, the series is made up of 35 issues.  These issues have been assembled together into six collected editions, which were released between May 2016 and July 2018.  With the upcoming return of the original Wolverine to the Marvel Universe, All-New Wolverine has been cancelled, and the character has reverted back to the X-23 moniker, with a new X-23 series having just started.

X-23 Innocence Lost Cover

I have been a major fan of X-23 for years, and find her to be one of the most interesting characters in the entire Marvel Universe.  As a result, I was excited to see how she would be utilised as the new Wolverine, and have been keenly collecting all the volumes in this series.  I had originally intended to review the latest volume, Old Woman Laura, by itself; however, as this volume ends the series, I thought I would take this opportunity to review the entire series in one go.

X23master.jpg

The protagonist of this series, the brand new Wolverine, Laura Kinney, is a fascinating example of character creation, and it has been intriguing to see how this character has evolved over the last 15 years.  Originally known by the code name X-23, the character was first introduced in 2003, in the season 3 episode of the X-Men Evolution animated television series, X23, and was established as a female clone of Wolverine created by an evil scientific organisation.  In her first appearance in X-Men Evolution, X-23 took out every single X-Man and went toe-to-toe with Wolverine himself, only stopping when he broke through to her emotionally.  This was a surprisingly dark episode for kids cartoon, but the fun appeal of a young female Wolverine and her sheer badassary quickly made Laura a fan favourite character, and her transference in the comic universe was quickly established.  These days most people would recognise the character from her amazing appearance in the 2017 film Logan, played by young actor Dafne Keen, which showed a slightly altered version of her origin story.

X-23 Target X Cover.jpg

Her first appearance within the main comic Marvel Universe happened in the 2004 series NYX, where she was shown to be living in New York City.  She was later introduced to the X-Men in Uncanny X-Men 450, with her origin story fleshed out in two limited series.  The first of these series, Innocence Lost, looked at her creation, early life, training and missions as part of the institute that created her, as well as the relationship she had with her mother and their attempts to escape the institute.  The second series, Target X, follows on directly after Innocence Lost and focuses on Laura’s attempts to start a life outside of the institution, her interactions with her mother’s family and the pursuit that would haunt her for the rest of her life.  This second short series also shows how she ends up in New York in NYX and her first interactions with Wolverine, and is framed as a retelling of her life story to Captain America and Daredevil.  Both of these series are extremely well written and serve as an excellent introduction to the character.

X-Force Volume 1 Cover

After her introduction, X-23 appeared in a number of different series including Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, New X-Men and Marvel Team-Up.  She was a major character in Volume 3 of X-Force and appeared in key roles in several of the larger X-Men storylines.  She obtained another X-23 series in 2010, before having starring roles in Avengers Academy, Avengers Arena and All-New X-Men.  Following The Death of Wolverine, Laura was involved in some of the following storylines dealing with his death before taking up the role of Wolverine herself.

This series was created by Australian author Tom Taylor and a rotating roster of Marvel authors.  Taylor has a range of writing experience in a number of different formats, including theatre, musicals, books and television, and has also created an animated series, The Deep.  Over the last 10 years, Taylor has worked on several different comic books, including several Star Wars series, some Injustice series, Superior Iron Man and Green Lantern Corps.  The original art style and new character design for the series was developed by veteran artist David Lopez, and the other artists closely replicated his style.

All-New Wolverine Volume 1 Cover.jpg

The first volume of the All-New Wolverine, The Four Sisters, sees Laura newly in the role of Wolverine and keen to honour the name by becoming a non-lethal hero.  In this volume, she encounters four clones of herself that are being hunted by the sinister corporation who created them.  In order to save them, Laura must work with several other Marvel heroes, such as Dr Strange, Wasp and her boyfriend, Angel (the young one transported from a past timeline).  The volume ends with Laura taking in one of the surviving clones, the young girl Gabby, who becomes one of the main characters in the series.  This book is a fantastic introduction to this new incarnation of the character, and it sets the tone for the rest of the issues.

All-New Wolverine Volume 2 Cover.jpg

Volume 2 of the series, Civil War II, starts with Laura teaming up with Squirrel Girl in a zany escapade to save a squirrel Laura wronged in the previous volume, while also introducing the actual wolverine Jonathan, who becomes Laura and Gabby’s pet.  The second adventure in this volume sees Laura and Gabby help SHIELD, Iron Man and Captain Marvel fight against the giant monster Fin Fang Foom.  During this story, Laura and Gabby encounter and rescue the Old Man Logan version of Wolverine.  While the first two issues are both fun significant, the main storyline of this volume ties into the Civil War II crossover event.  The Inhuman Ulysses has a vision of Logan killing Gabby, so SHIELD and Captain America attempt to intervene, but the confusion and chaos that follows only results in tragedy.  This sees an exciting tie-in to one of Marvel’s more intriguing and high-profile recent crossover events, and this volume also helps highlight the discord and disagreement that the other Marvel heroes were experiencing in the main Civil War II event.  Seeing Logan’s alternate world connections to Laura and Gabby is rather interesting, and the reveal of Gabby’s full potential as Laura’s main side character is amazing.

All-New Wolverine Volume 3 Cover.jpg

The third volume, Enemy of the State II, sees the return of Laura’s arch-nemesis and sadistic former handler, Kimura, who is once again determined to make Laura’s life a living hell.  After engineering the massacre of a small town with Wolverine present, Kimura forces Laura and Gabby into hiding as part of a terrible plan to control Laura once again.  However, Gabby, with the help of Angel, Gambit, young Jean Grey and Nick Fury Jnr, has a plan to free Laura once and for all from the terror of Kimura.  This is probably the most emotional volume in the series, dealing with the protagonist’s biggest fear: being turned into a killing machine once again.  Enemy of the State II is strongly connected to both of the original X-23 series, especially Target X, and represents a massive turning point for the character.  It is fantastic to see some of these storylines concluded and Laura given the happy ending she’s been denied for so long.

All-New Wolverine Volume 4 Cover

Volume 4, Immune, takes Wolverine up into the stars for an intergalactic adventure.  When an alien ship crash lands on Roosevelt Island, the dying alien child piloting it has time to whispers one name: Laura Kinney.  Within minutes, the island is infected with a fast-acting alien virus and is immediately quarantined.  Laura travels to the island and must work with Gabby, Ironheart, Logan, Daken and Deadpool to cure the disease.  Laura, Gabby and Jonathan than travel into space with the Guardians of the Galaxy in order to trace the origins of the alien virus, but they find a far more dangerous threat on the planet they visit.  This is a very fun volume that includes some notable team-ups, while at the same time really highlighting Laura’s potential for heroism.  This serves as a fantastic example of a really well-done one-off intergalactic adventure for a terrestrial based series and proves to be very entertaining.  It is probably the most laugh-out-loud funny volume in the series, with some remarkable interactions with characters such as Deadpool and the Guardians of the Galaxy.

All-New Wolverine Volume 5 Cover.jpg

The fifth volume of this series, Orphans of X, goes deeper into the mythology of Wolverine, as the only weapon that had the power to kill him, the Murumasa Blade, is recovered and unleashed upon his children.  A mysterious organisation known as the Orphans of X is hunting down and killing all of the Marvel mutants with claws and a healing factor.  Laura, Gabby and Daken must find a way to defend themselves from these devastating and well-coordinated attacks, but find themselves conflicted once they find out the truth behind the Orphans of X.  This is another heavy and emotional volume with a great story premise behind it.  This one ties into both Innocence Lost and Target X, and shows the devastating consequences of the Laura’s childhood missions.
All-New Wolverine Volume 6 Cover.jpg

The final volume, Old Woman Laura, contains an interesting mixture of stories.  The first issue features Gabby and Deadpool teaming up to take down the scientific laboratory that Jonathan was rescued from in Volume 2.  The second story follows on from the Orphans of X storyline, and sees Laura and Amber Griffen, the daughter of one of Laura’s first kills, team up to take down the person who ordered the hit.  The final story is set far in the future and sees an older Laura and Gabby go on their final mission together in order rescue their long-lost sister, Bellona, from a dystopian landscape ruled by Dr Doom.  These are some intriguing and diverse stories, and it serves as a good wrap-up to the entire series.  The two team-ups in the first two adventures are very fun, while the issues showing the potential future for All-New Wolverine’s main characters is an intriguing and emotional affair that has some nice closing thoughts for this series.

A recurring theme throughout this series is Laura’s attempt to build on her character and to move past her childhood of being raised to be a vicious killer.  Now, as Wolverine, she’s trying to live up to the legacy of her father, the original Wolverine, and become a non-lethal superhero, even though she will still maim many of her opponents.  Taylor does a good job of conveying the guilt and responsibility that Laura feels.  There are times where Laura thinks back to her past with Wolverine, seeing herself in his shoes.  Like the original Wolverine, Laura establishes and maintains relationships with many of the other heroes in the Marvel Universe, most of whom find her to be a worthy replacement for Wolverine, even if they are surprised that she wanted to take on the mantle.  There are also elements of family involved in this story, as not only does Laura take responsibility for Gabby, but she becomes closer to members of the Wolverine family, including Daken and Old Man Logan.

This series is a bit lighter than you’d expect of a series focusing on Wolverine or X-23, and perhaps this ties into the overarching feeling of redemption that Taylor was trying to infuse into the story.  There is actually a huge amount of humour included within the various issues, including several crazy adventures and some real laugh-out-loud moments.  Examples of this include Squirrel Girl randomly showing up to declare that Laura has “wronged the squirrel world” and bringing along a real life wolverine to help get her point across (she was under the impression that Wolverine could understand real life wolverines, just like Squirrel Girl can understand squirrels).  Another of the series’ really funny scenes occurs when a serious conversation is interrupted by two burglars who break into the apartment and come face to face with Wolverine, Old Man Logan and Gabby.  Having all three characters break down laughing as they consider just how unlucky these burglars are is a fun, hilarious scenario.

While All-New Wolverine has a somewhat lighter tone, Taylor is still able to produce some deep and emotional stories throughout the series.  Many of these darker and more emotional stories are tied into the main character’s tragic past.  It is great to see several of the old storylines wrapped up, and I was glad to see Laura reunited with the family who was forced to go into hiding.

For me, one of the best parts of the All-New Wolverine is the introduction of new character Gabby, who becomes the secondary protagonist of this series.  Gabby is a young clone of Laura who has many of her abilities and training.  However, due to protection she experienced from her clone sisters, Gabby grew up without the emotional damage that Laura and other members of the Wolverine family experienced.  As a result, Gabby has a very funny and bubbly personality, as well as kick-ass combat skills, retractable claws and a healing factor.  Given the moniker Honey Badger, Gabby ends up accompanying Laura on a range of missions, and proves to be quite a capable field agent.  Much of the series’ comedy comes about because of her antics, as well as her humorous interactions with other members of the Marvel Universe, which sees her pull funny moments and comments out of several usually serious characters.  Her instant friendship with Deadpool is comedy gold, and the two play off each other wonderfully, easily stealing the show in the issues they feature in together.  Despite her major humorous overtones, Gabby does get serious when it comes to protecting her family, and she has several intense moments, as well as scenes where she makes scary threats in order to protect her sister.  Laura’s relationship with Gabby is a major part of the series, and it is great to see Laura mirror the role Wolverine had in her life as a mentor and parent.  Gabby is definitely one of my favourite new Marvel characters of the last couple of years, and I’m really hoping that she’ll have a similar role in the new X-23 series and will continue to have some insane adventures in the future.

f4c91c585b5bc3459ebc85f10d5e436d.jpg

Lopez and the other artists of the All-New Wolverine series have created a great style for this series, and I loved the new costumes that they pulled together for Laura, as well as the original and unique look of Gabby.  There are some slight variations in drawing style between the various books, but the artists keep the style somewhat consistent throughout the series.  There are a number of drawn scenes throughout the book that are particularly beautiful or memorable for various reasons.  The final battle between Laura and Kimura in Volume 3 is very dark and brooding, but the artists are able to show the raw emotion on Laura’s face as she finally frees herself from Kimura’s shadow.  I was also particularly drawn to the striking drawings of the Hand assassins in Volume 5, where the assassins wore the masks of the Orphan X organisation.  The artists are also able to draw some funny pieces into their work.  The potential comic cover art that Gabby imagines when she finally comes up with a superhero moniker, Honey Badger, is fantastic, especially as several classic Wolverine covers are replaced with Gabby’s evilly smiling face.  I can also barely describe the awesomeness of the drawings in Volume 4 of the series, which see Gabby and Jonathon play with Baby Groot in the background in several funny scenes.  Overall, the art displayed in this series is fun and has many uses to enhance the story.

Overall, All-New Wolverine is a fantastic, entertaining and really enjoyable series that promotes one of Marvel Comics’ most unique characters into the role of Wolverine.  Featuring some amazing uses of humour, an excellent new supporting character and some deep, emotional storylines, this is an incredible series that is well worth getting into.  I am definitely keen to check out the new X-23 series that has just been released, and I will also be looking into the new X-Men Red series from the Australian creator of All-New Wolverine, Tom Taylor, which will feature both Laura and Gabby.  A perfect read for long term fans of the X-23 and the X-Men series, and also a great introduction to the comic universe if you loved X-23 in Logan.

My Rating (Series and Each Volume):

Five Stars

Restoration by Angela Slatter

Restoration Cover.jpg

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Publication Date – 9 August 2018

 

One of the very best authors of Australian crime fantasy returns with another outstanding release in her fast-paced and exceedingly entertaining Verity Fassbinder series.

In a world where the magical beings known as the Weyrd remain hidden from the Normal, non-magical population, Verity Fassbinder is a half-Weyrd, half-human agent for Brisbane’s Weyrd Council and is charged with policing the city’s Weyrd population.  However, following an adventure to the underworld, Verity has been forced into the employ of a crazed fallen angel, and must take up his quest to find two secretive artefacts hidden in Brisbane.  In order to protect those she loves from her murderous new employer, Verity has sent her family away and resigned her position with the Weyrd Council.  Saddled with a murderous Kitsune, Joyce, as a driver and spy, Verity must find a way to recover these mysterious two items without giving ultimate power to the creature holding everything she love hostage.

As if her involuntary quest wasn’t hard enough, Verity is also forced to contend with a myriad of other problems from Brisbane’s Weyrd population.  The vengeful sorceress Dusana Nadasy is back in town, determined to kill Verity for the role she played in the death of her family.  The angel Tobit is refusing to take Verity’s calls, Weyrd Council politics is seriously starting to annoy her, literal ghosts from her past are haunting her and her friends the Norns have developed strange new powers.  Finally, her contact in the Brisbane police, Inspector McIntyre, needs her help investigating a series of desecrated corpses of Normal women found around Brisbane whose bodies show the distinctive impact of Weyrd magic.  What Verity does not know is that all of these strange occurrences will play a part in her quest for the fallen angel’s prize and will change her life forever.

Restoration is the third book from Australian author Angela Slatter and represents the third book in her Verity Fassbinder series.  Restoration is an exceptional example of the benefits of combining two genres, and contains incredible fantasy and mystery elements blended together into a powerful final narrative set in modern day Brisbane.

Throughout Restoration, Slatter has surrounded her central storyline with an elaborate series of smaller mysteries and adventures, all of which cleverly tie into the protagonist’s hunt for the artefacts.  Each of the smaller plot lines and investigations is very interesting, and readers will be amazed about how interlocked the story really is.  Those who have read the previous books in the Verity Fassbinder series will also enjoy how Slatter expertly utilises elements and plot lines from the earlier books in the series throughout Restoration.  This is a fun feature, and really shows off how much planning and foreshadowing Slatter included in her first two books, as even minor observations and actions from the earlier books have some big impacts in the latest volume.  Despite this, Restoration is still an excellent book to come into this series with.  The author makes sure all the relevant details of the last two books are fully explained and explored.  As a result, new readers will be able to follow everything that is happening within Restoration, while also being tempted to check out the earlier books in this fabulous series.  Fans will enjoy how the storylines and side quests come together in the end of the book for a big and exciting confrontation sequence that serves as an epic conclusion to the first three books in the Verity Fassbinder series.

In addition to the book’s strong mysteries, the author has also included a range of enticing fantasy elements for the readers to enjoy.  The huge variety of fantasy aspects included within Restoration have been pulled together from a range of different cultural backgrounds.  As a result, the book’s protagonist interacts with creatures that have their origins in Greek, Germanic, Norse and Japanese mythologies and culture, as well as the usual ghosts, magic users and generally powered individuals.  There are also strong components from the Judeo-Christian religion that play a significant part in the story and which tie in well with the other fantasy elements.  The great mystery elements mentioned above work in conjunction with these fantasy features to create an amazing story.  Slatter comes up with some terrific fantasy based motives, plots and suspects for the reader to enjoy, and this helps create an intriguing and entertaining overall narrative.  The protagonist’s hunt for the artefacts, the “grail” and the “tyrant”, leads to a greater insight into this universe’s magical and religious roots, and turn into some intriguing pieces of this universe’s lore.  In addition, the protagonist’s curiosity about her Weyrd ancestors leads to her finding out some fascinating facts about their history, as well as a detailed bit of fictional mythology from Slatter.  This focus on the family she is descended from also hints at these characters being involved in future additions of this series, and will no doubt prove to be excellent antagonists.  Overall, the book’s fantasy elements are highly enjoyable and add sufficient wonder and enhancement to an already outstanding book.

Restoration is mostly set within the Australian city of Brisbane and its local environs.  Slatter, a Brisbane local, has created a detailed and personal depiction of her city and it serves as a fun location for this book’s plot.  People familiar with Brisbane will appreciate the descriptions of city and enjoy the concept of a hidden and chaotic fantasy world lying just below its surface.  Special note should be given about the inclusion of the University of Queensland, Slatter’s alma mater, as a setting within the book, and it is always fascinating to see a location that the author is familiar with and passionate about.

Slatter has continued to use the humour-laden tone of writing that was such a standout of the first two books in the Verity Fassbinder series.  The protagonist is a remarkable character who does not care who she annoys or who gets in her way as she tries to achieve her goals.  This nonconformist attitude and general disregard for the rules for the Weyrd Council has a great way of getting the reader to support her, and as a result she has always been a very likable main character.  The jokes and humour that inhabit the narrative as she encounters a range of strange and dangerous situations help lighten the tone of the dark investigations she is involved with.  Things get serious towards the end, especially when the protagonist’s family gets involved and this helps raise the stakes in the readers mind, although some humour is still involved.  Audiences will love the sass and humorous observations that inhabit this whole book, and it fits in well with the overarching urban fantasy crime narrative that Slatter has cultivated.

Restoration is another superb read from Angela Slatter and an outstanding addition to one of the best fantasy crime series in the world today.  The books in this series are up there with The Dresden Files and the Peter Grant series, and are fantastic examples of this combination of genres.  The third book in this Australian series makes full use of its elaborate mystery, intriguing fantasy elements, exciting Brisbane setting and distinctive humour to create an extraordinary read that comes highly recommended.

My Rating:

Five Stars

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

City of Lies Cover.jpg

Publisher: Bantam Press

Publication Date – 3 July 2018

 

Poison, murder, conspiracy, and war are all on the way for readers of City of Lies, one of the best fantasy reads of the year from Canberra author Sam Hawke.

In the country of Sjona, the capital city of Silasta is a glittering beacon of culture and art.  Young nobleman Jovan and his family serve a special role, subtly protecting Sjona’s ruler, the Chancellor, and his heirs from being poisoned.  As a result of his training, Jovan is now capable of detecting and identifying poisons that could be slipped to his charges.  While his uncle and mentor directly protects the Chancellor, Jovan serves the Chancellor’s carefree young heir, Tain.

When Jovan and Tain return to the city following a diplomatic journey, they are soon placed in a terrible situation.  The impossible has happened: an unidentified poison has been slipped to the Chancellor, killing him and Jovan’s uncle.  Without their respective mentors’ guidance both young men are thrust into new roles: Tain as an untested Chancellor, and Jovan now responsible for the safety of his nation’s ruler.

However, things can always get worse.  A mysterious army has arrived undetected at the gates of Silasta, and the city, which has never known anything but peace, is soon besieged.  The army appears to be made up of Sjona’s peasants and contains powerful individuals in control of spirits.  With the majority of the military far away fighting in another conflict, few professional soldiers are left to defend Silasta, and Tain must lead a desperate defence against a superior force.

As the siege continues, it soon becomes apparent that not everything is as it seems.  Why is the city being attacked, and how did no one see this coming?  A deep conspiracy lies across the capital and no one can be trusted, not even Silasta’s ruling council.  It also appears that the person who killed the Chancellor is still at large within the city and is aiming to poison Tain as well.  As Jovan utilises all his skill to protect his friend, his sister Kalina searches for the traitors hiding inside their walls.

City of Lies is Australian author Sam Hawke’s debut novel and represents an outstanding first outing from a remarkable new talent.  This ambitious book contains a fantastic plot, with some unique story elements and an elaborate thriller narrative that combines perfectly with the book’s overarching fantasy narrative.  This is the first book in Hawke’s planned Poison War series, and is focused on two separate point-of-view characters, Jovan and Kalina, who each narrate around half the book.

This book contains an amazing and extremely compelling overarching thriller narrative that sees the protagonist attempt to unravel the conspiracies surrounding their city.  Hawke has put a lot of work into creating an elaborate and multilayered plot that draws the reader in with its significant intrigue.  The is so much for the reader to discover as the protagonists try to work out who the army attacking them is, what their motives are, and how the siege relates to the secrets of the ruling class.  This intrigue-driven storyline is amped up even more once it is revealed that the person who poisoned the chancellor might not be a member of the army camped outside the city.  Hawke presents the reader with a number of likely suspects, most of whom are on the city’s ruling council, as well as a range of interesting and plausible motives for the betrayal.  The full extent of the interwoven conspiracies is quite impressive, and Hawke presents an extremely captivating storyline of the protagonists unravelling the plot that is guaranteed to pull in the reader’s full attention.  This is definitely a high point of this fantastic book.

One of City of Lies’ standout features is Hawke’s substantial focus on poisons and role the main character plays in protecting the city’s ruler from harmful substances.  At the start of the story, the Chancellor and the protagonists’ uncle are both poisoned and killed by an unknown toxin.  Jovan, who already served Tain as his ‘proofer’, a combination food taster, poison master, and trusted personal chef, spends the rest of the book trying to defend Tain from a poisoner he knows is out there, who apparently has access to a poison he has no idea how to detect or cure.  The battle of wits between Jovan and the poisoner is an intense part of the book’s narrative, and the reader can feel the desperation that Jovan feels trying to keep his friend and, by extension, his city alive.  There are some great scenes throughout this book as Jovan attempts to work out how poison could be administered to Tain, as well as trying to work out potential cures and solutions to the poison’s victims.

In addition to examining the tension that the book’s poison elements elicit, Hawke also spends a significant amount of time exploring the various toxins of her universe and the techniques of the book’s poison ‘proofers’.  The descriptions of these skills in training is utterly fascinating, and the author has come up with some amazing ideas that prove to be enthralling for the reader.  In addition, Hawke has chosen to deepen the audience’s interest and knowledge of her universe’s poisons by including a page of the protagonist’s ‘proofer tome’ before each chapter in the book.  These pages contain a description of the poison, what effects it has when administrated and what clues the proofer can use to identify the poison in food, such as taste or texture.  This is a fun addition that also contains some information relevant to the book’s plot, and the readers will find themselves deeply exploring the lore being presented to them.  Another cool feature was the way in which Jovan uses his knowledge and cache of poisons in an offensive manner against his opponents to compensate for his lack of martial skill.  There are some fantastic scenes where Jovan uses a range of different substances in the middle of battles, as well as some excellent sequences where he doses potential opponents in advance of a confrontation.

Special mention should also be given to the wonderful fantasy setting that Hawke has created for City of Lies.  The vast majority of the plot is set within the capital of Silasta, a large city that has a reputation and preference for culture and the arts, whilst viewing violence and warfare as a distasteful profession.  The author does an amazing job describing this city’s many wonders, whilst at the same time creating a unique societal setup that plays brilliantly into the story’s intriguing elements.  While the focus of this book is solely within the nation of Sjona, expect the sequels to follow adventures in other countries mentioned.

The siege elements of this book are also very enjoyable and offer another interesting point to this fantastic book.  I’m always a fan of a good siege storyline, especially when it’s told from the point of view of the defenders.  The parts of the book that focus on the siege are extremely well written and provide the book with some substantial action sequences.  It is also fun to see how a city mostly made up of peace-loving artists and performers can defend itself without an army to help.  Hawke produces some great ideas for her defenders, which also ties into the fantastic poison elements above, when the protagonists use their knowledge to create some defences for their city.

Overall, City of Lies is an intrigue-studded masterpiece of a fantasy novel that combines together a range or magnificent story elements with an excellent setting and an addictive overarching thriller narrative.  Hawke’s use of poisons as a key plot point is just incredible and represents one of the most interesting parts of this book, and I am intrigued to see how she will continue to use poisons in future entries in this series.  This is a five-star debut from Hawke, and I would wholeheartedly recommend City of Lies to any fans of the fantasy genre.

My Rating:

Five Stars