Monday, August 15, 2016

Marvel Absolutely Everything You Need to Know.

Marvel Absolutely Everything You Need to Know.

So, I grew up reading comics. But like many of my peers I didn’t have the funds to stay up to speed by getting my hands on every issue as it rolled off the presses. However, like any good comic book loving kid you learn to pick up a bit of trivia here a story arc there from anywhere you can. You talk to friends, you read over issues at the store; anything to get more of what is going on. Even so you don’t always manage to learn everything there is to know about everything.

Marvel Absolutely Everything You Need to Know is a 240 page fun filled guide to trivia, facts and assorted knowledge about all things Marvel published by DK Books. Written for ages 8 to 12, the book is actually a lot of fun for anyone big enough to read and loves comics.

This book is just a great big printed smile, to be frank. The pages are crammed full of noted events, characters, alternate timelines and more. Ever wonder just want law firm She-Hulk worked for? The answer is in there. Curious what Dr. Strange’s top 5 most useful spells are and what they do? You can look it up!

The entire book is littered with fun little bits of information. Everything is broken down into sections and if that isn’t enough there is a complete index to be found in the back. This index will not only allow you to locate the listed character’s entry but also virtually any time they are mentioned.

The only aspect I can ding the book on is a pair of minor issues that are mainly pet peeves. The first is the fact that there are a few entries in the index that unfortunately do not direct you to the correct page. Not a big problem as I didn’t find this to occur all too often. And the other issue is directly connected to the name itself.

With a name like ‘Marvel Absolutely Everything You Need To Know’ you can anticipate a massive amount of information. And this book does deliver that in spades. However, there are some well known figures that don’t receive their own entries or are merely relegated to brief mentions. High profile characters like The Punisher or Wolverine for example are mentioned but are never detailed quite like Namor the Sub-Mariner. I know there is only so many pages to go around but with such a title you kind of expect to hear a little bit about both the well known and the less well known, ya know?

Overall, the art is wonderful. The facts and trivia are broad in range and scope. And to ice the cake they even included behind the scenes details regarding the making of Marvel comics as well. The book is a gem and if you don’t believe me – let the Hulk’s textured face on the cover bring it home for you. Touch the cover and you may not want to let go… Lest you be smashed.

This one ranks in at about a 4/5 but only because I am neurotic. 

World of Warcraft: Ultimate Visual Guide, Updated and Expanded.

World of Warcraft: Ultimate Visual Guide, Updated and Expanded.

World of Warcraft is a game that has been around for quite some time. In fact, the source material that was the basis for it has existed even longer. And even for those of us who have been long-time players/fans there is always some bit of lore that may not yet be known.

World of Warcraft: Ultimate Visual Guide, Updated and Expanded, is a 216 page book published by DK Books. It is an updated version to a previous release that now includes the information from the game’s current expansions.

The key word about this book is; visual. From the first pages it should be readily apparent to any reader that no effort was wasted on the books stunning attention to detail. There are entire full pages of glossy artwork to feast your eyes upon. Every page is dripping with beautiful visuals in a number of different styles.

But don’t let the pretty looks fool you. There was no skimping on the written content either. The history of Azeroth is detailed with remarkable scope and depth. We are not talking massive scholarly essays or short asinine blurbs. What is presented is an array of pertinent information coupled with summaries that highlight things of importance.

This approach allows the casual reader to pick up the book and flip around leisurely to look up desired figures or events. This only adds a delightful element to the book. If you prefer to read through everything, doing so doesn’t real feel like it is droning on and on either. Everything is broken down into digestible sections.

It doesn’t matter if you are a collector, a fan, a player looking to know more or just wanting an interesting conversation piece for your coffee table/mantle/bookshelf this book would undoubtedly be worth your while.

Since I probably would have paid for something of this quality if it hadn’t been surprisingly delivered out of the blue I have zero hesitation to rate it at 5/5. It is a large book that doesn’t disappoint on quality, art or content. 

Star Wars Character Encyclopedia: Updated and Expanded.

Star Wars Character Encyclopedia: Updated and Expanded.

While books like character encyclopedias are never an unwelcome addition to my bookshelf, I must admit that I had never expected to receive this one. In fact, it surprisingly arrived on my doorstep (quite literally) alongside another book. And, seeing as to how I am a huge Star Wars fan I welcomed the opportunity to give it a good perusal.

Star Wars Character Encyclopedia: Updated and Expanded, is a 224 page book published by DK Books and authored by Pablo Hidalgo. Its intended audience is readers ages 7 to 17. The book is, as the name suggests, an updated version to include new entries that include characters from The Force Awakens.

First, let me begin by establishing that I can understand what they were trying for here. Believe me. I get it. The whole design was clearly focused on being a fun little collection of info for kids/young readers.

With that in mind, it is understandable that this would not be a comprehensive dossier on all the complex figures that inhabit a galaxy far far away. It also means that an older reader can expect some simplification as to wording, grammar and yes – the information itself.

But here is one of the key problems that I found with this book; they go too far in this aspect of the book’s design. When benign aspects are repeatedly highlighted such as; ‘this is a belt/belt buckle’ things get monotonous even to a kid. You can write simple fact based entries for fictional characters without highlighting things in terms of; look, they have boots! I mean, come on. Just because your target audience is children doesn’t mean you have to insult their intelligence.

Furthermore, the art in this book also causes me an issue. When there is an untold wealth of images and art to draw on from character sketches, comic panels all the way up to digital artist renderings I have to question the logic behind decades old grainy vhs screen shots. Because that is what some of the artwork looks like to me. This is just sad.

I hate speaking ill of any book, especially one that covers a beloved brand. But this was one that I just found far too many short comings to ignore. I can applaud the attempt, I really can. However things were poorly worded at times to be clear to a younger reader, the art was cheap and honestly things were just way too watered down to retain the inherent value and appeal that Star Wars has.

I’d have to rate it 2/5 with one point for the effort and another for the range of material covered. Better art, tighter wording/editing and a more systematic approach to how the various entries were described would have gone a long way. A lot of kids will read about one creature and want to know where it is from etc and then question why the next doesn’t even mention such information. The devil is in the details and that makes this feel more like cheaply produced cash grab. This is disappointing given the quality I am beginning to expect and admire from DK Books. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Dreaming In Darkness.

Dreaming In Darkness.

Here is a basic question for you and don’t worry it is an easy one. Where do we dream? The answer, fundamentally, is that we dream in darkness.

Think about that for a moment. When you close your eyes, the world effectively goes black to you. On a base level, our minds are cut off from one of our primary senses and we surrender it over to its own devices as we began to shut down our body’s systems to allow everything to rest/recuperate.

And on some level, it is in that ethereal plane of void and shadow that some of our most vivid and bright moments are born. We call them dreams, but in truth they can be anything from unconscious fragments of thought, memories to unresolved fears and worries. My point is that is where some powerful parts of ourselves are born.

I know something about this, because if anyone is qualified to talk about such a subject; I am. Over the course of my life I have done so much sleeping. And not in the way you might expect.

As many people familiar with me are aware I suffer from two neurological conditions known as Narcolepsy and Cataplexy. Directly because of this I had to go for years before we had an accurate diagnosis or appropriate treatment. I’ve spent weeks and even months in a perpetual state of sleep.

While in any of these events, I could sometimes hear things around me and at others was lost to dreams. It is said, by both experts and those who suffer the shackles of sleep or plagued by the demons of dream (both are expressions I have used to inject some degree of humor into the discussion of my condition) that those with this problem tend to experience far more vivid and intense dreams.

While others might only dream while in the confines of their beds, we can involuntarily fluctuate in and out of REM sleep just walking around. We have no control over when we choose to drift off to sleep, let alone when we will awaken. Long story short, I can go from wide awake to deep sleep as rapidly as a light switch can be flipped.

I mention all of this as a matter of perspective. Two days ago, my son collapsed in the check out aisle at a local grocery store. Within moments I was packing him out to our vehicle. We had believed he suffered from a form of seizure and had been treating him accordingly. So, after the designated time had passed and his situation remained unchanged, we administered his emergency medication and called an ambulance.

By that evening my son couldn’t stay awake and it was decided to transport him and my Wife 4 hours by ambulance to a children’s hospital. The next day tests were being done and he spent the majority of the day asleep and unresponsive. In time, a neurologist reviewed his data and stated that this was not a seizure that he was suffering from.

All manner of thoughts and questions now flood through my thoughts. But at the core is the fact that, these doctors have admitted that they believe my son might share my affliction. This point leaves me conflicted.

It is terrifying beyond description to be frozen inside your body and unable to react. It is also a nightmare to awaken in a fright unaware of where you are or what is going on, especially if you suffer from paralysis via cataplexy or the like. To know that my child now might be experiencing the same thing pains me. And yet, it is a foe I already know…

In addition to this whole ordeal, our oldest son was airlifted last night as well to the same hospital with my Mother escorting him. There has been some debate regarding the authenticity of his symptoms but regardless they have to take it seriously when a child, even a 16 year old one, complains of numbness, tingling and loss of use of his legs or lower back.

In the meantime, I am confined to my home, trying to care for my two daughters and coordinate things from here as best I can. In many ways I feel as if I am trapped inside some terrible dream and unable to affect any impact on the real world.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Captain America: The Ultimate Guide to the First Avenger.

Captain America: The Ultimate Guide to the First Avenger.

For the record; I have to be completely honest here. As a child, I grew up living primarily through the lens of my own vivid imagination. And, as a scrawny little guy who suffered from an array of physical and mental problems it was no surprise that out of all the various superheroes out there that I would become enamored with one who started out in a similar fashion. I adored all things military and even strived to enlist only to be denied due to my health. All that aside, there was something special at the core of the character that I could see and have held dear ever since.

So, when Matt Forbeck reached out for anyone willing to review his latest work I happily volunteered. Upon discovering it wasn’t one of his typical novels, I didn’t mind as much. But, the second the words; “Captain America,” were mentioned, I was sold. And, let me just say; I was not disappointed.

Captain America: The Ultimate Guide to the First Avenger is a 200 page hardbound comprehensive guide to the history of one of Marvel’s most iconic figures. It is written by award-winning author, game-designer, Father of 5 and Marvel expert/fan Matt Forbeck. The book spans the long running history of Captain America, details many of his foes, friends and highlights note-worthy events/storylines. While written as a title for young readers (9-12 years old), it manages to be enjoyable to children of all ages.

The artwork in this book alone is worth the price on the cover. Entire pages are devoted to some of the most memorable moments from Cap’s career. Gorgeous two-page spreads are littered throughout like candy for the eyes. And, at every turn we are presented with classic panels taken right from the very pages of his exciting exploits.

Beginning with both the origins of the character’s creation and his fictional background we are given a foundation of who Steve Rogers is. And, lets I forget there is one monumental element that must be pointed out; Stan Lee himself wrote the forward for this book. The book moves on to track (almost) every element of Captain America’s run through the comics up to the present day. There is so much detail here to delight a fan and interest even a casual reader. Nothing is presented in such a way to be confusing to a young reader or someone unfamiliar, yet is done so in such a way that it doesn’t feel watered down or cheapened.

A whole wealth of information is also to be found, on not just Cap, but also on his many allies, enemies and supporting characters from over the years. Each character is given a detailed dossier on who they are, how they interacted with Cap and some of the more important story arcs they are a part of.

Every decade of Cap’s time is broken down into its own section to highlight key issues and stories that happened – including important developments to Cap both behind the scenes of publication and on the pages. A comprehensive timeline lists every major event to transpire throughout Cap’s long history in chronological order can be found early on in the book. Not only is there a contents page to guide you from the beginning but a remarkable index exists in the back of the book to help you painlessly sort through the pages for references to a character or event with key entries highlighted in bold.

The book is a gold mine of information that is a joy to simply read through. Even if you have yet to see the movies or recently watched them there is so much insight to be found by giving this book some time. You will not regret it, I can guarantee it.

Captain America: The Ultimate Guide to the First Avenger scores 5 amazing alternative shields for Cap, out of 5 in my book. Give it a try and let’s compare notes. You might just learn something that will change the way you see the character in all his many depictions…

*Special, Spoiler-Free Note: There is a lot they have gotten right in the movies that nobody may have noticed, especially recently. Have Fun!