Quick Recs – Sci-fi and Comics

A couple of quick recommendations for readers of science fiction and comic books on a cold February’s day…

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, his first book,  is a military-themed Heinlein-ian story with heart and humor.  The basic premise:  when earth-dwellers reach the age of 75, they have the option go sever all ties with their home and enlist in the Colonial Defense Forces to help protect and advance humanity’s outposts in interstellar space.  Not much is known about what happens when you enlist on Earth, but most agree it involves a significant physical modifications.  You also get the opportunity to settle in one of the colonies once your enlistment is up.

John Perry, a widower from Ohio, signs up, and we follow him on his journey.  Scalzi does a fine job of narrating from the perspective of a man whose lived a full life, confronted by some pretty fantastic dangers and situations.

This is the third book I’ve read in recent years by Scalzi.  The last one, Redshirtscomes with our highest recommendations, and I’m looking forward to picking up his most recent offering, The Human Division, soon.

JLA: 52 by Geoff Johns (writer) and Jim Lee (pencils) is DC’s flagship team book.  Volume 1, ‘Origin’, provides the 52 re-launch of the team:  Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg.  It’s them coming together in the face of a truly dire threat, facing Darkseid and his minions’ very first attempt to conquer and harvest earth.

Most comics people rate Jim Lee’s art as the standard for super heroes, and it’s hard to argue that point.  We could  argue it’s a bit overdone at times, without the progression of tighter panels that can really build tempo and contrast, but there’s no denying the book is fantastic to look at.

Geoff Johns knows the characters well, and he surely enjoys the freedom to tell some of the team’s earliest stories without feeling overly encumbered by the  weight of the established continuum.  The prevailing theme:  these heroes are new to the game, they don’t really trust each other, but they realize (on some level) they need to cooperate save the planet.  It’s a very familiar refrain (see: Avengers movie, and before that, Marvel’s Ultimates), but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.  Seems like Johns is also out to prove that an origin JLA story like this could work as a movie as well, provided you don’t linger too long on any one character.  The only problem with this approach is if you don’t have a feel for established characters, you’re kind of left wondering.

Volume 2, ‘The Villian’s Journey’, provides a much more internalized threat to the team.  This story takes place five years after Darkseid’s initial attack, and sets the table from the aftermath.  The team, while more unified, still doesn’t seem to trust each other fully.  Their adversary takes full advantage of this, going after them individually through identified weaknesses (read: friends and loved ones) and the fact that the JLA-ers don’t really know enough about each other to assist.  The mind-altering powers of this villian present a very Luke-goes-into-the-dark side-tree feel.  While I’d like to think the JLA would have gotten their act together a little more within five years of their formation, it’s still an pretty compelling super hero tale.

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