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Babylon 5: The Scripts of J. Michael Straczynski

Season One (Vol. 1 & 2)

Babylon 5: The Scripts of J. Michael Straczynski: Season One (Vol. 2)Babylon 5: The Scripts of J. Michael Straczynski: Season One (Vol. 1)Order this bookStory: Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski republishes the scripts from the episodes he wrote; in addition to the shooting scripts, Straczynski provides a brand new introduction discussing each episode and the series in general. Photos and memos are also included to provide a look at the show’s development.

Review: These two books are part of a planned 14-book series of script collections that Straczynski and his partners are publishing through CafePress. They include only the scripts that Straczynski himself wrote, which he has the rights to republish due to Writers Guild rules. It’s a pretty simple presentation, right down to the bare-bones cover, but the books hold together well, the typesetting’s legible, and the copy-editing is better than on some of the academic books I’ve read recently, so I have nothing against the do-it-yourself approach. The scripts themselves are the heart of the books, and if you don’t already know if you like the episodes in question, this book is not for you. (I did, so I guess it is.) Continue reading

Empire

EmpireOrder this bookStory: What happens when a would-be world conqueror actually succeeds? An armored military genius named Golgoth is about to find out, as only a small corner of the globe sits outside of his empire. That empire is far from peaceful; not only is a rebellion brewing, but Golgoth’s own inner circle is far from trustworthy. Golgoth keeps their ambitions in check through his control of Eucharist, a highly addictive drug. The source of Eucharist is a closely guarded secret, but Golgoth has surrounded himself with men and women who will go to any length to achieve their ends . . . how long can the secrets last?

Review: “Empire” was originally meant to be an ongoing series from the late and lamented Gorilla Comics imprint. Gorilla shut down after only two issues were printed – and if you can ever get Mark Waid to tell you that story at a convention, go for it – but DC stepped in to finish off the first arc as a miniseries. This book definitely concludes with the feeling that there is more to the story, and sadly Waid and Kitson have not gotten around to telling it yet. Continue reading

Midnight Nation

Midnight NationOrder this bookStory: Los Angeles Police Lieutenant David Grey tries to arrest a suspect in a pair of drug-related murders, but instead finds himself at the wrong end of a beating by otherworldly creatures called Walkers. Rather than kill him, the Walkers’ leader takes David’s soul and sends him to The Place In-Between – the world of the homeless, the out-of-work, the out-of-date, and the out-of-luck, where people and things fade to after they are forgotten or abandoned. David soon meets Laurel, an emissary from the Walkers’ opponent in an ongoing metaphysical conflict, and the two set off on a cross-country walk to New York to confront the Walkers’ leader and reclaim David’s soul before he becomes trapped In-Between forever.

Review: In some ways, I consider “Midnight Nation” to be Straczynski’s most successful work. Babylon 5 was certainly a more ambitious and more admirable undertaking, and probably his greatest accomplishment, but the realities of TV meant that sometimes things didn’t quite click right. With Midnight Nation, Straczynski revisits many of B5’s themes, but in a more personal story that is still cosmic in scope and works tremendously well in this collected format. Continue reading

The Making of Star Wars

The Making of Star WarsOrder this bookStory: Using archived interviews, documents, and photographs, J. W. Rinzler recounts the development and production of Star Wars in the mid-1970s.

Review: It takes a certain amount of skill and a certain amount of luck to retell a story that’s been told many times before and make it compelling. J. W. Rinzler has both working for him in The Making of Star Wars. Charles Lippincott, a Lucasfilm marketing executive, started conducting interviews in 1975 for a possible book on the making of the movie, but he never finished and those interviews wound up buried in Lucasfilm’s archives. Through those interviews, Lucas’s original film drafts, contract letters, and other photographs and documents, Rinzler was able rebuild the narrative of the film’s development and recapture the perspective of many of the principal cast and crew during the time period where very few people really understood what George Lucas wanted to achieve with Star Wars and no one had the faintest clue of how the movie would be received. Continue reading

The Art of Star Wars: Episode III

The Art of Revenge of the SithOrder this bookStory: The work of the various art teams is showcased along with brief descriptions of how the designs fit into the evolution of Revenge of the Sith.

Review: J.W. Rinzler explains that this book should be considered as a companion to The Making of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith; like that book, it is organized chronologically. This sets it apart from the other five Art of Star Wars books, which were organized either topically or around the framework of the screenplay. I appreciated the change; there is less text taking away space from the art, and what text is there helps place the images into the context of the making-of-the-movie story. Continue reading

The Making of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

Making of Revenge of the SithOrder this bookStory: This chronological recounting of the filmmaking process begins with pre-production art and design work in April 2002 and runs through October 2004, as editing and effects work continues leading up to writer-director George Lucas and composer John Williams meeting to spot the film.

Review: The Making of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith is a great book with one gaping flaw: it’s incomplete. In order to be available as part of the early-April marketing/product blitz for Sith, the book had to be wrapped up long before the movie was. So the book doesn’t end so much as it runs out, leaving the reader to wonder how the movie was actually finished. There is a free electronic book/PDF file that adds a final chapter, mostly focused on the score, the last pick-up shots, and dialogue looping. While it does provide some additional closure as veterans of the saga like Anthony Daniels do their last bits of work, even that ends with a few hundred shots of the movie left to complete. And even if the e-book did finish the job, I can’t help but think that there’s very little good reason to publish a book about the making of a movie before the movie is done being made. Continue reading

Planetary Book 3: Leaving the Twentieth Century

Leaving the Twentieth CenturyOrder this bookStory: The Planetary organization moves the pieces into place for its counter-assault against the Four, drawing resources from its knowledge of the world’s secret history. Also included are several episodes from Elijah Snow’s past, including his discovery of a conspiracy to save the world in 1919, his adventures in the hidden city of Opak-Re, and his pivotal early encounter with the Four.

Review: Planetary has always had a very episodic structure, and that becomes even more prominent in this third collection. Three of the six chapters are tales from Elijah Snow’s past, and the other three have a heavy emphasis on flashbacks. As a result, the series loses a little bit of urgency here; at the end of the second collection, I had the feeling that the conflict between the Four and Planetary was about to get serious. I had the same feeling at the end of the third, which is a little disappointing. That said, the individual stories in this volume are rather good and do shed some useful light on the backstory of certain characters, while also bringing in threads established earlier in the series. So although it does seem that the book is a circuitous path that leads right back where it started, the journey’s worth taking. Continue reading

Planetary Book 2: The Fourth Man

The Fourth ManOrder this bookStory: Ever since he joined the Planetary organization, Elijah Snow has helped uncover the secret history of the world – but there a few private mysteries he’d like to solve. What is Planetary’s real mission? Why do others seem to know more about his life than he does? And who is the Fourth Man that bankrolls and orchestrates the team’s adventures? Elijah finally tracks down the truth – and when he does, the rules of the game change completely.

Review: Remember how cool I said “Planetary: All Over The World” is? There’s lots more fun to be had in “The Fourth Man,” as pieces fall into place and the book’s central conflict comes into view. Ellis does his usual fine job with characterization and dialogue this time out, using flashbacks to explore the history of the Planetary field team (including Elijah’s predecessor, Ambrose Chase) and their relationships with each other. There are the bitter, sarcastic one-liners (no one does cantankerous like Warren Ellis) but also a lot of warmth. There’s one shot of Ambrose holding up his daughter in which he says, “World, this is my daughter. I want you two to be good to each other. Because it’s a strange world out there, and you both need all the help you can get.” It’s a great line, one that sums up the wonder and optimism that are a part of this world, regardless of the craziness of its more twisted corners. Continue reading

Planetary Book 1: All Over the World and Other Stories

All Over the WorldOrder this bookStory: Elijah Snow is almost a hundred years old, a witness to many of the strange and awesome events that make up the secret history of the twentieth century. Now he spends his time hiding out in the middle of nowhere, until a woman named Jakita Wagner offers him a million dollars a year to join Planetary, a group of ‘mystery archaeologists’ in need of Elijah’s experience. As part of the Planetary field team, Elijah investigates gateways to alternate Earths, mutant Japanese monsters, the vengeful spirit of a Hong Kong cop, and more before turning his attention to Planetary’s opposite number, the Four, who have been manipulating the world for their own ends for decades…and who seem to know more about Elijah than Elijah himself.

Review: Planetary is one of the most addicting stories I’ve ever read, and one of the few serialized comics I make a point of buying on an issue-by-issue basis anymore. The series is not just a great adventure story with terrific characters, outstanding dialogue and stunning artwork. It’s also a commentary and exploration of the twentieth century’s adventure fiction, including comics, monster movies, pulp novels and more. Continue reading

Invisibles Book 3: Entropy in the UK

Entropy in the UKOrder this bookStory: Sir Miles’ forces have captured King Mob and Lord Fanny, and Dane MacGowan is hitchhiking his way to Liverpool. Ragged Robin and Boy enlist the aid of Jack Crow and the Invisible agent known as Mister Six in an effort to find and rescue all three. Separate story threads gradually converge for one climactic fight to save the universe.

Review: The book’s opening arc, also entitled Entropy in the UK, is probably my favorite. King Mob is dying from a gunshot wound, and Sir Miles intends to take advantage of the opportunity. Miles doesn’t want to torture information out of King Mob – he wants to break Mob’s will, get him to “voluntarily” give up information about the Invisibles. In a war of ideology, that’s really the only victory worth winning. The battle of wills showcases comics’ unique potential as a medium; Phil Jimenez’s beautiful pencils display the dazzling, chaotic landscape of King Mob’s mind and thoughts, while the narration and script lay out the dizzying ideas and mantras of the two combatants. Text and pictures convey the information better than either could alone. We jump from the interrogation room, to flashbacks of King Mob’s training, to passages from novels that Mob uses as psychic defenses, to Miles’ exploration of Mob’s thought structures. It’s gorgeous, gorgeous stuff, full of adrenaline and enthusiasm. Continue reading