My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sandman Slim is one of those urban fantasy series I’ve been hearing about for a while but didn’t read because I don’t always like an anti-hero. I decided why not give it a try and I’m so glad I did. I really enjoyed this. In fact, I was immediately reminded of some of my favorite UF characters. James “Jimmy” (which he hates) Stark was sent to hell by a group of magic wielding friends at the age of 19. After eleven years his former girlfriend was murdered by the leader of this same group and Stark finds his way out of hell using the Veritas coin, which allows him to open any of the thirteen doors of creation. He can walk through a shadow and come out almost anywhere. This is not an original idea when you get down to it. It echoes John Constantine in Hellblazer and Rupert “Ripper” Giles and Ethan Rayne in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I loved both those storylines.
Stark has spent those eleven years being tortured, raped and finally competed gladiator-like in Hell’s arenas under the protection of once of Lucifer’s favorite generals Azrael. (actually this is very well anchored in the three major religions ideology if that matters to you). Amazingly he wasn’t killed (which I won’t spoil why as that’s part of the final scenes of the novel) and he was even used to go after other hellion generals. Stark not only learned to fight he learned hellion magic too. And now he’s back on earth with the coin and a black boned knife that can do more than just cut you.
The coin also acts as a guide and Stark find himself first at a bar in LA and makes buddies with the bartender/owner, Carlos, who after a few favors from Stark is thrilled to give him free food and booze in exchange for his protection. Stark also almost immediately finds himself at Max Overdrive a video rental store (that even in 2009 when this came out had to be on its last legs) which is run by Kasadian, one of the weakest links in the magical group. With a little magical beheading, Stark separates Kas’s head from his body and uses reunion as the goad to make him tell Stark where Mason, the rich leader of the group is and for that matter where any of them are. After all, Stark owes them for sending him to hell and for killing Alice.
Stark sets out to find his former not-really friends. Mason is guarded by Parker, a violent man and magician as well. Mason was jealous of Stark who is not only very talented magically but also a complete smart ass who was rude and not the least bit impressed by Mason back in the day. He’s joined by Vidocq who is a thief and alchemist (and I was dancing a bit at this because I love the history of the real Vidocq whose history made it into this) and by Allegra, the college girl who managed Max for Kas. Also in the mix is a psychic doctor Kinski and his partner a Jade, a creature who can basically liquefy people and drink them. She’s on the path of trying not to kill people.
Stark has no qualms about killing the people who sent him to hell though he isn’t so far gone that he doesn’t worry about people like Allegra getting hurt but you couldn’t tell that to Aelita and her special team of FBI men lead by the self-righteous Wells. Aelita wants Stark on her team. She’s an angel and while she loathes him, she sees the use for him, until he says no.
Stark has to manage his revenge for Alice before Mason eliminates everyone who can lead Stark to him or eliminate Stark himself. Stark is almost surprised to learn he has the titular nickname, Sandman Slim, a monster that kills other monsters. And there is a worse monster out there, neither demon or angel and they are out to stop Stark anyway they can.
The story is gritty and dark but not unrelentingly so. Stark has some honorable moments, though he’s probably deny them. It’s violent without being gross. And the characters are all very good, well rounded and interesting. There aren’t many females in this, three of note (Carol the Jade, Allegra and Aelita) but they’re all tough. It is first person pov through Stark’s eyes.
I almost rated it higher but I did have a few issues with it. At first I thought everyone was being far too hard on Stark, Aelita and her crew and Stark’s friends, Vidocq in particular. As far as I can tell, Stark had done nothing to get sent to hell and everyone was acting like it was his fault. He was nineteen hanging out with a bad crowd doing dumb things like teenagers are wont to do. As far as I can tell he didn’t do anything with the group that was so bad, not until they sent him to hell in exchange for all the power that Mason was able to get for the sacrifice. Then I thought, okay, yes Aelita and her team are zealots and they rarely are fair about how they perceive others. She and Wells are convinced Stark deserved to be in hell and should never have crawled out. Vidocq seemed a bit too hard on Stark. Surely he should have known better but he seemed to be hurt that Stark never listened to his warnings about Mason back in the day. I’m very much looking forward to seeing more of this next time.
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進撃の巨人 [Shingeki no Kyojin] 15 by Hajime Isayama
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I'm sure much to the disappointment of people who only tune in for the battle scenes there isn't a Titan in sight. Instead we're treated to a more adult story thematically. It did however, drag on too long and geez the art in this is still pretty sketchy.
Levi, Armin and Mikasa and company have been put in a tough position, trying to deal with the MPs and Armin crosses a line that is likely going to change him forever. On the other hand, they do achieve what they set out to do. (and if you're a Mikasa fan she's barely in this. I'm a Levi, Zoe & Armin fan so this was a good arc for me).
Zoe and company are busy bringing the interior MPs and the corrupt government to its knees. Zoe deals with exposing it to the populace while Erwin might die trying to expose it to the military. But once exposed, what happens next?
There is plenty going on here getting to the roots of where the Titans came from and while. It could have been trimmed up to get it moving faster though.
It ends with a scene to bring the tension back up and give a little fan service: Eren naked to the waist chained up with a riding bit in his mouth to keep him from cutting/biting himself to transform. He's starting to remember what happened to him and his father but his fate is in the hands of Krista and others who don't mean him well. It would help if Krista wasn't as smart as rotten pumpkin.
It feels like the manga is winding down, like it could end within a few volumes.
All I'm going to say is if Krista is their one true hope as queen, they're doomed.
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