A One Trick Pony Review – Nathan Hale’s Apocalypse Tale

TITLE: One Trick Pony
AUTHOR: Nathan Hale
PUBLISHER: Amulet Books
PRICE: $14.95
RELEASED: March 14, 2017

***WARNING: Minor spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You know how I can tell I’m becoming a crotchety old man? I’m getting angry at teenagers for being on their smartphones too much. The other day I actually coined the term, “screen-craving mouth-breathers.”

So yeah, Nathan Hale’s One Trick Pony was up my alley.

My first exposure to Nathan Hale came at this year’s annual Children’s Literature Breakfast held by Anderson’s Bookshop in suburban Chicago. He did a very funny presentation about the power that pictures and visual content can have in the learning process. Using an overhead projector and a marker, he told us all his animated version of the Lewis and Clark story. It was very much in the vein of his Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series of graphic novels for kids, which take the same sort of look at history. If you get the chance to see him, I highly recommend it.

One Trick Pony is something different. It’s an original, post-apocalyptic graphic novel about a world where electronics are scarce. An alien race, which humans call “Pipers,” have stripped the Earth of its machines. As such, the world has reverted back to horses and spears. Our main character, a young girl named Strata, lives with a mobile caravan collecting and preserving technology. One day, on a routine hunt for tech, Strata and her brothers find a golden mechanical Pony called Kleidi. But the Pipers are always lurking, and Kleidi is literally a giant golden target.

I can’t find a lot of bad things to say about this book. It’s sort of like War of the Worlds meets The Hunger Games meets…whatever you’d consider a modern popular cartoon to be. I’ll say The Simpsons for lack of a better example. It’s witty and plainly spoken. It also has a nice moral in there about paying the piper for the luxuries we have, ergo the creatures (shown right) being called “Pipers.” I like the idea of these alien invaders having a moralistic agenda. In the end, we find out that’s not entirely the case. But I appreciate this story being given to youngsters.

Hale’s style is very simple, with a “sketchy” feel to it. But he’s more than capable of being a rock star on the pencil, especially when he gets to draw the caravan that’s carrying all the hidden tech. All the little details are awesome. It’s almost a contrast to the way he draws the human characters.

The story is presented mostly in grayscale. The exceptions are shades of yellow, a tiny bit of brown for skin tones, and deep gold, the latter we see on the Pipers and Kleidi. The sky is almost always a faded yellow, which with the gray gives us a very desolate feel.

Oddly enough, the element in this story that seems the most forced is Kleidi, the titular robotic horse. Kleidi and Strata have a boy-and-his-dog sort of bond, which I guess I can buy. But Kleidi being a robot thins out that premise, especially since we never find out exactly what this robot is or where it comes from. So our ending, which directly involves Kleidi, loses some of its edge because she’s almost more of a vessel than a character.

To use a Star Wars analogy, it’s like Han Solo’s relationship with the Millennium Falcon. He cares about it. But not in the same way he cares about, say…Chewbacca. Kleidi feels like Han and the Falcon, and I think it wants to feel like Han and Chewie.

What’s more, the world Hale creates is so much more interesting than the Strata/Kleidi dynamic. So interesting that I was actually disappointed when the story ended with the loose ends tied up, and a nice little bow on it. I was hoping we’d get a sequel to Kleidi. Especially considering things end rather abruptly. I’m not an advocate of every story being stretched into an epic trilogy. But there could have been more to explore here.

But perhaps I’m being too critical. Kleidi is a very good read, and hopefully the start of a new path for Nathan Hale. He’s a great history teacher. But he’s also got a knack for writing some history of his own.

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A Star Wars: Bloodline Review – Descended From Darkness

Star Wars: BloodlineTITLE: Star Wars: Bloodline
AUTHOR: Claudia Gray
PUBLISHER: Del Rey Books
LIST PRICE: 
$28.00
RELEASED: May 3, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Politics have always been a part of Star Wars. After all, one usually can’t have war without politics. Such things have the spotlight at some points more than others. It’s as much at the forefront in Bloodline as any Star Wars story you’ll ever read. That works to its detriment at times. But ultimately, Bloodline reveals something that may turn out to be a very important factor in Ben Solo’s turn to the dark side.

The book takes place over two decades after Return of the Jedi. The Galactic Senate of the New Republic is divided into two parties. First are the Populists, of whom Leia is a prominent member, who believe planetary authority should be retained by the individual worlds themselves. In contrast, the Centrists believe planets should be governed by a larger government and a more powerful military. Sadly, these two groups are more divided than ever, as such leaving the Senate largely unproductive. But when representatives from the planet Ryloth alert them to the emergence of an organized criminal element, Leia stumbles on to the foundation of a new war for the fate of the galaxy. But Leia is also about to face personal adversity. A secret will be revealed that few have ever known. Even two decades after his death, the shadow of Darth Vader looms heavily.

Star Wars: Bloodlines, postersThe imagery and marketing associated with Bloodline is somewhat misleading. It leads you to believe much of the book is about Leia being nominated for First Senator, more or less the equivalent to what the Chancellor of the Republic was in the prequels. It even comes with a double-sided “Vote Leia” poster, which on the flip side is defaced with an image of Darth Vader and the word “traitor.” In truth, the book has little to do with Leia being part of an election, and more to do with the unraveling of who the criminal group is. This is frustrating, but it doesn’t necessarily tarnish the book. Once we get into the second half, and the Vader element comes into play, things really pick up.

One of the reasons many fans soured on the prequel trilogy was the emphasis on politics, and the happenings in the Senate. Such fans will want to avoid Bloodline. It’s less about the action and more about the intrigue. There’s nothing wrong with that. But as much a die-hard as I am, I had trouble staying interested at times. Mostly during the first half.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Princess LeiaThough it plays the political card pretty heavily, Bloodline is somewhat timely for those who are so inclined. The book is largely about a political body heavily divided in its beliefs as they try to elect a leader. If you pay even the most remote attention to the news, that should sound familiar. It even offers us a little ray of hope, as we see Leia learning to trust and befriend a Centrist senator. Apparently even in a galaxy far, far away, one can reach across the aisle now and then.

One of the great things about new Star Wars stories in 2016 is that there’s so much fertile ground to cover between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. In various Star Wars novels and comic books (including Claudia Gray’s other Star Wars book, Lost Stars), we’ve been getting bits and pieces of the state the galaxy is in, what happened to the Empire, etc. Bloodline offers a lot of that, including how the First Order and the Resistance were formed.

But the major event of this book involves the revelation to the galaxy that Leia is Darth Vader’s daughter. What’s more, Ben Solo, who is off training with Luke Skywalker at this point, doesn’t know the truth about his heritage. That point is understated, but it’s perhaps the most notable development in the entire book. Ben doesn’t know. Imagine learning a secret like that, not from your parents, but from the news. How angry would you be? And in time, wouldn’t you want to know more about the grandfather you never knew you had? For a certain kind of person a fixation, or even an obsession, might form…

Kylo Ren, Darth Vader helmetReportedly, Rian Johnson, the director for Episode VIII, contributed ideas for this book. I’d be floored to learn that either Johnson, or someone on the inside at that movie didn’t float that to Gray. That’s too integral a detail to Ben’s turn to the dark side.

Bloodline isn’t the most thrilling Star Wars book you’ll ever read. Readers will definitely feel its length at times. But it offers an abundance of something many fans are looking for these days: Information. Casual fans may want to leave it on the shelf, but die-hards will gobble this up like a Sarlacc Pit devouring their favorite bounty hunter.

Image 1 from stormtrooperlarry.wordpress.com. Image 2 from cinemablend.com. Image 3 from screen rant.com.

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