My healing as a Star Wars fan has come a long way since my trip to the theatre for my final kick in the balls at the booted foot of Revenge of the SitMy healing as a Star Wars fan has come a long way since my trip to the theatre for my final kick in the balls at the booted foot of Revenge of the Sith. My tender testes put up with a whole bunch of abuse from Episodes I-III, and I thought I'd never be able to fall in love again, but much to the delight of my healing privates that fall is happening again.
I have two reasons, and both of those reasons have to do with the Expanded Galaxy of Star Wars and nothing to do with Star Wars itself.
Reason #1 -- This has nothing to do with Outbound Flight, but bear with me. Clone Wars, the animated series run by Dave Filoni, is better than any on-screen version of Star Wars barring Empire Strikes Back. If you've not seen any of them or only watched the first few episodes, you have missed out on a wonderful piece of filmmaking. It expanded the Anakin Skywalker story in just the ways I hoped it would, made his fall from Jedi glory understandable and sympathetic, and it introduced us to some of the coolest characters anywhere in the Star Wars Galaxy: Ahsoka Tano, Cad Bane, Hondo the Pirate and Asajj Ventress. I love all for of them as much as I love anyone in the movies (with the exception of Han, Lando and Chewie), and I would be willing to bet that my kids' favourite characters in Star Wars spring from that group (Ahsoka for Scout, Cad Bane for Beans, and Ventress for Te).
Reason #2 -- For much the same reason, I adore the work Timothy Zahn's been doing, for quite a while now, in the Expanded Galaxy. He has created characters as cool and important and worth knowing as any in the official films. Jorus C'baoth (arrogant, dickhead Jedi Master), Mara Jade (bad ass guard to Emperor Palpatine and wife-to-be of Luke Skywalker), Talon Karrde (smuggler, gambler, scoundrel, so what's not to like), and best of all Commander Mitth'raw'nuruodo (the eventual Grand Admiral Thrawn). All of these characters are fantastic additions to the Galaxy, but it is the last -- Thrawn -- who I most want to see on screen.
Thrawn, when written by Zahn, is a tactical genius of autistic levels without the problems. He is cultured, suave, able to overcome Darth Sidious' hatred for aliens, honourable, kind, willing to make the pre-emptive strike, loyal, pragmatic, occassionally bellicose, and uncompromising when it comes to success. He is, in short, one of the most complex charactes anywhere in the Star Wars Galaxy, and I will read anything about him.
In Outbound Flight we're lucky enough to get two Thrawn tales, the larger origin of Thrawn's entrance to the Galaxy proper -- a tale of Jedi aggression, Sidiuos manipulation, and Thrawn master -- and a smaller, even cooler tale called "Mist Encounter," wherein an exiled Thrawn takes on the Imperial Navy, a pack of Storm Troopers, smuggling his way abourd a Star Destroyer and into the Imperial Navy for his troubles.
These tales might not be great literature, but they are great entertainment, and I think they are essential reading for anyone who still fancies themselves Star Wars fans after all these years. ...more
Reaction #1 -- The brain exhaustion I feel right now must be the sensory exhaustion one would feel after an all encompassing hours long orgy at the diReaction #1 -- The brain exhaustion I feel right now must be the sensory exhaustion one would feel after an all encompassing hours long orgy at the dirtiest, grimiest, sexiest sex club in town. Artemis, you see, is an orgy in itself. It's an orgy of blood and guys and cyborg compartments and circuitry and magma genocide and black hole genocide and godlike being genocide and quantum death. It is an orgy of violence in every shape and form one can imagine and even shapes and forms I've never imagined and perhaps some shapes and forms no one but Philip Palmer has imagined. I am pretty sure there has never been a book with the body count of Artemis. It's disgusting. Really. Palmer should be ashamed of himself. I know I am of myself.
Reaction #2 -- What's not to love about Palmer's eponymous character, Dr. Artemis McIvor? Plenty, actually, but I imagine anyone who reads this book will be captivated by her strength and bad-assery and intelligence and honesty and cool powers and her determination and her individuality. And I imagine it would be hard not to see her as a strong female character, maybe even a great female character because of her strength. I certainly enjoyed reading her "thought diary and beaconspace blog," and I found her as compelling as the next psychopathic character. But I can't help being bothered by this too. Artemis is a character created by a man, after all, and her hyper-perfection at the classically male skills of genocide, murder, assault, and all forms of violence make me wonder if this is really, truly, what my mother's generation of feminists were hoping for. Was that what they wanted? To have characters (and people in the real world) whose power was the same sort of awful power that they knew was wrong and were fighting against, or was there another way they were striving for, a feminine way, that has been co-opted into a feminine masculinity that is just as nasty as the boys they were fighting against? I don't have the answer, but I am thinking of the questions, and this story has increased my discomfort about those questions.
Reaction #3 -- This would make a spectacular HBO or Showtime or Netflix series. An episodic retelling of this one 400 page Artemis tale, broken into four or five seasons would be magnificent. The action is breakneck, the violence is operatice, the terraformed planets and asteroid prisons could lower production costs, and the room left to jiggle and tweek and improve and expand upon fragmentary episodes within Palmer's narrative would make any head writer tremble with the delight of potential. We've plenty of kick ass fantasy out there. How about some nasty Sci-Fi? Bring it on, says I. ...more
What a fantastic way to consume an overview of an historical period. Ian Mortimer's decision to create a guide for tourism shifts the focus of historyWhat a fantastic way to consume an overview of an historical period. Ian Mortimer's decision to create a guide for tourism shifts the focus of history from the "Great People of History" to the "People You'll Meet while Walking by Shitbrook," and that turns out to be far more fascinating -- at least to me.
Want to know how to avoid prosecution for murder in case you slip up during your travels? Mortimer lets you know. Want to know what sports you can expect to enjoy? They're all here. Want to know what drinks to avoid, what to look for in foods, what roads to take, what protection you'll need while travelling, what to wear, what to read, what to carry with you? Look no further than this fantastic guide.
I'll be leaving for London 1362 tomorrow, just after one of the outbursts of plague has cleared up. That way I can take advantage of the decreased and depressed population, and hopefully avoid the buboes.
I heard about this book on a Guardian Books Podcast, and it sounded interesting enough for me to pick up one afternoon when I needed a book to fend ofI heard about this book on a Guardian Books Podcast, and it sounded interesting enough for me to pick up one afternoon when I needed a book to fend off the boredom of a grocery store line. It did that job quite well, but ...
... But it didn't do much else.
I'm a bit of a fan of asteroid-slamming-into-Earth-end-of-days stories. I guiltily admit that I love Michael Bay's (or is it really J.J. Abrams?) Armageddon -- so much in fact that I use it to introduce Marxist Theory to my first year students -- I kind of dig Deep Impact and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and I positively adore the great Canadian indy film, Last Night (a must for all SciFi geeks because it co-stars Leoben from BSG). So I was stoked by Ben H. Winters' end of world scenario and the coming of 2011gv1. A cop looking into a suicide that might be a murder while no one gives a damn about the investigation but him because the world is certain to end in six months. Sounds good.
And it was good at an okay level. Unfortunately, I figured out the "mystery" (although maybe it wasn't really supposed to be a mystery), almost instantly, and when a mystery is light on mystery I badly want strong character development, which was also lacking, and meant I didn't really care about what was happening.
Yet I find myself curious about where this story is going next, and there is a next: Countdown City. You see, there are some nice touches, some interesting additions to the asteroid-slamming-into-Earth-end-of-days genre; there's a cool time capsule being readies for orbit, some crazy conspiracy theory that Det. Hank Palace's sister is embroiled in, and a ten-speed that interests me in ways I can't explain.
So I will be moving on and reading more. In spite of the yawning I did throughout my reading of this first installment. Make of that what you will. ...more
If I had to have a Five Favourite Things in the Book List:
1. Charon and his love of easy listening music. 2. The way Ares' weapons camouflage themselves for public consumption. 3. The way Percy's Mom (view spoiler)[murders her husband with Medusa's head and (hide spoiler)] fits right in with the spirit of the Gods. 4. The meeting with the Nereid and her gifts to Percy. 5. Camp Half-Blood
If I had to have a Five Crappy Things in the Book List:
1. The time wasting at the Lotus Casino. 2. Smelly Gabe 3. Percy's love of blue candy. Seriously? Is that character development? 4. The idea that the Ares' daughters must be brutish and ugly. 5. The use of the term Half-Blood
If I had to watch the movie version of this (which I will, undoubtedly): "Why did they ...?! But there was no need to ...! They cast him as ...?! How old are the supposed ...? This is torture, Los, do I have to ...?"
If I have to read the sequel: "Yes please." ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A Swedish national, a "sports" journalist, goes missing in Budapest, behind the "Iron Curtain." It's the height of the Cold War, and Swedish homicideA Swedish national, a "sports" journalist, goes missing in Budapest, behind the "Iron Curtain." It's the height of the Cold War, and Swedish homicide detective Martin Beck, about to enjoy his vacation, is sent, instead, to look into the disappearance.
A Canadian boy would expect a 70s Budapest to be riddled with spies and spying and suspicion. A Canadian boy would expect oppressiveness and oppression at every Hungarian turn. A Canadian boy would expect high adventure mixed with the KGB and CIA. A Canadian boy would expect an international murder, with international implications. A Canadian boy would expect something thrillingly action packed. A Canadian boy would be wrong, though.
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahloo were not as foolish as the Canadian boy. They didn't have his prejudices and indoctrinations. They knew the story they were telling, and they told it their way, with integrity. So their story has a beautiful Budapest, with bath houses, and quays and the Danube outside Metropolitan hotels. It has local police just like anyone else's police, no better or worse, just doing their job. It has a little danger at the hands of some German drug dealers who make their home in Budapest. And the solution to the mystery of the missing man is mundane and lying back in Sweden. Budapest was just a step in the path to the appropriately depressing conclusion.
It is what all the Martin Beck mysteries are -- true -- and that is the highest praise I can bestow on a work of fiction. ...more
I'm not sure how I feel about Brian Michael Bendis. I dig his dialogue, and he handles action well, but there seems to be an underlying lust for militI'm not sure how I feel about Brian Michael Bendis. I dig his dialogue, and he handles action well, but there seems to be an underlying lust for military that rubs me the wrong way, particularly when it informs characters I love, altering them in fundamental ways. Yet that seeming lust for military models makes perfect sense in the state of the contemporary Marvel Universe, reflecting as it does our own reality, so perhaps it is an unfair criticism.
Besides, whatever the reason, Bendis' engagement with the military model brought Ares (not a namesake but the actual Greek God of War) into the Avengers fold, and this Mighty Avengers arc is my first experience with the Greek badass.
Initiative is interesting enough. Hank Pym's longtime personal monster, Ultron, is back and using modern computing to take over and inhabit the body of the newly cybernetic Tony Stark, who Ultron morphs into the spitting image of Janet van Dyne, the Wasp -- albeit in a shiny, nude, silver metal form. And then Ultron comes within a whisker of taking over everything and ending the superfluous presence of humanity. It's the Sci-Fi AI nightmare nearly fulfilled. The action is fast and furious; Ultron is properly logical and ruthless; Hank and Janet spar as they should; Ms. Marvel is full of new leader angst; Wonder Man runs around doing his Fall Guy act; Black Widow is properly useless in the face of a "super"-threat, and it is nice to be without Tony Stark's ego for a while.
It's Ares, though, who made this comic worth reading for me. Of course, the Avengers beat Ultron in the last gasp, but it is the God of War who comes up with the winning plan and pulls it off. While everyone else is trying to come up with high-tech answers or are simply pummelling the ultimate robot (or absorbing the blast of a nuclear warhead. Nice job, Ms. Marvel!), it's Ares who figures out his own little Trojan Horse ruse. He has Pym shrink him to a cellular level, loads himself with an ancient, Commodore 64 virus, a virus Ultron will have no defence against, and flies right down Ultron/Stark/van Dyne's throat to deliver the virus into Ultron's brain.
He battles Stark's cyberdefenses, now nearly perfected by Ultron, and finally plants the virus. Wasp shrinks and saves him, pulling the Axe-Weilding One free of Ultron's death throws, and somehow Tony Stark's systems put him all back together. Yay! Ares wins the day.
So why do I like this? Well, when the story starts, Ares seems like a bit of twit. He's certainly sexist, borderline psychotic (one of the Avengers describes him as a cross between Thor and Wolverine), bad tempered, and fairly dismissive of humanity, and his team mates don't seem to have any faith in his abilities, which all leads to a great moment when his plan and victory have come to fruition: those around him are properly thrilled by his tactical genius, and he dismisses their praise by reminding them that he is "The God of War." Exactly.
That moment raises my enjoyment of the whole arc, but ... hey ... I am easy to please. Still not sure about Bendis, though. I don't know if I'll ever be, but his work on Initiative was fun enough to keep me coming back for more. For now. ...more
My Brontë loved this graphic novel, and I can see why. It's a feel good story full of classic "monsters" -- mummies, skeletons, goblins, demonic insecMy Brontë loved this graphic novel, and I can see why. It's a feel good story full of classic "monsters" -- mummies, skeletons, goblins, demonic insects -- but they're all cleaned up and as unscary as can be. There is a simplistic good versus evil tale going on (albeit with a nurture rather than nature bent). There is a lovable grandfather, who was a poor father, looking for and finding redemption. There is a sacrifice for love. It hits all the right notes for the kids who are its target audience.
Unfortunately, it's all too Eisner-Disney for me. It's too scrubbed, too sanitized, too simplified, too happy, too sweet. If it were a sandwich it would be two pieces of Wonderbread with peanut butter and jelly slathered an inch thick between the slices. That's too much for me. These days I like me pb&j with minimal goo in the middle.
Don't get me wrong, though, there are much worse tales out there, and since Brontë and I have been talking about the book since she finished and I started, I fully back her decision to read the book again. She loves the artwork (again ... too cleaned up for me, but it is pretty), and the story gives her joy, so that's good enough for me. I don't have to love the books she does; I'm just glad to have a chance to experience the things she loves and to talk with her about them....more
I find it hard to read this book without thinking about Helen Palmer Geisel's suicide, which came after Dr. Seuss' adultery with the woman who would bI find it hard to read this book without thinking about Helen Palmer Geisel's suicide, which came after Dr. Seuss' adultery with the woman who would become his second wife. At one point in the note she wrote, "I am too old and enmeshed in everything you do and are, that I cannot conceive of life without you," and I felt that sentiment when I read A Fish Out of Water last night.
Palmer (I'll stick with her chosen nom de plume from now on) took an old story of Seuss's -- a story he had abandoned -- and turned it into A Fish Out of Water. It is a quaint little story. Sorta cute. Sorta fun. Sorta moral. Yet it is easy to see why Seuss abandoned the idea. It doesn't go anywhere, and Palmer can't save it from itself.
There is only a hint of Seussian language, just a touch of his playful rhyming, and I can't help wondering if Palmer lifted that section from Seuss original. Regardless, what I saw (imagined) while reading this was a person, likely talented in her own right, intimately linked to one of the true greats in their field. She couldn't reach his level. Not ever. So there she was, completing his abandoned stories, feeling, however incorrectly, that she was only publishing her work because of her link to her husband, and feeling a failure, feeling unworthy.
I imagine it is similar to what EL James' husband must be feeling right about now. Here's a little piece of advice. No artist, in any discipline, should ever marry someone in their discipline. It leads to tragedy.
I can't see myself reading this story to Scoutie too often. Just the thought of it depresses me, but it is not bad. It is worth a read or two. Just don't keep anything I've written here in mind. Maybe I should put a meta-spoiler alert at the top of this?
One other thought ... who gets the royalties to Palmer's work? I wonder if it is Seuss' second wife. How depressing would that be?...more
The first comic I ever bought was a Prince Namor. I was at the convenience store, long before I became a true comic collector, and found a beaten up NThe first comic I ever bought was a Prince Namor. I was at the convenience store, long before I became a true comic collector, and found a beaten up Namor comic that captured my imagination, making me, forever, a fan of Namor no matter where or when he appears.
I haven't read this sequence of Namor before, coming as it did after my retirment from comics, but now that I am exploring everything I missed, now that I am out of "retirement" as a collector, now that my son and I are geeking out on a regular basis, I couldn't possibly pass up a collection of John Byrne (my nostalgic favourite) scripted and penciled Namors.
Namor, The Sub-Mariner #1 -- "Purpose!" This is not an auspicious start to a series. It may actually be the single worst number one I have ever read. It uses two separate epilogues and two separate prologues to deliver the clunkiest and least helpful exposition possible, moving us from classicly mercurial Namor to a kinder, gentler, Namor, who has been suffering from oxygen imbalances throughout his life due to his mixed Atlantean and Human heritage, to a forward thinking Namor, who decides to pursue his "purpose" -- currently undisclosed -- through capitalism, to his Namor's future nemesis, the crazed, sixth richest man in the world, Desmond Marrs. It does, however, still contain John Byrne's killer illustrations, and I find myself very excited to see where all of this poor storytelling is taking us. Strange.
Namor, The Sub-Mariner #2 -- "Eagle's Wing and Lion's Claw" Not great but better than the opening issue. This one pits Namor against the Griffin in a battle in the air and water around the Statue of Liberty. Carrie Alexander is the damsel in distress, her Dad was frightened into a coronary by the, Griffin, Namorita, Namor's cousin, is back (quite unceremoniously), Headhunter is taking an interest in the half-naked, wing ankled guy streaking around the New York skyline, and the Marrs' twins are the antagonists at the action's heart. Does any of this matter? Not really. All that matters is that Byrne is busy doing what he does -- action. All that matters here is the fight, and it's a doozy that ends in a cliffhanger ....
Namor, The Sub-Mariner #3 -- "Meeting of the Board" ... But it wasn't much of a cliffhanger because there was no way Namor was going to lose a fight against the Griffin. Instead, Namor turns the Griffin into his flying steed, breaking him in one of the most ridiculous and oddly perfect bronco busting scenes I've ever witnessed, and then he flies his steed to Roxxon, the oil giant he mistakenly (?) blames for the Griffin's attack. He leaves the superbaddy with them, and flies off in a Namor-lite huff. His arrogance is beginning to peak out, but is it only blood poisoning or his natural state? I suppose only time will tell. And in case you're wondering, Caleb Alexander is okay for now. His heart is stable. Just don't get him excited.
Namor, The Sub-Mariner #4 -- "Black Water" The plot thickens until Namor finds himself trapped and suffocating in an oil spill, but none of that is important. What is important to me is a an occurrence of about six frames midway through the issue: Namor lounges in his salt water pool, talking to Namorita, then he sinks into the pool, drifting through bubbles, submerging himself. The conversation continues, though, because Namorita just pops her head beneath the water and keeps on chatting. This moment exemplifies what is great about John Byrne. More than any other comic creator of his generation, Byrne's imagination extended to the mundane and morphed the mundane into something exceptional. His artwork in this moment is gorgeous, actually conveying the feeling of specific gravity in water, conveying drift, and Glynis Oliver's colours gloriously match his pencils. His storytelling never reaches the level of the greats like Alan Moore or Chris Claremont, but damn can he do the little things well.
Namor, The Sub-Mariner #5 -- "All the Rivers Burning" The big oil spill is ablaze after an eco-Terrorist suicide bombs the slick. Iron Man wastes his time chasing a drone sent out as a diversion. Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl try to contain the spill. Sub-Mariner swims off to an underwater lava vent, bringing back some thermal-eating, giant manta rays, and the day is saved (mostly through the efforts of Namor) even though the heroes do nothing in concert. There is part of me that thinks the disjointed (pseudo-)heroics of the four super beings is something to be appreciated, and I suppose I do, but it is overshadowed by the disjointedness of the story itself. I can't get a handle on anything that Byrne is doing, apart from the overdetermined eco-critcism he's beating me over the head with. Subtle it is not. In other news, Namor is arrested as soon as the day is saved. Not sure why yet, but it's probably due to his uninvited visit to the Roxxon board.
Namor, The Sub-Mariner #6 -- "Out of Sight, Out of Mind." The shine of Byrne's art (though there is a super cute drawing of Namorita at one point. One point in how many frames? Too many) has warn off, and all I can muster for this issue is a yawn. The Marrs plot is coming to fruition. Namor has decided to shift his affections from the uninterested Carrie to the very interested Phoebe (although she's only interested as a ruse). Yawn. Scratch, scratch, scratch. And then there is a new villain, the embodiement of humanities offshore garbage dumping. It is a rot creature named Sluj(who happens to look an awful lot like the Swamp Thing). Snort. Sorry, my head bobbed there. I was resting me eyes.
Namor, The Sub-Mariner #7 -- "... That I Be Shunned by All..." Where the hell is Mothra when you need it? Not in New York fighting Sluj, that's for sure. That's up to Namor who just happens to hear about a giant beast in the ocean. He just happens to find the monster with no difficulty, then pops into the monster for a swim around, finds a shipload of passengers in a series of digestive cocoons and pulls a pretty girl in a bikini to safety to find out what happened, and he just happens to land -- amidst a thronging crowd -- right beside the scientist responsible for the monster, who just happens to have the antidote, and Namor just happens to be the perfect delivery system, and I just happened to stay awake long enough to see Headhunter swing by the Marrs Penthouse to collect a head. I suppose I will just happen to read the next issue soon too.
Namor, The Sub-Mariner #8 -- "Never Bet the Devil Your Head" We have here our first cusp issue where old storylines are closing out (so very unsatisfactorily) and new storylines are starting (some out of time Nazi baddies. Hooray!). At the moment Namor can't fly, a residual effect from his defeat of Sluj, so he's being driven around in the Marrs limousine (where it seems he shags Phoebe Marrs, or so we're led to believe), then winds up in a room of heads. Ten or twelve heads. Human heads. Mounted on the wall like a wild animal trophy room. Apparently the lovely Headhunter collects the heads of New York's best and brightest business men (and, yep, no one seems to have missed them), and her most recent addition is Desmond Marrs. Next up: Namor. So she pulls off her glasses, rolls her hypnotic eyes, and we're off to the next issue.
Namor, The Sub-Mariner #9 -- "Skull Orchard" Thank Poseidon it is over! Blah, blah, blah, the Headhunter never cut off any heads. She simply kept the men alive with their heads poking through the wall, sometimes for years. Yeah, that's believable (what the hell do you mean? It's a comic book, dumb ass. Yeah, I know. But still ....). Some other stuff happens too. So I am finished. I am relieved. I am disappointed. I'll probably read the next one, and I'll complain about that one too, knowing full well what I am getting myself into....more
I've decided to go back to the beginning of Robert Frost's poetry and read it all. I've only ever done that with one other poet (not naming names), anI've decided to go back to the beginning of Robert Frost's poetry and read it all. I've only ever done that with one other poet (not naming names), and it was a wonderful experience; it feels like a relationship with someone who was writing to share themselves with only you.
A Boy's Will is the beginning of my journey with Frost. I've loved the poems I've read in the past, and I've read more than a few (more than are found in the usual anthologies), but this is something different, reading everything produced with only Frost to curate his work.
This collection is mostly made up of the two surface themes Frost was most obsessed with: nature and the supernatural (though I don't think Frost was actually a "nature poet," more on that when I get to North of Boston, I think). He's weakest when he's focused on the supernatural. There is a brooding melancholy that feels too self-indulgent (I say "too" because I firmly believe that poetry is necessarily the most "self-indulgent" of literatures); it's a self-indulgence that distracts from the narrative flow of Frost's supernatural verses, holding the reader (or this reader, at least) from fully embracing the experience.
But then Frost writes about something simple like "Mowing," and suddenly he invites the reader to join him "beside the wood" where he evokes the senses, summoning us to his experience like the great conjurer he is. It is this, his ability to make me feel what he felt, that has led me to reading everything he has ever published. What he does, what he did, is beautiful.
I am going for walk in the snow today. I want to feel it like he did. ...more
Thor #360 -- "Into the Valley of Death": If my memory serves, my favourite stretch of Walt Simonson's The Mighty Thor is about to begin, but before weThor #360 -- "Into the Valley of Death": If my memory serves, my favourite stretch of Walt Simonson's The Mighty Thor is about to begin, but before we get there Simonson needs to tie up the loose ends of the Surtur battle and add some new stitches for what's to come. To that end, we get the Asgardians returning from Midgard to begin the rebuilding of the Golden Realm; we get Frigga holding onto Odin's Great Sceptre until a new ruler can be chosen; we get Sif pouting over being punched by Thor, even though she knows he struck her because he was under the spell of Loki (apparently this thread is going to need more time to be tied off); we get the Warriors Three back bearing cheesy gifts; and we get -- oddest of all -- the Einherjar adopting the automatic weapons of the US Army. Now we have gun toting Asgardians. But all of this (well ... most of it) is about to be put aside for Thor's journey to Hel. Sweet.
Thor #361 -- "The Quick and the Dead": For fans of Norse Mythology, Thor's journey to Hel is one of the best issues written by Simonson. Garm guards the gates of Hel, while Hel(a) rules the lowest reaches of Yggdrasil with her decaying touch. Balder's wife Nan[n]a shows up in a cool cameo, and we even see creepy Modgud who's busy guarding Gjallarbrú, the bridge to Hel. And for fans of the comics we get the horrific scarring of Thor's beautiful face. It's a moment that I remember most fondly from all those years ago, and I've always loved the way Simonson chose to render the horror. It's all left to our imagination. Thor's face, mangled and mauled during his wrestling match with Hel, is all in black shadow. We can't tell how bad the damage is by looking at Thor, but we can tell how bad the damage is by watching the reactions (and reading the thoughts) of those around him. Their reactions ain't pretty, and neither is Thor anymore.
Thor #362 -- "Like a Bat Out of Hell": Thor is entering his grim phase now that his face is destroyed, which is a big plus for the coming issues, but this issue is most interesting because of the Executioner's (Skurge's) redemptive act of sacrifice. He destroys Naglfar (the ship made from the toe and fingernails of the dead) with his axe, then he holds the rear of Thor's column, fighting off the hordes of the dead that Hel sends against the Asgardians. It's pretty cool, actually, though not as emotionally stirring as it sounds. Skurge is a bit of a putz, after all.
Thor #363 -- "This Kursed Earth": If there is anything I hate about comics, it is when Marvel or DC decide to do a multi-issue, multi-title cross over series. Money grab aside, I've never found that style of storytelling coherent enough to be a complete success. Even the Civil War (which I consider the best of the bunch) was too uneven to be called truly exceptional. As far as I know, though, Secret Wars II and all its crossovers, of which this issue of The Mighty Thor is one, is where all this multi-madness began. So we get the Beyonder wandering around Earth, fucking with superheroes to educate himself, and blah blah blah. The issue is pretty poor. It's mostly a slug fest between Thor and Kurse (with cameos from Beta Ray Bill and Power Pack), and it's a huge disappointment after Thor's kick ass journey to hell. At least we get brooding, wounded, scarred up Thor when he's not duking it out with Kurse, and Thor in this state is about as compelling as Thor gets, so the hint of this Thor mitigates the Secret Wars tie in just a touch.
It's not a great issue, but it sets up something very, very cool: the last page sees a Loki spell, channeling the power of Surtur's sword, coming to fruition. A charmed woman walks up to Thor and gives him a smooch. And the next thing you know ... Thor's a frog. Super sweet!
Thor #364 -- "Thor Croaks!": So my friend Manny Rayner is reading Ulysses, and I am reading The Mighty Thor. At least my book has a talking frog, and that frog is Thor himself. As the issue opens, Frigga declares the "Great Althing" to decide on a new ruler of Asgard will take place in a fortnight. Loki shows up with a smile on his face, certain that Thor won't make it because he's become an amphibian. Meanwhile, Thor finds himself embroiled in a Central Park war between the Rats and the Frogs, and giant, ass-kicking Bull Frog that Thor is, he lends his power to the battle and aids the Frogs. A fortnight later, he's engaged in a plan to attack the Rats in their sewer home, when he stumbles upon a Pied Piper. The lilting tones of the Piper's pipe enslave Thor, and we leave him jumping into the mouths of a dozen sewer alligators. While back in Asgard, Loki steps up at the Althing only to find Thor (Thor?) join him on stage (a plan cooked up by Heimdall and Harokin). What the fuck is going on? I'll fill you in tomorrow.
Thor #365 -- "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, or It's Not Easy Being Green.": Turns out the Piper is a Morlock, and when it comes down to it he admires the big bullfrog's determination (even Frog Thor is tenatious), so he recovers his pipe and sets his alligators on the rat armies to aid the Frog of Thunder. It's easy to mock this strange detour in the Thor story, but my fondness has been reiforced during this rereading. I love this story. I love Thor as a frog fighting a war against the rats. Moreover, the spell cast by Loki seems to fit with the sort of mischief Loki was famous for in the real Norse Myths, giving this a touch of old world charm that many of the other Thor stories could use. To finish this disjointed entry: the best part of the issue is when Frog Thor lifts Mjolnir and becomes a 6'6" Frog Thor, standing tall and driving his chariot into the heavens. Thor has never looked better. Really.
Thor #366 -- "Sir!": Loki's plans are about to come to fruition. He turns the tables on Heimdall's ruse to buy time, lifting Harokin's fake Mjolnir (Harokin is standing in for the missing Thor), thus proving himself worthy of the power of Thor to the huddled masses of Asgard. So who should rule Asgard? Loki, of course. Not so fast, though. Frog Thor shows up and starts kicking Loki's ass. The God of Mischief is about to end up in Hel, but elsewhere in Asgard, Volstagg bumps into a mountainside and drops an avalanche onto the magic machine that is tapping the mystic energies of Surtur's sword, thus making the Frog spell work. The spell breaks, Thor is restored, Loki is saved, and the "brothers" head back to the Althing where the people of Asgard offer Thor the Asgardian crown. He refuses, though, because his vow to protect Midgard is too important to break. So he declares Balder the true ruler. Cue a drawing of Loki's brain at work. You're in deep doo doo, Balder. The end.
Too bad Frog Thor is gone :( I loved Frog Thor.
Thor #367 -- "The Harvest of the Seasons": I like to think of this as the coming of Thor's beard. Balder is set to be the new Liege Lord of Asgard, and Thor is free to brood over his love for Sif and grow a neatly trimmed blonde beard to cover Hela's devastation to his face. So he does. And while other things happen in this issue, like the return of Beyonder's buddy, Kurse, the return of Malekith, the obligatory scheming of Loki, and Sif's most recent decision to run off with Horse-Face Bill, all that really matters to me is Thor's beard. Nice choice, Walt. It fit Thor so well, he was sporting the beard this past summer.
Thor #368 -- "The Eye of the Beholder": All that Kurse and Malekith stuff is resolved as this issue opens, but Balder still hasn't arrived to be crowned, so Thor drags Fandral, Volstagg and Hogun out of Asgard to search for the Brave one who has fallen prey to yet another bit of Loki scheming (shocking isn't it?).
But that is when things get really good because I was able to twist everything in my mind. I turned Thor #368 into Star Trek - The Original Series, Season 4, Episode 1. Captain Kirk (Balder) is tricked into the lair of some Big Bad Alien (Slaggnbir the Troll), where he is forced to fight the BBA to save three Beautiful Space Women -- Gertha, Unn and Kossi -- who turn out to be the real danger because as soon as Kirk has killed the BBA, the BSW trigger amnesia in Kirk and turn him into their sex slave. Meanwhile, Mr. Spock (Bearded Thor) stumbles upon the Spaceship of the BBA (the castle), and when he walks into the ship, he finds the BSW controlling his Captain. Cue cliffhanger music and the half time commercial. Conclusion of TOS 4.1 tomorrow in my recounting of Thor #369. Bet you're as excited as I am.
Thor #368 -- "For Whom the Belles Troll": Captain's Log, Stardate 6125.6, First Officer Spock reporting: Following Captain Kirk's disappearance while investigating the derelict vessel of the Big Bad Alien, I proceeded to the ship to conduct my own investigation. It was there that I discovered Captain Kirk in thrall to three Alien Women, undoubtedly they would be subjectively beautiful to humans. I was quick to assess the situation and realized that the Alien Women had used a set of Aesirian bobbles containing a Thrall-field and Illusion Projector. Once I destroyed their bobbles, the Alien Women were revealed as Jotnir (Trolls). Captain Kirk and I were forced to terminate them once they attacked us with murderous intent.
Then Captain Balder and Mr. Thor fly off into the sunset to have that drink to honour their dead comrade, Lt. Skurge, which ends the long, long arc of Asgardian tales in Simonson's Thor. Back to Midgard next time, home of more "super-hero" driven tales; it will be a nice change, but I'm going to miss the Asgardian stuff....more
It is about the homegrown terrorists we make through our capitalist greed, our ever increasing inequality, our casting aside of those who don't fit into our neat ideas of a "normal" society.
It is about the ideological terrorists who fight for a cause that isn't ours with whatever tools are at their disposal, tearing apart flesh and bone with bombs, blasting holes into skulls with bullets projected from sniper rifles, using their bodies as delivery systems for death -- all to make a point they feel can't be made any other way.
It is about the terrorists who own us and rule us and manipulate us using the apparatus of government, unjust laws, and armed security forces to keep us in line.
It is about the armies that we send out to kill and maim and destroy in our names.
It is about how we move through our world surrounded by terrorists, maybe even being these terrorists ourselves, and how we can keep some modicum of what we like to imagine is our "humanity" in the face of it all.
Leonard Kollberg and Martin Beck, Gunn Kollberg and Rhea Olsson manage to keep some of that humanity. I think Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wished a portion of it upon us all....more
This has to be the least thrilling thriller I've ever read. I never felt like there were any serious stakes for any of our three protagonists -- unlesThis has to be the least thrilling thriller I've ever read. I never felt like there were any serious stakes for any of our three protagonists -- unless it was during the incessant tooth brushing scenes. Indeed, all the major characters in Spook Country have impeccable oral hygiene, but I digress.
Hollis Henry, former lead singer of The Curfew turned journalist for Node, finds herself embroiled in a mystery --care of Hubertus Bigend and Blue Ant -- that jumps from L.A. to Vancouver. She's on the trail of a D.J. for locative artists and the ghostly container he's tracking. She winds up deep, deep in the mystery, actually taking part in the denouement, but the only threat she faces is the possibility that she'll become irradiated with some Cisium, but that's okay, she's decked out in an X-ray apron, and she's sure to be fine.
David Milgrim, a sort of anti-tweeker who speaks Russian and translates Volapuk for a shady fucker named Brown, spends his time being dragged from place to place by the aforementioned shady fucker, so that he can translate any transmissions being sent to a guy Brown is hunting. The only danger Milgrim is in is a beating at the hands of Brown or the cutting off of his supply of Rize.
Then there's Tito. He's an "illegal facilitator (IF)," according to Brown, whose family is involved in smuggling and other criminal activities. His and his family's roots are in Communist China and Cuba, their initial training was with the KGB. Tito himself is a free runner, who channels some mystic state when he's doing his job, and his job puts him in direct danger. Danger of being captured. Danger of being shot. Danger of being arrested. But even with Tito the stakes feel low. He's just too good at what he does, and the planning he's executing is too thorough. So even if he were to have been caught during his big chase sequence or his final job, we're never given the impression he's in any serious danger (of course, this could be because his chief adversary is Brown, who is about as effective as a cartoon Nazi from 30s' Saturday Morning serials.)
But the total lack of stakes works. It is important, actually. Gibson's is a whole new world of intrigue. His spook country is the zone where espionage work (if it can even be called that anymore) has changed with technology and outsourcing. It is a place where anyone with the right level of curiosity, the correct skill set, the necessary connections (even if connected quite by accident) can find themselves embroiled in the intrigues around every corner. It is a place where everyone's position can be found, where everyone's conversations (written or spoken) are traced, where everyone's information is there to be analysed and fucked with. Those become the stakes. The stakes are anonymity vs. embroilment. Do you want to be known? Do you want to be on the radar? Those are the stakes, and I am not sure that our heroine, Hollis, has any clue what that's going to mean in her future.
I've never read a book quite like this one. It's story isn't terribly unique, but that's not what I mean, and I've even read books without stakes, but I don't mean that either. What I've never seen is a book with such minimal stakes that actually made me care, and this book made me care. It made me care personally about Gibson's three protagonists; it made me care about (and fear) the present-future Gibson is discussing; it made me care about the issues Gibson's grappling with; it just made me care, and I am shocked that a book written in this way could make me care in all those ways.
So I will end with these two words: Hubertus Bigend. ...more
I said I was going to listen to it the next time I read it and here I go.
An intelligent man I know is also an incorrigible literary snob whI said I was going to listen to it the next time I read it and here I go.
An intelligent man I know is also an incorrigible literary snob who believes that the last author of any true literary merit was Faulkner, and that anything that has come since must be poor by definition (himself excluded, though I suspect I am not). He reads more recent texts because he must (for school or pedagogical purposes), and his feelings about them are predominantly negative.
So he read the Wasp Factory at my behest while I listened to it, then we sat down and chatted. He was entertained by Frank's tale, but he feels The Wasp Factory is poorly written, that Banks is nothing but a sensationalist writing with overdetermination and a tendency towards the melodramatic. It's the only Banks he has read, and my opinion incorporates a reading of most of Banks' novels, but I disagree with my friend -- both in the case of The Wasp Factory and the quality of contemporary authors.
I am mostly talked out after our discussion of the other day, where we left things unconvinced by the other's arguments. Suffice to say that I find much to admire in the emotional, sometimes passionate, sometimes cold first person revelations of Frank Cauldhame. Banks told the tale in the voice the tale required, and the tale of lies upon lies upon lies upon half-truths is to be much admired as an entertainment and as literature. And a world, such as my friend desires, wherein Dickens would be top-middle-bottom of the reading menu, is a world that would bore me to coma. Leguin, Mieville, Banks, Morrison (an author my friend admits approaches quality), Vandermeer, Hope, Katzman, Atwood, Allende, Mitchell, Murakami, Ishiguro, and others I'm not remembering make my imagination tremble.
I'm glad he read the book for me; I am sad he didn't like it more; I surely loved our conversation, though. Books (and the people who love them) really are good, aren't they?...more
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote their Martin Beck series in the sixties and seventies. They wrote ten novels in ten years. They wrote about a time wi Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote their Martin Beck series in the sixties and seventies. They wrote ten novels in ten years. They wrote about a time without computers and modern gadgets, but apart from those conveniences themselves, the books could have been written yesterday.
These books are about everything that continues to be wrong in our societies. They are about carceration, misplaced conceptions of justice and the omnipresence of injustice. They are about the militarization of police forces and police culpability in the crimes they are expressly formed to fight. They are about an environment under siege by our way of living. They are about our fears of sexuality and society's role in controlling our desires. They are about rape culture and the fight of women to control their bodies and own their sexuality. They are about the disaffection of our children and young adults. They are about failing economies, people without work, the haves having more and the have-nots having so little that they turn to crime in despair. They are about the need for forgiveness. They are about guilt and conscience and ethics. And they show that not a damn thing has changed (at least in the Canada of today, the country I live in, it hasn't. Canada right now is the Sweden of the seventies and that is fucking depressing).
Into all of these issues, spanning nine years a this point, are thrust Martin Beck and Lennart Kollberg. They solve murders for the National Police Squad. They are men of conscience, actively struggling everyday with the issues Sjöwall & Wahlöö drop in their path. (view spoiler)[By the close of the book, one of them resigns from the force he once loved and now disdains. The other goes wearily on. People die over the course of Cop Killer, even a cop (though the "actual" cop killer is rather surprising). The wrong man is railroaded into prison to await trial for a crime he didn't commit simply because it is the path of least resistance. Other men are hunted and ear-marked for death because of coincidence. A girl is bitten repeatedly in the groin by an attack dog because she helped some friends (though she'd already surrendered when the dog attacked). A cop and a man he helped convict of murder (now free after serving his sentence) sit down over a seltzer water and an aquavit to share their guilt over the people they've killed. And one cop looks forward to eating a meal with the woman he loves. It's all here in this marvellous book. (hide spoiler)]
Make no mistake, these books are not to be taken lightly; they are literature. They should be the canon of police procedurals. If you love detective stories and you've not read the Martin Beck books you need to get started. You'll see why.
p.s. If you decide to read this series take my advice and reread Roseanna just before you read this for the first time. I did quite by accident and a happy accident it was.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I am feeling quartered over Two Generals. In one quarter, I dig Scott Chantler's art with reservations; in another, I am impressed by his portrayal ofI am feeling quartered over Two Generals. In one quarter, I dig Scott Chantler's art with reservations; in another, I am impressed by his portrayal of the Nazis, when he happens to portray them at all; in another, I am simultaneously disappointed with his propaganda of Canadian excellence and pleased that he shows Juno beach, the least talked about beach in the Normandy invasion; in another, I am disappointed that the two parts of the Two Generals are all there is.
His art: Chantler's illustrations are beautiful. There is a delicacy at odds with their perfect linear geometry that makes the illustrations surprisingly emotive. I didn't expect such emotion to be conveyed by a graphic illustrator whose style is simplicity, but I was wrong. Moreover, Chantler's use of close ups and repetition, mostly used in quiet moments, added a gravity that I appreciated. There was a problem for me, however, and that was that everything was too clean. Chantler shows limbs blown off and a foxhole full of Canadian dead, but even those moments are clean. I am not sure that Chantler's style can ever be anything but clean, which makes it a poor style, ultimately, for the portrayal of war. See, I am torn.
His view of the Nazis: The Hollywood view of Nazis as buffoons or Nazis as pure evil is both inaccurate and, I believe, dangerously reductive. Not recognizing that they were regular people, living regular lives, who engaged in terrible things (or tacitly agreed to letting terrible thigns happen) makes it much easier for us to believe we could never do such things, which makes it much easier for such things to happen. Chantler doesn't go the Hollywood route. His Nazis are, indeed, regular folks. Fervent believers, but regular folks. Until, that is, he comes to Rommel and Hitler. The former is the accepted stereotype of the good and honourable German soldier trapped by circumstance, and the latter is the magnetic cult leader of our nightmares (a little more Manson that Hitler, actually). These portrayals, though, are as they are because these historical figures only appear on a couple of pages. I'd like to see Chantler write another of these historical graphic novels about Rommel. I wonder what that would be like?
His propaganda: Living in Canada, having been raised by a Canadian Mum in amongst Canadians, having been educated by Canadians, I know how unappreciated Canadians feel for their contributions to victory in WWI and WWII. They feel very unappreciated. It makes sense then that Chantler, whose grandfather, Law Chantler (the protagonist of Two Generals) fought in the Normandy invasion, would write and draw about Canada's D-Day beachhead, Juno Beach. Furthermore, it makes sense that he would be writing to inform us all of Canada's WWII military excellence. But it bothers me just a little bit. I agree that Britain and the U.S. underappreciate the contribution of Canada (and England's other colonies for that matter), but I have a hard time with the desire seek appreciation for contributions to war. And when my reservations are coupled with Chantler's none-to-subtle suggestions that Canadians were the most poorly supplied, the biggest underdogs, and still made the most important contributions at every step of the D-Day invasion -- the crucial contributions that made victory possible -- I can't stop myself from squirming in my chair.
My disappointment: Yet I find myself, despite how I am torn by this book, wishing that it was much, much longer. I didn't want this to end. I wanted to see more of Law Chantler's time in Europe, and I wanted to see much more of the Canadian contribution (minus the bias) to the entirety of the war. I hope Chantler continues to write personal histories of people and events. He has a gift. ...more