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 we...moreThor #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.(less)
I feel like reviewing each issue as I go, so here goes.
Thor #349 -- "Debts of Honour": One of my favourite things about Simonson's time on The Mighty...moreI feel like reviewing each issue as I go, so here goes.
Thor #349 -- "Debts of Honour": One of my favourite things about Simonson's time on The Mighty Thor is that the comic is really just an excuse to play around in Asgard. Thor always makes an obligatory appearance, but he isn't always the most important character. This issue casts Odin in the lead, as he recounts the tale of how he and his brothers, Vili & Ve, stumbled into Muspellsheim, pissed off the fire demon Surtur, shattered Surtur's sword, stole the Eternal Flame and sealed Surtur into the southern fire kingdom of Yggdrasil (you're a dumb ass, Odin). Baldur the Brave makes another important appearance, proving once again to be the most "heroic" of Simonson's pantheon. And since the universe is in deep, deep, Odin crafted shit, Odin calls upon the most obvious hero to save Yggdrasil: Beta Ray Bill (because he is as powerful as Thor). And Thor himself ... he is currently under the sway of a love potion. What a schmuck. So Odin is an idiot, Baldur is the bravest, Beta Ray Bill is a competent space Thor, and Thor is an incompetent boob. That about sums it up.
Thor #350 -- "Ragnarok and Roll": In case you don't believe me that Simonson's Thor is an incompetent boob, Surtur, bad ass Muspel-Demon, tricks him into make a rainbow, which, of course, reveals the Rainbow Bridge, and while Thor is busy fighting off Surtur's demon hordes, the fiery PapaDemon slips across space and time to Asgard and takes the fight to Heimdall.
For big, chaotic battle sequences (shockingly similar to the Chitauri battle in this past summer's Avengers movie), the battle for Manhattan that pits the armies of Asgard against the demons of Muspellsheim is good enough, but it leaves little room for character development, which bums me out. There is, however, one excellent sequence. The Enchantress, one of Asgard's biggest villainesses, volunteers to help Odin protect Asgard (along with all of Thor's other godlike foes, barring Loki), and mid-battle she goes *POP* over to her cousin's Manhattan apartment to convince Lorelei to join the fight. When Lorelei refuses, Enchantress slams her for her selfishness and vows to take her and her spells down when the fight is over. Then *POP* she's back in the battle. It's a nice touch in an otherwise standard battle comic.
Sadly, though, the fight's not over yet.
Thor #351 -- "Ragnarok and Roll, Too": You remember how I said that the big battle was like the Avenger's movie last summer? It became even moreso when the demons opened up a sky gate above the Empire State Building. But if recent Marvel film history didn't borrow enough from Mr. Simonson, there is also the little issue of the Bifrost being shattered at Heimdall's feet (much like the final battle in the Thor movie). This time it was Surtur with his gargantuan sword who did the deed, but the bridge is broken and only Odin, Heimdall and Thor are left in Asgard to fight the big demon.
Wait a second, though. The only one left to fight the demon is Odin, The Pragmatic Father. He admits in the final moment that he could have saved Thor during his one on one battle with the Demon, but he chose to let Surtur kill the God of Thunder because the battle weakened the demon just enough for Odin to destroy him. Sweet. The good of the many, hey Mr. Spock?
As the issue goes, it is more of the same. So much is happening at the moment that little can be done with character. Still, the Fantastic Four joined the fray, as did the US Armed Forces, so the Marvel world is reacting to what's happening, which is the minimum required to flirt with reality. Apart from that, nothing new develops. Beta Ray Bill is still as tough as Thor. Sif is still a reactionary who does what she wants. The villains of Asgard are still fighting. Blah blah blah.
I'm looking forward to the end of this battle. I prefer the quieter issues.
Thor #352 -- "Ragnarok and Ruin": It's a Thor free Mighty Thor. Everyone else is duking it out while Thor lies comatose (and nowhere to be seen in these pages) on the broken Bifrost. So what's happening elsewhere in this Nine World's spanning battle? Ex-cop Roger Willis flies off to Svartelheim to fix the Casket of Ancient Winters. He has a super fast Fantastic Four plane as transport, the Human Torch for protection, and some super glue (seriously!) to put the broken casket back together. The Avengers, some X-Men, the Asgardians and the rest of the FF are fighting in New York with Beta Ray Bill. And Odin and Surtur are duking it out in Asgard for the Eternal Flame. The battle rages for the entire book, so there is not much to report but that there is much action all leading to the moment when Surtur touches his sword (Twilight) to the eternal flame. Now ... all hell should break loose, right?
Thor #353 -- "Doom II": Wrong because it is the big finale, and Surtur just can't win. Remember that I mentioned Loki couldn't be found anywhere? He was in Asgard all the time, casting an illusion of the Eternal Flame, and when this issue kicks off it is just Loki vs. Surtur, but soon enough everything starts to swing the Asgardians' way. Odin is back in the fight. Thor joins his brother and father. And one of the coolest covers in Thor-dom comes to fruition: The three of them have at Surtur each with their own battle cry:
Odin: For Asgard! Thor: For Midgard! Loki: For Myself!
It doesn't get much better than that.
Thor #354 -- "Pickin' Up the Pieces": Hel hath no fury like a Thor pissed off. Hela shows up to claim Odin's body because his power is no longer palpable throughout the Nine Worlds (he's still trapped in Muspellsheim locked in perpetual battle with Surtur, according to Loki that is), and Thor goes full out Storm God on her ass, scaring the Mistress of Hel back to her land before entrusting now empty Asgard to Heimdall and wandering off into the snow to brood and pout for a while (before getting trapped in an avalanche). Thor tells us it is mourning, a particularly human experience, that he now must face for the first time. I just think it is a plot device to get us ready for the next adventure (and to set us up for the nice break in the next issue). A interesting fact about #354: it's the most Thor we've had in this volume of Simonson's run.
Thor #355 -- "The Icy Hearts": Oh! how I love this issue. Most people would probably find it too sentimental or too quiet for their tastes, but the nostalgic me always remembers this as a beautiful Thor tale, and I wasn't disappointed this time through.
Thor has been rescued from the avalanche that almost killed him, and he's sleeping on a bed of furs while a giant hand tosses Mjolnir up and down, up and down, like a kids toy. Pan back and we see Tiwaz, an old God (or giant?) with a big white beard and Asgardian garb. Tiwaz plays host to Thor and nurses him back to strength, wrestling with the Thunder God every night so that Thor can "earn" his dinner. Thor becomes convinced that Tiwaz is Odin in disguise, and his spirits begins to return to normal. He eventually throws Tiwaz, much to the big man's delight, and Thor is officially ready to take on the rulership of Asgard. It's such a simple tale -- sort of like Thor's mind -- but it speaks to me of kindness, care, home, warmth, love. Thor was lucky to bump into old Tiwaz (view spoiler)[, who just happens to be the Thunderer's great-grandpa (hide spoiler)], and we are lucky to have a breather before the guts and glory storylines return.
Thor #356 -- "The Power and the Pride!": Walt Simonson took a break for a month, and we get a fun little issue about Hercules and Thor. Since this volume is about Simonson's Thor, however, we don't get the Hercules joy.
Thor #357 -- "A New Deal From an Old Deck, or the Credit Card Soldiers": Two adventures in one. Beta Ray Bill and Sif battle some armor clad bank robbers who shrink into playing cards, effectively disappearing, at the touch of a button, while Thor and Frigga bring the children back to shattered Asgard. The first adventure is a front for some shady character with glowing yellow eyes, and it's quick fun, but nothing special. The second contains a wonderful moment when some Frost Giants attack and try to eat the Asgardian whelps. The wonderful moment? Thor is about to kill the giants as they are running away, but Frigga stops him and asks him to leave them some food because they are obviously starving. We need more Frigga's in our adventure stories. Don't you think?
Oh yeah, Lorelei shows up in the final frames and renews her love spells on Thor: this time with some Loki-strengthened aroma therapy.
Oh yeah, again. Enchantress booby traps Odin's scepter as a trap for Loki, which he dutifly springs, but we're not sure of its impact yet.
Thor #357 -- "When Dalliance Was in Flower, or Take the Cash and Let the Credit Go": Thor's back in Asgard and falling deeper and deeper under Lorlie's spell. Meanwhile, Beta Ray Bill stops the Credit Card Soldiers from destroying the U.S. economy by revealing to the angry Vietnam vets in Golden Armour are bing manipulated by the nasty Soviets under the direction of Iron Man's old foe, Titanium Man. It's easy to forget that this was written way back in 1985.
The Beta Ray Bill stuff is mere filler, and it's totally unnecessary. I wonder more and more what the point of Bill is. Surely Simonson could have had the Warriors Three wander around New York with Sif and do the same thing, but I suppose since he created Bill he feels a necessity to use him. I can increasingly do without old Horseface, though (which hurts my nostalgic heart because I loved him when I was fifteen).
As for Thor and Lorelei and Loki: Thor has been turned back into a blithering idiot, and Lorelei has fallen equally, madly in love with Loki (thanks to the Enchantress). It seems the best laid plans of tricksters are doomed to fall apart, but right now Thor, at the behest of Lorlei, wants to make Loki the king of Asgard. We shall see.
Thor #359 -- "The Grand Alliance, or Life With Loki!!!": Enchantress to the rescue (well, with a nudge from Heimdall). Thor's enthrallment to Lorelei gets worse, but he's pushed into a temper tantrum when Enchantress manipulates him into walking in on Loki cuckolding him with his "love" (which contains a hint of FemDom action if you're interested), and his will thundrous power finally kicks in, He beats Loki up a bit, then tells Loki to lift the spell, then threatens Loki with violence, then pulls off one of the best life threatening moments I can remember in all of Marvel: Thor launches Mjolnir into Asgardian orbit, grabs Loki by the throat and lifts him to the heavens, saying "...there soars the Hammer of Thor and by royal Odin's decree, it must return to hand. Nothing may bar its way! Not even the head of Loki!" Sweet, & 'nuff said.
Thus ends this episode of Brad-stalgia. I must now seek volume three in the used book piles of North America. Wish me luck (but if you happen to have vol 3 of this set of Visionaries, I would love to borrow it, and I promise I will take care of it as thought it were my own). (less)
When I first started following Arsenal seriously back at the beginning of the Wenger era, there were three players who captured my imagination: Vieira...moreWhen I first started following Arsenal seriously back at the beginning of the Wenger era, there were three players who captured my imagination: Vieira, Bergkamp and Adams. I would come to like other players even better than that trio, but those three were my first footballing heroes, and they've always had a special place in my personal Gunners mythology.
I should probably mention that I was living in Florida when Arsene Wenger took over the Arsenal, and it was that move, near to a little Irish Pub named "The Fly's Tie" that allowed me to follow football in earnest. Until then I'd been living in Canada, and I had no access to football beyond some indoctrination from my Scouser neighbours (which made me a Gooner rather than a Red or a Toffee because I couldn't, in good conscience, follow their clubs) and an occasional and quite rare international match. Once in Jax, however, I discovered that football was on every Saturday and Sunday at the Pub, and I became duly addicted.
16 years later and I am willing to bet that football is as much a part of my daily life as any Gooner living in London. Just ask my wife. Sure I never made it to Highbury, nor have I been to the Emirates (which, I am told, makes me no better than a poser), but I've not missed the broadcast of a game in a decade. The football news is the first thing I read in the morning. My workout gear is exclusively Arsenal gear. My list could go on, but it's probably better if I stop there.
Which brings me back to Addicted, by Tony Adams. Tony was the first captain I knew as an Arsenal fan, and there hasn't been a Captain as effective since (although Vieira came close). I couldn't help loving Tony. He embodied the Arsenal I fell in love with; he bridged the span from Graham to Rioch to Wenger; and there is a bronze statue of him (and Thierry Henry) out in front of the stadium.
As you can imagine, I was expecting to love Addicted, Adams' account of his two great addictions -- booze and football. I am thoroughly disappointed.
I had this vision of Adams as a tough, old school defender who managed to overcome alcoholism and the shame of his imprisonment for drunk driving to achieve a healthy sobriety and thereby prolong his career. I imagined him as a lovable old tough who would have received respect because he believed in the people around him. I figured he'd have an impressive footballing brain even if his social and intellectual brain was run of the mill. I was wrong on the parts that really mattered.
Tony Adams' autobiography reveals that he is not just a stupid man but a stupid footballing man (a man who should never be handed another opportunity to manage a football club). He is arrogant with little cause. He was epically selfish when he drank, and now he is just impressively selfish. He thinks too highly of himself and not highly enough of those talented players who surrounded him. He is xenophobic (though mercifully not racist based on skin colour). And, ultimately, he is a bully, which is, I think, the only reason he was an effective captain.
I tarnished one of my favourite footballers by reading this book, and next time I go for a run I will have a hard time putting on my Adams' strip. I really wish I'd avoided this piece of sporting narcissism.
... if you are not a fan of Tony Adams, but you're curious about the kind of people who become top athletes in World Sport and how they deal -- or fail to deal -- with their fame and fortune, I am pretty sure Addicted is worth reading. Just not for me, but that's because it was too personal. (less)
My introduction to the X-Men, many years ago, was the Dark Phoenix Saga (even though it was already a couple of years old when I found it). Up until t...moreMy introduction to the X-Men, many years ago, was the Dark Phoenix Saga (even though it was already a couple of years old when I found it). Up until then I'd been consuming Namor and the staples: Batman, Superman, Captain America, Spiderman. My starting place was not a bad place to start; it was, in fact, a pretty fine place to start. Maybe too fine. Starting with one of the finest chapters of the X-Men might be why I've mostly been a passing fan of Marvel's mutants over the years. Nothing could quite live up to the excellence of the Chris Claremont & John Byrne partnership.
I'd pop into the X-Men for a visit if I heard an arc was worth reading or if a crossover made a visit essential, or even buy a mini-series with an X-Man I liked, but I was never an avid reader.
I had no idea until recently that my introduction to the X-Men was as significant to my personal mythology as it was and is, but somewhere in my squishy brain bits that first moment with the X-Men planted some seeds that germinated into my contribution to our youngest daughter's name.
When I chose the name nine years ago (a name which was supposed to be my son Milos' when he and his twin sister Bronte were born, but he was a boy, "Damn it!" and he screwed up my plans), everyone wondered why I would chose a name like the one I chose, especially when I instantly replaced it with a nickname. I couldn't provide an answer beyond, "I dunno. I've always just loved those names." The name and the nickname felt right.
As soon as I started reading I was greeted by an old, old friend -- Shadowcat. She's late for her return to Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, and she finds an empty school upon her arrival, so she starts walking through walls and sinking through floors trying to figure out where everyone's gone (she can phase through anything, in case you didn't know). And I am thrilled. I instantly remember how much I've loved Shadowcat through the years, and I hope that she'll bump into Wolverine soon (in the movies, Rogue's relationship with Wolvie is based on the comic book relationship between him and Shadowcat). Instead, she stumbles into a school assembly and shrugs off the embarrassment at her lateness when the new Headmistress, Emma Frost (former White Queen of the Hellfire Club), mocks her. She gives Emma a sassy tongue lashing and reminds the White Queen that the first time they met Emma tried to kill her, derailing her search for the X-Men and unleashing a Dark Phoenix. I snort at Shadowcat's telling blow, then remember that Dark Phoenix was indeed the first appearance of Kitty Pryde.
And I start to wonder without any serious thought whether "Kitty" has anything to do with my Kitty Kat's nickname; something is shaking those roots, but I ignore it and keep reading until it comes clear.
You see ... another old favourite appears right near the end(view spoiler)[ Colossus, resurrected from the dead by alien baddy, Ord (hide spoiler)], and he calls Kitty by the name only he calls her -- "Katya" -- and I know the source of my contribution to Scoutie's name: Katya Gwendolyn Scout. I should have known all along, but somehow the source slipped away from me only to be revealed in the best X-Man comic since the Dark Phoenix Saga.
I think they're fabulous. Both the comic and the revelation it catalyzed. And I love comics. And Joss Whedon. And most of all I love my Scoutie Kat.
*For all you oldsters out there: did you know that Joss Whedon's Dad, Tom Whedon, was the head writer for The Electric Company? How fucking cool is that?(less)
A -- Alfheim: It's the place where the elves live. There's lots of elves there with bows, and they have long blonde hair and pointy years. The wear archer clothes and stuff.
B -- Balder: The God of Light (is he the God of Light? Maybe he's just goodness. No, he's the God of Light too). He was always happy. He was never mad. He just smiled the whole time. I can't remember a time when he was mad. He died because Frigg asked everything not to hurt him except mistletoe, then Loki, disguised as an old woman found out it was unsafe, then made an arrow out of mistletoe, gave it to Balder's blind brother, then Loki helped Hod shoot Balder, and Balder died.
C -- Chess and Chessmen: Almost everybody plays chess, the gods that is, and I didn't know that chess was made back then. The gods probably invented it, the god of gold that is because they were golden chessmen. Or maybe it was the Gnomes. They seem more like the building type.
D -- Draupnir: I think it would be cool to have a bracelet like Draupnir. It was cool that Odin put it with Balder in his funeral pyre.
E -- Embla: Embla is one of the first humans created by the Gods. She was the first woman.
F -- Fenris: He's Loki's son who is the big wolf who grows too big to control. He's not scared of anything, so he's fearless, and he's very big, and he can open his mouth so wide his bottom jaw can touch the Earth (Midgard), and he bites off Tyr's hand. Plus, he's stuck at the bottom of Yggdrassil.
G -- Garm: He's the dog who guards the gate to Hel.
H -- Hel: She's Loki's daughter who rules Hel, which is named after her.
I -- Ida: The green field of Asgard with a whole bunch of buildings that I expect are huge, and it is very busy.
J -- Jotuns: The Jotuns live in a very, very cold world on the tree. Instead of their beards being soft and furry, they're cold and hard like icicles. The Aesir and them don't agree with each other. Thor challenges every Jotun he sees, and kills it and stuff, declares war on it, I'd say.
K -- Kvasir: Wasn't that the drink that made people smart? Odin was wise after drinking it or something.
L -- Lidskjalf: That's the seat where Odin sits and he can see everything.
M -- Midgard's Serpent: It's scary. Very, very scary, and it's always angry, and apparently it's not too heavy for Thor.
N -- Nanna: She is the wife of Balder. She is pretty nice, and she is my favourite of all the ladies in Asgard.
O -- Odin: He is the All Father and the ruler of Asgard. He has a very, very, very fast horse with eight legs named Sleipnir. He only has one functional eye, and he pulls his hair down over his missing eye. In the Norse myths, he's my (Miloš') favourite.
R -- Rungnir: He was a pretty big Jotun, really tall, and he had the second fastest horse on the entire World Tree. He's pretty cool, and fairly strong, and Thor beat him in a duel, but his head isn't fairly strong becaues Thor smashed it, right?
S -- Sif: She is beautiful, and she has the best hair. If she was a Charlie's Angels she'd be Jill. Her hair was blonde but it became gold.
T -- Tyr: He is very brave, and he is pretty strong too. Fenris ate his hand, so he has only one hand. He is also pretty nice. He is one of Odin's sons.
U -- Utgardsloki: He was super smart. It was awesome how he made all the tricks, the illusions, to trick Thor. I thought Thor would win. I loved the fact that Thor didn't win and that Utgardsloki won.
V -- Vanir: The battle between them and the Aesir was pretty interesting. They were pretty cool, and some of them joined the Aesir.
W -- War: The Norse Gods fought too much, definitely. They were really violent. Whenever somebody died nobody even cried, except for Balder, or then their wives die too. It's weird the way they were with death and war.
Y -- Yggdrassil: It's a cool tree. I like how it is holding all the Nine Realms in place and stuff. It is there to keep everything in place. I like that Yggdrassil is so important, and trees are because they give us air and stuff, but this tree is more important because it is holding our worlds together in one space so Midgard, Asgard, Jotunheim and all the rest would probably spin off into space without the tree.
Æ -- Aesir: Whenever they said something they promised, they had to do what they promised, so instead of being fierce they did what they said they would, but when they failed to do what they said they would something bad happened, and eventually it caused Ragnarokk.
*I just finished reading this to my twins last night. We start the Greek Myths tonight. (less)
This review was written in the late nineties (for my eyes only), and it was buried in amongst my things until recently when I uncovered the journal in...moreThis review was written in the late nineties (for my eyes only), and it was buried in amongst my things until recently when I uncovered the journal in which it was written. I have transcribed it verbatim from all those years ago (although square brackets may indicate some additional information for the sake of readability or some sort of commentary from now). This is one of my lost reviews.
I loved being surprised like this. Every once in a while someone out of the ordinary suggests a book to me and I give it a shot, and I am blown away. That's the case with Tigana. What a brilliant fantasy novel. Heavy on character, light on fantasy, completely invigorating.
I was never sure who I liked more -- Brandin, the so-called tyrant, Dianora, his lover, or Alesson, the Prince of Tigana. In the end, I would go with Brandin. I love villains who are not so villainous, and he is certainly one of the most complex fantasy antagonists I've ever read. He has done some crule things, even barbarous things, but he did them for very human and understandable reasons. The death of Stevan, his beloved son, was an understandable catalyst for his crime on Tigana. But what makes him a tragic and beautiful figure, a truly rich character, is his capacity for total love. He was a realistic man wielding fantastic power.
To me, Tigana was about Brandin. How will my friends see it?(less)
A story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell.
At the heart of the...moreA story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell.
At the heart of the tale is Jack the Ripper. It is the truest telling of Jack the Ripper that I've ever read. It matters not a whit whether Dr. William Gull is actually Jack the Ripper. Nor whether Queen Victoria set the ball rolling with her orders. Nor whether Abberline actually fell for one of the prostitutes. Nor whether the Freemasons had their hands all over the deeds in Whitechapel. Nor whether Druitt was sacrificed to keep the peace and maintain power dynamics. Nor whether Sickert was involved. Nor whether industrialized, fin-de-siècle, London was our clearest real world dystopia.
What matters is that Alan Moore's writing and Eddie Campbell's artistry uncover a deep emotional and philosophical truth about the reverberations of the smallest actions in the world. The smallest and the biggest. What matters is that they recognize that their tale is nothing more than a tale told from their perspective. What matters is that they painstakingly researched anything and everything that had to do with that autumn in East London, that they rode every ripple from the epicentre no matter how far it took them in time and space, that every decision they made was conscious, and that the sum of that conscious work offered a hyperreality of that definitive event in the life of London that encapsulates the beauty of our existence within the ugliest of events. That is the truth they uncovered: the beauty of living in the ugliest of circumstance.
Theirs is an astounding achievement that transcends the graphic novel medium. It is not simply the greatest graphic novel ever written (though it is that), it is also one of the greatest five stories I have ever read. I would put it up there with Hamlet and Gravity's Rainbow and The Outsider and Wuthering Heights (forgive me this list ... I've not read some others that are undoubtedly great and perhaps deserving of my praise).
From Hell is not for the delicate of heart. I demands work. It demands that you stare at the horror and not simply turn the page with a desire to get past the horror because Moore and Campbell demand that you engage with the horror and cut deep, to the bone, to discover what it is that makes us terrible and wonderful.
The changes this masterpiece (superior to Watchmen and The Killing Joke and V for Vendetta) have wrought on storytelling, on the comic form and even on me are unclear at the moment. But they will be real, and with the benefit of hindsight they will be traceable to From Hell.(less)
This review was written in the late nineties (just for myself), and it was buried in amongst my things until today, when I uncovered the journal it wa...moreThis review was written in the late nineties (just for myself), and it was buried in amongst my things until today, when I uncovered the journal it was written in. I have transcribed it verbatim from all those years ago (although square brackets indicate some additional information for the sake of readability). It is one of my lost reviews.
An epic fantasy of Tolkien-like scope?! Sounds good for a novel's back cover, doesn't it? But it is almost true with the Dragonlance Chronicles. Almost.
The key to that "almost" is the characters (cause there's no way it could be the prose). I'll begin with the character I hate, Tanis Half-Elven. He is the weakest link in the novel, yet he's the novel's chief protagonist. His apparent depth comes from his duality and its manifestation in his love for Kitiara and Laurana, but who cares? The other characters are much, much better. Laurana, Flint, Gilthanis, Alhana, Tika, Fizban, Tasslehoff, Caramon and Raistlin are all superior to the Chronicles' hero. And the last two are even better in their own series.
But the character who is the true Hero of the Lance is Sturm Brightblade. He is the best character that Weis & Hickman created because his tale is complete. He is complex without being cliché; he loves his honour, his destiny and Alahana, and he fights to fulfil all three right to the end. He is a straight-up, no-joke hero, and I love him -- which shocks me, to be honest. Sturm Brightblade. The Black Rose. A hero I love. Go figure.(less)
Many of the kids books I've been revisiting are filled with specific, vivid memories of my childhood that are almost narratives unto themselves. Readi...moreMany of the kids books I've been revisiting are filled with specific, vivid memories of my childhood that are almost narratives unto themselves. Reading them transports me back to those (probably apocryphal) moments in my brain, leaving me full of a sort of joyful melancholy for things past and a hunger for more of those memories, a desire to relive all those locked up personal stories, so I grab another book I have always loved and devour it looking for more.
I found that this story, with its beautiful illustrations and its little bull turned big bull who just wants to live peacefully and smell his flowers, made me think about people I care about rather than remembering some synapsy tale of them.
It made me think of my mother, Chris. I always called her "Chris," which drove my father crazy because of how "disrespectful" it was. I thought of Chris and guessed that she probably read this book to me first. And I thought of how every book I touch and word I write is her gift to me, for teaching me too read, then teaching me to challenge myself with books that were "inappropriate," then sharing our reading when we were older.
It made me think of my cousin, Fred, who I called Ferdinand behind his back. I thought of his moustache and 80s hair. I thought of how we both had brutally abusive fathers, but have never talked about it, even now, so many years after escaping their fists.
It made me think of K.I. Hope, and how the anger of her writing -- that wonderful, necessary, emotional, ethical rage -- would cringe at the other bulls, Ferdinand's friends and family, showing off in the hopes of travelling to Madrid to be slaughtered in the bullfights. I thought of what a true friend she is and how unlikely it is to find a genuine friend on something like this social media platform, and how I have found so many.
It made me think of Brontë and Miloš and Scoutie, and how much they love The Story of Ferdinand, and how Miloš is always trying to mimic the light Spanish accent I use to read them the book aloud, and how Brontë loves the art, and how Scoutie babbles the story back to me with her incomprehensible toddler language, punctuated by a "Ferdie-and" or "cow."
And it made me think of Munroe Leaf. She and all the other authors I've had a relationship over my life. They have been my best friends. And each book that I love ... it's a gift written by them just for me. Thanks, Munroe. I love you too. (less)
I bought this during a holiday bookstore visit. I saw "Star Trek" -- I saw Leonard McCoy -- I saw John Byrne...moreBloody fantastic! What a great surprise.
I bought this during a holiday bookstore visit. I saw "Star Trek" -- I saw Leonard McCoy -- I saw John Byrne -- and I thought, "I must have this." My whim needed to be fulfilled, so I fulfilled my whim.
I didn't expect much, though. I figured I'd be disappointed, but that would have been okay because the only reason I bought it was nostalgia. I could cope if it sucked. I mostly wanted to revisit John Byrne's art, and see what he could do with my favourite Star Trek character. I was wrong to have low expectations (mostly because of myself, though. I imagine the power of my personal nostalgia is a large part of this book's success with me).
Leonard McCoy Frontier Doctor takes place just before Star Trek The Motion Picture, and Bones McCoy is busy gallivanting around the Federation in pseudo-retirement, curing diseases, saving folks of myriad races, getting in adventures, reflecting on his career, repairing timelines, writing letters to Jim, and visiting old friends.
Those old friends were my favourite part. I expected to see Kirk (who was there) and Spock (who was not, which was a surprisingly nice ommission) and maybe even Scotty (who had his obligatory drink with Bones), but it was the unexpected cameos that gave me the greatest joy. I turned a page, for instance, and out of the corner of my eye, in a future panel, I saw a guy who looked familar, "Kooky," I thought, "That looks like Gary Seven." A page and a half later I found out it was Gary Seven. And Roberta was with him. Then the Admiral of the USS Yorktown looked like Majel Barrett, and it turned out it was her -- she was the former first officer of the Enterprise under Captain Pike. And on the same ship, who should be the Chief Medical Officer? Doctor Chapel, of course, looking like Majel Barrett with a different hair cut. Silly, I suppose, but it sure worked for me.
The stories themselves were light and fun and beautifully illustrated. The colour palette was perfectly Star Trek. Bones's beard was positively regal, and even the new characters, like Dr. Duncan and his hot Andorian lover, Theela, were a welcome addition.
I just wish Byrne had done more. Five issues in one graphic novel isn't nearly enough. (less)
I was worried about reading the Secret Wars again after all these years. Would my rereading destroy its mystique? Would it turn out to be unqualified...moreI was worried about reading the Secret Wars again after all these years. Would my rereading destroy its mystique? Would it turn out to be unqualified crap? Would it hurt my love of Marvel? Would it taint other memories of other comics from the same period? Despite my fears, I was compelled to try it anyway.
I had recently repacked my comics, and I'd come across my wrapped and cared for originals, and days later I discovered the Marvel app for my iPod. I bought it and the first thing I saw was the Secret Wars. It was fated, so I started reading.
The story is pretty weak, much weaker than I remembered. I'm not going to cover up its flaws. It is too straightforward to be brilliant. Too deus ex machina to be fully satisfying. And it lacks the metaphysical depths of DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths (their excellent attempt to compete with Marvel's surprising success, or to clean-up the mess that was their continuity -- whichever you prefer to believe). The women in Secret Wars were not treated well. The choice of supervillains was too arbitrary. The battle lines were silly. There is plenty to complain about.
There are some brilliant moments, and here are my five faves -- the five that make me dig this story even with all its flaws:
1. Magneto Fighting with the Heroes: I loved this just as much today as I did the first time I read the story. This was the moment Magneto, always my favourite "villain" became my favourite all around character. His "terrorist" activities, motivated by a desire to save his mutant brethren, were finally recognized as grey enough in motivation to be almost altruistic, and watching the "heroes" have to deal with that revelation was one of the best threads of the series. Much more could have been done with this, but Jim Shooter's decision to do this at all was a Marvel Universe changer.
2. Captain America at His Best: There's this scene where Dr. Doom, now beyond powerful, is kicking the heroes need to take off and save themselves. Captain America gives the order for retreat, then he goes back into their crumbling base and releases all the super-villains from their captivity. He's joined by a surprised and impressed Woverine. That is the Captain America I know in love. The same Captain America who would eventually fight Iron Man in the Civil War and die on the courthouse steps. It's easy to see that Jim Shooter loved Cap as much as I did.
3. Reed & Doom: I never cared much for the Fantastic Four and their nemesis before Secret Wars, but Doom was the perfect egomaniacal choice to challenge the Beyonder's power, and Reed Richard's steady brainiac self was an excellent compliment to Captain America's leadership.
4. Galactus: C'mon?! The guy eats worlds. And he had a great moment or two with Reed. What a pleasure to see Galactus dwarfed in power too, and without Silver Surfer around to piss him off. Excellent.
5. The Birth of Venom: If you're a Marvel fan, or even just a Spidey fan, you know what this means. 'Nuff said.
In the end, this journey into the mind of the fourteen year old Brad kicked ass. Secret Wars is as good and as bad as I remember. And I love it (even if I can only give it four stars) just the same. Next up: The Dark Phoenix Saga; X-Men #129-138.(less)
Hey you! Yeah. You! How the fuck can you dislike Hamlet?!
I'm not talking about the play here; I am talking about the man. Fuck you a...moreDear Hamlet Hater,
Hey you! Yeah. You! How the fuck can you dislike Hamlet?!
I'm not talking about the play here; I am talking about the man. Fuck you and your bullshit about his "indecision," that indecision sets him apart. Unlike everyone else in the play -- who slay their foes willy-nilly or embrace their personal ignorance to engage in tacit murder or let their passions o'errule their reason -- Hamlet takes his time with his revenge, refusing to be fooled by a damned ghost, looking for proof, making sure that Claudius is really guilty before he acts.
Yeah, yeah, Hamlet was mean to Ophelia. I don't disagree. But Hamlet can hardly be considered the only factor in her death/suicide. And it's not like she didn't deserve it. Polonius and Laertes, Claudius and Gertrude (and maybe even that sneaky bastard Horatio, the last to see her alive) played their parts in her "madness," and it's not like Ophelia didn't have her own hand in her demise. Hamlet loved her. Hamlet's father dies, he's seeing ghosts, his mother is banging his uncle, and there's Ophelia -- at the behest of her family's patriarchs -- cutting off Hamlet when he needs her most. I'd be pissed if she did that to me. I'd call her a whore and a weakling and mock her until she left me alone. Where's her backbone? Where's her love? Nowhere to be found; hence, Hamlet's anger (not that I blame Ophelia, though. What the hell could she do considering the world she was living in? Considering the power of the men in her life?).
And what about Hamlet's thoughts on the equality of mankind? How can you hate on a guy who thinks the way Hamlet does? This is a cat who spends most of his soliloquys holding an in-head debate about the equality of man in death. This is a guy who puts kings and nobles on the same level as fishmongers and worms. He's a guy who embraces life in death without fliching. He sees the "providence in the fall of sparrow" and knows it is good.
Yet you hate him. Why?
Is it because your high school teacher sucked? Is it because you are daunted by Shakespeare and Elizabethan English? Is it because you are convinced that Hamlet is a whinger? Is it because you've fallen prey to a century-plus of Freudian disassembling? Is it because you expect Mobster-style decisiveness? Would you like it more if RockStar put out a shooter game called Grand Theft Elsinore?
Or are you simply a dumbass?
Go watch Lion King or Strange Brew and get back to me.
p.s. this is a Ceridwen-special: a drunken review.
I know. You're looking at those five stars and thinking, "What the #$%@!" And I completely understand. It would appear I have gone mental. So here's t...moreI know. You're looking at those five stars and thinking, "What the #$%@!" And I completely understand. It would appear I have gone mental. So here's the breakdown of why the five stars. Just so we're all clear.
★: The nostalgia factor is overwhelming for me with this one. I was a little too young to watch these movies in the theatre, but they were massive when I was a little kid and the apes were everywhere. We've sort of rewritten film history a bit to believe that Star Wars started the summer blockbuster and merchandising explosion, but I had a Dr. Zaius doll and remember one of my friends having a Planet of the Apes t-shirt. I even played Battle for the Planet of the Apes with my friend Duane (the same one Thomas and I chatted about in the comment thread) after our all day summer tv marathon. So when I saw this at the local used book store and passed over my shekels, it had already earned that first star simply based on my childhood flashbacks.
+★: There are things to be said, positive things, about movie-tie-ins. I know the prevailing wisdom is that they are the trashiest of the trashy, and that may very well be true, but there are two things about them I love. First, as a longtime screenwriter, I appreciate the cinematic quality that can't be avoided. These sorts of books are almost always based on a screenplay for the film (occassionally, though, they'll be based on a treatment), so the pace, the action, the dialogue is driven by the movie, and while I would rather read the actual screenplay, a movie-tie-in is an enjoyable (though diminished) alternative. Second, directors can change the work of screenwriters however they want, so it's nice to see a different take on a screenwriter's work and feel a little closer (even if this is illusory) to what their work was all about.
+★: Sometimes, as in this case where the movie was pretty pathetic, a movie-tie-in can be better than its on-screen counterpart. The film was saddled with poor effects (even the ape costumes had become less impressive, with so many apes needed to fill Ape City only the costumes of the stars were well done), poor performances, and an excruciating pace. But the books has effects imagined by me, performances imagined by me and a pace that was as fast as I wanted to make it. I can see now, having read the book, why this particular script would have been given the greenlight. It could have been good. Really.
-★: That being said, the big battle between the Mutants and the Apes went on way too long, even here in the book.
+★: And since I mentioned them already: nuclear fallout Mutants! Again, much cooler here than on-screen.
+★★: Last but certainly not least is the author David Gerrold (one of the great Hackosaurids). He cracked me up, and this exchange between Mutant leader Mr. Kolp and his "love interest" Mutant Alma contains his best insertion into the story (I know it's long, but I think it is worth repeating in its entirety)
"Do you know what that is?"
"Of course, Mr. Kolp. it's our nuclear missile."
Kolp went up to it and stroked its shaft. "It's operational. Did you know that?" He gestured to her, and she approached timidly. He kept stroking the shaft of the missile as he reached out and took her hand. Her heart skipped a beat.
"Come closer, Alma," he whispered. She did so. "Touch it," he commanded. She extended her other hand and pressed her fingertips against the cold metal surface, then her whole palm. She began stroking the weapon in time with Kolp. The smooth steel felt so clean and strong.
"If the impossible should happen, Alma," Kolp said. "If we're defeated by the apes, I will not surrender to animals. He squeezed her hand and held it tighter. "Neither will my soldiers. If retreat seems necessary, I shall send you a coded radio signal. Fifteen minutes after you receive it, you will range this missile on Ape City and activate it."
Alma breathed throatily, "Yes, Mr. Kolp, I will. I can do it from the main control console. What will the signal be?"
Kolp looked at her carefully. "Alpha and Omega," he said slowly.
Alma repeated, "Alpha and Omega."
He nodded. "You're a good girl, Alma."
She looked at him adoringly.
And at last he noticed her. "And a pretty one too."
They were still stroking the missile. Their hands moved together across its steel skin. neither seemed to notice it any more, though. Kolp leaved forward, closer and closer, and kissed her. She kissed him back. Deeply. She stepped closer and slid her arms around his wide frame. "Alpha and Omega," she breathed. "I will be your tool."
Then and only then did Kolp take his slowly moving hand off his weapon. He pulled Alma close against him and kissed her again. And again.
It seriously called it "his weapon." Not "the weapon" but "his weapon." That has to be one of the silliest uses of a phallic symbol I've ever read. Just awesome!
So there you go. Is it crappy? Kind of, but crappy in all the ways I wanted it to be, and it was so much darn fun that I think I am going to start hunting down movie-tie-ins to all the movies I loved as a kid. Come to think of it, I think I have a copy of the original Battlestar Galactica tie-in lying around. That's moving to the top of my pile right now. ... There!
Start raiding your used book stores for trash like this, my friends. You won't regret it.
Thor Visionaries Volume One covers one of the greatest periods in Thor’s little corner of the Marvel Universe, issues #337-#348. I read them when they...moreThor Visionaries Volume One covers one of the greatest periods in Thor’s little corner of the Marvel Universe, issues #337-#348. I read them when they first came out, and they are all packed away in mylar bags and comic boxes in my office. I was pretty stoked to have them all in this Graphic Omnibus edition, and for the most part they didn’t disappoint. Here are my highs, mediums and lows.
Thor Visionaries: Top Ten -- The Awesomeness
1. Balder the Brave – The best story arc of the Omnibus, we see Balder gone to seed after a horrible experience in Hel. He was killed by Loki, banished to Hel, and met all of those he had ever killed in battle while being tormented by demons. It leaves him a husk of a god, and once he is in the land of the living he avows pacifism. The path back to the sword, which is also, interestingly enough, his path back to vitality and life, is the one part of the twelve comics I most looked forward to.
2. Lorelei – Super hotty, especially for a teenager who loved red heads. Even if she’s mere pencils and ink, she’s scorching. And I always kind of wanted Thor to stay under the spell of her love potion.
3. Thor – Pretty cool for a big, violent dumb ass. Still don’t know how being big, dumb and tough makes you worthy to wield Mjolnir, but then I’m not Odin.
4. Odin – I didn’t remember his omnipresence, but it was an excellent surprise. Odin was actually a pretty cool character, and I liked the way that he didn’t always serve as a deus ex machina. He was as vulnerable as the next god -- almost.
5. The Clark Kent Cameo – Silly, and a whole lot of fun, especially with Lois giving him shit for his clumsiness.
6. Reinforcement of Why I <3 Samuel L. Jackson – Of all the changes Mark Millar made to the Marvel Universe, specifically to the Avengers and SHIELD, turning Nick Fury into a bad-ass-Sam Jackson-clone, thus dropping his crusty and clichéd WWII persona, was a stroke of genius. Nick Fury was lame back in my day. Today, he could righteously stand up and tell the Hulk to “Go the Fuck to Sleep,” and I bet the Hulk would listen.
7. Multiple storylines – Simonson’s greatest storytelling strength was his ability to juggle multiple storylines without short changing any. He kept the pace cooking, kept us interested in everything, and had an eye for a long term story. For instance, the opening frames of #337 show the arms of Surtur forging his sword. We see him for twelve straight issues before that little storyline has come to fruition. It is present as prologue. And the last frames of the last comic we see? Surtur ready to kick ass. Very cool.
8. Malekith – Bad ass villain. I even named a half-elf in D&D after him, although my wizard didn’t have the multi-toned skin of Malekith.
9. Loved the Secret Wars panel – There’s this cool blank space left in #341 with three missing panels, which show the Avengers on the way to the Beyonder’s Secret War. You could cut out the panel from somewhere else and paste it in your comic. I bought extras at the time so I could do that (I know, I know). But they provide the real panels in the appendix here. Fun.
10. Walt Simonson’s Art – There’s a sixties nostalgia to Simonson’s eighties art that always appealed to me. The goddesses, Sif and Lorelei, look like a pair of gorgeous, buxom movie stars, the sort Hitchcock would have cast in his films (nothing like the inhuman buxomness of the nineties), and there is an unfinished quality to his pencils that adds real texture to his section of the Marvel Universe.
Thor Visionaries: Middle Five -- The Blah-ness
11. Beta Ray Bill – I remembered Beta Ray Bill with such fondness that when I saw him on the cover locked in combat with Thor, I just had to buy the graphic novel. Oh! what a difference twenty years make. The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill section of this omnibus was soooooo boring. I wanted to like it, but now I just feel a little stupid for ever having loved it. It was okay, I guess, but a bit much considering its primary purpose seemed to be getting Thor out of his mortal Dr. Donald Blake form.
12. From Donald Blake to Sigurd Jarlson – Not sure this ever really needed to happen, but whatever ... Simonson got to make Thor look like a big Viking beefcake in a t-shirt and tight pants, so some wish fulfillment must have been at work. At least it led us to today and Chris Hemsworth in a t-shirt and tight pants in the film. Silver lining.
13. Sif – She’s okay, but pretty damn fickle and pretty damn thick. But hey, she can overlook Beta Ray Bill’s ugliness, so that’s something.
14. Superman Secret Identity Idiocy – So suddenly Thor is Sigurd. Nick Fury throws a pair of big geeky glasses on him, and Simonson instantly sees that the glasses hiding Thor are as stupid as the glasses hiding Superman, so he pokes fun at it by having a bunch of folks almost make the connection between the big blonde Norseman and Thor, but not quite (one guy figures Sigurd must be Spidey). Good on him for recognizing the idiocy, but it is handled pretty poorly.
15. Surtur and Twilight – The presence of Surtur throughout is cool, but I was bummed when the last comic collected in this Omnibus culminated in Surtur’s escape from exile. That’s where I wanted to start, not finish.
Thor Visionaries: Bottom Eight -- The Crapness
16. Not Enough Loki – Where was he? Sure he shows up once in a while to meddle, but he wasn’t nearly meddlesome enough, and apart from a little nudging of Lorelei in her quest for Thor’s love, Loki spent most of his time messing with Balder the Brave.
17. Fafnir the Dragon – This jackass looks like a pugilistic Godzilla.
18. Simonson’s Idiotic Time Keeping – The major downfall in Simonson’s storytelling is his inability to make time work. His narrative is all over the place when it comes to time. We see days pass in one thread and minutes pass in another, but they are presented as though they are simultaneous. It’s a minor complaint, really, because comics can be forgiven time lapses, but it pulled me out of the moment more than once.
19. Fafnir the Dragon – Could this big Jurassic Park reject just shut the hell up?!
20. Not Enough Warriors Three – Volstagg, Fandral and Hogun are too cool to be barely seen. But there was less of them than Loki.
21. Fafnir the Dragon – So Fafnir is out destroying the poor areas of New York, and he’s yelling for Thor (who is off in Antarctica), and the television news crews are wondering where Thor is, and I’m wondering where the hell everyone else is? Where’s Spidey? The rest of the Avengers? Daredevil? Fantastic Four? Even Sub-Mariner? Silliness.
22. Fafnir the Dragon – Did I mention this dragon sucked?
23. Fafnir the Dragon – Oh yeah, and Fafnir the Dragon. Lamest Thor villain ever! (less)
I do an ass kicking impersonation of Grover. Just ask my kids.
Actually, I can do any of the Muppets voiced by Frank Oz -- Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Sam the...moreI do an ass kicking impersonation of Grover. Just ask my kids.
Actually, I can do any of the Muppets voiced by Frank Oz -- Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Sam the Eagle, Cookie Monster, Bert, even Yoda (which is my son's fave), but Grover is my best.
So when I was looking for a book for my little Scoutie a couple of months ago, something that I could hide away and save for just her and me, and I stumbled upon a little board book version of this Little Golden Book classic, I had to have it.
I'd forgotten all about it, but when I was a little kid this was one of my favourite books. When our twins came, and even when they started to like classic Sesame Street (they've still never seen an episode with Elmo and Zoe, or anything post 1979 ... what a proud Papa I am!), this book never crossed my mind. But when I saw the lone copy sitting up on that shelf, I snatched it and headed for the cashier.
As soon as I was in my car, I had the book out and I read it out loud, as Grover, to myself.
I love this book because Scoutie loves to hear me read it to her, and who doesn't love to have their babe waddle up with her favourite book in hand before climbing awkwardly onto your lap and saying "wead!"?
I love this book because it reminds me that I was once a little we babe crawling up onto my Mom's lap so she could read it to me.
I love this book because Grover is, for me, the most magical Sesame Street Muppet.
But mostly I love this book because I love this book. It is clever and cute and fun, which is exactly what Grover is. If you've never read this yourself, you should. And if you have kids and haven't read it to them, you must. (less)
This story has stuck with me in the most amazing ways. After nearly three decades, I recalled an amazing amount of detail in the pages I reread. I remembered minute details about Thomas Covenant’s attitude towards his leprosy, especially when it came to the VSE (Visual Surveillance of Extremities) rituals that sustained him in our world and the new rituals he developed during his time in the Land. I remembered Atiaran’s stone knife and the way Covenant tempted the fate of his leprosy with its keen edge – the edge that never dulled. I remembered the way Covenant – hero? anti-hero? villain? weakling? coward? simply flawed? – raped Atiaran’s daughter Lena. I remembered the diamond draught of Stoneheart Foamfollower and the image of the impaled Waynhim in the Waymeet and the death of the Unfettered One trying to save the beautiful wraiths of the Andelainian Hills and the wedge formation of the ur-Viles. I remembered it all with the sort of clarity one has when they read a book dozens of times or reread a book very shortly after having put it down, but I didn’t expect to have anywhere near the clarity I had all these years later.
Thomas Covenant himself has stuck with me. He is frustrating, spiteful, ugly, tormented, cynical, dark, brooding, and infuriatingly self-pitying. He is every bit the Unbeliever he names himself. And Stephen R. Donaldson wants him to be that way. He needs him to be that way. Covenant has to fight his belief in the Land at every turn because the Land is impossible, and as a rational man suffering from leprosy in 20th century North America, all that allows him to cling to his life is his rationality and sanity – no matter how tenuous both are.
But the Land –- at least in this first book of the Chronicles –- is unbelievable. It has to be one of the strangest, most frightening, and surrealistic fantasy worlds ever created. Donaldson describes it with achingly beautiful prose (and sometimes that beautiful prose is dense and slow and plodding, mirroring the motion of Covenant through the Land itself) to reveal wonders that are just slightly different from everything we’ve seen before in every high fantasy that Tolkien gave birth to, but Donaldson’s slight shift in perspective, his offering of the place through the decaying lens of a leper, his constant overturning of expectations, makes his fantasy world unique. His giants are not what we’d expect, nor are his wraiths, nor his Cavewights, nor his landscape, nor his weather, nor his incarnadine corrupted moon, nor his magic.
And the most disconcerting difference between Donaldson’s Land and the other fantasy realms we know is that his Land feels entirely unpopulated. Covenant never stops travelling as he tries to escape his “dream,” yet his contact with the Land’s denizens is minimal. He passes through four centers of population -- Mithil Stonedown (a town of Gravelingas who are rich in stone lore), Soaring Woodhelvin (a tree town of Lillianrill who are rich in wood lore), Revelstone (the seat of the High Lords), and the Plains of Ra (where the nomadic Ramen serve the Ranyhyn, a kind of uber-horse). He sees great sights, bizarre rituals and happenings, and he interacts with a person here or there, but the first two towns seem home to mere dozens of people, Revelstone seems empty, and the Ramen are so hidden in their poisonous plains that we never get a sense of how many there are. And even those people and races Covenant spends much time with, such as the Haruchai Bloodguards and his Giant friend, are isolated from their vital populations. Two score set out to fight Lord Foul’s desecration. Where is everyone else?! The Land feels empty, and this is another disconcerting moment in an already disconcerting novel.
But that’s why I love Lord Foul’s Bane. It isn’t easy. Donaldson challenges us whenever and however he can. And he does it with transcendent prose and unflinching devotion to his problematic protagonist.
I’d much rather read Mordant’s Need. It is more hopeful, more lively, more real, but I don’t know if that makes it better. In fact, it probably isn't.
If you've read both, I ask you this (especially you Jon): “Is Mordant's Need better?”
I really don't know. But I do know this: Stephen R Donaldson is my unsung hero of fantasy greatness. He is up there with the best. But damn is he a lot of work. (less)
I know, I know, I hear you saying this is the poorest Indiana Jones film, but I disagree, and here is why:
1. The Opening Sequence -- From the Busby Be
...moreI know, I know, I hear you saying this is the poorest Indiana Jones film, but I disagree, and here is why:
1. The Opening Sequence -- From the Busby Berkeley Club Obi Wan dance sequence to Lao Che's menacing, "Goodbye, Dr. Jones," it is the finest set piece in all of Indiana Jones films. It gives us Indy at his best as an early James Bond. We see that he's a grave robbing cad. He steals Lao Che's girl and kills one of his boys. He loses Wu Han. Beats the poison trap. Escapes a rain of bullets. Joins Short Round for a race through Shanghai and winds up jumping from the frying pan into the fire. It kicks ass.
2. Genuine character development -- Huyck and Katz actually give us some Indiana Jones character development. All he cares about at the beginning is "fortune and glory," and we see him grow into the character who might actually care about the "International Treaty for the Protection of Antiquities" in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He comes to care about more than himself and Shorty, and there is even a hint that he cares about Willy Scott.
3. Willy Scott and Short Round -- If anything was missing in Raiders of the Lost Ark it was a true damsel in distress and an energetic kiddie sidekick. Indy got them in Temple of Doom, and they are perfect. Willy's hot and more concerned about her nails, voice, and diamonds than anything else, and Shorty just wants to be Indy. Maybe they don't work for you, but they sure work for me. I always had a crush on Willy, the one with whom I think Indiana Jones had the most interesting relationship, and I wanted to be Short Round kicking ass and saving Indy. Hell, I still do on both counts. And as screenplays go, this one is a cracker, even if it didn't always turn out that way on the screen.
4. Chilled Monkey Brains -- Nuff said.
5. Villains -- C'mon. You know you love Mola Ram in spite of yourself, and Lao Che is right up there with Belloq as best villain in the series.
6. You say ... -- The mine cars are silly, you say? I say they are rollicking good fun. The fight in the jewel quarry is dumb, you say? I say it's a necessity of the homage, and the voodoo doll makes it fun. The chamber of insects is unoriginal and lame, you say? I say it is the perfect way to generate some screwball comedy between the leads. The pumping heart being torn out of a chest is too gruesome, you say? I say it's creepy cool. The portrayal of Indians is racist, you say? I say ... okay, you're right about that, but no more or less so than the racism in the other movies (except, perhaps, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Hmmm. Interesting.)
WARNING: This is not a review of the books. I plan to write those separately someday. This is, rather, a review of the original Star Wars Trilogy cata...moreWARNING: This is not a review of the books. I plan to write those separately someday. This is, rather, a review of the original Star Wars Trilogy catalyzed by the final episode of Lost. Please don't bother reading this if you're looking for a book review. Thanks.
About twenty years ago, I found myself in a debate about the merits of the Star Wars Trilogy with a guy named Bill (at least I think that was his name. Let’s call him Bill) and my friend Dave. Bill was trying to convince us that the Trilogy was garbage, and Dave and I, proud bearers of nearly matching Star Wars tattoos – his signifying his love for Luke Skywalker and mine signifying my love for Han Solo (more on the tattoo later) – were fighting to defend its excellence. We had a serious reason for our impassioned defence.
But Bill was determined to make us see the error of our ways. He attacked the series’ kindergarten plotting, its crappy dialogue, its special effects obfuscation, its dearth of character development, its terribly pacing, and its general glorification of style over substance. He made a number of valid points, and I was willing to listen (much more willing than Dave who has always had far too much emotion invested in the series to have its greatness assailed) until Bill engaged in this fatal rhetorical device: “It’s because you’re young guys. You watched this when you were kids and you’re nostalgic. Some day you’ll grow up and see that you’re wrong.”
The willingness to listen shut right down, and I carried on debating with a particular focus on character development. Back then there was no Special Edition (and no Prequel to make my defence impossible). Han Solo hadn’t lost the beginning of his arc. He had killed Greedo in cold blood. There was no first shot/self-defence reimagining of the scene from Lucas. So Han Solo showed a clear development from criminal drug smuggler to uncomfortable rebel to passionate lover to loyal friend to self-sacrificing hero. That’s some pretty fair character growth, and even Bill had to concede my point, admitting that he’d missed some of those subtleties, mostly because he’d only seen each movie once, but he stood by his assessment of the Trilogy; it was crap and one good character arc wasn’t going to change that.
The years passed and that debate with Bill became a file locked in my personal databanks. I never had any reason to reopen it. The Special Editions came along and I hated them. It didn’t matter, though, because I still had copies of the original movies, and I could ignore Lucas’ tampering without any difficulty. Then the Prequels came along and I hated them more. But I still had my perceived greatness of the Trilogy to fall back on, so I could simply shake my head at Prequel fans and enjoy my love of the originals.
Then I watched the final episode of Lost, and suddenly my Bill file downloaded into my consciousness. And you know what? He was right. My love for the Star Wars Trilogy was nostalgia.
What I saw in the final episode of Lost was what I should have seen all those years ago in the Trilogy. I saw a show that flattered us to deceive. I saw a series that aspired to be about “characters” but was so about plot (and though its plot was convoluted it wasn’t particularly deep) that the supposedly complex characters boiled down to pretty straightforward redemption stereotypes. I saw production value obfuscation with wide vistas, globe-trotting adventures, blazing guns, smoke monsters and pseudo-spiritual claptrap hiding a deeply banal Daddy-Son reconciliation tale. I saw a pop-culture event that destroyed whatever substance it had with a pandering finale. Is it any surprise that Lost was littered with references to Star Wars or that David Lindeloff grew up loving George Lucas’ mess as much as the rest of us? Seems fitting to me.
So what’s the point of all this? Well...Lost made me see that Bill had it right about me and Star Wars all those years ago. Lost is crap, and so was Star Wars. I was a boy who fell in love with vapid screen candy and my defence of Lucas’ uber-popular mess was and is all about nostalgia.
But I’ll not be defending the series any longer (okay...I may still defend Empire Strikes Back, which is an excellent film. Thanks, Irving Kirshner, for being a real director). Beyond its lack of artistic merit and Lucas’ disregard for the simplest rules of continuity, I have seen little boys indoctrinated into violence simply by watching Jedis train. I’ve seen Star Wars entrench an overly simplistic view of good and evil in our society, which is dangerous in the extreme. And I’ve watched the entire series change the face of film in the most unhealthy ways.
I know this is heresy. I know there’s going to be many of you out there, kind readers, who will disagree and that’s okay. I am finally at peace with my feelings about the Trilogy, and I feel great relief being able to say that the Trilogy is a big steaming pile of Bantha droppings.
And for those of you who are pitying me and my tattoo, don’t worry. The tattoo was always more about Harrison Ford than Han Solo. I can live with the ink in my skin despite my new found disdain for Star Wars.
p.s. Can I just add that I feel terribly sad about having lost these movies? There, I said it. Thank the gods I still have Indiana Jones. (less)
When I first met Erika, for some long forgotten reason and situation, someone said, "Do you like my hat?"
I answered: "No. I do not." There was an awkw...moreWhen I first met Erika, for some long forgotten reason and situation, someone said, "Do you like my hat?"
I answered: "No. I do not." There was an awkward pause and I added, "Good-bye. Good-bye again," with some totally bizarre, guttural, kiddie voice. It became a fun inside joke for Erika and me, but for the life of us, we couldn't remember where it came from. It sounded familiar; it didn't sound me-invented, but we couldn't place it.
Then we had babes, and I picked up a bunch of board books -- and there it was.
"Do you like my hat?"
"I do not."
It wasn't quite how I remembered it, not quite the way my mind had twisted it over all those years, but we had finally found the source, and we were stoked.
5 years later my boy is reading it to me. It is a great book to foster reading , but even if I didn't have a prior bond with the book beyond learning to read, I would still love Go Dog. Go because of my son.
When I was a kid I would sit in our playroom and watch M*A*S*H* on my black and white TV while everyone else was busy doing their thing. I remember Li...moreWhen I was a kid I would sit in our playroom and watch M*A*S*H* on my black and white TV while everyone else was busy doing their thing. I remember Little House on the Prairie being on at the same time, so my sister and Mom must have been watching the Ingalls. And my Dad...well he wasn't interested in M*A*S*H*. He hated Alan Alda.
According to my Dad, Hawkeye, and Alan Alda by extension, was a bleeding heart liberal, and the only things worse than bleeding heart liberals in our house were "fags" or true commies (and bleeding heart liberals were practically the latter). M*A*S*H* was too anti-war for my Dad, too anti-America, and the way Hawkeye criticized the military industrial complex, whether explicitly or implicitly, pissed my Dad off to no end.
I doubt he'd admit those feelings today, or admit that he ever said the things he did. Not because he's changed his opinions in any fundamental way, mind you, but because he wouldn't want people to think he was intolerant. It was acceptable in my childhood to badmouth "fags" and say they deserved to be put on an island and nuked, just as it was acceptable to preach the commie menace. Nobody looked at him askance back then, but they would now, so he'd never admit he'd held his intolerant line.
I loved Hawkeye's tolerance. It felt right to me despite what my father said. I loved that Hawkeye loved his father because I wanted that for myself. I loved that Hawkeye was funny and talented and fought injustice.
So I would lose myself in M*A*S*H* whenever I got the chance. When it wasn't on TV that was okay because I taped episodes on my little hand held cassette recorder and listened to them until I had them memorized. I learned comic timing watching Alan Alda. I learned my first lessons in acting from the man, and I loved, when I was old enough to notice, that he wrote many of the episodes he acted in.
I was worried when I picked up Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I've Learned that learning more about Alan Alda would disappoint me. I was expecting a lot about the M*A*S*H* years, and a William Shatner style musing on the pettiness of his cast mates. The big stars of big shows always seem to be forced to defend themselves in their memoirs, and I braced myself for the sad reality of narcissism and ego I was sure was coming. I shouldn't have been afraid.
Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I've Learned barely mentions M*A*S*H*. There is one chapter and a couple of passing connections here and there but that's all. Instead, Alda's first memoir is as much about being a human as it is about being an actor. It's about his schizophrenic mother (which was particularly unsettling), his slightly distant, loving but guilt ridden father, the woman he has loved for almost fifty years, his strange obsessions with science, number systems, acting and, of course, writing (and whatever one makes of his acting, the man can write). It's about stuffed dogs and memory and bowel resections.
It made me love him more than I already did, replacing my worship with genuine respect and a little touch of awe for his ability to really submerse himself in the best of life.
Mr. Alda is another father who raised me despite my Dad's influence. I want to tell him how much he's meant to me...but I can tell y'all instead. (less)
This letter, "A Soldier's Declaration," explains why Siegfried Sassoon is a great poet of WWI, and it contains all of why I love him. Enjoy.
I am makin...moreThis letter, "A Soldier's Declaration," explains why Siegfried Sassoon is a great poet of WWI, and it contains all of why I love him. Enjoy.
I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.
I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defense and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow-soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.
I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.
I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.
On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practiced on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is poor. It tried so hard to seem like an Indiana Jones adventure, that it forgot to [u:]be[/u:] an Indiana Jones adventure. It isn't an auspicious beginning for the Omnibus, but since it is the most famous of Indy's comic book (and video game) adventures, it is the obvious choice.
Indiana Jones and the Thunder in the Orient is even more racist than your usual Indiana Jones adventure. Indy spews out "Japs" whenever he's faced with the buck-toothed, bespectacled "Nipponese Army;" the Serpent Lady, a "great" Chinese leader, is the most Caucasian looking Asian woman I have ever seen, and we need to be reminded repeatedly of her incredible beauty, which seems to be the result of her apparent occidentalism more than anything else; moreover, there is a consistent chauvinism towards "others" and "half-breeds" that saturates the entire tale. Come to think of it...all that makes it a pretty straight forward and typical Indiana Jones adventure.
Indiana Jones and the Arms of Gold is the shortest entry in the Omnibus Volume 1, but it is also the best, which isn't saying much. The story is simple, the cast of characters is small, Indy is more like himself than in the other graphic novels collected here, the action takes up way more space than the explication (a very good thing), and the less detailed artwork really suits the gritty feel of Indy, but it's still disappointing for true Indy fans. It is pretty sad that Indiana Jones and the Arms of Gold is the best of a bad collection. I was hoping for a whole lot more. But, hey, at least my son liked it.(less)
Twenty-five years ago I'd have given The Lord of the Rings my highest possible praise. I came to Tolkien's masterpiece on my own, and that meant much...moreTwenty-five years ago I'd have given The Lord of the Rings my highest possible praise. I came to Tolkien's masterpiece on my own, and that meant much to me at twelve. The only books that had been reached by me alone were books on mythology and horror. Everything else I read, from DH Lawrence to Hemingway to Dickens to Shakespeare (and this also included Dracula and Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde because they were "true" classics), was suggested and sanctioned by my mother (for which I will always owe her deeply).
It is easy to forget that The Lord of the Rings was not a pop culture phenomenon in the seventies and early eighties. It was a fringe book (at least in North America), something that was not yet considered a part of the canon, something that was not a name on every boy's lips (even if they were just getting to know D&D) let alone every child's lips. Sure it was respected and loved by those who knew it, but knowing it was not a foregone conclusion as it is today, and its audience was almost completely genre oriented. In my little community (my school and the blocks surrounding my home), I was the first kid to read it.
And that first reading was a revelation. Sure I'd read The Hobbit, but that didn't prepare me for the breadth and depth of The Lord of the Rings. Middle Earth in its grandest incarnation.
To create a fantasy world is one thing, but to breathe life into ages of that world, to keep all the pieces together with such magnificent detail and rigour, to create character after believable character and make us care about most of them, even poor Smeagol/Gollum, that is a literary labour of Hercules. And by pulling it off, Tolkien created the single most important manifestation of Fantasy that has ever and will ever be written. The Lord of the Rings has rightly been named a classic. It is part of the canon, and it deserves its place. It is entertaining, it is weighty, and it is loved by nearly all.
Aye...and there's the rub.
Its indisputable greatness has made it indisputable.
It has become dogma among fanboys and fangirls that the bastions of The Lord of the Rings are unassailable. Criticize Tolkien's work -- academically or otherwise -- and you put yourself in almost as much danger as a chatty atheist trying to engage in a theological discussion in a coliseum full of Jehovah's Witnesses (how many of those folks will make it into the afterlife? Isn't there a limit?).
Feminist critics point out the lack of women in The Lord of the Rings, and that those women who are present fulfill only the narrowest stereotypes. Éowyn's strength is dependent upon adopting male gender qualities, a typical stereotype of "powerful women in fantasy," and she is alone amongst the Rohirrim as a woman who can and will fight. All other women in her culture are present as a reason to fight rather than as integral parts of the struggle. Arwen's place (in the books, at least) as a maiden waiting for the hand of her king takes the "reason to fight" to even greater heights. And the only powerful female, Galadriel as the terrible, beautiful elven Queen, is too far removed from mortality and reality to be anything more than a mid-tale deus ex machina, thereby removing her from the realm of women and men and making her a pseudo-god whose power is allowed only because it is arcane and mysterious.
Post-Colonial critics have latched onto the racism inherent in The Lord of the Rings, pointing out the hierarchies between the races: from the "superiority" of the elves, to the "chosen" role of "European" Men of the West under the leadership of Aragorn, to the lesser races of Dwarves and Hobbits (the former are "lesser" because they are "too greedy" and the latter are "lesser" because they are children). Post-Colonialists look to the "orientalization" of Sauron's forces and the configuration of evil as an inherent quality of Orcs and "the dark folk." They point out Tolkien's family's history as a cog in the mechanism of English Imperialism, and his own birth in one of the most blatantly racist colonies of all, South Africa (while he did leave at three years old, his family's presence there at all suggests that some of the classic colonial opinions about the colonized "dark races" helped form the man who wrote these books), as possible reasons for this racism.
These criticisms further suggest, at least to me, that the archetypal source of all fantasy's entrenched racism -- even those books being written today -- is The Lord of the Rings. Those fantasy authors who have followed Tolkien consistently and inescapably embrace his configuration of the races (yes, even those like R.A. Salvatore who try and fail to derail this configuration) and the concepts of good and evil that go along with them, which leads to the stagnation and diminishment of their genre.
The fact is that these flaws do exist in The Lord of the Rings. They are present. They are easy to find. But few of Tolkien's rabid fans want to hear about them.
And even when the criticism is not necessarily suggesting a flaw in Tolkien's work but merely the presence of some subtext, the dogmatists react with rage and condemnation. A fine example of this is when Queer and Gender theorists point to the overwhelming relationships between men, and how the relationship between Frodo and Sam is homosocial, at least, and possibly even homosexual. The only true intimacy in the book occurs between the men, after all, and to ignore that fact is to ignore one of key components of why The Lord of the Rings is so emotionally satisfying, especially to young men.
Even faced with these ideas supported by convincing arguments, however, many fans either strive for ignorance or attack the messenger. This may have much to do with the worry -- unreasonable though it is -- that to admit that a flaw or something uncomfortable exists in any of these books, which so many people love so deeply, is to accept that The Lord of the Rings is neither great nor worthy of love.
But this is not the case.
I love The Lord of the Rings even though I subscribe completely to the post-colonial criticism, and see the merits in both the feminine and queer criticisms, not to mention the countless other criticisms and subtexts that are floating around.
The books are racist; they are sexist. They are not perfect. And I must criticize the elements of The Lord of the Rings that make me uncomfortable and deserve no praise. But my complaints and the complaints of critics make Tolkien's achievement no less great.
Tolkien created the most magnificent imaginary world ever conceived, and, for good or ill, Fantasy would be nothing today were it not for him. The Lord of the Rings is a triumph on countless levels, but it is not the word of God, nor should it be elevated to such heights.
I love The Lord of the Rings, but I love it with reservations. I love it because of its place in my personal mythology, its genuine originality, its creativity, its power, but I love it with my mind open to its flaws, and I refuse to make excuses for Tolkien or his work.
Twenty-five years ago I'd have given The Lord of the Rings my highest possible praise. Not today. But I am still willing to admit my love. (less)
It's the 2010 World Cup, and I've reread an essay from this book -- or two -- every day of play so far. All of the essays are interesting, but as a bo...moreIt's the 2010 World Cup, and I've reread an essay from this book -- or two -- every day of play so far. All of the essays are interesting, but as a book about football, it's a teeter-totter. One day I read about how a beautiful expression of how football can be more important than sex or how an unquenchable England fan can find himself cheering for Les Bleus, and the next day I am reading an article about surfing that happens to mention a footballing superstar (apparently that's all it takes to qualify the essay as "footy" writing) or a piece of political propaganda that happens to draw some obscure parallel between the beautiful game and a nation (see the essays on Paraguay and Mexico).
When the book is on the teeter, it is a perfect compliment to the matches. When the book is on the totter, though, it is maddeningly off-topic, suggesting that editor Matt Weiland was either lazy or rushed when he put this book together. Still, even with the totters and its World Cup 2006 focus, The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup is a perfect diversion at half time when Brazil and Portugal are playing to a dour draw or Germany is on the verge of embarrassing England...again.
I leave you with one of the finest description of what makes the beautiful game beautiful that I've ever read. It was in the essay I saved until last, Robert Coover's essay on Spain; it's the essay that will always keep me coming back to this book, despite its totters:
The explanations advanced for soccer's intense mysterious power, the trancelike quality of great matches, its worldwide domination over all other sports, have been many, some finding in it a vivid reenactment of the prehistoric ritual hunt, others echoes of the matriarchal dream, initiation rites, pastoral dreams of a lost golden age. There is, akin to these, the game's inherent theatricality -- not the razzamatazz of an American halftime, but the inner dramas of sin and redemption, the testing of virtue, the pursuit of pattern and cohesion, the collision of paradoxical forces: soccer has often been compared to Greek tragedy, or seen as a kind of open-ended morality play. Perhaps the difficulty in scoring (and thus the usual narrowness of margins of victory, even between teams of markedly unequal ability, the everpresent danger of a sudden reversal of fortune) intensifies this sense of theatre, causing the denouement -- or the collective catharsis -- to be withheld almost always until the final whistle. Nor, until that whistle, is there relief from the tyranny of time's ceaseless flow: once you've fallen into a game, there is no getting out. The player must stay with that flow, maintain rhythm, press for advantage, preserving all his skills, his mind locked into the shifting patterns, and the spectator, though less arduously, shares this experience.
It's that sharing of experience that makes the game beautiful for me. It's why I was depressed for two weeks after Zidane headbutted Materazzi in 2006; it's why I was depressed after France's ignominious exit in 2010, at least until the amazing Slovakian defeat of Italy. I feel the game in a way I feel no other. And it's nice to know someone can put my experience into words. (less)
Sadly, I wasn't able to finish The Palace of Dreams. I lost it with only thirty-eight pages left, which was an oddly fitting end to what turned out to...moreSadly, I wasn't able to finish The Palace of Dreams. I lost it with only thirty-eight pages left, which was an oddly fitting end to what turned out to be an odd experience with an odd book.
The book is about a mysterious ministry in the Ottoman Empire that collects, reads, sorts and interprets the dreams of its citizens as a prophetic means of unlocking crimes and conspiracies against the state. Into this organization goes Mark-Alem, a maternal son of the powerful Quprili family.
I reached a place in the story where I felt myself on the verge of a revelation, where the story was about unfold for me like an origami crane reversing, but now, with space and time, I am not so sure that anything miraculous was about to happen.
I may have been taken in by the fact that I was reading a book about dreams, about interpreting the subconscious night droppings of minds, and that the book was a translation of a translation. Remove after remove after hyperreal remove -- both within The Palace of Dreams and without -- had taken me so far away from Ismail Kadaré's original intent that I imagined myself, impossibly, about to stumble upon some truth that was waiting there just for me, and tucked away in a corner of my mind I think I've dreamt what that truth must be.
But I lost the book, and mow I don't think I want it back. I have a feeling the ending I imagined means more to me than the actual ending of ever could, and to read the last thirty-eight pages of Kadaré's tale would taint my experience. So this mildly creepy, oddly fascinating book will remain (un)finished for me.(less)
I remember almost nothing about Richard Russo's Straight Man. I imagine I laughed a couple of times, and I think I enjoyed the reading experience, but...moreI remember almost nothing about Richard Russo's Straight Man. I imagine I laughed a couple of times, and I think I enjoyed the reading experience, but there is only one specific thing that I remember from the book itself. More on that later, though, because I want to talk about the peripheral things I remember about Straight Man.
I remember reading it for a Literary Theory class (my first class at my new University) with one of my all time favourite profs, Dr. W---. He admitted, very early into the book, that he hadn't read it before. His wife is a librarian, you see, and he always let her pick a wild card book for whichever class he happened to be teaching, something she was sure he'd like, something she thought would be appropriate. She picked Straight Man because Dr. W--- was the chair of an English Dept. in a seriously underfunded university where he played chief negotiator and neutral observer to a pack of bickering tenured maniacs. He apologized for the choice, realizing that it wasn't the best book to apply literary theory too, but he kept using it and did a damn fine job.
Meanwhile, in the back of the classroom, I made friends with a wonderful woman named MM (you didn't think I was going to give her complete name did you? What's the fun in that?). She was in her early fifties, a southern belle of the old school, and I discovered that she was also the secretary of the English Dept. She audited a class every semester, just for fun, and Dr. W---'s class was her freebie. Why is this important? Well, MM took a liking to me, recommended me to Dr. W---, and I found myself as the Grad Assistant for the next two years, and that's where I met a woman, the Undergrad Assistant, who I loved deeply and passionately.
Furthermore, every time I've taken a pee in a public restroom (since I read the book over a decade ago) I have had a mindflash of the main character, HD, comparing the power of his stream to the young bucks that pee next to him. I can't take a public pee without thinking of the book, nor can I take a public pee without comparing my stream with whomever's around. And sadly, my stream doesn't have the power it used to. Now I worry about kidney stones and prostate exams and future erectile dysfunction, and all because this damned book has made the power of my stream a permanent obsession (and in case you're wondering, this is the ONE specific thing I remember from Straight Man). What the hell is up with that?!
As for what I think about Straight Man...well...who cares? I doubt Russo would care what I think, even if he knew me. What matters, at least what I think should matter, is that just the sight of Straight Man's cover, that cheesy red thing with the drake (or is it a gander?) brings back memories of Dr. W---, MM and that girl. And every pee I take calls to mind that cheesy red cover with the gander (or is it a drake?). That's gotta be good enough for any author.
Dallas was on TV, and my Mom was sitting in the kitchen doing her nails. I was in the living room with a blank Player Character Record Sheet, a new ba...moreDallas was on TV, and my Mom was sitting in the kitchen doing her nails. I was in the living room with a blank Player Character Record Sheet, a new bag of dice, a pencil, an eraser and Gygax's masterpiece.
Mom and I could still talk, even separated as we were by the full kitchen wall, and I could smell the mixture of her menthols, nail polish and nail polish remover from the other room. Our home was small and intimate: a great place to be on a Friday night when it was just the two of us hanging out with bad 80s TV, and our own devices. My little sister was in bed down the hall, and my Dad was off playing poker, so it was just me and my Mom and one of the biggest moments of my life.
It was a Friday night, and I was playing D&D with Robert S--- and his friends the next day. It was going to be my first time. Much to my Catholic father's dismay, and after long attempts by my mother to talk me out of it, I'd spent all the money I'd been saving from my paper route on D&D gear. I bought the Dungeon Master's Guide, The Monster Manual, dice, a couple of metal figures (I remember that one was a dwarf with an axe), a sheaf of PC Record Sheets, and the most magical item of them all The Player's Handbook.
I smelled the smell of my Mom's Friday ritual. I was repeatedly distracted by oil barons and their substance abusing wives. And I was totally stunned into paralysis by the giant fracking mess I'd gotten myself into. I had no idea how to make a character. I'd been reading and flipping and trying to figure things out, and I was lost. Each page made me feel more stupid, each page made me angrier, and I exploded, finally, into tears of frustration.
I was in grade seven at the time, and I was only months away from reading Lady Chatterley's Lover. I'd devoured the Scottish play. I'd spent the summer immersed in Middle Earth. I was a math whiz. I had big glasses. I was a geek extraordinaire, and I sat on our turquoise carpet beaten by THE role playing game before I'd even begun. And I just kept crying. Sobbing, more like.
But then my Mom was there.
She had even less clue than I did, but she didn't really need a clue. All she needed was to be there, to be my support, and she did that. She tried to wrestle with the things that were stumping me, and through her struggles I was able to figure out what I was missing. She played the dunski to my pre-teen pseudo-genius, and just the chance to bounce stuff off someone outside my head helped me unlock bonuses and percentages and thieving abilities and armor class, et al. I figured out the attributes, and I made myself a Halfling thief named Malachi (I know...it wasn't tremendously original, but the Halfling dexterity boost gave me an 18 dexterity, and that seemed wicked deadly to me back in those days).
By the time Falcon Crest was over and missed by both of us, with no chance of a rerun, I had created my first D&D character, and I was ready to sit by Lauren L---, the coolest girl in our class, in Robert S---'s super cold, harshly lit, linoleum floored basement.
It didn't take long for all the "cool" kids to leave D&D behind. Mike C---, Paul E---, Lauren L---, Robert S---, they all moved on to headbanging, and that left me, Jeff, and Mark to spend the rest of our Junior High days in a happy D&D oblivion, (I'm still friends with Jeff and Mark, by the way).
I wait patiently for Brontë & Miloš (and now Scout) to grow old enough for our first foray into D&D, and I hope I can be a worthy guide into the coolest worlds of their imagination.
And even though my Mom wasn't my guide, she was my protector that night twenty-six years ago. And she'll always be tied to The Player's Handbook for me.
Too bad she's gone now. I'd love for her to be here when her grand-kids make their first characters. I bet Të makes a magic-user and Loš makes a fighter, and I suppose I'll have to plan a NPC Cleric to keep them alive.
I remember taking this book out of the library at my elementary school, Queensland Downs Elementary School, when I was in Mrs. Sanders' class for grad...moreI remember taking this book out of the library at my elementary school, Queensland Downs Elementary School, when I was in Mrs. Sanders' class for grade three. We were in the library for a library period, and I asked Mrs. Dalgliesh, our groovy librarian, for a book. I can't remember if I was the one who suggested Greek Mythology or if it was she, but I do remember her aiding me at the card catalogues, then she sent me off to the shelves to track down "292 DAU [JUV]."
That little journey changed me irrevocably.
I devoured D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths in what was then record time, and within days I was debating my father on theology. I demanded to know why I couldn't worship Zeus instead of his God; I wanted to know why, if the Greek Gods came first, they had a flood, Heracles was resurrected, and Phrixus was saved from being sacrificed by his father by the presence of a golden ram, amongst other things. I wanted to know how Christianity could have such similar myths.
It was the beginning of the end of my religiosity and the penultimate blow to my catholicism. It was the end of my acquiescence to unjust authority. It was the end of acceptance without questions. It catalysed my constant search for understanding. It was the beginning of my father's disdain for me, and his fear of my mind (the latter, I've always suspected, was close to the root of much of the abuse I suffered at his hands). It was the moment of my enlightenment. And I've loved this book deeply from the second I first closed its cover until today.
I finished reading it to our twins last night. To hear them talk today, they are in love with the book themselves, though I doubt it can be felt as deeply as my love for the book. We encourage them to think for themselves, to question, to seek, to demand that authority earns respect, so their experience with the book isn't as revelatory as mine. They have parents who've been answering their questions -- about gods, life, death, where babies come from, about anything -- since they were asking questions. They haven't needed to find that power for themselves, we've pointed the way to that power from the start. Still, they love this book, and I hope they share it with their kids (if they choose to have kids) in turn.
I was born and raised Roman Catholic, so despite my atheism I have demons ingrained in my consciousness.
I'm talking about literal demons here. Demons...moreI was born and raised Roman Catholic, so despite my atheism I have demons ingrained in my consciousness.
I'm talking about literal demons here. Demons with tails and horns and leathery wings, demons of sublime beauty and terrible mien, demons that torment and corrupt. It doesn't matter that I no longer believe in the concepts of good and evil; it doesn't matter that demons are fiction; they are so deeply programmed into me that there is no escaping their intimate hold on portions of my imagination.
So considering my preconceptions of demons, which are predictably Western European, my time spent with Detective Inspector Chen was never likely to be trouble free. I don’t know exactly what trouble I was expecting, but I was surprised to discover that the trouble, if it can be called trouble, came from Liz Williams’ demons feeling shame.
Demons, the way I’ve always imagined them, feel no shame. Indeed, they are shameless creatures of villainy, cruelty, nastiness. They terrorize, torture and punish, delighting in their heartlessness. Clearly my conception of demons is the conception on the walls and ceilings of churches or the popular culture of Christianity.
Thus when Zhu Irzh or Inari showed signs of shame, or when Inari’s brother Tso was motivated by shame, I reacted with annoyance and even tossed the book aside with a snort. But I knew that my reaction was purely emotional, and I found myself considering the idea of demons and shame for most of the day; it didn’t take long for me to see what Williams was doing – and even to absorb it into my personal mythology of demons.
After all, demons being intimately acquainted with shame makes perfect sense.
Those humans who go to Hell, after all, go to Hell to feel shame. No matter their crime, no matter if Hell is eternal or transitory, no matter their punishment, they go to Hell to learn or feel shame. And it doesn’t matter what religion’s Hell one’s talking about. If there is a Hell, it is a place for shame.
Now, if this is a truism of Hell, something we can all agree upon, then demon characters must be able to feel shame. If a demon is to exploit the shame of a human or cause shame in a human, they must be able to understand shame in all its forms, and the only way to do that is to know shame personally.
My brain got that, and I went straight back to reading Snake Agent, but my gut still reacted every time a Demon felt shame, and I fear that my gut got in the way of my fully enjoying of Liz Williams’ creativity, which is one of the reasons I look so forward to The Demon and the City. Once I have had time to fully integrate shame in the world of Singapore Three into my gut, I am sure that I will be able to better appreciate the implausible, surreal, stickily humid Hell Noir landscapes that Detective Inspector Chen and his partner Seneschal Zhu Irzh inhabit.
And if it improves as much as I think it will, this series should become my must read, must buy, must share piece of pulpy goodness.
Previously written: I was surprised by how much I liked this book, and I have much to say about shame in demons, but that will have to wait for another day, maybe even for the next book. I will be going on with this series, though, and soon. It is definitely good enough for that. (less)
Jaws is the tale of a marriage on the edge of failure. Chief Brody, head of the Amity police, is married to Ellen. They've three kids. He's a native o...moreJaws is the tale of a marriage on the edge of failure. Chief Brody, head of the Amity police, is married to Ellen. They've three kids. He's a native of the area; one of the poor boys who spent his days on the beaches while the rich folks came down to vacation from the big cities. She's from one of those big cities, from one of those rich families, and since she married Chief Brody she's been an outsider amongst the natives and outsider amongst the tourists. She belongs nowhere and feels herself wasting away in the tiny beach town, and she pines for what once was. (view spoiler)[She ends up sleeping with Matt Hooper, ichthyologist and younger brother of a boy she once loved, much to the Chief's chagrin (hide spoiler)].
Jaws is the tale of shady land speculation, organized crime and local governmental corruption, wherein another poor local boy "makes good," becomes Mayor, becomes one of the "nouveau riche," then winds up putting lives at risk to save his own skin and pay his bad debts.(view spoiler)[ A storyline that parallels and informs what's happening with Ellen, showing us what happens to those moving between classes in either direction (and suggesting that, perhaps, everyone should stay where they fucking belong, amongst their own people -- much to my discomfort and frustration) (hide spoiler)].
Oh yeah ... Jaws is also the tale of a killer shark that starts eating swimmers off the coast of Amity. Chief Brody, Matt Hooper and Quint (the infamous modern Ahab captured so wonderfully by Robert Shaw in Spielberg's movie, although he only shows up in the book in the last eighty pages after one brief half page cameo early on) go out and try to save the people and Amity's economy by catching the greatest of great white sharks. (view spoiler)[Hooper dies in this version, and the final take down of the Shark is Quint's rather than Brody's , then Brody swims towards a light house on the coast all by his lonesome. (hide spoiler)] It all feels like an afterthought, a tacked on third act of a book that never knew what it wanted to be, and the total lack of closure as the novel ends is pretty disappointing.
Once again, the movie proves to be better than the book. Much, much better.
Glad I reread this, though. A woman I loved told me to read this again, once upon a time, and I promised I would. It took a decade, but I lived up to the promise.(less)