I'm split on the ending of this series. On the one hand, it's visually striking, with several highly imaginative creature mutations as the genetic hav...moreI'm split on the ending of this series. On the one hand, it's visually striking, with several highly imaginative creature mutations as the genetic havoc unfolds across the world. Even Hikaru experiences some freaky melting problems that are better seen than described.
And the book is all heart. It gets downright ridiculous with how much the global genocide is reduced to a conflict between two lonely teenagers who've just been touched by the aliens. We're eventually treated to the sentiment that evolution itself is life's way of desperately trying to escape loneliness, which is a sweet idea. It's also laughable.
That's the conundrum of the wrap-up for 7 Billion Needles. The series is unarguably striking to look at, and it digs into some rare ideas of how non-biological aliens might observe our evolution. But it's also quite cheesy and reductive, and by this volume has shed any of its genre blending in favor of big explosions and implosions of climax. There's nothing wrong with a popcorn manga; you just need to know that's what you're picking up.(less)
A great rebound volume from the doldrums of Volume 2. Hikaru is now sharing her human body with both the righteous Horizon and scheming Maelstrom. Mae...moreA great rebound volume from the doldrums of Volume 2. Hikaru is now sharing her human body with both the righteous Horizon and scheming Maelstrom. Maelstrom seems more impish than demonic now, though, and not at all its former serial killer self; it’s just the devil on the opposite shoulder from Horizon’s angel. This enables plenty of YA humor, in instances like Hikaru failing a test she couldn’t study for because the voices in her head fought all night. There is also a lovely little bit where Maelstorm manipulates her body so expertly that she might get recruited for pro baseball. It’s the unexpected sort of riffs on SciFi that Volume 1 played so well. And then the world starts coming apart.
This is also Tadano’s strongest book artistically. He reaches into Body Horror as usual, but manipulates source material more grotesquely than ever; I’m comfortable declaring this book to have the scariest duck in the history of sequential art. And when a third astral being descends to earth, it has elements of classic angelic art, and interacts dynamically with zebras and lions in striking ways that 7 Billion Needles has never looked before.
Oh, that world coming apart? It seems Horizon and Maelstrom aren’t the only things messing with DNA on earth. Other things are mutating around the globe, seemingly unrelated to the arrival of the two aliens, headed for what our third visitor proclaims will be a macro-evolution of the entire planet. Our glimpses into it wobble between nonsense (people sprouting into dinosaurs) and the deeply disturbing (an aunt yelling schizophrenically as her body melts around the kitchen). It’s unnerving stuff, without a clear sense of where it’s about. One hopes it isn’t all a setup for the Hikaru/Maelstrom/Horizon union to fix everything with a godlike act, though if that’s to come, it’s in the final volume. This one stands up, for now, as a raw oddity.(less)
My second foray into DC’s The New 52, and a much better read than The Death of the Family. As reticent as I was about making Barbara Gordon walk again...moreMy second foray into DC’s The New 52, and a much better read than The Death of the Family. As reticent as I was about making Barbara Gordon walk again, Gail Simone made a fun and interesting comic out of it. In many ways this Barbara is a new character; she's not the genius tactician that defined Oracle. She's someone a little too desperate to prove her own abilities, as a detective and a fighter, and that notion of compensation really fits another Gotham story. The first new villain, Mirror, is perfect for this character idea, being a villain so psychologically damaged by his own miraculous survival of a tragedy that he's trying to exterminate anyone else in order to thwart God. It's deliberate, but he mirrors Batgirl's return from whatever mystery restored her legs to her.
Simone’s writing sees so well that there are always at least three things to anticipate per chapter. Here we have Barbara Gordon, finally able to walk again after a traumatic gunshot to the spine. She’s not just walking, but donning a costume and trying to resume her superheroics as Batgirl. Simone depicts her as probably returning to the work too soon – she freezes when a gun is aimed at the same place where she was originally paralyzed, she picks fights her body isn’t ready for yet, and there’s an overwhelming sense that she’s trying to resolve crimes too quickly. Barbara is smart and resourceful, but too eager, and too distant from almost any support network.
This book also sings because of its art. Syaf and Cifuentes are reliable at every punch and leap. Where it's streamlined or exaggerated, it's reminiscent of the Benes Birds of Prey, which only brings back warm fuzzies where Simone is concerned. They bring a lot of life to a book that is mostly in darkness and rain. Where they struggle is in certain faces. There were several panels where I couldn't tell Barbara and her redheaded mother apart, and at first I mistook Barbara's new boyfriend (her therapist) for Nightwing.
Both of those points are also struggles for the narrative. Fortunately that boyfriend disappears very fast, as though apologizing for the notion of that problematic romantic setup. The second villain, Gretel, is also a bit of a headscratcher, but mostly exists as an excuse for Batgirl to hit her stride and briefly crossover with Batman. That was the moment when I knew I fully trusted this series. Most writers would have their character be snotty, or domineering, or have something over Bruce Wayne. Batgirl, though, is a character who's aping him down to his freaking name. She worries for him and yearns for his approval in a way I didn't expect Simone to pay off. Leave it to Simone. (less)
Trite as it can be to agree with a cover blurb, IGN's reporter nailed the greatest asset of Simone's Batgirl: her internal voice. Every page is enrich...moreTrite as it can be to agree with a cover blurb, IGN's reporter nailed the greatest asset of Simone's Batgirl: her internal voice. Every page is enriched by the insights, doubts and running commentary. Even when she's reduced to reporting how badly an enemy is kicking her ass, Simone's Batgirl is deftly rounded and fun to share time with. It certainly helps that this hero is unusual; she's a good fighter, but far from the best; she has greatest equipment, but gets outgunned; she intuits and expects things we might have missed without her, sometimes to no avail. Her fallibility makes her fundamentally more entertaining to watch go through the riddles-and-battles of a Gotham story than Batman himself.
This volume has even stronger art direction than the first, which was already top-class for mainstream superhero books. With the help of Ed Benes the art direction is even stronger; Barbara's mother is now radically redesigned, looking older, heavier and with a different haircut, so we don't mistake them for the same person anymore. And now she actually looks middle-aged. Syaf was already slick on Batgirl, but now there's a greater sense of detail, like Barbara talking into the phone in one hand, her apple slipping out of the other hand, and her scarf just about to slip its knot. There are more genuine moments in these panels, leaving the detail almost impeccable (almost – I don't know why we needed to see that Barbara's nipples were hard while fawning over a newspaper clipping of her dad).
The first story arc in the volume is classic Gotham, having Batgirl pursue a masked terrorist with a gargoyle fetish and, more importantly, with the henchman who was there the night Batgirl was shot and paralyzed by The Joker. Stuff like this and treating her brother as a supervillain could easily come off as too contrived, but Simone makes it click with pacing and a surprising range of empathy. I never would have expected the catharsis that the first story ends on.
Then the volume wobbles. There's an utterly random issue from the Court of Owls crossover, with a villain we have almost no context for and an ending that suggests Gotham has been bombed and overtaken – only for the next issue to be business as usual, defending Gotham from a crazy heiress who looks like so much like Azrael it's baffling that it isn't called out. The volume still has that essential empathy, particularly Batgirl showing kindness to a car thief that very few writers would have included, but is still stumbling for footing. Crossovers, like Batwoman showing up to punch Batgirl for a while, don't help. It feels like someone is tampering with the direction of the piece, which is a shame. It deserves to run free.(less)
There's an excitement about a story like 7 Billion Needles. It’s not just that the alien serial killer, Maelstrom, is loose on earth and could be anyo...moreThere's an excitement about a story like 7 Billion Needles. It’s not just that the alien serial killer, Maelstrom, is loose on earth and could be anyone we see, and is pursued by the curious outside Horizon, a police officer made only of plasma. It’s that the authors billed it as a quartet - he knew where it was going with his villain and only needed the four volumes to write it all.
But here, in Volume 2, the story has already punched itself out. The union of Hikaru and her extraterrestrial cop body-mate beat the evil Maelstrom. Obliterated it, actually, at the end of Volume 1, and Volume 2 opens with them transparently triumphant. Then Hikaru meanders, meets an old friend, and visits her childhood home just in time for the alien serial killer to suspiciously wash up on shore and attack her friends some more. It possesses more people, eats more people, and mutates into more big things. It is the same stuff over again but with much less impact because we've seen this story.
The novel element is that when Hikaru and Maelstrom collide this time we're treated to a colossal flashback to the fall and death of Hikaru's father. This is drama that Volume 2 invented, almost from whole cloth, and is a terribly standard tragedy-origin. It doesn't feed into much of who Hikaru is beyond the stereotype of being a jaded outsider, which never required an origin story.
Tadano’s art remains strong enough to carry the emotional sequences, even if they don’t earn much themselves. The best pages are vistas and wide shots – there’s a particularly striking two-page spread of Horizon summoning a beam as wide as the county our heroes are presently in.
But that’s hardly enough to warrant there being a Volume 2. The best thing about this book is the very end, which promises to break the status quo drastically and tell a very different story in Volume 3. It makes this book feel even more like filler, but if it pays off well in the second half of the quartet, then no one will mind. (less)
I can’t overstate the highs of Pretty Monsters. Halfway into the shortest story, “Monster,” I was tempted to Skype a couple friends and just read the...moreI can’t overstate the highs of Pretty Monsters. Halfway into the shortest story, “Monster,” I was tempted to Skype a couple friends and just read the entire thing out loud to them for its great language and emotional subtext. And it turns out? I hadn’t even gotten to the good part yet. That story is about a Boyscout troop full of kids who are too insensitive, and in particular abuse more of their fellow boys, covering him and mud and peer pressuring him into crossdressing. They’re so preoccupied being weirdos that they don’t notice what’s been following them through the woods. But to say the story is about the monster that might devour the boys is to miss to the point of Kelly Link’s fiction.
Link has the knack of quirkiness. In “Surfer,” teens gather in a hanger to avoid a pandemic flu and read classic Science Fiction to take their minds off things. In the eponymous “Pretty Monsters,” a social-conscious teen says she only made up her very real heart condition to get out of gym – letting her not just seem normal, but abnormally cool to her peers. In both realistic and speculative settings, the draw of Link’s fiction is inhabiting specific emotional states in people’s arcs, a most concentrated kind of slice of life.
The finest of these is probably “Magic for Beginners,” about a group of teen fans of a fictional TV show called The Library, which seems like an even weirder Dr. Who. For a few pages you’ll wonder why you’re reading so much about The Library, until the context snaps into place: we’re seeing how these kids use their favorite media to define themselves, and to escape their lives. The trivia of whether or not The Library’s lead character died helps them ignore the unknowably complex question of whether their parents are getting divorced, or why Dad shoplifts to self-destruction. These are things the kids simply aren’t equipped to investigate or understand yet, whereas the cosmic struggles in The Library are shaped for them. And thus “Magic for Beginners” becomes about the utilities of fiction and fandom, including how it allows weirdos to find each other and bond. Those aren’t simple in themselves, either; just wait until Dad bases a character on his son in an upcoming novel, and brace yourself for what things he writes happening to his son.
Pretty Monsters varies stylistically enough to throw just about anyone. While the cover promises it’s ripe for the Twilight and Harry Potter crowd, I can’t fathom most teens engaging in some of the low-action, low-agency and low-stakes stories, which are frankly Literary. And the other side is something like “The Wizards of Perfil” is such a saccharine YA adventure story that I had to force myself to finish it, replete with preposterous stakes, anthems, and trite “major” observations like that war and adults can be unfair. The book is such a rabid mixture that, even if the first story doesn’t land for you, your best recourse is to jump to the next. Link reaches far in only nine stories.
If you haven’t tried Link’s short fiction, you should. Some stories are doubtless still online for free and discoverable through a Google search. And once you’ve gotten a taste, you know you’re a better person for ingesting more. The only dilemma about a 300+ page Link collection is not consuming it too fast and burning out. Savor it, and see what different things a little Speculative Fiction can do. (less)
A superb survey of 20th century English-language Fantasy fiction. Segregated mostly into chapters based on decades and who emerged or dominated them,...moreA superb survey of 20th century English-language Fantasy fiction. Segregated mostly into chapters based on decades and who emerged or dominated them, it lets you appreciate how fads rose and fell, and the patterns of things like Portal Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery worked. We see how magazines and novels co-existed and competed for attention, as well as radical changes, like the depth of Tolkien and Peake’s worlds, which stand out much more clearly when you’re also reading what Howard, Lovecraft, Lewis and Jackson were doing at similar times. It’s really a 200-page crash course in a century of fiction, with another hundred pages of bibliography to help you brush up on all the things you barely knew were there. My favorite part of the book was the reading list I built on my bookmark.
Mendlesohn and James have superb scholarship and are happy to reference where major critical thoughts come from, such as from Diana Wynne Jones and John Clute. It can be superficial as they’re trying to cover an enormous amount of territory, and do an admirable job of expressing what was distinctive about a new novel or trend in short stories at a given time. The survey’s big struggle is in its Lewis & Tolkien chapter, which devotes ten pages just to those two authors and applies more critical inferences. Here the insight is deep enough to need more support and defense, such as their assertion that Eowyn in Lord of the Rings is a representation of the bitter war widows of England. They don’t even explain why she’d be this thing, rather than any other possible interpretation, including empowerment fantasy or liberal criticism. It often seems the authors assert that something in Tolkien’s novels is about WWI or WWII simply because he lived through those times, which is frustratingly shallow criticism.
So it’s obviously a survey course, and that’s why there is so much bibliographical material. I relished in this book as a way to fill in the many gaps in my knowledge of how our modern notion of Fantasy developed, and how its many courses diverged with the emergence of figures like Moorcock and Wolfe. You certainly won’t get this out of a Wiki.(less)
You know all of those movies people summarize as, “Is she haunted or is she crazy?” They’re tiresome yet numerous, and so it’s surprising that it was...moreYou know all of those movies people summarize as, “Is she haunted or is she crazy?” They’re tiresome yet numerous, and so it’s surprising that it was until now I that encountered a novel with Kiernan's spin on the question. Because, you see, India Morgan Phelps is both schizophrenic and haunted. Her medications and mental problems make it difficult for her to defend against what might be a pernicious spirit emanating from a painting, or the ghosts wandering through her everyday life. Don’t dismiss The Drowning Girl as another hokey Horror story that leaves you guessing whether everything is madness or mysticism. It’s a novel about delving into the life of a schizophrenic, replete with excellent passages that gradually make her splintered thought processes relatable. The supernatural and the schizophrenic are combined as two lenses used to examine desire and loss. They go together. The great theme of The Drowning Girl is how much can go together when you’re so beaten down and worn out that you’ll accept.
There’s a late scene where India (usually shortened to “Imp”) sits beside another troubled woman, this one overdressed and sweating fiercely, who believes she’ll be attacked by unknown forces if she shows skin. Imp doesn’t judge; they converse politely, exchange advice on how to protect their flesh, and then the lady is off, perhaps a little calmer as she returns to a world that usually ridicules her. Imp never tells us we should feel for the woman; she just shows us how she engages.
If that sounds low-key, it is. Imp is never abducted by demons or chased through the house by the girl who drowned in her favorite painting. One quickly understand why Caitlin R. Kiernan would resent being called a Horror writer, as The Drowning Girl is about life experience with some Horror tropes and aesthetics around it. Imp, who writes her story to us, often struggles with how to tell it, sometimes disbelieving in story structure and resolution, and other times clinging to it. There’s one passage where she seems so desperate to make sense of her life that she forces things into an explicit five-act structure, all labeled, just so we’ll understand. It’s insecure, beautiful, and has its own sort of suspense where the stakes are her self-identity.
In many ways, this feels like an Among Others of Horror. Imp is growing into the next stage of her life, finding a transgender girlfriend she’s wild about, exiting a sheltered existence of classic books and vinyl records culture, slamming into artifact after artifact. Therapy and medication. Dating and holding a job. Art forms she’s never seen before, with some awkward and hilarious judgments, like dismissing Jaws for being a movie about a shark that any three guys on a leaky boat could kill. Like Among Others, it dances on every level, giving you some of the quotidian and trivial in exactly how important it feels in the moment, and making it share the space with the terror of not knowing what happened last weekend when you went missing, or whether you’ve been painting the works you thought a genius left behind.
I can’t undersell the chatty nature. Kiernan nails so much nuance that my beloved Genre fiction often struggles with; when Imp gives the most superficial account of her girlfriend’s videogame collection, we know it’s because she didn’t care and wasn’t listening, not because the author was lazy. And there are dozens of threads about the people Imp might have met, or who might have been a part of the painting she reads too much into, or who she’s referring to in the alleged fiction she “staples” in along with her memoir, that the Thriller-fiend can spend weeks unraveling all of it. And it all clicks because it flows from an unreliable narrator who is fighting with her own unreliability in ways thousands of people around us have to every day. History is an inventory of ghosts, and fiction about those who can’t take inventory is welcome.(less)
Submitted for your approval: teenager Hikaru Takabe is possessed by an alien cop that's never seen life made of flesh before, here on earth pursuing a...moreSubmitted for your approval: teenager Hikaru Takabe is possessed by an alien cop that's never seen life made of flesh before, here on earth pursuing an extraterrestrial serial killer that will devour all life on earth if Hikaru doesn't help. If it sounds like YA empowerment, it rapidly turns as we see that killer possess another teenager and begin warping his body into a reptilian nightmare, and eventually shred an entire gymnasium of students. For its cutesy elements, like the alien cop begging to be left out of a conversation on boy bands, 7 Billion Needles goes to serious business with a snap of its artist's fingers.
Nobuaki Tadano does several interesting things in presenting his story. Most of the settings look traced or stenciled off of high-resolution photographs of real places, ground us for when we meet what look like relatively conventional characters. Except the longer you're in the story, the finer details you hash out, like awkward-wallflower Hikaru's hands being thick and distinctly masculine. It's never turned into a plot point, but you can imagine that feeding into the anxieties that are finished products by the time we meet her here. Whether it was his choice or the letterer on translation, the book gets clever with dialogue bubbles, including part of a conversation written on a notepad showing up in its own college-ruled bubble. And then any photo-realism or standard manga-style is perverted once that killer alien resumes mutating its host.
I never wanted to put 7 Billion Needles down, and once left it in another room to make sure I got work done. A big part of this is its willingness to spin into different conventions, going from School Comedy to Body Horror, from Sci Fi Culture Clash into quiet introspection. It's almost like the author doesn't care about genres and is linking together whatever cars he wants for this train. It's pleasantly jarring, and fitting given that both human hosts (and both alien entities) are constantly being jarred by one situation or another.
Can I give it a better endorsement than confessing I'm asking my library for the next volume today?(less)
In 2000, John McCain was beloved to both major parties in the U.S. and couldn't get the nomination from either. It was possible that if he ran against...moreIn 2000, John McCain was beloved to both major parties in the U.S. and couldn't get the nomination from either. It was possible that if he ran against both candidates that he'd win, but of course that didn't happen. David Foster Wallace was embedded with McCain's campaign, doomed to lose out to George W. Bush, and shrewdly observed how McCain made messages out of himself, how the staff tried to manipulate those messages, and how the country refused to see the candidate as a complex human being. Here is long-form journalism that shreds us for our addiction to seeing a candidate as just a hero, or just a salesman, or just a moralist or con-man. It's some of the boldest political writing I've ever read.
It actually benefits from being too short to play as memoir or biography. At its length, it avoids the gangly leap into final judgment about what McCain really was and instead played crucible for the complex person he could be, and all the things voters wanted him to be or were afraid he really was. Throughout is the staggering theme of people around the country refusing to believe McCain was a person, but rather a simplified idea, and his campaign playing into it because there's no other way to get elected. Even if you have no exposure to his politics, Wallace writes accessibly on how McCain challenged funding models for politics, taxes and toxicity of discourse, despite also taking you into how those messages could be both honest and manipulative.
Wallace savagely challenges simplified definitions of McCain. People who viewed him as heroic for his time as a POW (including staying in the prison an additional two years after he was permitted release to make sure other prisoners were not left behind) ignored his obvious reduction of his past into a commercial message for votes. Opponents who viewed him as not religious enough ignored his biographies, and those who found him too conservative ignored all his conflicts with Bush. And in every camp, the people who wanted to believe he might be honest about campaign finance reform and toxic discourse couldn’t because it sounded too good to be true, and because the intentions of a stranger are unknowable, and our culture of salesmanship has led us to distrust. One of the last sections of the essay addresses how the more you get to know someone like McCain, the more you need your cynicism and have to fear that same cynicism, because it blinds while it protects. And, as Wallace points out, a generation's disillusion with a political system was helping incumbents.
This was my first exposure to Wallace. His insistence on being more than critical about his subject, but critical about how people observed and reduced him. It's meaty and complex while sympathizing with the dangerous desire for simplicity. Read it, for God's sake read it, especially if you're the sort who judged McCain's entire character based on a sound byte and a photo of him playing video poker.(less)
Jamie McKelvie recently joked, “Who hips the hipsters?” It turns out Joan Didion hips the hipsters.
Here is a highly contrarian and contra-contrarian e...moreJamie McKelvie recently joked, “Who hips the hipsters?” It turns out Joan Didion hips the hipsters.
Here is a highly contrarian and contra-contrarian essay collection after my own heart, not necessarily good for myself or Didion, but edifying regardless and challenging to the things we don’t inspect. She embeds with slackers and hippies who aim to protest, eat gluten-free and self-sustain – and Didion often shapes their conversations to expose futility or navel-gazing. In another essay she defends Hollywood by brutalizing formulaic film in Europe and the problems indie film often ignored. There is even a woeful piece on the evils moral imperatives can create.
The essays click along even when they run vapid because Didion has a knack for narration and turning phrases. Thus we get,
"[O]ne of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened before,"
"We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were."
At all turns her essays have the texture of brilliance. You drop a couple of those on a page and suddenly even if you don't have a good point, you're a genius.
She often seems to deliberately pick an angle that isn’t necessarily correct, but that challenges the zeitgeist. At the risk of projecting too much, her opening about writing through psychological strife and physical pain put me in mind of all the times when my health is at its worst and I find myself reveling in contrarianship as a form of relief. There’s a certain pleasure to twisting and condescending over the rest of the world when you can barely get yourself to operate.
The other angle of her essays is to find topics we wouldn’t typically think about. One essay is a meditation on lasting racial and colonial tensions in Hawaii, boldly taking no position as correct, but rather showing people co-existing with offensive opinions. She is terribly kind to John Wayne, discussing the naïve notions of world his movies influenced and contrasting them with seeing him terribly ill in the hospital.
The essays are mostly thought experiments, not always to express the correct point, but an unusual one that will expand the way readers think about topics. The most obvious is her generic argument against morality, as dogmatic moral thinking often leads to dangerous behavior. She has no insight any 17-year-old podcaster doesn’t on that issue, and her notion of morality versus “pragmatism” borders on the silly, but it fits into a landscape of unusual angles. “How To Think Differently in the Hopes that You Will Think More” just isn’t as catchy a title as Slouching Towards Bethlehem.(less)
Describing this volume is difficult because the series isn't about one thing anymore. Shuichi Nitori's life is expanding, and we're seeing more of his...moreDescribing this volume is difficult because the series isn't about one thing anymore. Shuichi Nitori's life is expanding, and we're seeing more of his classmates as his story gets out and affects others. Maho, Nitori's sister, drags him along on a talent audition and they wind up both getting accepted – as girls. Nitori's journal is stolen and read in front of other kids, leading to some harassment, but also to another boy, Mako, confiding in him about wanting to dress like a girl. Takatsuki begins going back and forth on how she wants to dress and be regarded. Then there's Yoshino, a boy who's anxious to actually ask Nitori out on a date not knowing about his trans status, and how Yoshino deals with realizing who he's attracted to. Sometimes plot threads cross – upon finally dressing like a girl, Mako promptly follows Nitori on that date to make sure the boy is nice to him.
Which is not to say that Wandering Son ever reduces gender questioning to plotty novelty. The series is still overwhelmingly about kids figuring out what they want to be and worrying endlessly about how others will judge them. Every angle is still about the adolescent heart in a way that's touching to me while being so simple and considerately paced that middle-graders can still follow it. It's for them, and it's about them, except that it opens conversations they're usually too scared to have. It's an achievement that Shimura can write and draw this all so deftly and accessibly.
It's so relatable to ways kids can be that I'm often jarred by adult behaviors we wouldn't see in American fiction. Yuki verbally teases and later physically gloms onto Takatsuki in ways that would get you arrested here, which throws up triggers of cultural baggage, yet it's also clear how uncomfortable it makes Takatsuki. That sequence, though, is fodder for her internal strife and how she wants to be seen, and might open up inter-gender identities in the series later. Even earnest praise about Takatsuki's feminine side hurts, which is something very little fiction I've read broaches. It's surprising to read angles like that in such simple storytelling.
That's one of the reasons I keep coming back to the Wandering Son series. In addition to warmth, it's heavily interested in adolescent psychology and invites people of all ages to empathize. This is one of those pieces of art that could honestly lead us to a kinder world.(less)
This is more of a spectacle story than I was led to believe, as The Joker returns and grievously tortures Batman's allies in an attempt to screw with...moreThis is more of a spectacle story than I was led to believe, as The Joker returns and grievously tortures Batman's allies in an attempt to screw with him. There's lots of blood, and dozens upon dozens of no-name dead victims, teasing toward a "surprise party" that will be the story's endgame. If The Joker doesn't have reality-warping powers, I don't see how he kills the top lieutenants of every crime family in Gotham without a paranoid police department and superhero squad ever hearing about it. And yet that's a footnote in his killing secret spree, also apparently abducting everyone in a condo center and dumping them into the reservoir, taking over Arkham, colluding with every famous Gotham villain for even more carnage, and so-on. If that spectacle is all you want, then you're golden.
It's all chalked up to the Batman joke of "prep-time," this time turned against him. Perhaps I'm getting older, but treating crazy as a superpower bothers me. Crazy goes on a shooting spree or abducts a runaway every two years; it doesn't rig the city with explosives without anyone noticing. And if anything is shocking about the story, it's that seeing Jim Gordon bleed, Alfred beaten and bat-themed heroes in distress feels done already. The revelation that Batman doesn't kill Joker because he's afraid of what will replace him ought to be an entire story, not a punchline at the end.
Death of the Family also springs two or three false endgames on us in earlier chapters, not really accomplishing anything other than minimizing the importance of other heroes or villains. The handling of Two-Face is particularly disappointing. It makes the plot tread water until Joker finally tips his hand and we finally get some neat dialogue between him and his nemesis about their motives and what they mean to each other. The payoff to his grand plan of ruining the Bat-family doesn't quite resonate, and if anything, will work based on how other writers use it in the future.
Greg Capullo's art does the story no favors in this story, bouncing between almost as stripped down as the cartoons and gruesomely detailed, usually leaving pages up to the faces. Few of those faces look right. Batgirl wonders if she was deliberately targeted to be crippled with an expression like she's worrying about a date. Batman frequently makes googly-romance eyes when he's supposed to be analyzing evidence. The only affecting face is Joker's, but it's mangled meat under flesh that's been strapped on, so it's never particularly readable and defaults to grotesque no matter what it's doing. It might shock some readers, and shock value is really what this story traffics in. It begs to have been something much longer and more contemplative.(less)
A profound book for the beginning or emerging novelist. In very few pages Gardner shreds through the work of being a novelist, from experimenting and...moreA profound book for the beginning or emerging novelist. In very few pages Gardner shreds through the work of being a novelist, from experimenting and workshopping all the way through the submissions process and the self-doubts of someone who's sold twenty successful novels. It's all information a writer ought to know: the personal sacrifices, how hard it can be to afford to write or find a job that leaves you with the energy to pursue it, the difficulty of connecting with agents and editors, how workshops can go wrong and how to spot what's working. He is so frank that it's occasionally jarring, especially when he takes you into how he wrote some of his own scenes.
Despite covering most of the topics that emerge in a novelist's career, he seldom seems to skimp on depth. Gardner knew pith. There's an excoriating section on how amateurish it is to deliberately withhold information in order to shock readers with a twist, and how to get around it by setting up points of view or characters that would only have the information we do, and stories that are about those turns in more than just shock value. It results in the axiom: "In the final analysis, real suspense comes with moral dilemma and the courage to make and act upon choices. False suspense comes from the accidental and meaningless occurrence of one damned thing after another."
Part of Gardner's brevity is the result of axiomatic thinking. He can be reductive, though more often he's steadfast is believing something like piercing writer's block can be achieved many ways and he won't bother quibbling over differing approaches. He'll name them, say if he knows cases where they worked, and blast on. It amounts to an incredibly concentrated and earnest book about what writing is like.
The boldest parts are where Gardner rips open his own compositions, exposing times when he was utterly hung up on useless and unimportant details, and more shakingly, how a trance of composition feels and works. He has a case study on himself writing the end of Grendel, which reads as self-congratulatory, but also goes to depths most writers never talk about. His hang-ups, prejudices, desires, and his utter ceding of agency to this fictional point of view spill out in ways you've probably experienced, but that we are usually glib or mum about. These passages are invaluable, if only to let you know other people really do work this way. That's the best thing about the book assuring you, by profound admissions, that a writer is not alone in his or her experiences, and he does it with a clarity that you just won't get on Camp NaNoWriMo or Reddit. It's something I'll give to many young aspiring novelists I know.(less)