In my review of "Saga, Volume 1," I wrote: "This stopped just short of the five-star rating--(which I've been very stingy at handing out here at GoodrIn my review of "Saga, Volume 1," I wrote: "This stopped just short of the five-star rating--(which I've been very stingy at handing out here at Goodreads, to my own surprise.) I feel like it could be just *this* much better."
Well guess what? The second volume IS just *this* much better. Didn't even occur to me that with Volume 1, Vaughan and Staples were just getting warmed up.
I also wrote: "The best comparison I can come up with is 'Star Wars,' in the sense that Vaughan and Staples create a post-modern universe which combines the fantastic and the familiar. But that doesn't quite get at it--Vaughn and Staples have really created something new, a universe which is by turns exotic, satiric, sexy, grotesque, adventurous, and exciting."
It's right--"Star Wars" is the closest thing I can think of to explain this, yet it doesn't even come close. And that's a testament to just how new and weird this project of Vaughan's and Staples' is. And while both they and George Lucas combine the familiar with the fantastic, Lucas' characters function as genre archetypes while Vaughan's characters feel like, well, *people*. And Lucas' universe--while brilliant, don't get me wrong--is plundered from the work done before him, Vaughn and Staples' seems to spring directly from their imagination. That combination--of characters and situations (even smartphones) that seem as familiar as your next-door neighbor with a universe that consistently amazes your expectations--is what makes the well-worn theme of star-crossed lovers defying ancient tribal loyalties seem as fresh as a daisy.
And--this is an important point, but easy to overlook--this whole thing is really sexy. The protagonists are appealing, but beyond that Vaughan and Staples are as adventurous as H.R. Giger in using inhuman organisms to explore human sexuality--but, again, in a totally different way. I wonder how the two--writer and illustrator--conceive of these images. Does one just conceive and the other draw? How on earth do you come up with a spider creature which is so alluring? But it's not all attractive--there are also images and storylines which seem to be exploring anxieties and dangers associated with sex. (There's a pre-teen child sex slave, for starters.)
I read this during a brief flight from Toronto to D.C., and during that time I was amazed--but also teared up. That may or may not mean much--I cry at a lot of stuff--but this, well, saga is packed with melodrama which genuinely gets to you, even if a moment later you realize it's nothing you haven't seen in dozens of novels and movies before. But when you put familiar human situations in fantastic new environments, like a space-traveling tree--yes, a space-traveling tree--well, they just feel different and seem to cut down to the core.
If I have any beef with this, it's that occasional patches of dialogue veer into corniness. ("I wasn't talking about his looks.")
But forget I ever wrote that. Just go ahead and start reading this if you want to be captivated by wondrous image after wondrous image. ...more
Dynamite, the pugnacious competitor to the big boys in comics, somehow nabbed the rights to Twilight Zone, and started a new series earlier this year.Dynamite, the pugnacious competitor to the big boys in comics, somehow nabbed the rights to Twilight Zone, and started a new series earlier this year. I'll render my judgement on their overall series later--so far, I like it--but this is a review of their first Annual edition, a collection of three stories all written by Mark Rahner.
I don't envy the job by Dynamite's writers. (OK, maybe a little bit...). Adapting a beloved, iconic, (and, so often, brilliant), black-and-white TV show--which was very much a product and emblem of its time--into the modern day is quite a task. So far, they seem to have struck the right tone, with color added and the calendar updated, but the eerie sensibility and wonder of the 60's and 70's intact.
But reading this annual, I wondered--was the Twilight Zone of yore so topical? This issue includes many of the hot-button issues of today, which intuitively seemed different from how the 60's show worked. But, I dunno, maybe episodes about bomb shelters and plastic surgery didn't seem so mythic back then, maybe they seemed more topical, like this one story about the Tea Party seems today.
Many of the classic Twilight Zone episodes involve a protagonist getting their comeuppance through some sort of magical means, and that's what we get here, in three separate, non-connected stories.
The first involves a young, right-wing, Tea Party--the phrase is never used but the connotation is impossible to miss--Congressperson, who passes out while filibustering some sort of social welfare bill. When he wakes up, he's in the heart of the Depression and Dust Belt. Is he being educated on the errors of his ways? Well, various charitable people are generous to him, but...you'll have to figure out the rest on your own.
The second story involves a history professor who is a devoted Renaissance Fair actor, who....oh, you probably already figured this one out.
The final, and best, story involves an anti-social media activist, and author of the book "Pics or It Didn't Happen." Pay special note to the title--it's not only a ubiquitous Internet phrase, it's also a hint of what's in store. This one really seems like it's an idea, not a gimmick.
But, unfortunately, I feel like the tight space allotted for this chapter robs it of its impact. I couldn't get my head around what was happening. Which is fine--after all, this is the Twilight Zone--but the confusion seemed to replace impact here.
Still, I give Rahner credit for identifying one of the key technological anxieties of our time--the increasingly dominant role of the Internet and the exhibitionist tendencies promoted by social media--and, like his predecessors, probing it with insight and wit. It has everything that made that show great--except the knockout punch....more
The most famous line of the most famous character from the pulp era explains his appeal. The Shadow knows. He's seen it all. He u"The Shadow knows..."
The most famous line of the most famous character from the pulp era explains his appeal. The Shadow knows. He's seen it all. He understands and recognizes evil, including that which lies in his own heart. And he's committed to justice--not out of some penance, but because, who else besides him can do it?
I've always been fascinated by this character since seeing him played by Alec Baldwin in the 1994 movie--an intimidating, scary figure who stirs the same sort of wonder as Batman. Indeed, the Caped Crusader seems like a spiritual heir, even tho he's more closely associated with Zorro. But The Shadow is more mysterious, more brutal, more violent than Batman....more self-aware of the darkness that lies within him.
The rights to The Shadow have bounced around several comic book shops over the decades. But it has seemingly found its proper home with Dynamite, an outfit which unabashedly embraces the lurid decadence of the pulps.
And they debuted the character with Garth Ennis, one of comics' superstars, who seems well-suited for the genre. He sets The Shadow off on an Indiana Jones-ish tale of a search for a mysterious, powerful object in Japan-occupied China. What the object turns out to be, and how it relates to the story and history, is a nice twist, tying in with Ennis' theme of karmic destiny---another thing the Shadow knows, full well.
Technically, this should just be a review of the Ennis story, but I'll go ahead and throw in the other stories, up to #18. There are a few interesting one and two-off stories, followed by the most disappointing part--a series by Chris Roberson, with the Shadow battling a vengeful, supernatural nun, based on the medieval legend of Esclarmonde. I appreciate a historical reference as much as the next guy, and I get the symbolism (the light vs. the shadows, etc.), but the writing is ham-handed.
Sadly, this series has already played out, ending at #25--but, presumably, that's just so Dynamite can use the character elsewhere. Their first offering is uneven but compelling and fresh. They know the Shadow---who knows....more
You read so much stuff that--even when it's good--feels like a retread of something that's been done a thousaNow, see, this is what I'm talking 'bout.
You read so much stuff that--even when it's good--feels like a retread of something that's been done a thousand times. And then you come across something that's truly unique, creative, and exuberant, and it feels like an extraordinarily refreshing blast of cool air.
That's "Saga," Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples' fantasy/sci-fi epic. The best comparison I can come up with is "Star Wars," in the sense that Vaughn and Staples create a post-modern universe which combines the fantastic and the familiar. But that doesn't quite get at it--Vaughn and Staples have really created something new, a universe which is by turns exotic, satiric, sexy, grotesque, adventurous, and exciting.
The story is a Romeo and Juliet-esque fable about two members of enemy species who fall in love, have a baby, and hope to escape their war-torn galaxy.
Their home planets have been forced into a peaceful stalemate for centuries, with the conflict outsourced to distant planets where the soldiers can't even really remember why they're fighting, except for their loathing of the other side. (There's the slight implication of a class difference between the species as well.)
Of course, the story in a way is just a clothesline for a series of extraordinary adventures, in which we meet, among other things, a species of seamless cybernetic warriors, a strangely sexy spider-esque bounty hunter, children ghosts and spaceships grown as trees.
At the center of this is a pair of appealing protagonists--Alana, smart and defiant, and Marko, a remorseful former warrior. We are almost immediately drawn into their plight--(narrated by their grown-up child, foreshadowing that they are at least partially successful.)
This stopped just short of the five-star rating--(which I've been very stingy at handing out here at Goodreads, to my own surprise.) I feel like it could be just *this* much better. But for fans of sci-fi, fantasy, comics, or just plain wonder, this is a must-read....more
Does heaven exist? Humankind has mulled this question for all time, but has spent relatively little time considering the next logical leap--if you couDoes heaven exist? Humankind has mulled this question for all time, but has spent relatively little time considering the next logical leap--if you could spend eternity as the exact person you were at the time of your death, would you want to?
"The Lovely Bones" assumes that you'd have to, but it's not quite that simple. The novel imagines a fairly elaborate and fantasized version of heaven, but I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to imagine it as a literal idea of how the afterlife might work.
For me at least, the "heaven" worked more as a literary device--a way to include a female protagonist in a story despite the fact that she dies in the first chapter.
And, wow, what a first chapter. I happened to listen to this twice--read by the author in an audiobook. I'm not sure I could stand a third time. The heroine of the story, Susie Salmon, is brutally raped and then murdered--in horrifically described detail--by a local creep, a neighborhood semi-recluse who builds dollhouses.
From an (intentionally) ridiculously comforting heaven--there's an "intake counseler"--Sebold watches as her family, classmates, and town recover. It's occasionally heartbreaking and yet fulfilling and she watches everyone move one, even if she--as a disembodied soul who exists more as a literary concept than as anything else--cannot.
There are plenty of reasons to dislike this novel--it's treacly, New Age-y, and prone to absurd plot twists. (An affair between the detective and the mother....really?) But it's also hard to avoid getting drawn into this--through a creative and unique plot device, Sebold aims and sometimes hits at truths about life, growing up, and grief....more
"The Return of Bruce Wayne" follows up, extends, and resolves many of the storylines from "Final Crisis." Which is to say, it's essentially "Final Cri"The Return of Bruce Wayne" follows up, extends, and resolves many of the storylines from "Final Crisis." Which is to say, it's essentially "Final Crisis II." If I had known that as I began, I might have skipped it. (You can see my feelings about FC here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5...)
But I didn't know that going in, because this is ostensibly the story of how Bruce Wayne comes back from the dead, by way of the dawn of time. As a self-contained concept, this might have been a pretty interesting/fun story--but it's not self-contained.
As we last left this saga, Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne learned, the very hard way, that the body they had assumed to be Bruce Wayne's was in fact a clone, created by...well, that's not important. The real Bruce Wayne is still out there--except it's not so much a matter of where but when, as his conflict with Darkseid--(of whom I'm now fairly certain is indeed a god)--created something called the Omega effect, which sent Bruce skipping through time, like a stone on a calm pond. In the last issue of Batman & Robin, Dick and Alfred found evidence in the Wayne family lineage that Bruce has possibly been trying to send them a message.
Indeed he has. Wayne's time travels will bring him into conflict with prehistoric cave men, pirates, cowboys, Puritans, and....others. As he does this, he leaves ripples--intentially or not--which cause unexpected changes and several Back-to-the-Future-ish, "Can you be your own grandfather"-type paradoxes. It also comes out at interesting places, doubling back to solve Morrison mysteries I'd long since given up on.
I really wanted to follow all of this. I read some of the chapters more than once. But sooner or later I realized that to understand all of this I'd have to understand "Final Crisis," and in order to understand that I'd have to read a substantial portion of the Morrison canon that I frankly just don't have the time or interest for.
But unlike "Final Crisis," which just seemed like total nonsense--or, as my friend eloquently put it, Grant Morrison climbing up his own butthole--you can see the good story peaking out here. The criss-crossing of genres is fun. The final return of the *real* Batman is satisfying. There seems to be an interesting mystery puzzle here.
Even some of the Final Crisis stuff is engaging.
"Gods are self-aware ideas," Wonder Woman says, which is a fascinating concept I wish Morrison would explore in greater detail. Actually, I think he did, but I'll be damned if I know how or where.
But still, you have the baffling plot twists, constant doubling over and back through self-references, and general inside baseball that are Morrison's weakness....more
Well, actually, there's a pretty huge problem...for Gotham. As well as Dick Grayson is filling in the shoes of his former pNo Bruce Wayne? No problem.
Well, actually, there's a pretty huge problem...for Gotham. As well as Dick Grayson is filling in the shoes of his former partner and mentor, he knows there's no substitute for the real thing. And, beyond that, he just...*needs* to know he did everything he could to bring Wayne back.
This second volume of Grant Morrison's "Batman & Robin" epic focuses on an ill-fated attempt to resurrect Wayne from the dead. I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that it doesn't work out....but the particular reasons it doesn't work out are surprising, and reveal a very interesting new dimension about his death in "Final Crisis."
The particular angle suggested by the title--rift between the older, wiser Grayson and the spoiled Damion--is kind of a misdirection. I won't say more than that.
As usual, Morrison shows his fascination and talent with interesting (and often British) side characters, bizarre and twisted villains, and surprising angles.
But I'm beginning to fear that the brilliance I saw in "The Black Glove" was a mirage....most of what I've read of his Batman run since then just doesn't seem to have that spark. It's still better than average Batman, tho, and I guess I shouldn't complain. ...more
Well, it's tough times in Gotham, without the original Caped Crusader around.
True, there's a new guy. Well, not exactly new--Dick Grayson has technicaWell, it's tough times in Gotham, without the original Caped Crusader around.
True, there's a new guy. Well, not exactly new--Dick Grayson has technically been around since the 1930's. But this is the first time he's taken on the Batman mantle, and in the hands of famed Bat-writer Grant Morrison, it's interesting.
In "Battle for the Cowl," Grayson--the original Robin, although he prefers his homegrown superhero mantle of Nightwing--has taken over as Batman. He tries to live up to Bruce Wayne's vision but he's undeniably his own person--and that's to say nothing of Damian Wayne, this little whippersnapper, Bruce Wayne's progeny, who's become the new Boy Blunder.
In this first edition of Morrison's rebooted "Batman & Robin," the refurbished Dynamic Duo battle an astonishingly cruel new drug gang which has invaded its way into Gotham. There's the "Domino Killer," who may or may not be related to Professor Pyg, a sadistic Morrison creation which has stood the test of time. (A sanitized version is a key figure in the new Batman cartoon.)
This is all fun. Not great, but fun. With Pyg, Morrison once again shows his remarkable ability to get inside the minds of truly crazed, depraved characters. His particular methods verge on torture porn--but thankfully, the PG-13 requirements of modern comics kept him from fully exploring that direction. (I hate that "Hostel" shit.)
This is all interesting, and fun, but I still feel like it's not quite as good as it could have been. Maybe it will come in full focus once I'm done with the series.......more
Well.....now I understand why opinions about Grant Morrison are so polarized.
What an unholy mess this is, a mostly incomprehensible orgy of DC UniversWell.....now I understand why opinions about Grant Morrison are so polarized.
What an unholy mess this is, a mostly incomprehensible orgy of DC Universe inside baseball.
To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, there were things I knew I didn't understand, and I knew there were things I didn't know I didn't understand. And what I certainly understood after reading about a chapter was I didn't care anywhere near enough to try to make sense out of this.
Darkseid is the main bad guy here, starting an invasion of Earth, and (I think) all of the other Earths in his quest to dominate existence. Well, it might be Darkseid behind everything--he spends a suspiciously large amount of time off-screen.
There are also gods involved in this universe-wide catastrophe. Bad gods. Does that include Darkseid? I'm not sure. He's sort of like a god, but I always thought he was something different. Anyways, the good gods can no longer keep the bad gods in check, and now they're wreaking havoc across all of creation. Also, there are vampire gods, trying to suck all 52 of the earths dry. Are the vampire gods the bad gods? Well, certainly it's not good to be a vampire, but they may or may not be those specific bad gods.
There are also the "monitors," the people who maintain the different universes. I guess they're like gods -- they're on a different plain from the rest of us -- but it's unclear if these are the bad gods or not. I'm pretty sure they're not vampire gods. I'm definitely sure they're not Darkseid. Well, almost sure.
There's also someone named Libra, who seems to be on the evil side. Is he a god, like Darkseid (probably) is? Or is he working for Darkseid? I suppose those two possibilities aren't mutually exclusive. As you can see, there are a lot of independent actors, all trying to stake their claim on the apocalypse. Or maybe not. Maybe they're all just working for Darkseid.
With all of these gods around, human beings seem kinda insignificant. In fact, what do all of these gods--whether they're vampires, monitors and/or Darkseid--care about what happens at a piddly little planet like Earth? But somehow, humans do things that seem to matter. In fact, one of the things that's initially intriguing about this was the way they start out on a gritty crime level and work their way up to the possible erasure of existence. It would be have been interesting--if I had any way of knowing how they do it. What on earth does a series of child kidnappings have to do with the battle for everything in the universe? (I think it has something to do with Darkseid.)
This is the third and (God willing) final of the major crises, which began with the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" of 1985. That "event" helped DC Comics authors re-write the DC universe, freeing themselves of the burden of following a then-45-year-old continuity. I haven't read it yet--I will some day, although it seems like it's more important as an "event" than as an actual story. The "infinite earths" in question here are the multiple, parallel universes the DC writers use for story-telling purposes. (Before this book, a "crisis" was simply when a character traveled from one universe to another.)
If I had read Infinite Earths, would I understand this book? Or its sequel, Infinite Crisis? Or maybe Morrison's work on Justice League of America?
Honestly, I don't care.
It's possible if I understood any of this, I would have recognized it was a better book. But I doubt it. Even if you're lost, plot-wise, you can normally tell if something is a decent story or not. I didn't get that feeling here. Seemingly, every line is expository, adding layer upon layer on this monstrosity. Or it's dialogue like this:
"Anti-Life justifies our actions!" "Is that so? Well my absolute hatred of dog-riding totalitarian #)(*(%#@s justifies this!"
(FYI, the character in question was actually riding a dog.)
Every once in a while there are hints of something interesting--Superman travels to a parallel universe, a limbo-like area with a library with book--a history of existence. But there's also a lot of stuff which would only interest the most die-hard of DC Universe junkies--multiple Flashes meeting again, Supermen battling each other, and--I kid you not--a mathematical proof "proving" that Darkseid should control all existence, e-mailed to everyone on Earth. (Why? I guess if you look at the proof, you turn into Darkseid's slave.)
I mainly read this just to maintain continuity with Morrison's Batman line, but it turns out this is mostly unnecessary, Batman spends the vast majority of it off-screen. (What he's doing is shown in "Batman, R.I.P., although it was inexplicable then.) And yes--something pretty important happens to Batman. I wouldn't spoil it, although the book's cover pretty much gives it away.
Turns out, I could have just looked at the cover and called it a day. If only I had....more
In an audio-book, just how much a part of the story should the narrating actor be?
This isn't really a question that had ever occurred to me until I lIn an audio-book, just how much a part of the story should the narrating actor be?
This isn't really a question that had ever occurred to me until I listened to the "I Married A Communist" audiobook, narrated by Ron Silver.
I'm used to narration which is typically straightforward, with maybe a few accents thrown in. Not here. Silver throws his entire acting talent into the narration, and very much becomes a part of the story. The book is itself told by a narrator--Nathan Zuckerman, who I learned after I was finished is a recurring Philip Roth character. And Zuckerman spends much of the book listening to his former teacher and idol, Murray Ringwold, recall the story of his ill-fated brother Ira. So we're listening to narrations on top of narrations, with the lines sometimes a bit blurry about who exactly is doing the talking. No matter. Silver doesn't make much of an effort to develop separate voices, but he does make it a true recollection--throwing in enunciation of crucial points, coughs, cracks of emotion, and a rapid-fire delivery that implies the characters are bursting with intelligence and stories to tell. Each sentence becomes a line reading. Silver's an ideal actor for this--he has a kind of sharp New York Jewish accent that seems to fit the characters well--and it never feels inauthentic. It's just that, had I read it, or listened to it narrated by someone else, it's entirely possible my reaction could have been totally different.
I was immediately pulled into the story, which dives pretty quickly into the life-or-death tension of the McCarthy years. Both brothers, Ira and Murray, found themselves on the receiving end of the witch hunts, although with different reasons and different results. (It took me 2/3rds of the book to figure out who the "I" in the title is).
Nathan soon becomes infatuated with both men--not, it seems, because of the substance of their beliefs, but because the zealotry with which they pursue them seems to represent the ideal of manliness, at least to a wide-eyed high schooler. While Murray--the older, wiser of the two--goes into a life of teaching, his younger and tougher brother falls into a career of radio acting, playing the role of Abraham Lincoln on a popular show, "The Free and the Brave."
Unbeknownst to his radio audience--but certainly, known to his producers and friends--Ira Ringwald is an ardent leftist, his belief in the proletariat and the failures of capitalism having been instilled in him as a young service member and steel worker. Is he actually a member of the Communist Party? And if so, does that mean he really is in cahoots with the U.S.S.R., and working to bring down America? I'll let you find that out.
Certainly, he's not a very likable person. He's one of those person who's incapable of self-reflection, self-depreciation, or even taking a small break and having a laugh if it'll distract him from the cause. At one point, he throws a dish at his African-American servant for having the temerity to vote for Harry Truman. (Instead of Henry Wallace). Despite his rough edges, he manages to get married to a glamorous Hollywood radio actress, although his personal life is, to him, merely a side issue to the purpose of his life. And she may have an emotional agenda all of her own.
All of this makes for an interesting character study, a searing personal drama, and a fascinating story which borders on being a political/historical thriller. We know things aren't going to turn out well, but we don't exactly know how, and the tension as the dominoes slowly fall builds considerably. Mixing historical fact with fiction, Roth provides an interesting glimpse into the time when ordinary people and celebrities alike found that their personal beliefs could be put on trial.
If it's a bit too talky--with characters going off on philosophical tangents in a way that real people never do--well, that's just a consequence of the way this book was structured.
This is the first Philip Roth book I've read, but it's left my intrigued to read more....more
Neal Adams is considered to be one of the most important Godfathers of Batman....right up there with Frank Miller and Alan Moore, and even its creatorNeal Adams is considered to be one of the most important Godfathers of Batman....right up there with Frank Miller and Alan Moore, and even its creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Adams, mainly as an illustrator, came along as Batman was hugely popular, but mostly as a campy, outlandish hero--he helped bring him back to his noir "roots." (Always been curious where exactly these "roots" are.)
This collection is from the late sixties, as comics where transitioning out of the Silver Age, with its sci-fi ridiculousness, and into the heavier Bronze Age. The thing is, it's kind of stuck in between the ages. So what we get is a grim detective who broods over crime scenes while saying stuff like "Here's my Sunday punch!" And noir-type characters--crooked labor bosses, shady reporters, corrupt pols, etc.--end up fighting aliens and sea Gods.
So the tonal disconnect is interesting, for sure. But it was a bit of a barrier for me to fully enjoying this. It's about halfway in between a story I really get into, and a cultural artifact I appreciate for its importance. The stories aren't bad--they're a bit more elaborate than the classic one-shots, and I liked the one that played around with the Citizen Kane story, and another where Wayne becomes a senator. But the writers--not Adams, who's only an illustrator here--aren't exactly Miller, Moore or Morrison.
What's really great here is the art. Adams' figures really emote...he captures a lot of subtle emotion in the Caped Crusader. In one extraordinary panel, he even gets away with Batman crying. You can really see the beginning of of the modern age of graphic novels here---non-linear panels, use of tone, intense facial expressions, etc.
I struggled over whether to give this four stars, but I just can't justify it. But serious Batfans should definitely check this out....more