I started picking up the Spider-Woman series that started after Secret Wars (also done by Hopeless and Rodriguez), enjoyed it, saw this predecessor voI started picking up the Spider-Woman series that started after Secret Wars (also done by Hopeless and Rodriguez), enjoyed it, saw this predecessor volume in the comic book store, and picked it up.
The new duds refer to a new costume for Spider-Woman which, thankfully, turns away from the cheesecake with which I had previously associated her. Instead, we get a remake like the Darwyn Cooke Catwoman and the recent Batgirl: sensible clothing for crime fighting that makes Jessica Drew look attractive, but not salacious. Moreover, Rodriguez does great complex art --- beautiful fight scenes and fun two page spreads (like one that shows in detail how Spider-Women escapes a trap).
I like Hopeless's take on the character. (You know you're telling street level stories when you bring in Ben Urich of the Daily Bugle as support.) And I like Hopeless's dialogue; he gets a good mixture of funny and smart wryness. I did wish that the plots flowed a little better. In both stories in the collection we get interesting ideas (especially in the first one where we explore supervillain family dynamics), but the resolutions come far too quickly. Given the nice complexities of the art and dialogue, I wanted more space for everything to develop. Still, I've added this title to my pull list and am looking forward to more....more
Very pleased with how this series ended. While I'm not sure Brubaker tied up all the plot points, I really appreciated that the story resolved so muchVery pleased with how this series ended. While I'm not sure Brubaker tied up all the plot points, I really appreciated that the story resolved so much more noir than I expected....more
This series continues to frustrate me. The first three issues collected here tell a story of Johann, B.P.R.D.'s ectoplasmic member, as he grapples witThis series continues to frustrate me. The first three issues collected here tell a story of Johann, B.P.R.D.'s ectoplasmic member, as he grapples with his lack of mortality while leading men to their deaths. There is beautiful art from Peter Snejbjerg who somehow combines both a cartoony feel (great for Johann's flexible and flowing containment suits) and frightening depictions of horror. (It's not just Snejbjerg's monsters --- it's his fascinating depiction of the humans who actually support the megamonsters now terrorizing the earth.) It's 4 star work, even if it continues the series trend on character focus over plot advancement.
The last two issues collected involve a character called Sledgehammer, a robotic husk who was apparently connected to B.R.P.D. during the 1940's. There's a ton of backstory (probably repeating material from the wartime B.R.P.D. comics that I don't read), and it's clunky and confusing with way too many names and unclear motivations. At the end, we do have a major change for Johann and what appears to be a big plot point, but I felt the whole thing was sketchy and unconvincing.
I'm guessing my big problem with the series as it stand now is the rotating stable of artists, leading to short arcs focused on one or two characters and leaving plot points from issues ago hanging around. There's not a strong sense of progression, and I miss Guy Davis's tenure on the book more and more....more
I was a huge, huge fan of the movie Carol, so I really wanted to read the source material. At the start, I wasn't a big fan, but as the book went on,I was a huge, huge fan of the movie Carol, so I really wanted to read the source material. At the start, I wasn't a big fan, but as the book went on, I liked it more and more and absolutely loved the ending.
There's a lot of waxing rhapsodic about the long lingering silent looks in the movie. Given how lesbian relationships were viewed in the 1950's, it makes sense that the scenes deliver more information through glances and body language than overt language. But that's true of the book as well, and for a different reason. Our protagonist, Therese, often can't speak (at least not openly) because of her youth. Much more than in the movie, the book captures the confusion and naiveté of a first love. Therese cannot use words because everything --- the passion, the sense of betrayal, the discovery of herself --- is overwhelming. Highsmith regularly uses language of being weighed down or oppressed to describe Therese's sensations, and there's often a sense of disorientation in scenes (especially in conversations with Abby, Carol's friend and ex-lover) as Therese cannot even find a way to address what is going on.
The result is a much more inward book than the movie, but one that fills in the gaps nicely if you've seen the film first. After my wife and I saw it, we kept on discussing motivations of the characters (what did Therese think had happened near the end?). The book answers all those questions and provides so much more texture and nuance to Therese and her growth. It's as if the framework of the film (the beams and walls and such) is completed by the rooms and decorations of the book....more
If I'm a sucker for any type of narrative, it's one where the climax consists of the protagonist having an epiphany, a moment of clarity, an instant oIf I'm a sucker for any type of narrative, it's one where the climax consists of the protagonist having an epiphany, a moment of clarity, an instant of transcendence, or an insight into purpose. I call these tales apotheosis stories, and the pinnacle (for me) is Levin's story in Anna Karenina. Basically, I love anything that ends with the lightbulb coming on or the road to Damascus.
A Prayer for Owen Meany is two apotheosis stories - one with Owen Meany (who is clearly destined for something, but it's not clear what) and one with his best friend Johnny Wheelwright (whose moment of insight is understanding what Owen is destined for). Unlike the other Irving novels I've read, the structure here is a puzzle. Everything finally leads to the particulars of Owen's purpose, but it's a circuitous read (although still engrossing).
I'm writing this after my second read through the novel, so I remembered many of the plot details, but I had forgotten the heavy focus on religion and faith. (The term apotheosis --- literally "from God" --- is very apropos.) Irving wants to explore what it means to be called (even if you don't know what you're called to), how miracles may or may not impact your faith, and when doubt is a legitimate part of a religious life. As a result, this is my favorite Irving novel, and it hits me pretty hard. As someone who craves a sense of purpose, it is both frightening and beautiful to see how Owen Meany handles the sureness of his destiny....more
I'll start with the not-so-good stuff. In my eyes, a little bit of Mankoff goes a long way. (I'm talking specifically about his writing, not his cartoI'll start with the not-so-good stuff. In my eyes, a little bit of Mankoff goes a long way. (I'm talking specifically about his writing, not his cartooning, which I find top-notch.) It's not surprising that someone who takes Jerry Lewis as a role model might be a bit grating. Mankoff loves the verbal gag, but the book goes a bit too far with it. For those reasons, I wasn't a big fan of the first part of the book which covered Mankoff's early years.
However, besides the biography there's some real gold here. Mankoff loves to explore what makes a New Yorker cartoon and cartoonist. Of course, there's a lot of cartoons that focus on and skewer the upper class readership of the magazine, but Mankoff carefully points out how no one style or content defines a New Yorker cartoon. (Compare the stereotype of the cocktail party cartoon to the surreal works of Roz Chast and James Thurber .) My favorite part was Mankoff and four other cartoonists who broke into the magazine in the 70's describing their first sale. After all five stories, Mankoff shows you the cartoons again so you can see the range of ideas and artwork. There's other great stuff as well --- a description of how each issue's cartoons are picked, an exposition of and reaction to the Seinfeld episode where Elaine complains about a cartoon, and a guide to winning the cartoon caption contest.
It's a short read (because you have so many cartoons and other images among the words), but well worth it if you like the New Yorker....more
That Hideous Strength is unique among Lewis’s work (as far as I know) for being set within contemporary times. It is post-WWII Britain, and almost allThat Hideous Strength is unique among Lewis’s work (as far as I know) for being set within contemporary times. It is post-WWII Britain, and almost all the action takes place near the temporarily picturesque town of Edgestow. As a result, I find it easier to see Lewis’s philosophy contrasted with modern thought in this book than in any other of his stories.
I see Lewis emphasizing both the rational and the prerational in his writing. The rational (for example, the discourses in Mere Christianity) follows the tradition of classical and medieval thinkers --- truth, God, and eternal verities exist and careful reasoning will help you to discover them. The prerational (for example, Narnia) calls back to times of myth and often shuns intellectualism for a simpler understanding of the world. (Note the calls to Atlantean mysticism in That Hideous Strength.)
What happens in this novel is that both those emphases (the rational and the prerational) clash against twentieth century modernity. The prerational, of course, is right out the window. There is no space in this setting for fantasy (or, as Lewis subtitles the work, “a modern fairy tale”). But the rational is under attack as well. The human villains of the piece are primarily academics (almost exclusively from the “soft” sciences) who deny the existence of objective reality and focus instead on the “scientific” advancement of society. That advancement involves eugenics , propaganda, and the increasing seperation of the mental from the biological.
Lewis’s heroes, on the other hand, celebrate the normal (often capitalized in the book), the common man and woman, and the preciousness of immediate physical experience. If you want to see Lewis proclaim a romantic view of Nature and the working class Briton, this is your work. And, of course, that romanticism lifts up both the prerational (because Nature in this novel is alive in ways we can’t even fully comprehend) and the rational (because the disciplined accessible thought of the common person --- not overwrought intellectualism --- leads to salvation).
On the spiritual side, this is a compelling tale of humility. Both of our protagonists (Mark and Jane Studdock) go through conversion experiences, but neither of the experiences are the heart-rending struggles of the martyr. Instead, each requires the smallest acquiescence and is then followed by the work of the divine. Lewis does not leave out experiences of doubt, fear, and assailment, but he focuses less on the exertions of the Studdocks and more on what the divine works in them. If you are looking for a grown up version of Eustace’s conversion in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, you find it here.
There are problems, however. First and foremost is Lewis’s views on holy wedlock (note that this novel predates his own marriage). There’s a lot here on submission, especially on Jane’s part, that reads as doctrinaire. Second, it’s not a particularly flattering view of women. Many of the heroes in the book take a back seat to the actions of the supernatural, but while the men complain about the inactivity, the women usually don’t. It’s sadly not like the Narnia stories where the female characters often lead the way, at least in terms of belief.
The epilogue of the book is literally anticlimatic, in that its exposition undercuts the significance of the climax (i.e., the victory just won will soon be challenged). And the climax is one of the bloodiest pieces of writing Lewis ever wrote, so much so that the epilogue has to deal with the question of whether deaths were warranted.
Still, of all Lewis’s fiction aimed at adults, this is my favorite. Unlike the earlier works of the “space trilogy”, I love the mixing of the contemporary and the fantasy. Lewis’s philosophy is clearly outlined, and his celebration of the prerational hits heights here that I see nowhere else. ...more
A day or two later, and I am still mulling over this work. On the one hand, it's a standard private investigator story with the usual unorthodox protaA day or two later, and I am still mulling over this work. On the one hand, it's a standard private investigator story with the usual unorthodox protagonist, a femme fatale, and a mystery that leads to much more that anyone expected. On the other hand, it's set in a future Los Angeles where everyone takes on secret identities (or "nyms") due to privacy fears related to the internet bursting open decades earlier and revealing everyone's secrets.
It's that setting that makes the work. Martin takes the concept of everyone having a secret identity and runs wild with it. You have crowd scenes that contain everything from people with simple domino masks to full-body alien outfits. It helps as well that Martin uses the strange page size (is it a 16:9 ratio like a flat screen TV?) to full effect, mixing in insert panels, full page closeups and action scenes, and many dynamic changes in perspective. It's a wholly consistent and provocative piece of art --- bright and futuristic, while still providing the touches of noir you need for the genre.
The story, however, left me on the fence. I loved all the scenes, but sometimes had trouble putting all the pieces together (possibly because I never quite bought how society would change the way Vaughan is depicting). In many ways, the graphic novel works better as an allegory on our current views of privacy than as a work of science fiction. None the less, I have to give props to world building where the press, and not the police, carry out the law. ("I'm fourth estate. Please keep your hands where I can see them.") If you like Vaughan's work or are interested in some fascinatingly gonzo artwork that's still grounded, take a look at this....more
Here's my takeaway from this book: Marvel has a long history of bad management, both at the editorial and administrative levels. Sean Howe covers everHere's my takeaway from this book: Marvel has a long history of bad management, both at the editorial and administrative levels. Sean Howe covers every fiasco, from Kirby quitting and having to fight to get his art to the painful agony of the Spider-man Clone Saga. Along the way you get the rotating editor-in-chiefs of the 1970's, the micromanagement of the Jim Shooter years, and the debacles surrounding the fights for Marvel ownership (including the wonders of multiple covers for a single comic and the ridiculous acquisition of Heroes World). And by the way, there's the running problem that Marvel, almost from its infancy, can't get a decent movie made about its characters. (The history ends in 2012 with the premiere of the Avengers movie.)
A lot of this stuff I knew before, and if you read a lot of The Comic Journal or other 80's/90's comics journalism you probably know it too. What Howe does is package it all together in an engaging but somewhat depressing format. After the coverage of Marvel's early days (and the early Lee/Kirby/Ditko creations), you get a few glimpses of Marvel's heights (the writers in the early 70's, Claremont and Byrne, and finally Frank Miller on Daredevil), but most of the rest of the book covers the troubles. ...more
I loved Robinson's Box Office Poison and thought his graphic novel Tricked was excellent. However, I found his more recent work Too Cool to Be ForgottI loved Robinson's Box Office Poison and thought his graphic novel Tricked was excellent. However, I found his more recent work Too Cool to Be Forgotten to be pretty meh. This work is somewhere in the middle. It's got a great ensemble cast like Box Office Poison and an interesting cosmic montage near the end like Tricked, but with a focus on families and the choice of whether or not to have kids. We follow three male friends --- one with a kid and another on the way, one trying to have a kid but somewhat ambivalent about it, and one single guy who's frustrated that his friends are disappearing into families. True to Robinson's earlier works, you see everything from a ton of perspectives, and I love his cartoony art style matched to realistic dialogue. I found it a fun read, but I wasn't sure what to make of our main protagonist (the soon-to-be father) or his naiveté. There's not really a sense of closure (which may be the point), and a day after finishing the book I needed to check it again to see what the ending was....more
This is a book about Paul Farmer, a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases, an anthropologist who focuses on systems of public health, and a liThis is a book about Paul Farmer, a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases, an anthropologist who focuses on systems of public health, and a liberation theology advocate who tirelessly works for the poor and sick. While most of the book focuses on his work in Haiti (and his development of Zanmi Lasante, a health clinic in the impoverished remote village of Cange), we also follow Farmer to Peru, Boston, and Russia.
What made the work interesting is that Paul Farmer is inspiring, but hard to follow as a role model. Not only is he a genius (winning a MacArthur fellowship), but his commitment to the poor goes far beyond what most people would consider. For Farmer, it's important not only to help the poor, but to identify the vast social and political structures that create and perpetuate the poor. He refers to many of his supporters as "WL's" (white liberals) and notes that many WL's, though well-meaning, don't understand how much they need to sacrifice to truly change the circumstances of others.
Kidder regularly switches from covering Farmer the man to Farmer and his institution (Partners in Health), and I found the changes in perspective enthralling. Farmer clearly doesn't see efficiency as a goal or guiding principle, and Kidder covers several trips Farmer makes on foot in Haiti (trips several hours long) just to check on a few patients. What's amazing is that Farmer is able to use that same approach on a global scale and make it succeed. For example, Partners in Health bucks the status quo in Peru and treats MDR (multidrug resistant tuberculosis) even when world health organizations have basically abandoned those patients. Partners in Health dispenses with the argument that it's not cost-effective to treat MDR cases, treats them just because they need treatment, and develops a protocol that works and eventually leads to low cost treatment.
Kidder depicts a lot of his interactions with Farmer in the book, and it's useful to see the author react with bemusement, admiration, and frustration to the doctor. For me, I found the book a compelling example of how accompaniment rather than efficiency can drive social change.
Lots of good stuff here, especially considering how late in the run this is. My favorites included Sally's different philosophies (e.g., "Why are youLots of good stuff here, especially considering how late in the run this is. My favorites included Sally's different philosophies (e.g., "Why are you telling me?"), Snoopy's brothers Andy and Olaf getting lost again and again, and lots of Rerun in kindergarten. There's also a heavy emphasis on Peppermint Patty and Marcie fighting over Charlie Brown --- it's amazing how many girls get involved with him!...more
Sometimes I read a non-fiction work and I ask myself: do I react the way I do because of the events covered or due to the writing? Reading Missoula waSometimes I read a non-fiction work and I ask myself: do I react the way I do because of the events covered or due to the writing? Reading Missoula was one of those experiences for me. Krakauer is covering a number of campus sexual assaults (three covered in detail) and the aftermaths of those rapes in different parts of the criminal justice system. One case is prosecuted only within the university system, one case is covered primarily during sentencing (since the accused confessed), and the last case goes to a full trial.
It's a tough read. Krakauer does not shy away from discussing the details of the rapes, and (if you believe his evidence, which appears well documented) it is heartbreaking to see the pattern of injustice against the victims carried out within the criminal justice system. However, Krakauer's thesis is carried out just by the selection, sequencing, and presentation of facts. There are no rhetorical flourishes, very few appeals to emotion, and almost no digressions from a straight linear timeline. Much of what you read is from court testimony and (at the end of the book) press releases. When I started reading, the book was so bleak and unrelentingly transcript-like that I almost gave up about 15% of the way in. And because of the factual emphasis, when Krakauer editorializes, those passages stick out like a sore thumb.
For me, it ended up being a compelling read, but more because of the trials and some of the characters than anything I could point to in the writing. In particular, Krakauer tells the story of Kristen Pabst, who starts the book in the district attorney's office with responsibility for sexual assault cases, leaves, and then works as a defense attorney for a quarterback accused of rape. Throughout the book, Pabst is portrayed as a public official who doubts the testimony of rape victims, and her standing at the end of the book was simply shocking to me.
I learned a lot in the book about the conflict between town and gown when it comes to sexual assault, and I found much of the material on dispelling rape myths helpful. (Krakauer, with the help of researcher David Lisak, writes a lot about the many different reactions of rape victims, including the reactions that make others doubt a rape has occurred.) But I couldn't help but wonder if a more nuanced and textured approach would have made a more impactful read....more
Simply gorgeous work (in black and white) from Moon and Bá. It's a story of a Brazilian family's disintegration (and partial disappearance), focused oSimply gorgeous work (in black and white) from Moon and Bá. It's a story of a Brazilian family's disintegration (and partial disappearance), focused on twin brothers. One of the two is sent by the family back to Lebanese relatives during WWII, and the two brothers - already hating each other over a woman - take very different paths. It's one of those stories where each chapter covers the family history from a different perspective, and Moon and Bá take full advantage of the different settings to add a ton of texture. At the end, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it all, but it was one of the few graphic novels where I read and reread pages slowly --- it's that compelling to look at....more