You'd be hard pressed to hear me praise anything about the early portion (or just about any portion other than this one) of Gerry Conway's run on The...moreYou'd be hard pressed to hear me praise anything about the early portion (or just about any portion other than this one) of Gerry Conway's run on The Amazing Spider-Man. I don't know that he disliked Spidey, but I do think that he liked humiliating him a bit more than his fellow writers. In one climactic battle, Conway had Spider-Man taken out by the evil, powerful and menacing... Aunt May? ...What? Go ahead, reread that sentence. It's true. Aunt May knocked out Spider-Man by hitting him in the head with a vase. That means, of course, that at that point, May had done what Sandman, Mysterio, Kraven, and Molten Man had all failed to do. Take out Spider-Man.
Combine that with that whole Doc Ock courting Aunt May storyline, not to mention starting this rolling snowball of hell, and you can see why Conway isn't my favorite writer. But I have to admit, he handled these issues like a pro. He does just about everything right and exceptionally well, which makes me wonder about the rest of his run, but anyway...
There are a lot of obvious things in this comic that make it great. You've got the tragic story of the death of a loved one, the climactic "final" battle between two mortal enemies, and a tale that runs the emotional gauntlet. But there are a lot of less obvious things that make this comic a great one. Take for example, this panel from issue #121:
This panel here does a fantastic job of conveying Peter's emotional state in each aspect of it's presentation. Firstly, there's the dialogue. We have Spidey stubbornly refusing to believe that Gwen is dead, saying to himself that he saved her, trying to convince himself that he didn't fail to protect her. Then we have the lettering. The words "I saved you..." are small and thin, conveying a whisper or perhaps a whimper that reflects the feelings Peter must be experiencing. Finally, the art does a fantastic job of conveying just how small and unworthy Peter must feel. The angle is high, so that we're looking down on him, making him more pitiable, and the focal point of the panel, Spider-Man and Gwen, is far away from us, showing them as two small figures separated from the world and alone. This panel alone is a masterpiece. Bravo.
This is the first story in Amazing Spider-Man that shows how distraught death can make us. We have the obvious example of Peter ballistically attacking Norman Osborn, The Green Goblin. But there are countless other examples as well. For instance, we have Peter trying to comfort Gwen after her death, telling her that everything will be ok and that he won't let anyone hurt her anymore, perhaps still not allowing himself to believe that she's really dead. There's also the case of him physically lashing out at a cop in anger, and Peter abandoning his friend Harry when he was in need because of that aforementioned anger, things we would never associate with Peter under normal circumstances. This issue's a serious look at what death, guilt, and even responsibility can do to even the nicest of people.
This story also marks a turning point for someone who would go on to be arguably the most important woman in Peter's life: Mary Jane. When Peter is emotionally crippled by the event, MJ attempts to comfort him only to have Peter unfairly lash out at her. Despite how hurt she must have been by his comments, she knows Peter is distraught and displays for the very first time the maturity, understanding, and patience that would later become mainstays of her character.
This is easily one of the most heart wrenching stories I've read in comics. It's easily one of, if not the, greatest Spider-Man story and it should easily find itself among the greatest comic book stories of all time (in my humble opinion, of course). It's perfect in almost every way and is a great example of the emotional impact that comic books can have on those who read them. A beautiful must read for any comic fan, be they webhead or otherwise.(less)
The quintessential adventure story! It has everything a good yarn needs:
Fencing. (Well, almost.) Fighting. (The threat of) Torture. Poison. True Love. Hate...moreThe quintessential adventure story! It has everything a good yarn needs:
Fencing. (Well, almost.) Fighting. (The threat of) Torture. Poison. True Love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Good men. Bad men. Beautifulest ladies. (Maybe. We never get a description of Mrs. Hawkins. She could be a looker.) Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. (Mostly just sea lions, actually.) Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.
Ok, so maybe not everything. Clearly the adventure genre has gone through some refinements (or at the very least, changes) in the 90 years between Stevenson's exciting story and William Goldman's masterpeice The Princess Bride, but Treasure Island is still all kinds of fun and it's aged remarkably well for a novel that's well over 100 years old. It's fast paced, well told, and has a fascinating villain. A rollicking good time even though it drags a bit when Hawkins is occupying center stage by himself without the colorful cast that really makes the journey enjoyable. Treasure Island is definitely worth a read through or two (or three).(less)
Scalzi is a good world builder. Not in the whole "creates a fictional world with a history, culture and peoples" kind of way (though he does good ther...moreScalzi is a good world builder. Not in the whole "creates a fictional world with a history, culture and peoples" kind of way (though he does good there too), but he's a good world builder in that he actually builds worlds in his stories and makes that process entertaining to read about. The whole point of at least two of his books is building a world, or, at least, certain aspects of it. The Last Colony focused on general colonization, and Fuzzy Nation focuses on the legal side of things. Scalzi gives his idea of the establishment of a race's sovereignty using a bunch of tiny little furballs, complete with absurdly cute shenanigans on the part of the "Fuzzys" and plenty of courtroom drama. On paper, it's not something that sounds very appealing to me and I probably would have passed on Fuzzy Nation, despite my affinity for Scalzi's works, if the publisher hadn't (wisely) refrained from mentioning how this book is largely Law & Order with Ewoks. Scalzi somehow makes it work though.
The main thing that probably saves what's not a very good premise, is that the Fuzzys are not mindlessly cute. They have substance and aren't just there to "smile for the camera", so to speak. Not only are they a central plot element, but they actually develop throughout the story. Not hugely, mind you, but enough that it's clear that they aren't there simply to be cute. Had that not been the case, my feelings on the book probably would have been much different.
In addition to the Fuzzys, a group of lawyers, doctors, businessmen and a dog make up the rest of the cast. Jack Halloway, one of the lawyers, takes center stage and is a fun and interesting main character. A not so traditional hero, Jack possesses shades of a more virtuous version of Long John Silver. He's ultimately a good guy (arguably), but he's always looking for the most advantagious position for himself. It's an interesting point of view for the story to be told and his supporting cast compliments him well enough, though they lack a bit dimensionally.
Story-wise, Fuzzy Nation is a reboot (so we've finally reached the point where even books are doing this?) of H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy. It's not a book I've read, so how much Scalzi's version borrows/changes from it, I don't know, but he does do some interesting things with the premise either way. For instance, while this book is highly concerned with humanity, or sentience, it's not a "what is it to be human" type of story a la Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Instead, it's a "what does it take for humans to recognize humanity" kind of story. An interesting question if you ask me. I wish that it had been handled a bit more subtly, but it's clear Scalzi wanted to use the clear and upfront approach, which is fine, but the direct nature means that the overall message gets hammered home a bit too enthusiastically for my liking.
Fuzzy Nation is fun and Scalzi infuses his personal style of wit into the project to keep things from getting too hum drum. Whether or not you'll like that depends on whether or not you enjoy the sense of humor present in his other works. For those of you who've yet to read any of Scalzi's work, think about which side of the love/hate fence you fall on in regards to Joss Whedon and you'll have a good idea of what you'll think of the humor and wit here. That Fuzzy Nation is a quick read makes its few faults a bit easier to forgive since you don't have to invest a whole lot of time into it, even if you don't particularly care for the style. It's fun, cute, and surprisingly thought provoking. Scalzi fans will likely find plenty to like, and the uninitiated will likely be charmed by his wit and snappy dialogue... Or they'll want to personally destroy any writing instrument he owns. Again, the Joss Whedon principle noted above applies here.(less)
If forced to describe Karin Slaughter's "Fallen" (you know, for like a review or something), the word "haughty" would certainly be used. There's a lon...moreIf forced to describe Karin Slaughter's "Fallen" (you know, for like a review or something), the word "haughty" would certainly be used. There's a long list of things that this book thinks it's better than, and an equally large number of people that it deems beneath itself. To be fair, the book isn't haughty without some justification. It's pretty good. But it's not as good as it thinks it is.
Frequently throughout the book, mention is made of certain tropes commonly seen in stories of this type, particularly the ones on television. The tropes are called out as unrealistic and fake, and that's fine. There's nothing wrong with keeping things grounded in reality. The problem comes in the fact that while it tries to take a more realistic approach to the police procedural/detective thriller/murder mystery style and call out its more Hollywood-ish moments, it ends up creating its own ridiculous and fanciful scenes. (A gang member scores two headshots in a row on a victim? With a Tec 9? From a moving vehicle? Hah! No.) It is what it criticizes. Thus, I couldn't figure out if the book was trying to criticize the more outlandish features of this genre and was just blind to its own offenses, or if it was trying to embrace them in some weird condescending way. It was frustrating.
Even worse than that though, was the attitude towards people displayed in the book. Not even just the criminals, either. All kinds of people are insulted in this book. People who play Video Games? Check. People who bump fists with other people? Check. People with Dyslexia? (What?!) Check. All kinds. And it's not just characters in the book doing the insulting, which could be easily excusable. It's the book's narration! What's up Karin? Why so angry?
Despite all that bitterness, the book is still good. The mystery is intriguing and a very personal affair, which is something I think a lot of long running mystery series struggle with. Most of the time it's just "main character detective extraordinaire solves case #3859-B", but with this book, most of the main characters have a close personal investment in the mystery aside from it just being their job to solve it. That, plus the fluid and exciting (and sometimes highly implausible) action kept me engaged and enjoying the ride for the most part. The characters are great too. With the exception of Amanda (who gets to be very tiresome) and Sara (who I swear thinks about nothing but sex the whole freakin' book), all the characters have multiple dimensions and are very interesting.
It's a shame that such a well written book is marred by the bitter and haughty vibe it carries through its pages. The book has a lot going for it, and if you can take all the negativity, it's a great read. As for me, though, I like my books with a little less needless condescension. (less)
Battle Royale is either a good book marred by the difficulty of translation, or a bad book made even worse due to the difficulty of translation. I don...moreBattle Royale is either a good book marred by the difficulty of translation, or a bad book made even worse due to the difficulty of translation. I don't read Japanese, so I can't say for sure, but I'm confident it's the latter.
The reason for said confidence lies in the fact that even though the language used in the English version of Battle Royale is choppy, redundant and not at all what I would consider natural, these faults are forgivable, as translating is really freakin' hard. What isn't forgivable, however, are the shoddy characters, the predictable plot, and the repetitive story structure. Even if the translation was absolutely perfect, It wouldn't fix any of those problems.
Let's start with characters. Shuya, our main protagonist, is a perfect example of the "Mary Sue". The book constantly talks about how good he is at everything. If there's a hobby or activity mentioned in the book, expect the narrator to comment on how good Shuya is at it, even if he isn't in the current scene. His only faults are a lack of comprehension of complex politics and an inability to strategically murder and kill his fellow classmates. He is not what you would call multidimensional. Other main characters include Noriko, whose main purpose is to create tension because she's always injured or weak, Shogo, the strangely intelligent and philosophical 15/16 year old, and Shinji, a.k.a. Shuya 2.0. (To be fair, Shinji does get a good character moment that brings him out of Mary Sue territory, but it's quickly forgotten because the book realizes that nothing has exploded, been shot at, or stabbed in the face for two whole paragraphs).
Admirably, the book does try to make you care about all the different kids sent off to an island to kill each other. But even this is marred by the predictability of the story. It's pretty clear from the outset who is going to be surviving until the end, and after the first time attention is diverted from them to focus on and detail the backstory of another character, only to have them die at the end of the chapter, it gets easy to view those breaks as wastes of time as most of them end the same way. What little tension there is in the book comes not from if a character is going to die, but how they will. But if you like that kind of thing, you may like this book, but just be prepared to reread all those death scenes over and over again...
Imagine you're watching a movie on TV with a friend and that during every commercial break, that friend summarizes everything you just saw happen in the movie. That's unnecessary, right? Well, Battle Royale doesn't think so. Expect characters to frequently re-describe almost every single significant event in the chapter immediately proceeding said event. Granted, this makes sense in the book. Characters who didn't experience certain events would need to be brought up to speed by those who did, and it only makes sense for them to wonder about events that already happened, but holy crap, do I really need to read about it in detail every time? I was there. I read it all happen. I don't need it explained to me again. Move on already!
If that repetition doesn't get you, the incessant use of the word "enemy" and the theme of "trust" constantly being hammered into your skull probably will.
Also, this isn't related to any specific complaint, but take a look at this.
"...The loud students at the front who were sitting around their teacher Mr. Hayashida were girls: Yukie Utsumi (Female Student No. 2), the class representative who looked good with braided hair; Haruka Tanizawa (Female Student No. 12), her volleyball teammate who was exceptionally tall; Izumi Kanai (Female Student No. 5), the preppy whose father was a town representative; Satomi Noda (Female Student No. 17), the model student who wore wire-rimmed glasses which suited her calm, intelligent face; and Chisato Matsui (Female Student No. 19), who was always quiet and withdrawn..."
Ha! Right. Like I'm going to remember any of that.
(Note: This is only a partial quote. The full info dump, consisting of 5 paragraphs, is too long to put here and much, much worse.):
I'm pretty shocked that this book is so well received by so many people. I can understand liking the action in it, but even that is decent at best and not nearly enough to carry the novel (the fault here may lie with the translation though, as the description of the scenes is generally pretty clumsy and not very fluid). Since everyone and their brother seems to like this book though, go ahead and read it. You may even enjoy it. Just don't say I didn't warn you if you don't.(less)