A woman captured by an avaricious lord. A metamorphosis into a moth. A union with Napoleon. A cat born from a woman. A betrayal. A death. Spirit trave...moreA woman captured by an avaricious lord. A metamorphosis into a moth. A union with Napoleon. A cat born from a woman. A betrayal. A death. Spirit travelling.
This is basically the story of Audrey Niffenegger's picture story The Adventuress. Fascinating artwork strung together with single sentences or labels to construct something of a mystical fairy tale.
The story is second after the art as Niffenegger says in the afterword. She created the pictures as they came to her in a dream-like state and only when they were completed did she try to sequence them into the story of "The Adventuress".
The book design and pictures are superb with high quality paper used to bring out the best of Niffenegger's art. Given that the words used as minimal at best, this is a very quick read but then it was created not to be read but really looked at. Each picture has detail and atmosphere to capture your attention for several minutes at least.
It's an interesting book of art similar in style to Niffenegger's other book "The Three Incestuous Sisters" and has some excellent pictures. The story, while meandering, is in the best of fairy tales compelling and magical in equal turns. A good, well produced book but perhaps not for everyone given it's brevity in prose. (less)
I love the Darwyn Cooke comic book adaptations of the Parker novels but have never read one in the original prose-only format. Slayground jumped out a...moreI love the Darwyn Cooke comic book adaptations of the Parker novels but have never read one in the original prose-only format. Slayground jumped out at me as the place to start partly because that’s the next one Cooke’s adapting and I want to see the difference between the original and the adaptation, but also because of the delicious setup.
Parker is a master thief who, alongside two accomplices, one of them his longtime partner Grofield, knocks over an armored car and makes off with $73k. But things go pear-shaped as the unreliable driver crashes the getaway car. Parker is the only one conscious in the wreck so he grabs the loot and runs for cover - in a nearby amusement park! Except some gangsters and crooked cops are nearby doing a deal and see the suspicious figure of Parker toss a satchel over the fence and jump in after it just as dispatch alerts the cops to a recent and nearby robbery. Trapped inside the amusement park (which is shut for the winter), Parker must lay out traps in order to survive from the cops and gangsters preparing to storm the park, kill him, and take his money. Game on!
It’s a great setup, right? Buuuuuuut... I didn’t love the book like I thought I would. Westlake is a fine writer - his prose is lean, his dialogue is crisp, and he writes at a decent clip. No wonder Elmore Leonard found him such an inspiration, Leonard’s style is clearly influenced by this earlier master crime writer. But nothing really happens in the first half of the book. Sure, we get the burst of action that comes with the initial robbery but once Parker’s in the fairground? The cops/gangsters stand around waiting for their group to gather while Parker wanders about discovering his surroundings, making plans, setting traps - all fine, but boy, is it boring to read!
Once the action does start I did notice a difference between Westlake and Cooke immediately - whereas with Cooke, who can convey action quickly and effectively with his art, Westlake must use his words to set the scene, and the description, of which there are paragraphs and paragraphs for a single scene, overwhelms the action, slowing it down immensely to become almost inaction. Couple that with the character of Parker who barely says two words at the best of times, and you’ve got a near dialogue-silent novel with Westlake’s descriptive writing carrying the entire book.
The most disappointing thing about my first Richard Stark Parker novel was that I knew what the story was as soon as I read the synopsis - and after I put the book down I realised Stark/Westlake hadn’t surprised me once. The last prose novel I read before this was The Believers by Zoe Heller and if I were to explain the plot of that book - family drama where its discovered the patriarch has a secret second family - and you read it, you would see how reductive and misleading the synopsis actually is. With Slayground, it is exactly what the synopsis says it is, and nothing more. This is the story of a stoic master thief, surrounded by danger, who lays traps in an amusement park to escape from that danger - and that’s what you get with the book. Fair enough, The Believers is literary fiction and Slayground is genre fiction, a crime thriller, but I think it’s clear that Westlake’s prose is good enough to surpass the genre label and be considered literary. In this way he joins fellow crime writers Chandler, Cain, McCoy, Higgins, and Leonard, who’ve escaped the tags of their pulpy roots to become revered as literary masters in their own right. But while there is a certain charm to the simplicity of a story like this, delivering exactly what it says on the tin, I found it a bit unexciting in its predictability. Although I did like that Parker was vulnerable in this book - the Cooke adaptations have shown him as impossibly flawless in his approach to heists and his encounters with other crooks. Here, he is cowed and weak, albeit temporarily.
Maybe Slayground wasn’t the best Parker novel to start with? Although I wasn’t put off from reading any more Parker novels in the future, I wasn’t impressed enough to reach for another one immediately after. (less)
Set in 2039 (100 years after Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27 in 1939), Gotham has become a police state and the overbearing authorities know ev...moreSet in 2039 (100 years after Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27 in 1939), Gotham has become a police state and the overbearing authorities know everything about everyone. A cop is killed and Batman is suspected as he was at the scene - an obvious frame job. It’s also the first appearance he has made in public for years and people have forgotten his existence - is the mythological Batman real? He is nonetheless hunted by psychic cops, robot dogs, and other futuristic crime-fighting tools. In the course of finding the real killer, Batman discovers that there’s a doomsday weapon being sold on the black market by the (clearly corrupt) cops in charge. Will he stop them in time...?
Year 100 is a very uneven book that I really wanted to like. There’s the dystopian future angle, and the attention-grabbing title adding to the mystery of whether Batman is still Bruce Wayne (it couldn’t be - could it?), both of which I liked, but while this is an initially exciting story, as it goes on Paul Pope keeps readers at a distance from the characters and this world by revealing very little information about them.
How did things get to this point - Gotham as a police state? What event triggered such an extreme reaction? If this is Bruce Wayne as Batman, how is that possible - Wayne would be somewhere around 120-150 years old, so who is Batman? What happened to his fortune? What of the rogues like the Joker? What happened to the Justice League? We’re never told the answers to any of these questions.
So it’s quite a limited view of the future. On the one hand that’s great because we don’t need someone there literally explaining the history of this Gotham, but on the other hand a hint as to the origins of this dystopian future would’ve been appreciated for a more satisfactory reading experience. As such, Pope’s narrative deftness makes the book feel that much easier to forget and become less involved with because we’re never given the chance to inhabit this world.
Also, I found that the plot ended up becoming more of a hindrance than an enjoyable story. At first it’s a fast-paced, exciting story of Batman on the run and then after about 100 pages, Pope decides to explain the plot by having the reader follow Batman figure out what’s going on, step by tedious step. It’s an overlong sequence where for nearly 40 interminable pages Batman sits in a room and talks with Robin and Oracle. Exposition, exposition, exposition - it really puts the brakes on the story while also being really boring to read. I get that the reader needed to be caught up to the point of the book, but what a clunky way of doing it.
Some people have complained about Pope’s art but I loved it. It’s different, it’s fluid (which is an excellent quality to have when it comes to the action), and he somehow manages to make machinery feel organic! The Batmobile in this book is an awesome tricked-out motorcycle that, when not being used, hangs in such a way (dripping oil like sweat) as to look like a giant sleeping bat - it’s a really cool effect. Pope also has Batman live up to his name, making him look animalistic in fight scenes, wearing sharp false teeth, and also on the cover where he looks almost rodent-like perched atop a pair of chimneys. I also liked that his mask is similar to the original Bob Kane design while also looking like something a luchadore would wear, and the fact that the cops of the future look like hockey players with colourful uniforms instead of boring black kevlar.
I would’ve liked Pope to have at least hinted at Batman’s identity, but I’m fine that he didn’t. I get that it’s not so much about the identity behind the mask as the mask itself as a symbol of justice and hope for the disenfranchised and that it doesn’t matter who wears the cowl, just that someone wears it and exemplifies the ideals of Batman. The book is basically about Batman fighting the Man in a futuristic setting - dystopian future meets Hong Kong action movie - and that’s fine as far as it goes.
I did find the ending a bit silly with Pope using the kind of ending that’s been used too many times - Batman tells the baddies that he knows all about their plan and then the Bad Guy says: “How did you know?” to which Batman grins and says “I didn’t but you just confirmed it for me”. Ugh. It’s that smarmy playground-ish kind of ending that doesn’t befit the World’s Greatest Detective - though it does add credence to the idea that this isn’t Bruce Wayne after all as I think Bruce would’ve figured it out himself rather than guessed.
Overall, Year 100 isn’t a great Batman book but it’s not a bad one. It has enough in it to make it worth picking up but it felt overlong by half, the ending was disappointing, and there were simply too many unanswered questions that stopped it from being a satisfactory read. It’s got some great art and is an interesting Elseworlds concept, but it’s not an essential Batman book to read.
Also included is the 18 page short Pope wrote/drew back in 1997 featuring a German Jewish Baruch Wane/Batman in 1939 Berlin, fighting against Nazi oppression in the lead up to the war’s outbreak. (less)
What if America were a Christian theocracy (Christianity - popular in America? The mind boggles!) and issues like abortion and equal rights for gays w...moreWhat if America were a Christian theocracy (Christianity - popular in America? The mind boggles!) and issues like abortion and equal rights for gays were outlawed (hmm.. is this “Elseworlds” or 21st century reality?), and there is no higher power than the Church. And the Church has killed Bruce Wayne’s parents because they were secret underground dissidents, working against Church dogma to help people – the sheer audacity of practicing Christian charity! This Church is obsessed with experimenting on people in Dr Mengele-style for some reason but Bruce is going to dress as a bat and find vengeance for his parents against the Church.
This “Elseworlds” – an alternate reality series for DC’s biggest characters – is the worst one I’ve read because it’s mind-numbingly boring. Once Bruce becomes Batman (through a series of inane contrivances not worth listing) he enters Church HQ, we see the Church’s horrible experiments on other famous DC characters – for no reason other than because that’s what bad guys do - and then Batman vows a jihad against the evil Church. The end! There’s no point in putting Batman in a Christianist dystopia when it’s definitely not entertaining and the writer doesn’t have anything to say other than, duuuh, bad people manipulate others through religion. Holy Terror, Batman, this book sucks!(less)
Wow, where do I start? The short review of this book is: Birthright is the ONLY Superman origin book you need to read, it’s the book Mark Waid was bor...moreWow, where do I start? The short review of this book is: Birthright is the ONLY Superman origin book you need to read, it’s the book Mark Waid was born to write, and it is a true literary masterpiece.
That’s the short version. The longer version that will now follow will read like a firebrand preacher babbling on about the Saviour, etc. because reading this book and being an atheist, I had the same reaction and feelings that I imagine religious people do when they hear stories about Jesus or whoever their deity of choice is - that uplifting inspiration that inexplicably chokes you up and makes your heart beat stronger. Yeah, it’s Superman I’m talking about here guys, which might make some of you roll your eyes but he’s more real to me than any world religious figure.
I don’t want to scare any readers off though - if you’re not a devoted Superman fan, this book is hugely accessible and you’re going to have no trouble reading it. Hell, it’s basically written so that anyone wanting to read a Superman book can pick it up without knowing a damn thing about the guy and still getting a lot out of it! But if you love Superman - LOVE Superman - then this book will take pride of place on your bookshelves, to be taken down many times over the years and read again and again.
Basically this is the Superman story we all know - the exodus from Krypton, landing in Kansas where the alien baby is adopted by childless farming couple Jonathan and Martha Kent, becoming Clark, realising his powers, moving to Metropolis, and becoming Superman. It’s the classic origin - but it goes deeper than that. Waid doesn’t simply go through the familiar motions with this character but explains WHY Kal/Clark becomes Superman.
If you’re reading this after watching Man of Steel, there’s a lot here that’ll seem familiar to you - Jonathan telling Clark to hide his powers, that he’ll scare people if they know who he really is. There’s even some lines here that were used in the film like “you’re the answer to ‘are we alone in the universe?’”. However, unlike Man of Steel, Superman isn’t a murderous lunatic flinging his enemies into crowded city blocks with no thought to human life.
Clark leaves high school and goes travelling from then on, spending the next few years traversing the globe, slowly earning credits for his degree in journalism while filing reports wherever he goes. He winds up in an African country where he’s reporting on a tribe that is looking for equal representation in the government run by another tribe, and without getting into particulars, learns why he must put his all of his natural abilities to use, that he can no longer hide, and that one man can make a difference - all this from an ordinary man fighting an insurmountable system. It’s a breathtaking and emotional opening to the book that’s perfectly suited to the story.
From there we see the persona of Clark being developed to hide Kal’s true identity as Superman, we see a beautiful representation of Clark and Jonathan’s relationship in a highly charged emotional scene, Lois is superbly realised and has some fantastic zingers, Superman’s introduction in Metropolis is handled perfectly while Lex Luthor also takes a turn in the spotlight as Waid shows us why Lex became the way he did. He also writes the tragic friendship between Clark and Lex brilliantly. Great Caesar’s Ghost, there’s a lot to talk about! So I’ll stop there because otherwise this’ll go on forever, and just say this:
Reading Superman: Birthright doesn’t just familiarise you with the talking points of Superman’s origins - Waid writes the character in such a way that you understand him totally. You know why he thinks the way he does, you know why he must be Superman, why he does what he does. It’s an origin story that goes beyond treading familiar territory and revitalises the character for a new generation while paying homage to the many creators, writers and artists that worked on the character, going right back to the teenagers who created the Man of Tomorrow, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. This is the old Superman and the new Superman in one flawless representation.
Leinil Yu’s art is great as always, Waid’s writing is perfect - there’s no other word for it, he’s leaving nothing in the tank on this one; Birthright, like I said at the start, is a masterpiece. It’s a truly brilliant comic with no mis-steps, a real emotional core, and a deep and profound understanding and respect of the character that is rarely seen with Superman.
Only 1 review! Poor bloke, here's my two cents. I read this doozy over a year ago but I still remember enjoying it immensely. The story: twenty someth...moreOnly 1 review! Poor bloke, here's my two cents. I read this doozy over a year ago but I still remember enjoying it immensely. The story: twenty something gets a liberal arts uni degree and struggles to find work though from no lack of effort. Sound familiar? Certainly does to me! Levison (a Scot living in America) does what he can to stay afloat and find something fulfilling and pays well.
Like I said, it's been a year but there was one unforgettable sequence where he gets a job aboard a fishing ship for (what he thinks) will be $3000 for 2 weeks work (turns out it was dependent on how much fish they catch and they didn't catch many. Needless to say it was far less than £3k). His job is to sit in a hold with a shovel and wait for a ton of fish to drop down atop him. He then shovels the fish down a chute but the effort numbs his arms and he resorts sitting on a pile near the chute to using his legs. There's a powerful moment near the end of his shift where his body is so battered and numb that he kicks the last few hundred of fish down the chute while screaming at the sky that's raining down on him.
Besides this moment, the entire book (short at about 200 pages) is about genuinely funny moments in his everyman career. Levison comes across as very likeable and very articulate, and the book flies by. I've had jobs in America and Japan as well as the UK where I'm now living and wanted to write a book like this. Having read Levison's I can say his experiences are far more entertaining and funny.
I checked out his other two books, both novels, and loved them. "Since the Layoffs" is similar in theme to "Manifesto" as it details an unemployed chap in a dying town who turns to a career as a hitman, while "Dog Eats Dog" continues the crime theme with great success. I urge you to check this writer out. He's awfully underrated and unheard of and it's unfair that such a talent goes unnoticed while millions of dunderheads wait salivating for Dan Brown's next load of tripe (are the made up lies in Brown's novel true? Tony Robinson sets out to investigate). I also recommend Hunger by Knut Hamsun if you enjoyed this book. (less)