Synopsis: Wendy Darling has heard stories of the eternally youthful Peter Pan and world of Neverland where children never g Genre: Children’s fantasy
Synopsis: Wendy Darling has heard stories of the eternally youthful Peter Pan and world of Neverland where children never grow up. And now, here he is, Peter Pan himself, and he and his band of lost boys desperately need a mother. So Wendy, along with her brothers John and Michael, fly back to Neverland, where they partake in great adventures with mermaids, redskins, and of course, the band of pirates led by the notorious Captain James Hook, Peter’s arch nemesis who wants him dead.
Review: Believe it or not, I’d never read the original J.M. Barrie story of Peter Pan before this year. I’ve seen nearly every visual incarnation of the story, including the Disney animated movie, the Mary Martin stage musical shot for television, the 2003 live action movie, and the Spielberg movie Hook, so I knew the story pretty well, but I’d never looked at the original book. And even though I thought I pretty much knew the story backwards and forwards, I was surprised by a lot of aspects of this story. This story is a gritty, uncompromising, and at times, dark portrayal of the nature of childhood.
There were two characters in particular that I found interesting and complex. The first is Captain Hook, the bad guy, always portrayed as the bad guy, but is actually considerably more complex than most portrayals give him credit for. We see this especially in the last few chapters, with agonizing over good form and bad form, which isn’t something we’d expect from a ruthless pirate. But it’s clear that Hook is a gentleman, raised in a gentlemanly way, and does actually have certain scruples, albeit not when it comes with killing and stealing. He’s ruthless, but he’s also often sympathetic, because his vendetta against Pan is almost entirely because of Pan’s cockiness, and there’s no doubt that that is as good a motivation as any.
And the second is Peter himself, and this is where I feel a lot of adaptations of this story miss the boat. Peter Pan is often portrayed as a childlike hero, cocky and bossy to be sure, but a hero nonetheless. J.M. Barrie, however, portrays him as more of a tragic figure. It isn’t so much that Peter doesn’t want to grow up . . . it’s that he’s afraid to. But unlike other people who are afraid of growing up, Peter actually has a choice. He lives in a land where he can be a child forever. Growing up is simply a matter of leaving Neverland. But he chooses to stay, and we see the type of child he becomes: cocky, to be sure, and selfish, but also sympathetic in that we see how much he is missing by remaining a child forever. He can never have a true and meaningful relationship with anyone, whether it be Tinkerbell, his lost boys, or Wendy, because they grow up or leave him, and he remains the way he has always been.
Barrie does not portray childhood as an entirely idyllic and innocent time that some would have us believe that it is. The childhood of Neverland is not always nice. People die or get hurt, but the resiliency and selfishness that is inherent in childhood keeps them from being scarred by this kind of life. Peter forgets things soon after they are no longer a part of his life. He loses track of the things around him because he is too busy thinking about himself. But if cockiness and selfishness are his faults, Barrie makes sure we see his strengths as well. He’s resilient and brave and resourceful, and he has a sense of what is fair. Though he thinks primarily of himself, he also offers Hook his hand when he falls so that they can continue fighting fairly, and when Hooks takes advantage of this, Peter’s senses are shaken and he nearly loses the battle. And again, Peter is a tragic figure, because he isn’t even aware that he is missing out on anything by being an eternal child. And yet, the one thing that he seems to consistently remember is Wendy, and later, Wendy’s descendants, sweet girls who mean something special to him.
Barrie, I think, would have us remember that neither being a child nor growing up is inherently good or bad. We see this in Captain Hook, who never realizes that the “Good form” that Peter exemplifies has everything to do with Peter being a child concerned with what is fair. We see this with Wendy, who stands on the boundary between childhood and adulthood, and who cares to much for others to be a child, but too much for herself to be an adult. And we see this in Peter, who loves life and everything it has to offer, provided that he doesn’t have to grow up to experience it. There is a lot in this book for both children and adults, and I would encourage both children and adults to read it and relearn what is an inherent part of childhood.
Synopsis: Art Spiegelman, a cartoonist, is fascinated by the story of his father, Vladek, a Polish Jew who s Genre: Graphic novel, historical fiction
Synopsis: Art Spiegelman, a cartoonist, is fascinated by the story of his father, Vladek, a Polish Jew who survived the camp at Auschwitz in World War II. In preparation for a story, Art writes and records his father’s words as he tells the story of his life in Poland, how he met his wife Anja, and how he survived those early years of the war leading to his time at Auschwitz. As Vladek’s story plays out, we also see the story of Art’s tense relationship with his father as they both try to deal with Anja’s recent suicide and the shadows of Vladek’s past that continue to haunt him.
Review: This is a strange mix of genres. It’s a World War II story about a survivalist Jew . . . told as a cartoon featuring cats and mice. And yet somehow, it works. I have yet to come across a story about World War II that I didn’t like, and this one is certainly no exception. Vladek’s story is moving and dramatic, taking us through an entire human experience, with bouts of happiness, despair, humor, fear, tension, and a whole roller coaster of other emotions as Vladek and his wife try to escape the Nazis.
Two aspects of this story, however, make it stand out. One is the obvious fact that the characters are all animals, the Jews as mice, the non-Jewish Poles as pigs, and the Nazis as cats. Normally, I don’t really go for stories that show animals behaving like humans, but it does seem to work here. The fact that they’re all animals--or at least have the heads of animals--is never really acknowledged. In fact, they talk about actual mice in a cellar at one point. There are a lot of things that could be read into this decision, but what I choose to take from it is this almost literal game of cat and mouse. I say “almost literal” because I don’t really see them as cats and mice, but as human beings putting on those symbolic personas for the sake of this story. This story is about survivalists, and so the mice try to survive the hunt and purge by the cats. It’s surprisingly effective, and probably even more than just a story depicting straight humans would be.
And the second is the frame story. Even as we watch Vladek’s World War II story unfold, we are viewing Art’s relationship with his father, which is not always an easy one. Vladek is not an easy man to like. He’s very much the stereotypical Jew (something that Art even points out at one point during the story) miserly and stubborn to a fault. He’s not easy to get along with, and yet he has such a rich life full of experiences to share that Art keeps coming back. I think many of us have had the experience of having someone from an older generation treat us like we’re about half our actual age, and that’s kind of the nature of Art’s relationship with his father. And yet the book reminds us of the importance of stories, particularly the stories of the older generations. We’re reminded a number of times that Vladek is not in the best of health, his wife has already died, and their stories are in danger of being lost to history. Art is, therefore, persevering in trying to learn as much as he can from his father’s experiences, despite how irritating the man can be sometimes.
The story does not end here, and there is a second part that I plan on finding. But this book is excellently told, and a must for history-lovers.
Synopsis: When we last left the Spiegelmans, Vladek was telling the story of how he was taken to Auschwitz, Genre: Graphic novel, historical fiction
Synopsis: When we last left the Spiegelmans, Vladek was telling the story of how he was taken to Auschwitz, and Art was struggling to understand his father. Now Mala, Vladek’s second wife, has left him, leaving Vladek despondently begging Art and his wife to live with him. Between struggling to escape the stifling environment his weakening father creates, Art records more of Vladek’s history, listening to the horrifying stories of life in the concentration camps and life after the war.
Review: In my review of part one of this story, I said that two things made this World War II story stand out. One was the drawing style, which replaces the human heads with the heads of animals, mice for the Jews and cats for the Nazis. In the first book, they never acknowledged this, and just acted as humans do, so the animal heads were more symbolic. In this part of the story, they do actually acknowledge the symbolism, but in a that recognizes that they are fully aware of the symbolic nature. Since the author is actually a character in the story, and the story is basically how he wrote this story, he is able to break the fourth wall a little more easily. There’s even one scene where we move outside the story to Art trying to draw the thing. The animal symbolism is still there, but instead of an actual animal head, Art and the other characters are wearing masks with clearly human heads behind them. So it’s less about the struggle of Vladek in Auschwitz and the struggle of Art to relate to his father than it is a struggle to tell Vladek’s story.
And the second thing was the frame story in the present day, which as I said, breaks the fourth wall more than the previous part. It’s also a little darker, much like the Auschwitz story, as Vladek grows weaker and weaker and we learn more about him. There are still issues that remain unresolved, like Vladek’s burning of Anja’s journals, and in general, how Vladek and Art deal with Anja’s death. You get the sense more in this part that this is a real retelling of something that actually happened. The frame story continues to make this is a more potent retelling, as we see Art’s struggle in how to tell the story, starting with a simple matter of which animal to make his wife and ending with a real struggle of how to do justice to this story. We also see more connections between what happened to Vladek in Auschwitz, and how it affected him and the way he lives his life in the present. The story becomes very grizzly and dark, and even with the cartoon-like drawing style, many of the images are very graphic and disturbing.
The story doesn’t really conclude. Issues are resolved, and Vladek finishes his story, but many issues are unresolved, and in many ways, the story isn’t finished. It just reaches a stopping point. And in the end, you get the feeling that Spiegelman is saying, “I don’t know whether I did justice to it or not, but I told his story and did the best I could with it.” Again, you have that message of the importance of stories in history, and listening to those stories before the older generation passes away and can no longer tell them. The marriage of the Auschwitz story with the present day frame story makes that message stronger, as does the animal symbolism. I don’t know if I’d call the story satisfying, but I don’t think it aims to satisfy. I think it’s one of those, “Here’s what happened, take your own meaning from it,” kind of stories, and it’s definitely enlightening and fascinating. I’ve never seen another graphic novel or historical story like this, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re at all interested in World War II history, in the importance and place in history in general, or just the role of storytelling.
Synopsis: In an alternate present where superheroes exist, the nuclear clock is ticking cl Genre: Sci-Fi, Superhero, alternate reality, graphic novel
Synopsis: In an alternate present where superheroes exist, the nuclear clock is ticking closer and closer to midnight. And Edward Blake, aka The Comedian, has been murdered. Even though they’ve been banned from the streets for the past eight years, the cloaked heroes of the past are now coming out of retirement, fighting against a tide of crime, hatred, and violence, and doing what they must--even the unthinkable--to help save the world.
Review: This book is . . . I mean . . . damn.
Those were my exact thoughts upon finishing this book, and throughout most of the reading of it. I don’t think I’ve come across another novel like it, graphic or otherwise. It’s intense, it’s thought-provoking . . . and it’s incredibly good. Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about the history of comic books or the superhero genre, but I’d be willing to bet that this story influenced a lot of the commentary on the superhero genre that came after. I can see the influence of this story in a lot of later stories, everything from The Incredibles to the first season of Heroes.
Broadly speaking, there seem to be two types of superheroes: the ones with powers and the ones without. Though this story has a couple of people with superhuman abilities, most of the heroes here are ordinary people who decided to don masks and costumes and go out at night and fight crime, usually because they were inspired by others. Watchmen is basically a multiple character analysis of these people, years after they have been banned from the streets by the people who once adored them. The characters are well-rounded, each with deep faults and strong virtues, and the story takes a chapter to explore the backstories and personalities of each of the main ones. At the end of each chapter, save the last, we get some supplementary material in the form of book chapters, news articles, and interview transcriptions to flesh out the backstory even more. And through the explorations of these characters emerges an intricate plot regarding the murder of The Comedian, the disposing of the other masked heroes, and the end of the world.
The whole thing basically takes the idealized world of superheroes and turns it on its head. Aside from the flawed characters behind the masks, the issue of what’s right and what’s wrong, who’s good and who’s bad, and the very question of morality are constantly at battle here. There’s no one protagonist or one antagonist, no right path or wrong path. Everything is very much on the same level. Where everything in the traditional world of superheroes is very clear cut, here it’s anything but. The story is very similar to V for Vendetta in that way. Moore doesn’t tell you what to think, but presents you with both sides and lets you decide for yourself. Optimism and pessimism are both dealt in pretty equal measure, and it’s up to the reader to decide what message he’ll choose to take from the story. I also appreciate that we get multiple points of view from the characters themselves. Not only are the superhero characters very different in their beliefs, but we also follow the lives of ordinary people in the city and we get to see their take on many aspects of the situation.
I also like the very structure of the whole thing. Dave Gibbons did the artwork for the novel, and it’s amazing to look at the creative ways he tells Moore’s story. Each chapter has a slightly different way of outlining the character’s history. Dr. Manhattan's story is told in a very non-linear fashion, as if all times exist at once, because that is exactly the way the character sees things. Rorschach’s story, on the other hand, is told by way of a psychiatric evaluation, which given the character’s namesake, makes sense. They all take great advantage of the visual medium that the graphic novel offers, and many aspects of the story could really not be done any other way. It shows the versatility of the medium in an incredibly compelling way. Indeed, the story is woven with another comic story that one of the characters reads throughout the novel, and it compliments what’s going on in the “real” world perfectly.
I’m struggling to keep it brief with this review, because there is so much to examine and analyze in this story. I’ll admit it’s not for everyone, as the plot is dark and uncompromising, and the images can get pretty (for lack of a better word) graphic. This is not a light read by any means, but it is a good one. Fans of the comic book medium and the superhero genre should definitely check it out, and even those who aren’t should not be turned off by those things. This is a good story, no matter what its medium, and it’s one worth experiencing.
Synopsis: Paul Sheldon, well-known for authoring the famous Misery series, is at the mercy of Annie Wilkes, his self-pr Genre: Psychological thriller
Synopsis: Paul Sheldon, well-known for authoring the famous Misery series, is at the mercy of Annie Wilkes, his self-proclaimed number one fan, after a serious car accident which broke both his legs. When Annie discovers that Paul has killed off Misery, she forces his to write a new novel in which she returns. If he doesn’t do it right, she can become very nasty. Fearing for his safety in the face of her fluctuating sanity, Paul writes for his life, and finds himself being drawn back into the world of Misery Chastain.
Review: This was my first Stephen King novel, and from what I can tell, it’s a good one to start with. It contains no supernatural elements and is a relatively simple and straightforward story. This is the worst nightmare of anyone who’s ever had a legion of fans, no matter how small. When you do something that impresses a group of people, some people will begin to see you from a specific point of view, and will hold you to that point of view, no matter how wrong it may end up being. That’s Annie Wilkes. She’s irrevocably convinced that Paul Sheldon is good, and when evidence suggests that he is not, she punishes him. Punishments are usually painful. Annie Wilkes is fascinating in her madness. There are times when she seems perfectly capable of having an ordinary friendship with Paul. But then something happens and she slips into a depressing state, or something else happens and she responds with anger.
Paul Sheldon is fascinating too, but for a completely different reason. Paul is a career writer, which means he has to produce stuff that is popular, not necessarily good. Thus, we have the Misery series. And through watching Paul write a new book in the series, we get to see the writing process, what it’s like for Paul to really get into a story, even if he is just writing for his life. The way the story of Misery parallels what’s happening to Paul is also a very compelling way to show us what he’s feeling and thinking.
This book is simultaneously terrifying and fascinating. It shows us two different sides of writing: the obsessed writer and the obsessed fanatic; or a writer’s passion and a writer’s fear. The story is very well told and well constructed. I’ll admit my experience with Stephen King is limited, but this seems like a pretty good entry into the world of his stories.
I'm struggling to find words to adequately express my feelings for this novel other than, "GAAAAAHHHSOGOOOOOOD!" which isn't even a word. Libba Bray hI'm struggling to find words to adequately express my feelings for this novel other than, "GAAAAAHHHSOGOOOOOOD!" which isn't even a word. Libba Bray has packed so much stuff into this novel that it's hard to even describe it. Think Don Quixote meets Schrodinger's cat meets all the most complicated aspects of every sci-fi story ever written meets the most bizarre road trip of all time, and you've got a pretty good idea what we've got here. The story, very basically, is about a high school kid named Cameron Smith who is an absolute douche nozzle. Seriously, you want to smack him in the early portions of the novel, because he's that kid in high school who accomplished nothing, cared about nothing, and yet was incredibly judgmental of the people who WERE accomplishing things and DID care about things. Then, Cameron discovers he has Mad Cow disease, and not in the same way that Denny Crane from Boston Legal had it. Cameron has just a few weeks to live. And as he is dying, he realizes that the universe is in very serious danger and that he must go save it, with the assistance of a dwarf called Gonzo, a yard gnome Viking called Balder, and a pink-haired Angel called Dulcie.
But see, even THAT doesn't adequately describe this novel, because to talk about too much of what's in the novel is to spoil a lot of aspects of it, which I kind of don't want to do here. Don Quixote is referenced quite often, sometimes obviously and often subtly, and it really makes me want to read Don Quixote now to find out just how much she paralleled. Don Quixote, at the end of his life, becomes convinced that he has to save the world, and in the process, discovers that he enjoys actually living in the world, which is pretty much what happens to Cameron. The book contains a lot of haphazard and seemingly random events, like a really tripped out road trip, but in the end, Cameron looks back on all the things he's done and discovers that he lived more while he was dying than he did while he was fully alive.
The character of Cameron goes through more growth than perhaps any other character I've encountered. I started out really, really not liking this guy, and then I got to watch him, slowly but surely, actually turn into a person. Gonzo goes through a similar transformation. The characters and stories are exceptionally entertaining, it's funny and interesting and very, very smart writing, and the ending gives you a LOT to think about. But the one thing I personally took away from this story is that we truly do get to choose what sort of life we want to live, and those choices have a profound effect on our lives, even if we're not aware of them. This book was my introduction to Libba Bray, and I couldn't have asked for a better one. It's worth a read if you have the time and you don't mind having your world turned completely upside down.