Thursday, June 30, 2011

Parker: The Outfit

Darwyn Cooke

You'd think there wasn't room for improvement from the first book (Parker: The Hunter) but Darwyn Cooke manages to surpass himself in Parker's latest adventure. And by adventure I mean systematically destroying the Outfit because of revenge and money. Parker's favorite things.

The story is a bit convoluted but then again I don't like mob stories too much. Parker had plastic surgery since his last "adventure" and goes about recruiting people he can sort of trust, and hits on the Outfit. Stealing the money from the businesses and such. Parker gets what he wants, because he always does. He's Parker.

The art is stunning. Cooke is in top form. His grays and blacks complement each other beautifully creating a sinister mood that persists even if it's a sunny day and Parker is drinking beer with one of his recruits. It ramps up the suspense. The ink lines cut through Parker's new face in angles and planes making him look determined and cold. I must admit I miss his pretty boy looks from the first book and it took me a while to get used to it.

The highlight of the book is a long sequence where we read about the guys Parker hired casing and hitting on the Outfit's businesses. It's done in the style of various magazines of the sixties and it's a showstopper.

The book as an object is beautiful too, the pages are a creamy yellow which complements the cool grey-blue tones perfectly. You can tell this is Cooke's baby and we are lucky to share the experience.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Catching Fire

Suzanne Collins

(Hunger Games)

What I like most about Catching Fire is the subtle way the story raises the sense of danger for Katniss. A meeting with President Snow is filled with tension and foreshadowing. The announcement of the Quarter Quell, that past victors will have to compete makes Katniss react so brokenly, we question her sanity. Everything is charged with a sense of finality and doom. It makes Catching Fire seem like a dark shadow of the first book.

The world building in this book is much improved. Katniss narrations are not as "expositional" since we already know what she's talking about. She can revel in little details, which is what I was expecting from The Hunger Games.

The new cast of characters is very fascinating, they are all very deadly indeed. The Quarter Quell arena is something of horrid beauty with exciting new traps. I admit I was entertained by the painful deaths of the victors. Katniss carries herself expertly, using her smarts and reflexes to survive but still being sweetly naive about the motivations and machinations of her fellow contestants. She's a joy to read about.

The ending is a great cliffhanger that made me run to the third book and devour it as quickly as possible.


Adrian Tomine

Everyone in Shortcomings is a bit selfish, but none more so than the main character Ben. He doesn't deal well with change, he's complacent and opinionated.

One of the main themes is how Ben views Asian women and White women. He is Japanese American, and so is his girlfriend Miko. She is trying to embrace her culture by supporting a local Asian film festival, but he is running away from anything remotely cliche or sterotypical. Miko accuses him of having a White girl fetish, because he likes to watch porn movies with blonde White girls. He denies it, but when Miko leaves for an internship in New York he immediately hits on a white young girl who works at the same theater as he does. He tries to kiss her and she rebuffs him in a very awkward moment.

Later, manages to have sex with a bi girl he met at a party. He seems to view White women only as recipient of his desires and not as people. Which is how many men view Asian women. When Ben visits Miko in New York he finds out that she's been cheating on him for a while with a White man who loves Asian things. Ben accuses her of being another Asian knick knack, and leaves New York in a huff having learned nothing from the experience.

The art is impossibly beautiful. The characters are really expresive and it's amazing what Adrien Tomine can do with a few inked lines. Enviorments and characters are rendered perfectly in a minimalistic but realistic way. The last sequence in the book is breathtaking and heartbreaking, and worth the whole reading experience.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Wrinkle in Time

Madeleine L'Engle

The wrinkle in time of the title referes to a tesseract, when you fold space so you can travel through great distances in a short time. If you like 90s movies, the Event Horizon traveled to Hell by way of tesseract. If you like Harry Potter tesseract is an earlier version of "dissaparate".

In a nutshell, some of the kids in the Murray family have been selected by a trio of angels disguised as old ladies to save their abducted Father in a distant planet. Charles Wallace (A five year old super genius), Meg (his rebellious sister) and Calvin (some popular dude) travel with the old ladies across the universe. First to Uriel, where winged half horse people are really happy about being winged half horse people. Here they see the big bad of the story, the Black Thing, an evil entity philophers have been fighting since forever. Eventually, they arrive in Camazotz. Here they find their father, and after many setbacks including losing Charles Wallace and Meg being seriously injured, Meg defeats the first Boss of the story. A huge brain working for the Black Thing.

This is the first of a series of books and it ends in a cliffhanger. I must admit I am not very curious about the story, and although I can't say that I didn't like the book I didn't love it either. I was put off by the overt christian themes, and Charles Wallace's dialogue. I like Meg but as a main character she was so unsure of herself. It was frustrating how everyone seemed to underestimate her. They accepted that she had loads of potential but didn't help her realize it. Given the stakes of the story (ultimate evil swallowing the Earth) I thought the romantic subplot of Meg and Calvin was forced. I still don't get why Calvin was in there at all.

I'm looking forward to Hope Larson's graphic novel adaptation. I'm sure it will help me get a different perspective on this story.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Chuck Palahniuk

Forget about Trainspotting, Pygmy is the most difficult to read book, at first. Urban legend says that Chuck Palahniuk wrote it in English, then had it translated into Chinese and then back to English. If it's true, the result is a mishmash of language that makes your brain hurt, but underneath this heavy style is an almost heartwarming tale of a 13 year old terrorist sent to the US to kill millions of people.

The most interesting part of the story is how Palahniuk humanizes Pygmy. We learn how deadly Pygmy is at the beginning when he rapes the bully harrasing his host family's younger male sibling. It's a brutal scene and serves dehumanize Pygmy in the eyes of the reader. Since the book is written in first person POV, the fact that Pygmy is describing the rape in detail to his superiors makes it even ickier.

As the story progresses, Pygmy finds himself remembering things from his trainning that shed some light on his upbringing. Little by little these memories move towards a more nostalgic space, especially when remembering his parents. He also finds love (albeit unrequited) in the host family's female sibling who is smart and athletic.

The story serves to critique American culture, especially religion and sex. Despite it's heavy and difficult style, it's a tame story (for Palahniuk) and pretty funny/disgusting. It even has a happy ending...kind of.

Monday, June 20, 2011


John Ostrander
Len Wein
John Byrne
Karl Kesel

I think that Legends is a mini series that introduces the Bronze Age in DC Comics, and it shapes what the heroes will be in this new age. They are meant to be Legends, larger than themselves. True heroes acting in a heroic fashion, until things change and all them turn into anti-heroes. Sigh.

Here Darkseid (remember him?) wants to mess with some heroes and change the way people perceive them. He hopes to corrupt their superhero persona and make us regular folk hate and fear them. As Darkseid plans, the Phantom Stranger and Desaad watch and comment.

Darkseid sends Glorious Godfrey to persuade the masses and for the most part he does an excellent job. They make people think that Captain Marvel is a murderer, in the process traumatizing poor Billy Batson. After that, more heroes encounter bigotism and we are introduced to the new Suicide Squad and the Justice League America. It all comes to a head in a huge battle where Wonder Woman is introduced (for the first time after Crisis on Infinite Earths) and Godfrey is destroyed by hubris and Doctor Fate's helmet. It all leads to different comics like the "Bwahahaha" Justice League, etc.

Legends is a nice little piece of history and even though it's heavy handed and cheesy at times, it was a fun read and a reminder of what some heroes should strive to be.

The Gunslinger

Stephen King

I fished this book out of the trunk of a friend's car. She was going to throw the books away or give them to charity and since I had read a bit of the Dark Horse comic I jumped at it and read it that week. (I am terribly behind with this blog).

The Gunslinger, Roland, is following the Man in Black across his world, a mixture of cowboy culture and sci fi-fantasy. Roland means to kill the Man in Black and get to the Dark Tower. The story has some flashbacks, to be honest they are the most interesting part of the novel, but the story feels very linear. You can see how Roland and the Man in Black are stuck in a "point A to point B" story, a path their creator makes them walk without any deviation.

The story is divided into vignettes as Roland encounters enemies or supernatural elements that hinder or aid him in his journey. The most dangerous to Roland is Jake Chambers, a small boy from another world stranded in this one after his death. Jake is the worst sort of trap for Roland, as he grows more affectionate and protective of him. Their relantionship leads to the two climaxes in the story.

In the flashback (I feel like I'm writing a Lost recap. The Lost writers worshipped Stephen King) Roland's mother is having an affair with Marten, a wizard. Roland feels betrayed by his mother and trying to avenge his father's honor takes the Gunslinger test earlier than expected. Roland chooses his hawk and sacrifices him so that Roland can win at all costs. We later find out that Marten is the Man in Black.

In the present the Man in Black forces Roland to choose between saving Jake or following him to the land beyond the mountains. Roland, of course, sacrifices another innocent in the hopes of destroying the evil Man in Black.

The book is richly layered and most of the characters get enough motivation and development. The female characters get the short end of the stick, as they are easily corruptible by the Man in Black and very subservient. It's a boy-man story through and through but I enjoyed it enough that I want to read the rest of the Dark Tower series.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Superman Earth One

J. Michael Straczynski
Shane Davies

In Superman Earth One, Clark Kent weighs his life options. Does he want to be the hero his parents rather obnoxiously want him to be, or does he want to "pass" as a normal but very gifted person all his life?

It makes for a very grim Clark Kent. He broods as he walks around Metropolis. He worries about having a job that will allow him to help his mother financially. He stares into the cityscape, a lot. He ponders how he can put his gifts into good use. He has an existential moment as he floats in space. He is very intense. And then suff happens.

The pacing is way off. The story starts really slow, and without build up throws a huge battle in the middle of Metropolis. Even if you consider that it has a filmic story structure, it's still too slow in the first act. At the same time everything feels too compressed. The character motivations get really muddled.

For example, in Superman's original origin (ja!) Martha and Jonathan couldn't have children and were too old to keep trying. Clark was a miracle to them, they found him by accident and he was exactly what they wanted. In Superman Earth One, Martha and Jonathan are very young when they find Clark and they decide to keep him because he displays super strength. But they'll tell everyone in Smallville that Clark is a bastard and that Martha's no good "laybout" sister made them take care of the baby! WHAT! For the rest of the story, they come off as salivating stage parents, sewing his costume, naming him and talking about branding. Ugh.

Lois and Jimmy get simplified. Lois even more so than Jimmy. Jimmy gets to be fearless searching for the perfect shot because the "truth" is there. Lois gets to debate why a reporter should be able to inject their opinions into the story. She gets shut down by Perry and since she didn't get to name Superman (Jonathan Kent did) and since she didn't write the first interview with Superman (Clark shows up last minute with one) all she did was report on the alien invasion, and save Superman's life AFTER Jimmy tried to do it by himself and failed. Uff.

So yeah there's this alien invasion because (sigh) a planet that was constantly in war with Krypton made a deal with a mysterious character (Braniac? Braniac! Braniac!) and they blew up the whole planet and NO ONE was supposed to survive. So this alien comes and tries to kill Clark but he really forces him to grow up and become Superman. For the sequel, you have the possibility of more aliens attacking Earth plus the mysterious (Braniac) character (Braniac).

As you read Superman Earth One, you feel like you're watching a movie you've seen a couple of times. Familiar and different at the same time but frustrating all the way around.