Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Basically just divine

Okay. So the premise of this comic is that once every ninety years a pantheon of gods are resurrected into the bodies of contemporary people. The gods live as themselves for two years and then they die, not to be seen again for almost another century. But what you really need to know about The Wicked + The Divine is that Lucifer is basically a female David Bowie who is just SUPER compelling and that's essentially what makes this comic so worthwhile to read.

This book was Issue One. It does a lot of establishing stuff and not much else - there are some major conflicts that happen, sure, but most of what we're doing here is meeting and getting to know the characters. It's a successful strategy because I want to know everything else about this universe right now. It's so cool - how do people cope with this, how do the gods feel about these things, what's the real extent of their powers, how did they decide to show themselves to the world as pop artists instead of religious leaders and what's the in-universe commentary on that? I want to know it all. There are so many cool ways that this story could play out and I can't wait to go along for the rest of the ride.

The art, by the way, is fucking fantastic. It's all clean lines and bright colors and good choices in every single panel. There's a lovely continuity from image to image that guides you through the story at a breakneck pace, flowing cinematically and balancing the visuals with the dialogue in a remarkable show of creative control.

Delightful, just delightful all around. I can't wait to read more.

Gillen, Kieron. Jamie McKelvie, Artist. Matthew Wilson, Colourist. Clayton Cowles, Letterer.
     Hannah Donovan, Designer. Chrissy Williams, Editor. Dee Cunniffe, Flatter.
     The Wicked + The Divine. Image Comics. Berkley: California. 2015.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

No technical difficulties

It's all Randall Munroe's fault that I read The Martian. Not that it's a fault really, considering that I enjoyed reading it and would happily recommend it to a select group of people. It's just that, well, I sort of wanted WAY more of the book than I got.

If you're not into pretty significantly geeky books you probably aren't going to like this book. It's a story about an astronaut stranded on Mars who has to figure out how to survive for years with supplies intended for a month-long stay. He kludges things together and shits in boxes and listens to disco and makes mistakes and I seriously had way too much fun reading this odd novel.

A bunch of people online criticized the book for being too tedious, for talking too much about potatoes, and for being too technical. I won't go so far as to say that those people are idiots, but I will say that if you're reading a sci-fi book about astronauts you should maybe expect some technical stuff because humans don't get into space via magic, we do it via carefully controlled explosions and sometimes you need to read three pages about how load balance is important to controlling those explosions to understand why a launch fucked up. Hey, just be glad you don't work for NASA - they have to read THOUSANDS of pages about load balance if a launch fucks up. And also if you're reading technical information about explosions or Mars rovers or growing ferns in a goddamned spaceship and you DON'T think that's awesome or want to know how it works I'm not sure that we can be friends.

The book is also pretty funny - I'm seeing a lot of people refer to it as "gallows humor" but I think you can just safely call it humor. We're all dying, you might as well laugh about it because there's no way you can stop it. Mark Watney, the astronaut who is central to the story, gets that.

Anyway, if you're into technical books that are full of silly puns and tension over the fact that an entire planet is attempting to murder the protagonist then The Martian is for you! If you're not into those things I feel pretty bad for you but you should read The Martian anyway; it goes by pretty quickly and maybe it will make you like awesome things more.

     - Alli

Weir, Andy. The Martian. Broadway Books. New York: New York. 2014. (2011).

Terse, touching, tiring

It almost feels like you're obligated to love the poetry of Emily Dickinson if you're an American. And much of her poetry is loveable - she writes about butterflies and birds and bees so much that sometimes she reads like a nineteenth century Lisa Frank; she has an incredible, almost overpowering grasp of grief; she was an eccentric loner with strange habits and Americans fucking LOVE it when authors are a bit odd.

For all of that I can't love Dickinson, or at least not all of her work. She has many, many poems that speak to me, but she's also got a whole lot of poems that are written in praise of/glory for her God and I just can't really share in that. Many Dickinson poems are so confident of everlasting life in the bounty and glory of God that they sort of seem to undercut the poems of hers that I love, those about loss and grief and mourning. If she was so bloody confident about an afterlife where she would join those she loved and never suffer anymore then why is so much of the rest of her poetry about the sundering of loved ones?

So I'm a bit torn on I'm nobody! Who are you?, a Scholastic Press collection meant for tweens and teens. I mean don't get me wrong, there are some really goddamned good poems in this book, and I wept while reading some of them. But I also spent a lot of my time while reading making bets with myself about how many more poems I'd read before coming across another that was all about the permanence of the soul and the helplessness of mankind before God.

I guess what I'd really like to do is make my own Dickinson collection - one that's a bit more internally consistent - a selection of poems where the focus is on how hard it can be to be human, how glorious it is to see the sun and the sea and the flight of birds, but with none of the matter of fact (and less interestingly written) poems that leave human effort and emotion behind.

     - Alli

Dickinson, Emily. Ed. Edric S. Mesmer. I'm nobody! Who are you? Scholastic Press.
     New York: New York. 2002. (1886).

Manners maketh man

I didn't get out to see Kingsmen: The Secret Service when it was in theaters, but that's totally okay. I watched it at my family's house this week and, while I enjoyed it immensely, I didn't feel like I had missed much by not seeing it on a massive screen in a room full of strangers eating food that I'm allergic to.

It's a very silly movie. It's a cartoon, really, more than an action film, but it was just a tremendous amount of fun to watch. I liked watching Colin Firth kick ass, I liked watching Samuel L. Jackson be ridiculous, I liked all the spy genre in-jokes, and just generally had a fantastic time for the two hours the movie was playing.

It's not a great movie, it's not high art or anything, but it's very, very entertaining. I got a little sick of the over-the-top CGI and the bullet-time wire-rigged fight scenes in the final act of the film, but only because Colin Firth's bullet-time wire-rigged fight scene was so much better than all the others and it felt redundant to have any after that.

I can't even express to you how silly this movie is. It has brightly-colored, highly-choreographed head explosions. It has a massive fight scene set in an extremist evangelical church. It has puppies. Everything in the movie is fun and silly and great to watch. I'm not saying you should spend a bunch of money and get the DVD - I'm guessing that its charm suffers if you spend too much time on it - but if it pops up on Netflix it's totally worth the time to watch this silly, silly thing.

     - Alli

70s cinema masterpiece

Last weekend was the 40th anniversary of Jaws. I went with my family to see the film at our local AMC theater and I think it may have actually been the first time that I've seen Jaws on the big screen - something that's totally worth it if you ever get the chance.

If you haven't seen Jaws you probably should. Like, right now. Or maybe next weekend - it's a Fourth of July film, after all. And it's amazing. I first saw it as a little kid; my parents sat my sister and I down and put it in the laserdisc player, telling us when to cover our eyes so we wouldn't see the really freaky parts. Not long after that my sister and I convinced our grandmother that we'd already seen the film so it would be okay for us to watch it while she was babysitting us. Unfortunately we didn't realize exactly how much our parents had edited out when we initially watched it. I was six, my sister was four, and she was literally scared of the bathtub for a few months after that un-cut viewing. And she STILL doesn't like going in the ocean.

Since then I've probably seen Jaws about a hundred times. For my sister it's probably closer to a thousand times (she saw four showings last weekend, watched it a month ago, and is going to watch it on the Fourth, none of which is unusual for her Jaws viewing patterns). Hell, her admissions essay for USC was about the movie, I'm not going to grudge her her obsession.

The reason we've seen the film so many times is because it's fucking amazing. There is nothing wrong with it, it's a 40-year-old horror/action flick and after all this time it's still incredibly perfect. The actors are perfect, the camerawork is perfect, and the music is horrifyingly, transcendentally perfect. Nothing whatsoever about Jaws is bad. Sure the mechanical shark looks a little fake when held up against things like Jurassic Park, but I think reality looks a little fake when you compare it to Jurassic Park. Bruce the shark is as good as could be gotten in 1975 and if he looks a bit rubbery these days that's okay because you don't see him much. The shark isn't the scary part, it's not knowing where the shark is that's the scary part. Well, that and John Williams' brilliant score.

     - Alli

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Wibbley-wobbly, plotty-wotty thing

Dear anybody who ever gives me books for any reason: I really want to like the books that people give to me. I like liking books, and I especially like liking books that other people think I will like. But sometimes I just can't do it and that usually makes me feel terrible.

So I'm sorry, little sister, I didn't like The Shakespeare Notebooks, which you gave me for Christmas. In fact I really disliked it and ended up being pretty fucking angry at the whole thing by the end.

I really WANTED to like this book. So much! And I know exactly why she gave it to me as a present - I raved about the Ian Doescher William Shakespeare's Star Wars books, I'm a huge Shakespeare nerd, and my sister knows that I'm a newbie Whovian who is a big fan of the twelfth Doctor - but the combination of elements in play here just made The Shakespeare Notebooks awful.

The reason that Star Wars worked in a modern-pop-culture-meets-Shakespearean-drama mashup is that it was a whole, complete story full of Shakespeare-ready characters. Luke is a clear hero, Han and Leia are a perfect bickering couple, Yoda and Obi-Wan are sages, and the entire dark side is all ready to go for Hamlet-like introspection and Richard III-like outright evil. Doescher spent a lot of time and effort on building up his interpretation, working the characters' conflicts into stunning dialogue and having a lot of fun playing with the language.

The people who wrote The Shakespeare Notebooks didn't do that. They said "well, what if there were sonnets about Daleks?" then wrote those sonnets and called it a day.

The format of this thing is really hard to explain. There are several selections that are supposed to be deleted scenes from plays that Shakespeare was supposed to have written the Doctor into. A couple pieces are supposed to be from a journal of Shakespeare's. One section is supposedly written in a grad student's footnotes on Julius Caesar. Another bit is a "transcription" of a time-traveling Alexander Pope having an argument while watching the premiere of a lost play. Both of those last two, by the way, include complaints about how the imbic pentameter isn't perfect enough to have really been Shakespeare - 'perfect' meter is much more rare in Shakespeare's writing than 'imperfect' meter, which is a thing you learn in Shakespeare 101 and NOT something that either a grad student or Pope would ever fucking say.

Does this seem a little disjointed? It is. It should be. That's how the damned book is.

There is one part that I liked, a short story at the end of the book. It doesn't pretend to have been written by the Bard, it's not supposed to be historical, it's not giving high-fives to itself. It's just a short story about the Doctor, the Bard, and a Bed. And it's not bad, really.

But the rest of the book is kind of shit.

     - Alli

Gross, James; Jonathan Morris, Julian Richards, Justin Richards, and Matthew Sweet.
     Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks. Harper Design. New York: New York. 2014.

Gimme that sweet astrophysics

It looks like I'm going to have to update my massive Neal Stephenson post from last year. I'm going to have to do that for the best of reasons: He wrote a new book and I need to figure out where it sits in his universe.

Neal Stephenson is the best. I just love his books. There's not a single one of his novels that I dislike, and a couple of them easily make it into my top 100 best books I've ever read list.

I'm not sure if Seveneves makes it to that select group of truly awesome books, but it's really fucking good.

Since it's a new book I'm not really sure what I can say about it because I don't want to write out spoilers or anything, but I will say that this is a book for science and sci-fi geeks. It doesn't have as much math as The Baroque Cycle or Cryptonomicon, but it's a lot heavier on physics and science than Reamde or The Diamond Are. And I love that about it. There's a ton of discussion about our solar system, about genetics, and about achieving acceleration in a vacuum. There are also a lot of words directed at social sciences stuff, so the liberal arts majors don't have to feel left out - human psychology is a huge part of this novel.

The structure of the book is interesting. It's at least two (and maybe three) distinct novels but they're spaced out instead of shuffled together like the stories in Cryptonomicon. The attitudes that the characters in the latter part of the story have on the characters in the earlier portions of the book are great and terrifying and really make you want to sit down and consider just what exactly history really is.

And also, yes, much major and loud praise should be sent Stephenson's way for writing a massive book about science and space travel that involves so many non-male, non-white, non-straight characters. Hi five, dude. You're doing it right.

Seveneves is a very good book, it's good hard sci-fi, and you should totally read it. But I'm going to stop talking about it now before I get into spoiler territory.

     - Alli

Stephenson, Neal. Seveneves. William Morrow Publishing. New York: New York. 2015.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Spooky kids and hysterical governesses

Ugh, I really disliked this story. SO much. I'd read Henry James in an American Literature class in college, and enjoyed his writing enough that when I saw The Turn of The Screw for a dollar I thought it would be worthwhile to pick it up, but now I'm going to be forever leery of reading another work by James.

Maybe this particular copy was part of the problem - it's a Norton Critical Edition (so it's got lots of extra info and footnotes) and it was clearly used in a class by someone. Someone who maybe wasn't particularly bright, but who was tenacious enough to put notes (and drawings of snails and scribbles) on pretty much every damned page.

I'm not a highlighter when I'm reading, not even if I'm reading critically. I'll use bookmarks, and maybe I'll block out a large chunk of text to refer to, but I was never one of those folks who would underline three lines and then circle four individual words in a single paragraph. And if I were to turn into one of those people I'd like to think that I'd make better choices than "alarm," "darkness," "moon," "rooms," "right," "darkness," "motionless," and "privately," all of which were individual words circled and underlined on pages 42-43 of this copy. What was this person trying to take note of? What the hell were they tracking that they couldn't just fucking remember that "darkness" makes a lot of appearances on the pages of this story? Who were you, strange person who kept distracting me from this terrible little book? And did you have to keep writing down your teacher's sexist ramblings about female hysteria (which I will admit that James is pretty clearly all the fuck about) verbatim?

Which is kind of why I hated the story. Part of it is that Victorian ghost stories aren't all that scary after you've been raised on scary movies, but the bigger part of it is that I don't think I can hang with male authors tut-tutting nervous women who they've created anymore. Hey James, you're the one who wrote this simpering little governess, you're the one who made her so easily startled and misled, you're the one who made her weak - that isn't a commentary on the weakness of women, that's an illustration of the fact that James thought women were weak. Which I guess was kind of his deal - he wrote a lot about fragile creatures corrupted by a cruel world that wanted to hold them to high standards, but then none of the women he wrote were capable of surviving that treatment. They got destroyed because he destroyed them. He wanted to shit on aristocracy because it made naturally pure, wonderful, pedestal-standing, women into shrewish and conniving strivers, not because it lowered all people into the categories of serfs and slave-drivers. Ugh. Just ugh. Sexism isn't just about thinking women are power-hungry; thinking they're vulnerable and need to be protected and praised and are too subject to the whims of wandering wombs is just as gross.

Anyway, if you want to read a kick-ass story about female hysteria, one that is also scary as hell and sympathetic to its strong but insane female protagonist, you should check out Charlotte Perkins Gillman's "The Yellow Wallpaper." If you want to read The Turn of the Screw it's available all over the place free online but fuck if I know why you'd want to dig for it.

     - Alli

James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. Norton Critical Editions. New York: New York. 1999. (1898).

For science!

Right off the bat I feel the need to make it clear that I don't know enough about physics to be critical of any of the science in A Brief History of Time, but I can say it is beautiful, comforting, and makes me want to know a hell of a lot more about physics.

Being a scientist is hard. You're dealing with the physical realities of the universe and trying to communicate those realities to people who can't see through the same lens that you're looking through. Hawking does a really admirable job of it though. His writing is sensitive and easy to understand. He's very kind in the way that he writes about the possibility of a God or gods and understands that even if religion isn't a scientific necessity it is a good thing for many people.

I think what I liked most about this book (aside from the staggering realization I had on every other page that humans are really very impressive, and the study of physics has accomplished some amazing things, and that seriously you guys science is just the best) was the way Hawking told the story of the universe while also telling little stories about himself. He talks about his colleagues and students, his wife and his friends - he discusses science as a wonderful, important game but one that's not too serious to joke about or play with. At one point he tells a story about losing a bet on a theory with a friend of his and having to give the friend a one year subscription to an adult magazine, and I think that's kind of adorable. Here's Stephen Hawking, a man who has had a very difficult life and who is held up as the most important physicist since Einstein, talking about betting on science, losing that bet, and cheerfully paying up in a pretty silly way.

That's actually probably the best thing about reading A Brief History of Time; Hawking's frequent admissions of failure. There are a lot of people out there who deny the validity of science because science has been wrong in the past, or because science doesn't have all of the answers to every question about the universe, but what those science deniers don't realize is that they're criticizing the very best things about science. It's tremendously important that we learn to admit when we're wrong, that we question old answers, and that we admit the limits of our knowledge. Saying "I know everything about the universe because only one thing made the universe" admits much more ignorance than saying "I know very little about the universe because the universe is very large and I just don't have the data. Yet." And it's that Yet that I love so much about this book. Hawking is optimistic and honest - he believes we'll learn everything we want to know and disseminate that knowledge to everyone who could ever want to know it, but he is very open about the fact that we're not there, yet. But that's no reason to give it up as a bad job, abandon the asking of questions, and accept only a simplistic answer - that's just a reason to keep looking.

     - Alli

Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time. Bantam Books. New York: New York. 1998. (1988).

Friday, June 19, 2015

Boundaries are a problem here

Jurassic World is, in many ways, a decent 1980s action-adventure creature feature. That means that it's fun, silly, and a decent way to waste an afternoon, but it is by no means perfect.

This isn't Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park is nearly fucking perfect. Jurassic Park has Dr. Ian Malcolm. Jurassic Park has the best fucking scary dinosaur scenes the world has ever known. Jurassic Park has Ellie Saddler shooting off one-liners about sexism in survival situations. Jurassic World has Claire Dearing presented as bitchy and cold, being told that she would reproduce someday, and wearing high heels through the entire movie. If you can ignore those things it's a pretty good flick.

If, however, you can't ignore those things the movie will irritate the shit out of you. I could get over the heels, I really could, but the older sister's insistence that "when, not if," Claire, her younger, successful, busy, career-driven, living-on-a-goddamned-island-full-of-dinosaurs-sister, had children that her life will change.

Fucking seriously? This lady doesn't want kids. Claire wants to increase shareholder value and hang out with her billionaire boss and wear completely amazing outfits with impractical shoes that she clearly loves (and which she has every right to love, impractical or not). Claire doesn't give shit one about making babies. Look at the way she deals with her nephews and her sister - she hardly relates to or emotes toward any member of her family that we see (until the dino crisis of course).  She seems pretty fucking happy just being a badass executive who works with movers and shakers and makes kickass pitches that motivate sales. She also has some goddamned standards, which is not a fucking crime. She turned down a sexy dino-wrangler because he wore boardshorts on a date, and he may be sexy and dino-wrangling as fuck but his laid-back attitude is not on her checklist of acceptable behavior. Why would she want a baby? Seriously, why? She's emotionally fulfilled by her job, which takes up pretty much all of her time (since she literally lives at work), she's driven by order, and she's got no fucking time to incubate and raise a disorderly, shit-spattered pink grub as a result.

Also what the fuck is up with the creeper older nephew? I get the feeling that he's supposed to be eye candy for young women in the audience who might be intimidated by the more adult looking (but no more emotionally mature) raptor wrangler but, like, why the fuck would that be attractive? He's got a girlfriend at home whose name is never given but who he clearly cares about (if his lingering over photos of her on his phone is any indication) but he spends most of the trip up until the dino fiasco pointedly staring at other girls. Like POINTEDLY staring. Hard. Like if this was an adult dude staring at me with the same intensity and duration I would have dialed "91" on my phone and be waiting to press "1" if he took another step toward me. I think his fixation with girls was supposed to read as "hormone-driven, cynical teen so wrapped up in hiding his boner that he can't even care about the miracle of dinosaurs all around him" but it came off as "potential future rapist considers how to isolate victim from friends for thirty minutes or so." This movie had a color-changing mutant dinosaur and Vincent D'Onofrio in it and I consistently found myself more scared by a teenager being so poorly socialized that he thought this was acceptable behavior. He is like the poster-child for the weight of the male gaze. Didn't your mother ever teach you not to stare? No, of course not, because she has boundary issues herself and was busy planning the future of her sister's uterus.

So that's the biggest issue in the movie, to me at any rate. Boundaries are a problem in this story, and I'm not talking about the fences between the dinosaurs and the people.

Um. But it's not wretched. And I did have fun. But the film has issues.

     - Alli

Monday, June 15, 2015

Everything's on fucking fire and I love it

I waited way too long to see Mad Max: Fury Road. I watched it about a week ago when I should have made the time to go to a midnight showing and then made the time to go see it every night since.

Fuck! Fucking yes!

I was raised on a steady diet of Mad Max films. I had a Mad Max themed wedding. I should have known that I would love Fury Road, but I hesitated for some reason and now I'm kicking myself.

Look, if you don't like shit on fire or explosions or car chases through the middle of the desert or lots of awesome fight scenes you probably won't like this movie. But then again if you don't like those kinds of things you probably aren't going to read a blog with "Motherfucker" in the title and so I'm not talking to you anyway. But if you DO like those things, and also like characters with pathos and complicated stories and little hope then you'll enjoy the shit out of this film.

Also, it's goddamned stunning. The whole thing is shockingly beautiful and also super impressive when you realize exactly how many of the stunts and special effects were in-camera.

And, yes, it's a big, hairy, delightfully feminist vagfest. There are lots of women in this movie. Almost without exception they kick absolute ass. Fucking deal with it - if you're pissed off that fictional females can have agency (and can even give orders to and defy the orders of men) you're a garbage person.

In that vein I left the theater deciding that I wanted to be Furiosa when I grow up. I was feeling ecstatic and punchy and happy. I walked back to a car when some random dude stopped me and this dialogue ensued:
Dude - "You look amazing!"
Me - *nervously laughing* "Ahah, uh, thanks?"
Dude - *said while staring at my tits* "And when you look amazing you feel amazing, and honey, I bet you feel amazing"
Dudes at table next to us - *general guffawing, one dude speaking* "Yeah man, get it."
Me - *deciding this is not a safe/appropriate venue to completely lose my shit on people in spite of going from feeling happy and badass 30 seconds before to nervous and completely aware that if this ends badly for me it is going to end very badly* "Haha, okay, bye."

Which is when I decided I need an angry vagina on a shirt to ward off comments like that. So I went home angry and designed this:

So, in short, Fury Road is awesome and don't tell strange women that you think their tits must feel amazing.

     - Alli

You're my obsession

I really didn't expect there to be a sequel to Mr. Mercedes. I know there was a zinger at the end but it didn't percolate as anything other than a frustrating tease for me until I saw the cover of Finders Keepers and realized that Bill Hodges was getting a sequel. And then I found out that it's a fucking TRILOGY and I can't even tell you how excited I am about that.

I was very iffy about Mr. Mercedes but the problems that I saw with it weren't present in Finders Keepers - we don't spend as much time with Bill, Jerome, and Holly as we did in the first novel but that doesn't change the delightful depth with which this mystery is approached.

So we all know that King was an addict right? He's been in recovery for a long time but the man understands addiction and therefore he understands obsession and it's that understanding that is turning the Hodges Trilogy into something that I'm squealing over. My favorite King stories are the ones that delve into various flavors of suffering - the frustration of Rage, the sorrow and loss of Lisey's Story, and the mingled hope and horror of The Stand speak to me in a very intense way, and Hodges and Co are doing the same thing with obsession.

Actually, it's not so much Hodges as the people he keeps running into. The antagonist in Mr. Mercedes and both the pro- and antagonists in Finders Keepers have powerful, life-ruining obsessions, and boy do I ever get that. Bill's starting to get into the game too - he's beginning to lose himself in the pursuit of an answer to a question he probably shouldn't be asking.

But he'd hardly be a good private eye if he could keep himself from asking questions, now, would he? That's another thing that I like about these books - I get really frustrated with your traditional whodunnit mystery novels because they're usually either too predictable or they leave out vital information that makes for an unsatisfying ending - Hodges stories are not, thus far, traditional mysteries. They're mystery novels exploded and turned inside out; the reader has everything figured out long before anyone else but that doesn't matter because the tension and suspense are maintained by excellent characters instead of by the need to constantly solve puzzles and problems. You can enjoy the solution to the problem while the dramatic irony keeps you in agony for the characters that are so easy to care for and fuss over.

I made a mistake when I bought this book. I went to the store and grabbed it at around 10:00 pm, I started reading it at around 10:30 pm and couldn't make myself stop until I ran out of pages at around 4:30 the next morning, approximately 5 hours before I had to be at work. I have a bad habit of doing that with King novels, and by now I should probably just know to not start them until the weekend, but I can't help it. I'm a little obsessed.

     - Alli

King, Stephen. Finders Keepers. Scribner. New York: New York. 2015.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Comic books can be great, and here's why

I like bombastic things. You want me to watch Rocky Horror Picture Show? I'm down. You want me to read a book about inter-dimensional brain parasites and the idiots who let them loose in the world? Count me in. You want to write a song that's angry, weird, full of animal growling and suddenly swells into headbanging awesomeness? I will listen to the shit out of that song (and so should you, it's amazing). I like things that make you want to throw your fist in the air and shout "FUCK YEAH" in inappropriate places. Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. is like a comic book version of all of those things. It's raucous, over-the-top, unexpectedly hilarious, and batters you over the head with it's own awesomeness on every page.

My friend Rob lent the book to me after I laughed hysterically for three minutes when I saw a page of General Dirk Anger whining about girls having soft bits and only liking hard bits. I know that's out of context and doesn't make sense, but trust me it was hilarious. There are dragons in underpants. There are broccoli men who pose a threat to the world. There's a superhero team that's full of idiots, all of whom can't really stand one another. And it works and it's fucking great.

Also, let's talk about representation in comics for a second here. I know a lot of comic geeks hate it when people bring up that they wish they were represented, and this book is everything that proves those asshole geeks wrong. The Nextwave team has three women, one man, and one robot on it. The leader of the team is a woman of color with badass superpowers and no one gives a tinker's damn about her race or her gender, they just want her to stop bringing up that she used to work with the Avengers. The team has a sexy-dressing English woman on it who breaks a Jeep in half with a guitar. Sure, she looks great, but she never looks like she's not having fun and kicking ass. There is a stupid heroine who spends a lot of time chewing bubblegum, fiddling with her cellphone, misspelling her own name, and blowing things the fuck up - it's never implied that her airheadedness is based on femininity, or that the same airheadedness is ever a problem. Can I express to you just how great it is to see a character who not only isn't a genius but who really ISN'T smart still kicking ass? Do you get how fantastic that is? None of us are ever going to be Tony Stark - there's no way that I'm going to be able to develop a new element to make a supersuit, and I bet you can't either - so many of the supers aren't just strong or invulnerable, they're also the smartest people who have ever lived. Not Nextwave. Monica's pretty clever but Tabby and the Captain are idiots - and they're idiots in a lot of the same ways that I can be. They don't know what the fuck they're doing, they don't really understand their powers, they're just trying to get by and maybe stop some terrorists in the process.

And, again, IT FUCKING WORKS. The white male isn't the leader of the team and it's a great comic. The team has more women than men and it's a great comic. The women aren't there just to show skin and it's a great comic. There is a woman of color in charge of a group of idiots and she cajoles the idiots into performing better than they ever thought they could and, you guys, IT'S A REALLY GREAT COMIC.

This book is funny, it's sad, it's full of action and has a great page-turning pace. It's everything that so many people look for in a comic book while also having very little of what we've been trained to expect when reading comics and I love it.

Please read Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. It's fantastic.

     - Alli

Ellis, Warren. Pencils: Stuart Immonen. Inks: Wade Von Grawbadger. Colors: Dave McCaig
     and Paul Mounts. Editor: Nick Lowe. Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Ultimate Collection
     Marvel Entertainment Inc. New York: New York. 2010. (2006-7).

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Spooky but somewhat stilted

Joe Hill is pretty goddamn decent. I've read two of his novels now, and a collection of his short stories, and I'm pleased as punch. He seems to be doing a good job of staying out of his father's shadow while still writing in a style and a genre that I'm sure everyone is just falling over themselves to label predictable.

Fuck it! Maybe it is a bit predictable that someone who was raised by Stephen King and raised reading Stephen King novels would be interested in writing character-driven horror stories, but is any of that a bad thing? Hell no! Character-driven horror stories are rad as shit and I want more of them. And Hill really isn't just a younger clone of his dad - Hill's stories are moodier and tighter than King's, allowing themselves to get mired in melodrama but never dropping the wonderful pace the story sets.

Heart-Shaped Box races along right from the start and drags you into the story. Jude, our protagonist, is an Ozzy-esque former rock star with a liking for much younger goth girlfriends and a penchant for collecting macabre memorabilia. Both of these interests converge and complicate his life right as he's starting to get complacent.

The book takes no time - the actual story takes place over the course of about a week but it feels like both more and less time; flashbacks take you through Jude's rock-and-roll life, years of dangerous history, but you can read through the whole sordid history and mystery in a couple of hours.

I'm not going to lie Heart-Shaped Box isn't as fun or funny as Horns, nor is it as good as Horns, but it's vastly entertaining and a good read nonetheless. I think Heart-Shaped Box is a good example of an author stretching his legs. It's a first novel, it's got some problems, but you can tell by the end that Hill is finding his stride.

     - Alli

Hill, Joe. Heart-Shaped Box. Harper Publishing. New York: New York. 2010. (2007).

Archie and fiends

I was one of the kids who was always excited to go to the drugstore. Every time we went down to the local SavOn I would haul along the quarters and crumpled dollar bills I'd kept out of my lunch money to buy candy, Mad Magazine, or an Archie or Betty and Veronica Double Digest. My parents supported my comic book and fart-joke habit, and if I was a bit short they'd supplement my pile of change and I'd go home delighted to spend a couple of hours in Riverdale (or cackling at Spy Vs. Spy, depending on what was out that week).

But sometimes you just can't go home.

Kids have terrible taste. We can all agree on that, right? I recently watched a kid stick two straws in his mouth, one from a bottle of lemonade and the other from a glass of chocolate milk, and happily sip something that would have made a grownup puke. Kids are kind of stupid, and the people who make things for them realize that and so they make things that require fairly little effort because their audience is easily pleased.

At least that's the theory that I'm going with to explain the absolute pile of shit that is Archie Meets KISS.

I bought this comic for my dad. He's a big fan of KISS and has been taking my sister and I to KISS concerts since I was ten. Our family Christmas card once involved all of us putting on KISS makeup and smiling for the camera. We're a little bit into KISS, is what I'm saying.

I don't know that liking KISS is going to be enough to make up for how terrible Archie Meets KISS really is, though. I don't really have the energy to get into how stupid the plot is -

Fuck that, who am I kidding: The story is that Sabrina the Teenage Witch is trying to cast a protection spell over Riverdale for Halloween and Veronica fucks it all up and so a portal opens and four monsters who want to make Riverdale even less cool come through and start turning people into zombies. KISS comes through the portal a short time later and attempts to save the coolness of the town through the power of rock, helped out by the Archies. It is the most idiotic, most cynical cash grab that I've seen in a long fucking time. There is essentially nothing about the story that is good, WAY too much that is bad, and I feel bad for having read this.

That being said the interior cover pages are kind of way more bitchin' awesome than they have any right to be, and one of the stupid monsters is actually kind of funny.

But I still wish I had a better Father's Day present for my pop.

     - Alli

Segura, Alex. Pencils, Dan Parent. Inking, Rich Koslowski. Lettering, Jack Morelli.
     Coloring, Digikore Studios. Archie Meets Kiss. Archie Comic Publication.
     Momaroneck: New York. 2012.

Love in the time of child abuse

I fucking adore Gabriel Garcia Marquez's books, but right off the bat I have to address that Love in the time of Cholera involves eroticizing children and statutory rape. There are large parts of the novel where this issue isn't an issue, but the story is bookended by a man who at twenty is courting a girl of 15 and who at 80 is having sex with his 15 year old ward. This is uncomfortable, this is creepy, this is inappropriate, and I think that all of that is fundamental to the statement that Marquez was trying to make about the brokenness of the character. He's a man whose entire life revolves around one failed relationship, who does nothing for himself, and who is deeply, tremendously, flawed.

The other characters DO have flaws, but none so severe that they end up raping children. The book is a peculiarly dispassionate examination of love affairs and the traps that people make for themselves. It's set in a filthy universe that's backward and literally stagnant, and full of people who can't quite escape from the various diseases that infect their lives.

It's a story of several lifetimes, of several loves, and of how different all of those things can be. It's a beautiful novel, one that sounds sweet and feels bitter as you progress through the world occupied by the characters. It was lovely to read much of the book, but frustrating and dull in places. I enjoyed Love in the time of Cholera, but I'm not sure I enjoyed it enough to read again.

     - Alli

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Love in the Time of Cholera. Penguin Books. New York:
     New York. 1989. (1985).

Bard says bardy things

I read Hamlet for the first time when I was 10 years old. I'd seen the Kenneth Branagh film with my dad and I loved it so I got a set of Shakespearean tragedies from a book order (book order forms apparently used to be a fuck of a lot more hardcore than they are now). The set was a single book that had Hamlet, King Lear, and Romeo and Juliet in it with no footnotes, very little consideration of appropriate formatting, and smudgy, messy print. I read Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet in that book before it disappeared forever some time in middle school. But basically what I'm getting at is that I've been reading and enjoying Shakespeare for almost 20 years now, and I didn't get around to reading Macbeth until a couple of weeks ago.

I think I just had a ships-passing-in-the-night thing going on with Macbeth. I didn't read it in high school because I was in a group of students that read Othello and Hamlet instead. I didn't read it at the community colleges I attended because both of the CC historical drama classes I took focused on Hamlet. I didn't read it in my college Shakespeare classes because one class was almost completely focused on Hamlet (fucking shocking, right?) and the other class covered Shakespeare before 1603 (but did NOT include Hamlet on the reading list, which ACTUALLY was kind of shocking) so Macbeth wasn't going to make it in to that material. The Shakespeare before 1603 professor was also a theater historian and so I guess it would have been awkward to spend a week discussing a play while explicitly avoiding saying the titular character's name. It just never came up in my classes and I just never got around to it.

Now that I've read it I'm completely fascinated by a bunch of things that probably shouldn't seem so interesting. I'm old hat at Shakespearean tragedy at this point, I've caught up and done my reading of Ovid, Homer, and Plato so I'm not missing as many of the allusions, and after Chaucer the Bard's iambic pentameter is a subtle and pleasing thing of beauty - I'm not interested in any of the literary fancy-scmancy stuff that I'd have discussed in any of my English classes. But I'm fucking FASCINATED by just how many common English phrases appear to come directly from this single odd play. I'm also really interested in its revision and production history, because those can change a lot about how a play is perceived, but I know there's just WAY too much reading to do when it comes to Macbeth for me to get into that with any sort of authority at the moment.

The play is what you've been led to expect. Witches, decapitations, damned spots, and grand high vintage Elizabethan-era dramatic tragedy. There's nothing there that should be surprising, from a dramatic or thematic perspective, to someone who has read a bunch of Shakespeare. But holy shit the language. There's a lot of the play that's unremarkable, typical stage banter. Then there's the rest of the play that is where we get phrases like "full of sound and fury" and "the milk of human kindness" and it's completely unreal to me that this play is the first recorded usage of the word "unreal." Shakespeare created the fucking setup for knock-knock jokes in this play. We would not have knock-knock jokes the way we do in the world today if not for the fact that in a pretty typical, standard, run-of-the-mill play Shakespeare made up what seems like half of colloquial English. Just because he could. (Well, that and to fit the meter. And I guess because it was just habit to him at that point.)

Sorry. It's just that every time I think about the fact that we might not have words like alligator or eyeball or dwindle (there are only three words in English that start with "dw-" and Shakespeare made up one of them - the others are dwarf and dwell) I start getting a little dizzy, and I started getting REALLY dizzy the further I got into Macbeth.

     - Alli

Shakespeare, William. Ed. Kenneth Muir. Macbeth. The Arden Shakespeare. London:
     England. 2005. (1606-ish).