Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fanboys and Fatigue

Today on Newsarama, I read this op/ed piece about fighting fanboy fatigue. Apparently the author is tired of the summer movie season and is blockbuster-ed out.

The author, Michael Avila, has the opinion that when there are too many summer blockbusters, one after the other, they lose their specialness and become just one of many. The market is over saturated with comic book movies and CGI-laden monster hits. Movies such as Iron Man and The Dark Knight stand out, while the "smaller" blockbusters such as
Wanted, Prince Caspian, Speed Racer, Hellboy 2 and The Incredible Hulk suffer. They lose their gleam.

Movies from before were events that people cherished, according to Avila, and people talked about, savoring them for days and even weeks. But now, with the constant onslaught of movies, no one can savor a movie. It drops from their memory as soon as the next movie comes out.

Hellboy 2 is the film he offers as proof of this. Even though it's "deserving" of blockbuster status and wealth, because another movie came out the week after, it took a 77% percent drop in ticket sales. It would have fared better in March, Avila argues. He submits Lionsgate as a positive considering they're putting out The Spirit and Punisher: War Zone in December.

He concludes by asking the film industry to spread the wealth and make genre films go all year, considering that genre fans are genre fans all year long.

I can agree with his sentiment about Hellboy 2 and about genre fans being genre fans all year long. But the root of his argument, about way back in the day when films meant something thanks to anticipation smacks of the ultimate fanboy reliance: nostalgia. Avila sounds wistful for an era where genre movies weren't thrown at you all the time, but he offers up Aliens 2 and Terminator: Judgment Day as examples, both of which, I might add, are sequels from the sequel-saturated decade of the eighties. You must have been a teenager in the eighties, Avila, because you seem to be expressing nostalgia at its worst.

Since
Jaws, the summer season has been where the biggest summer movies go. The biggest and most effects-laden. Possibly one of the biggest exceptions was the Lord of the Rings trilogy, another example of the by-gone era that Avila mourns for.

He laments that since the geek has become the uberspokesman for the pop culture world, the geeks themselves have become desensitized, novocained against the blockbuster. But the consequence of becoming the spokesman is that the market is now made for us. Hollywood is running a business, after all. If movies weren't making this much money in the summer, they wouldn't be releasing them in the summer. Also, on the same logic, if geeks were truly over saturated with films, they wouldn't go see them.

The summer movie blockbuster is a simple case of supply and demand. Obviously geeks are demanding these movies and Hollywood is more than happy to supply it.

I can't say that I'm over saturated by movies. I haven't seen all of the big blockbusters. But I've also seen a lot of effects-laden big budget movies this summer, at home and in the theatre and I'm not tired of them yet.

Avila concludes that he wants to see some indie movies as counter programming, as if there were no indie movies circulating around in the summer time. Absolute nonsense. In Winnipeg, we have two indie theatres, one big and one little. The little one plays the really obscure stuff and the bigger one plays the medium to small movies such as Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg and Global Metal.

The movie market is huge because there's a lot of money to be had. The movie market is also huge because there's a lot of diversity in tastes and genres. If you're sick and tired of blockbusters in the summer, stop going to see them. Support your local film scene and your indie scene and you'll see more indie movies in the summer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Dark Knight


I finally saw it. I finally got the g/f to go see it (thanks, babe!) and now I get to bask in the afterglow of having seen
The Dark Knight, which might be one of the best superhero/comic book movies ever made. As soon as I left the theatre, the first words out of my mouth were, "That shit was dope!"

For those of you living under a rock,
The Dark Knight is the sequel to the reboot Batman Begins, both of which were directed by Christopher Nolan, who has yet to disappoint me with anything. In this sequel, The Batman has been established and has teamed up with Lieutenant Gordon to take down the mob, so the mob hires the mysterious and anarchic Joker to take out the Batman. Combine all that with a new up and coming D.A. by the name of Harvey Dent and we have a big mess for The Batman to deal with.

There's so much happening in this movie, and it barrels along at such a ridiculous pace, so there's a lot of plot. There's also a lot of big themes, or rather
themes, being looked at, such as the dichotomy between Joker and The Batman and their symbiosis. In fact, the whole movie is about the differences between a hero and a villain, or rather the perceptions of the differences.

Illustrating not only the differences between the anarchic Joker and the order-seeking Batman, but also the differences between the legitimate white knight Harvey Dent and the underground dark knight.

More than once, the Joker says he's not a schemer and he doesn't have a plan, but every step he takes is much more intelligent than he lets on. He's a planner of the highest order, and he's pleased to have met his match with The Batman, also a ridiculous planner.

As well, with all the big themes and visual motifs and whatnots, there are some badass action scenes. The opening bank robbery (with obvious echoes of
Heat) and the semi versus Batcycle bit. Every action scene is filmed so competently and without any confusion as to what is exactly happening on screen. It's a breath of fresh air from films such as National Treasure 2.

All of the acting was terrific, including Heath Ledger. I'm sure they'll toss an Oscar at his corpse, because he definitely does a fabulous job. Best Actor worthy? Maybe not. However, a special shout out must go to Aaron Eckhart who is just incredible at playing Harvey Dent. He made me believe his descent into madness and murder and that's fairly difficult to do considering his origin and his character pre-accident. I'm sad that Ledger's death and performance will overshadow any of the other actors, but unfortunately, them's the breaks.

I was also very pleased to see a great but small speaking role for one of my favourite actors ever, Nicky Katt, why oh why doesn't he explode and become bigger?

This review is going to be short, but because really, who doesn't know that
The Dark Knight is a great f*$&ing movie?

(Note: That's my favourite Dark Knight poster and believe me when I tell you that there's ten billion different posters out there. Warner Brothers are promoting the shit out of this movie!)

Awkward

So now I can't be a professional actor in SAG by my own name. Somebody beat me to it. Here's the problem with Googling yourself, you find things you never wanted to find. I stumbled across this when I was using the new search engine Cuil (pronounced "cool") which claims to index 130 billion pages and has a very neat site design. Click here to give it a try.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Echo Maker


I think I only picked up Richard Powers'
The Echo Maker because it was a National Book Award winner, sort of like my hero, the two time winner, William Gaddis. If they picked Powers, he couldn't be that bad, could he? Well, it took me a couple months, but I finally finished this work, so let's take a look.

Mark gets into a car accident, suffers severe head trauma, and begins believing that his sister, Karen, has been replaced by a very close, but imperfect duplicate. This belief is known as Capgas syndrome, a real disease. Karen calls in a leading neurologist who's now more famous for his lite-science books, Gerald Weber (sort of based on Oliver Sacks). At the core of this novel is the town in which Mark and Karen live, where every year, hundred of thousands of cranes come to mate, thus creating a tourist attraction, and a conflict between those who would preserve the cranes' mating spot and those who would capitalize on it. Representing those two views are Karen's current lover Daniel and Robert Karsh, her former flame, respectively. While Karen struggles to keep her and Mark's life afloat, a mysterious note left for Mark leads him on a quest to discover the circumstances of his accident.

This novel relies heavily on the themes of identity and doubling and the idea of the self. More than once, people in this novel question their own identity in the face of neurological damage, denial, or outside perspective. Is the self just a sum of other people's views? Is the self something innate, or can it be changed irrevocably thanks to blunt head trauma? It seems Powers' ultimate conclusion is that the self is an amorphous ever-fluid aether, forever shifting. Mark perceives his sister as being an imposter, and he compares the fake sister to the real sister constantly, but those perceptions of the real sister are confused and disjointed, not really reflecting reality. The fake sister is more
real than the real sister. Karen becomes confused and questions her identity: is she who she thinks she is, or who Mark thinks she is?

But at the same time, there's a constant return to the ground, whether or not the self has been changed, at some point, we all go back to instincts. Every year, without fail, the cranes return to mate, return to their habitat, even if that habitat has been changed irrevocably. Karen tries to escape the small town and the ghosts of her religious zealot parents, but returns to the nest. Even Weber, a man with a happy and healthy marriage, turns away from his monogamy for a new mysterious mate.

The characters in this novel tend to make poor decisions, but it becomes null and void in that everything goes back to the ground. Even if Mark questions his sister's identity, he ultimately settles and accepts the new reality, as the human brain is programmed to do. The fake sister becomes a part of reality, whether or not the sister's "self" is the real self.

This is a complicated novel about identity and self and science and faith and human nature. All the grand themes of literature are investigated with Powers' lilting and playful prose. I was thrown by how science-y the novel is, giving unobtrusive lessons on neurology and psychology, in detail, but Powers balances that with his skill as a wordsmith. He's no Nabokov, but he's not Dan Brown either.

The character of Weber was confusing and irritating for the most part. The decisions he makes are idiotic and his motivations are sufficiently explained for me to accept his ultimate destiny. On the other hand, nothing captivated me more than Karen's struggle with her brother and with her sense of self. Her story was easily the most fascinating and relevant to the overall themes.

Powers accomplishes a very subtle slow burn on The Echo Maker. It created for me a slower pace that felt like repetition for two thirds of the novel, but as I reached the end, I understood that Powers was very slowly eroding the characters and their lives - eroding their sense of self, as opposed to the plot eroding their personal lives. While they tried to pick up the pieces and "fix" the problems, their issues and conflicts became deeper and more existential. It was very well done, kind of like Chief's reintegration of self in reverse.

I really liked this novel, but I'm not sure if I loved it. The climax and explanation of the mysterious note left me cold, and the ending to a couple of the characters' stories were simply frustrating. Otherwise, this was a fine novel worthy of standing beside Gaddis, Updike and Cheever. Recommended.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mini-Reviews!

Hokay, I've read a lot of indie comics in the past week, so I'm going to do a special indie comics Mini-Review, coming atcha!

Skyscrapers of the Midwest by Joshua W Cotter

A collection of the ongoing series by Joshua W Cotter, this is the story of an anonymous adolescent cat and his brother, growing up in a small Midwest town. Both the protagonist and his brother deal with the harsh realities of their world with an elaborate fantasy world made up of robots and bugs and giant T-Rexes. Cotter has a very unique style, very fluid that reminds me of a more cartoony Frank Quitely. The story itself is interesting, if not meandering, but because it's an ongoing, that's to be expected.

Blankets by Craig Thompson

On the other hand, we have the graphic novel by Thompson that everybody always raves about. It's an autobiographical work about his first love and his brother and his upbringing in a small Christian community. It's also a story of obsession and reciprocation. Kind of like Burns' Black Hole, Thompson uses a very effective series of visual metaphors and motifs to illustrate his themes. But Thompson's style isn't nearly as crisp or clean or fluid as say Burns or even the aforementioned Cotter. I really liked Blankets, but I didn't love it. The art didn't really speak to me, and the protagonist of Blankets left me cold. At the end of the novel, he's supposedly made this big revelation about himself, but it comes across as cold and selfish. But that's just me.

Tricked by Alex Robinson

Based on how awesome Box Office Poison was, I knew that Tricked would be good, I just didn't know how good. Six strangers drawn together by an act of violence is the meat of the story, but unlike Thompson or Burns, Robinson isn't just using visual metaphors and motifs, Robinson is using both visual and literal. The idea of lying and tricking and counterfeit comes across a hundred times in Tricked. Each character lies to each other and most importantly, to themselves. I felt that the plot unfolded in a way that I could see everything coming, but it was comfortable rather than tiring. Robinson's dialogue and social interactions are extremely impressive and very few writers, prose or comic, can match him for dialogue. I loved this.

Next, I'll review Scott McCloud's Zot! and Alex Robinson's Too Cool To Be Forgotten and finally True Story Swear To God by Tom Beland. Thanks

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New Avengers 43


Secret Invasion marches on surely and slowly and deliberately. So what happens with New Avengers 43? Let's take a look.

With this issue, Bendis and artist Billy Tan show us how and why the Skrulls have chosen this particular method of attack. Taking the Captain America Skrull and showing how and why he's been made to think he's human, this issue pretty much perfectly explains the motives and methods. In one issue, I don't think Bendis could have summed up the entire summer crossover better. This was a terrific issue.

But. And there's always a but. But, all of what I just said is true if there weren't twenty other issues saying the exact same things. The problem with these big crossovers is the pure saturation. Even Bendis himself is saturating the story with over-explanation and too much back story. Yes, it's interesting, but I've already heard it before.

Also, Tan's pencils are mediocre at best.

I just can't muster the same amount of excitement for this as I want to. Secret Invasion, you are disappointing me and that's the greatest crime of all.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mixtape: Sweet Soul Music

1. Arthur Conley - Sweet Soul Music
2. Wilson Pickett - Land of a 1000 Dances
3. Wilson Pickett - Everybody Needs Somebody To Love
4. The Isley Brothers - Shout
5. The Soul Stirrers - Come, Let Us Go Back To God
6. Clarence "Frogman" Henry - Ain't Got No Home
7. The Supremes - You Just Keep Me Hangin' On
8. Jackie Wilson - (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher
9. James Brown - The Old Landmark
10. Ray Charles - When A Man Loves A Woman
11. Wilson Pickett - Mustang Sally
12. James Brown - Get Up Offa That Thing
13. Ray Charles - Shake Your Tailfeathers
14. Sam Cooke - Stand By Me
15. Otis Redding - Try A Little Tenderness
16. Sam Cooke - Chain Gang
17. Otis Redding - Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone
18. Sam Cooke - Twisting The Night Away
19. Wilson Pickett - In The Midnight Hour
20. Sam Cooke - Another Saturday Night
21. Marvin Gaye - Let's Get It On
22. Sam Cooke - Bring It On Home To Me
23. Marvin Gaye - What's Going On?
24. Curtis Mayfield - Freddy's Dead (Superfly Theme)
25. Sam Cooke - Change Is Gonna Come

I had no room for any Aretha, unfortunately.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Secret History


Earlier this summer, I had the distinct pleasure of reading Donna Tartt's second novel, The Little Friend, published in 2002. After that I was extremely excited about her first novel, from 1992, The Secret History.

Superficially, the novel is about six friends in college who commit a murder and their Classics professor, completely oblivious to the reality of each of the six friends. The murderers are revealed on the first page, so the whodunit is ruined. But the details of the murder, the tiny bits of clockwork laid subtly down by the author, are the elements of the mystery "told in reverse", as related by the narrator, Richard.

Again, like her second novel, Tartt is interested in crimes without punishment, in memories and ghosts, in the differences between social statuses, in Beauty versus Truth, among other things. In this novel, Tartt carefully and meticulously details the differences between each of the six friends: Richard, the narrator, Henry, the rich genius, Francis, the rich, upscale homosexual, Camilla and Charles, the orphaned twins, and Bunny, the layabout and victim. Each character is fleshed out brilliantly as Tartt examines where they come from and the circumstances that lead them to their ultimate crime.

The friends are inspired by their charming and genius Classics professor Julian to replicate a bacchanal, as they try to distance themselves from what is needed of them in society and what they want to do in life, distance themselves from social constraints. Once the pieces have been carefully placed, the only options the characters have, to withdraw from social constraints, is to murder Bunny. Both Henry and Richard feel more free than ever after they realize they got away with it. There's nothing stopping them from doing anything... except their own twisted selves.

Unfolding like a classical Greek tragedy, fate and their nature conspire to ruin the five murderers. Near the beginning of the novel, the narrator wistfully wonders if a tragic flaw exists outside of literature and he decides that it does. Each of these characters exhibits a tragic flaw based on their personality and social status. There's no Harpies set out after these murderers - simply their nature.

Of course, things go badly for everybody, but not in the way that the reader expects. This isn't like Humbert Humbert, where he dies of a broken heart, but in that the greatest loss the students experience, greater than the murder of their friend, is the departure of Julian, after he's figured out what really happened to Bunny. The shock of being abandoned by their professor is more painful than anything they expected or experienced. How sad.

The narrator is an interesting figure in this novel. Richard is smart and filled with lyrical observations and he's charming, like Humbert Humbert is. And just like Nabokov's narrator, Richard loves the constant references and allusions to other works. More than once, the professor asks them to leave the phenomenal world (the physical world) and enter the sublime, ie the world of literature and poetry and dead languages. This world is what the characters reach for and end up committing horrific crimes. This is a novel about surfaces and the worlds beneath them - not only in terms of literature or art, but in people and their true natures.

Richard is also a Fifth Business-like character. He's not really part of the action. Most of what happens is related to him, so we only get his perspective, often blurred by alcohol or drugs or the haze of memory or omission. What the narrator really only allows us to see is the beneath the veneer of everybody. Richard constantly shows the audience what happens beneath a person's mask, highlighting again the novel's themes of surfaces and superficiality and the darkness beneath it all - the sublime.

This is a much more complex novel than I'd expected. There is so much happening in this book, but at the same time, it's a lively tale. The narrator is charming and he's easy to read, and the events unfurl with great drama. I really enjoyed reading this novel for its complexity and its more sensational qualities. It's a great read while at the same time being almost Nabakovian in themes and structure.

I don't think I can heap any more accolades onto Donna Tartt. She is the kind of writer that makes me ashamed to be a writer because I could never achieve her quality of prose, complexity of theme and level of entertainment. I really want to read another novel by her.

I can't possibly recommend this any more than I already have. Read it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"What's your favourite book?"

God I hate being asked what's my favourite anything, but especially I hate being asked what's my favourite book. It's extremely hard to pinpoint exactly one piece of art, one film, one album, one show, one comic, and especially one book as my definitive favourite. Everybody has a top ten, I like to think, and that number one spot is always in flux based on your mood, your personal history and whatever you've got going on at the moment.

For me, it's even harder when it's about my favourite book. First of all, I have moderately eclectic tastes. I'm not going to say I'm extremely eclectic because I don't read westerns, romances, or fantasy. Or chick lit. There's nothing wrong with any of those fields; I just have no interest in them. I like to read sci-fi, horror, mystery, historical fiction, drama, comedy, whatever.

Secondly, my tastes have changed quite a bit as I've gotten older. I've been reading progressively more difficult stuff since university, starting with my course on James Joyce's Ulysses. I've been trying to read books that challenge me and require active work on my part, critical thinking and all that jazz. But even though my tastes have changed, I still hold in my heart places for books that I read when I was younger and might not be challenging.

Since I don't really read pop fiction as much as I used to (I still keep Stephen King close to the top), most authors I read are not famous or, in most cases, are dead. When someone asks me about my favourite book, I try to search my mental list for the book they might recognize and I say that one. More often than not, that book is either Michael Crichton's Sphere or Stephen King's It. Those are the two books I've read the most, believe it or not. Sphere remains one of my favourite novels of all time, it's what sparked my interest in the fields of psychology, mathematics, genetics, giant sea monsters and anything to do with the bottom of the ocean (in that same category, James Cameron's film The Abyss also managed to ignite my curiosity and fascination with the seas). On the other hand, It is still one of the scariest novels I've ever read in my life. The sheer amount of scares and their diversity, based on children's fears, is astonishing, and the structure of the novel is fairly impressive, too. It also carries the distinction of being the first King novel I ever read and being one of the first "adult" novels I ever read.

The first being John Irving's masterpiece, The World According To Garp. That book left such a staggering impression on me that I will defend Irving's place in the literary canon to the day I die. While it's not terribly challenging (compared to Joyce or Woolf), it was work for me as a kid. I had never read anything that didn't involve adventure or a statistically predictable plot path. It was also very very very sad and emotionally profound. I had never read a book that hit me as hard as that did. Garp is the book I come up with when somebody a little bit older, who isn't an academic, asks me the dreaded question, the hope being that they recognize the name (it was a huge bestseller in the day).

When an academic, or a fellow literature student asks me my favourite book, I tend to focus on the more literary. Depending on how much I want to show off, I will go with either William Gaddis' The Recognitions or Cormac McCarthy's All The Pretty Horses (or the entire Border Trilogy). Gaddis' 900 page monster is about art and art forgery. It's also about everything you could possibly say about painting and counterfeit money and cocktail parties and Flemish painters and New York dramatists. It also contains some of the finest and most realistic dialogue ever put to the page. Nobody does dialogue like Gaddis. Nobody. He had the finest ear for American language and speech than any other writer, including Tom Wolfe or Richard Yates or Richard Ford. If Gaddis is the master of dialogue, then McCarthy is the American master of scenic views. McCarthy's All The Pretty Horses is a spectacular look at the myth of the cowboy, but that just scratches the surface. It's also a story about the internal moral compass we all carry and the external moral compass of law and justice. It's a classic novel that deserves a very high place on the literary canon.

I discovered The Recognitions through Jonathan Franzen and his novel The Corrections, and I will bring up that novel when I'm asked the question by someone who reads a lot and isn't prone to reading medium-to-high literature (such as the aforementioned Gaddis and McCarthy). I really like Franzen's novel, which is one of the most read novel of my life. I tried to read it once a year for awhile, just because it was so entertaining and such an excellent example of the "symphony" effect where there are numerous in-depth points of view (like Tolstoy). It's also a great easy read about modern family life. Very enjoyable.

Somebody might have noticed that all of these novels are written by American authors, and are distinctly American, about America. I tend to focus on American literature (about America-American literature I mean) because it's such a fascinating country, where fact is mixed up with myth and so much happens so quick. If I'm asked about my favourite Canadian novel, I will either go with Robertson Davies' Fifth Business or Douglas Coupland's Microserfs or All Families Are Psychotic.

But all of this depends on my mood and what I'm currently digging. I mean, right now I'm really in "dirty realism" by which I mean Richard Ford, Richard Yates, or Raymond Carver. I'm also loving Donna Tartt. This list hasn't even touched when I'm in a sci-fi mood and I love Richard Morgan, Philip K Dick and Alfred Bester.

I can easily tell you my favourite author, however. Well, there's two. Stephen King, whom I have read everything by, and Bret Easton Ellis, whom I would do my graduate work on if I was at all interested in graduate school at the moment (I've also read everything by Ellis, but he's not nearly as prolific).

However, I couldn't tell you my favourite Ellis novel as that depends on my mood. Ha!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mini-Reviews!

Sorry about the lack of posting. I kind of worked a lot and was really really really tired after working. Also, I was spending time with the g/f. Today's Mini-Reviews features only films that I've watched in the past three days. Have at it.

WALL-E

I'm a huge fan of the Pixar movies, and I've seen every one, excluding
Cars, which frankly I'm not interested in and is apparently the worst one. WALL-E, however, might be the second best one, just coming up behind The Incredibles. The story of Earth's last robot going on an adventure to save the human race to find love, it's incredibly sweet, exciting, funny, touching and fascinating. The entire movie looks so real that for a fraction of a second I thought I was watching miniatures. Apparently, the director sought to replicate the visual tics of actual film, not replicate reality, which makes the movie seem more real, or perhaps (if I might have a tangent here), WALL-E is an example of Jean Baudrillaud's hyperreality, in which the copy is more real than the original. Either way, the film was fascinating. There was a lot of social commentary, environmental commentary, and a lot of touching moments. I thought the g/f was going to cry at one point. It's highly recommended.

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

Sidney Lumet's 2007 drama stars heavyweight actors such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke and Albert Finney, and is a stark and gritty drama about two brothers who choose to rob a Mom and Pop store, their mom and dad's store. Told in specific perspectives, going back and forth in time, and filmed in high definition, this is a great character piece of the stupid things people do when they're trapped. I really enjoyed this movie for the characters and the actors, rather than the plot, which is a little emaciated. There's a good reason why this film was in a lot of Top Tens last year. Recommended.

Semi-Pro

I suppose Will Ferrell has now finished spending all the goodwill I granted him after the brilliance of
Anchorman. This particular film has chuckle-worthy moments and a couple great lines that are worthy of repetition but Ferrell and Woody Harrelson are easily the worst parts of this movie. What few bright shiny moments come from secondary and tertiary actors such as Andrew Daly who plays a radio announcer and Jackie Earle Haley who plays a stoned hippie owed money by Ferrell. The plot is paper-thin and the main character is just another Ron Burgundy.

Be Kind Rewind

Boring and unfunny. All the best bits are in the trailers. Everything else is just boring setup. I couldn't believe that I didn't laugh at a Ghostbusters joke. Mos Def, however, is a bright spot, who just gets better as an actor with every project. He'll go on to big things, I bet.

That's really it for Mini-Reviews! this time. I also watched New Nightmare, which I purchased in San Diego, but I will devote an entire post to that film.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Mighty Avengers 16


Did you ever wonder how and why Elektra was replaced by a Skrull? Well, The Mighty Avengers 16 is the issue you want to read.

We rewind the clock back to New Avengers 1 and show that it was Elektra (the Skrull) who paid Electro (haha) to hit The Raft. We also rewind the clock to see when Elektra gets hit, and she goes out with a bang. She kills a bunch of Super-Skrulls before she finally weakens for an instant and gets killed. Very nice. Then she infiltrates the Hand and becomes their leader. It's also revealed that Elektra was chosen to be the Skrull that gets killed and reveals the beginning of the conspiracy. End of story.

In a word: meh. Khoi Pham's pencils are acceptable and Bendis' dialogue is standard. The plot doesn't fill in any major holes other than who hired Electro (that's very helpful, actually) and doesn't advance anything. So whatever.

I suppose once I get to read the entire Secret Invasion thing in one sitting or a couple sittings, it will flow a lot nicer. So far, the entire thing has been one slow moving train. I look forward to the second half because the shocking twists will start to come. Let's go!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Well, At Least He Drives A Prius"

Have you seen these ads? This is great advertising: controversial, funny, simple and unique. I love great advertising. Sometimes the neatest art comes from it. Click here for info on the campaign.

"Killer"


"Prostitute"


"Lover"

Monday, July 14, 2008

California: San Diego

We had a lot of fun in California. But I don't think we had more fun than in San Diego. It was a beautiful city and we had a beautiful hotel close to downtown and about half an hour away from the zoo. We were close to the beach and close to everything. It was great.

So the first day we were there, we relaxed and got settled in our hotel room. But the second day, we went to the zoo, and spent most of the day there. The zoo is located in the middle of this huge park, right beside all these old missions and fountains. The parking lot was the size of the Assiniboine Park Zoo. It cost 60 dollars each for a five-day ticket to the zoo and to the Wild Animal Park, which we did the third day.

Anyway, the zoo was really big and really impressive. We saw a lot of animals I had always wanted to see, but never did. We saw a Komodo dragon, an anaconda snake, a snake with two heads, hippos, elk, an Arabian wild cat (which I wanted to bring home), giraffes and elephants. I'd never seen an elephant before and we saw Indian and African (there's a big difference apparently). There was so much neat stuff in the zoo. We saw the pandas, but there were so many people looking at the panda that it wasn't even comfortable. We even took a sky train that went right over the park. We also saw two polar bears have a huge play-fight in their pool. It was intense. On top of all that, we saw real live tigers! Cool! And I bought a Corona in the zoo and walked around with a beer. In a zoo. Crazy.





After the zoo, we were pretty much sunburnt and tired, so we went back to the hotel, changed and then hit downtown San Diego. We went to this neat outdoor mall where I purchased a cool Abercrombie and Fitch golf shirt. I also picked up, for seven dollars, Wes Craven's New Nightmare, which is my personal favourite Nightmare movie.

From there, we walked around looking for an authentic Mexican restaurant. We're super close to the border, so we thought we'd try real Mexican food. We found this great place called La Puerta. Oh my god. This might be the absolute best dining experience I've ever had in my life. Nothing has compared. The place was casual and small, but fun. They had old Mexican movies playing silently on televisions around the place and the bar was filled with more bartenders than there were customers. Also, they have an entire separate menu of tequila. Wow. We were served by two servers, one the regular server and then another guy who just kept filling our drinks and asking how everything was and being really awesome. We had "street tacos" with the most delicious guacamole ever - and I hate guacamole. Oh it was so good. Then I went up to the bar and asked one of the bartenders to pour me whatever tequila she liked best. As she was pouring it, she told me about how it was made and why it's so good. It was called Herradurra. I was giddy with the taste and the smoothness. Oh it was awesome.

We wandered downtown for awhile and it was really lively. Every club seemed to be jumping. Unfortunately, my g/f is under the drinking age in the US, so we couldn't imbibe, but we still looked in.

The third day we went to the Wild Animal Park, which tries to replicate an actual habitat for the animals. Not only was the Animal Park way bigger than the zoo, it was way more awesome. They had rhinos walking around and giraffes and cheetahs and jaguars. We saw some weird mountain goats who came right up to us looking for food. The best part of the entire park though was seeing the sleepy lions. They were all sleeping on top of a Jeep in the middle of the park. It was so neat. We also saw real gorillas. They were masssive!


After the park, we went back downtown and went right back to La Puerta. It was that good. I would recommend everybody and anybody to go to that restaurant. It was awesome.

So that's pretty much San Diego. There was more, but I don't feel like typing it. It's a beautiful, clean, fun city and I would go again in a heartbeat. Next up was Los Angeles!

The Mighty Avengers: Venom Bomb

I've tried reading every issue of New Avengers and Mighty Avengers as they're published so that I can appreciate the reveals and shocking twists of Secret Invasion. But after Frank Cho left the art chores of Mighty Avengers, the title was released with really quick speed, and I couldn't keep up until issue 13 or so. I purchased the hardcover collecting issues 7 through 11, and I'd like to talk about them for a second.

I like Bendis for his dialogue, his chronologies and his love of the bigger sized story while at the same time taking a moment to develop a character. Issue 13 of Ultimate Spider-Man (in which Peter reveals who he is to MJ) stands as the best single issue of Bendis' career and it's really only two people talking for 22 pages.

However, Bendis does have his flaws. His use of decompression is famous; nobody writes a slower arc than Bendis (maybe Geoff Johns). He also tends to writer every character with the same voice: sarcastic, prone to lots of pop-culture references and unnecessary jokes, AKA Peter Parker. But he writes everybody like that.

So when I came across Mighty Avengers 11, in which Doctor Doom has captured the Avengers, and he tells Ms Marvel to shut up, I was wondering if Bendis has EVER read a comic featuring Doctor Doom. He has a very unique diction in the Marvel Universe, and yet, this is what he says.

Wow.

That's incredibly poor dialogue. I liked this arc for its big dumb loud fun action: three double splash pages in a row. That's fun. I liked the time travel issue, I liked the Ares stuff. I liked it mostly. I also enjoyed the role that Spider-Woman plays in this arc. Very clever, Bendis, very clever.

I just didn't like that Doom bit. Female characters in Bendis comics always seem to get it worse. Here's a list off the top of my head: Spider-Woman and Wolverine
in the shower(!), Tigra being beaten on camera, Jessica Jones being mentally abused by the Purple Man, Ms Marvel being called a fat cow, the list goes on. Kind of disturbing.

I look forward to the next collection of Mighty Avengers comics.

Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears


So in my last post, I excoriated the Garth Ennis Ghost Rider arc called The Road To Damnation. I thought it tread the same worn ground that Ennis has explored and the art was tremendously poor. It was going to be difficult, I thought, to read the prequel.

Well...

It appears I was wrong. Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears was exactly what I wanted from a Garth Ennis-style Ghost Rider adventure. It's a prequel set after the Civil War, when a Confederate soldier, wounded in a battle, gets saved by a former slave, who takes him in and helps him heal. They become fast friends, and when Pelham, the soldier, goes to California to search for his fortunes, Caleb, the slave, and his family gets killed by an angry group of Union soldiers. Pelham comes back and vows vengeance, to hunt them down one by one. But another mysterious figure, a dark rider, is also on the hunt.

Complex, engaging, fully developed characters and a great ending are all things I wanted to say about the first mini-series, but now happily say it about this prequel. This was a terrific story about the dangers and the sweetness of vengeance. This story gets to the nugget of what Ghost Rider is: the spirit of vengeance. Ennis masterfully plays with that theme, and challenges the reader to root for the wrong character.

Even the art is improved. Instead of the heavily computer crap, this time Crain goes for a more painterly look. Everything has an old-timey feel. The anatomy is improved, and even the perspective (except for a couple bizarre panels that I wasn't even sure what I was looking at). This isn't enough to make me like Crain, considering that his visual storytelling techniques need vast improvement. But it was better.

I would definitely recommend this for fans of Ghost Rider and for fans of Garth Ennis. This is a good complex story about vengeance and what horrors people commit and see in its name.

Ghost Rider: The Road To Damnation


I've read pretty much everything I can get my hands on by Garth Ennis. He's one of my favourite writers, and he's very talented. That doesn't mean he's perfect, though, by any means. Case in point, the first six issues of the
Ghost Rider ongoing, titled The Road To Damnation.

Ghost Rider has been stuck in hell for two years with no way to escape, but two scheming angels devise a way for him to help them catch a demon on the loose on Earth, a demon who threatens to expose the secrets the angels are keeping. Hell sends Hoss a fat Southern demon on the trail of this demon and Heaven sends Ruth, a ruthless (ugh) archangel who will stop at nothing. It's a race against the supernatural to who will get this demon.

So, uh, yeah this wasn't very good. The plot seems sort of reminiscent doesn't it? Yeah, it sounds like the beginning set up of Ennis' classic
Preacher. Except this series has terrible art. Terrible.

This mini-series was terrible. If I hadn't read
Preacher, I might have enjoyed the story, considering that there's quite a few twists and turns in the mostly creaky plot. But since I have read Preacher (a bunch of times), I was more distracted by comparisons. Ghost Rider is no Jesse Custer. In fact, Ghost Rider is nobody. He's not given any character development in the slightest. He could have been anybody. He doesn't have his own voice, or his own anything, for that matter. Hoss, the Southern demon in the form of a fat man, has more character development than anybody in the entire series, and he's the comic relief. Yikes.

And the art is terrible. Absolutely terrible. Did I mention that already? Clayton Crain, who's not very prolific apparently, has the muddiest murkiest art I've ever seen. You can hardly make out anything. It doesn't help that his anatomy for humans is way off and his perspectives are wonky. It also doesn't help his style that he relies on a buttload of computer graphics as opposed to pencils. On top of that, the computer stuff is very poorly integrated into the actual pencils, making things look more fake. Jesus.

I don't think I've ever hated a Garth Ennis comic more than this, and I love the guy. It is going to be a chore to read the prequel,
Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears, but a reviewer's job is important and I can't let myself or my readers down.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mini-Reviews!

A quick one this time.

Ultimate Origins 2

I reviewed the first issue here, if you're interested, but to sum up (like I did in the review): boring. Anyway, with this issue, I guess the story is moving. It's a single issue origin of Captain America that fleshes out his passion for enlisting. Kind of a nice character piece, but as a "secret" origin of the Ultimate universe - I wasn't impressed. Unlike the previous issue, the pencils are fairly rushed and bland looking, like Guice ran out of time. Not a good sign considering there's three more issues to go. On the writer's side, Bendis' dialogue is fairly strong, and convincing of the period, but the story lags slowly, just like usual. Not recommended.

Detective Comics 846

Again, the previous issue was reviewed here, and the same creative team is responsible for this issue. Dini and Nguyen bring back Hush for whatever reason in this "Batman: RIP" crossover, even though the only thing that touches on that current storyline is a quick reference to it via Hush's narration. Ah, summer cash-ins. Anyway, this issue is fairly decent, with a gangster inspired by Aesop being hunted by Catwoman and the Batman while Hush watches in the shadows, planning his next move. Hush might be the most boring Batman villain possible. With most Batman villains, they have a cool origin, involving accidents and insanity and pure randomness, but Hush's origin makes him out to be a spoiled child with absolutely no redeeming qualities. The tragedy of Two-Face makes him a classic for example. But with Hush... not so much. This was average quality, neither excelling nor disappointing. A special mention goes out to Nguyen for getting better and better with every single comic he draws. From The Authority: Revolution to this, he's always improving.

That's it for this week. I tried reading Booster Gold 1,000,000 but was so disappointed and confused I couldn't finish the damn thing. I also read Transformers: All Hail Megatron 1 but that's review-proof, because really... what do you expect from a Transformers comic? Until next time....

Friday, July 11, 2008

Final Crisis: Requiem


The Martian Manhunter is dead at the hands of Libra
et al in the pages of Final Crisis 1, so DC tries to cash in on this with a single issue called Final Crisis: Requiem. For a cash-in issue, this might be one of the most poignant and touching superhero comic books I've ever read.

Expanding on the one page death scene, we see that once the Manhunter gets stabbed, he telepathically attacks all of the villains in the Secret Society until Libra stabs him again with Vandal Savage's knife. Not one to go without a fight, J'onn tries to take on Libra, but he's too wounded. He lets Libra know that their kind will always lose. Then he dies and explodes a telepathic message to certain League members.

The message is the history of Mars. Since J'onn is dead, the legacy of the Martian people now falls into the hands of J'onn friends, who transcribe an oral history of Mars in their sleep thanks to the telepathic command. Superman, Batman, Dinah, Hal and Zatanna(?) are now the keepers of Martian history.

In the final scene, Batman puts a Choco on the coffin and says goodbye. The end.

Written by Peter J. Tomasi and drawn by Doug Mahnke, this might be the best thing to come out of a big summer crossover event comic. It's heavy on the continuity in a loving way, rather than obsessive, and heavy on the character, rather than plot points. I don't think I was prepared for how much reverence and respect this comic would treat J'onn. It's very good.

Strongly recommended for Martian Manhunter fans and for readers not following
Final Crisis.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Secret Invasion 4


I wanted to start this review with a complaint that nothing has happened in this series yet, but that doesn't seem fair considering that it's a
secret invasion, more behind the scenes and whatnot. If I wanted to know how the Skrulls did it, I could just read the background info in the pages of The Mighty Avengers and The New Avengers. But no, I complained that the peripheral stories were boring and now I'm complaining that the main story is boring, lacking "events".

That's not entirely true. With this issue, Nick Fury and the new Howling Commandos take out a lot of Skrulls in New York, but they don't win the war. They also leave Ms Marvel to the enemy, assuming she's a Skrull. I'm not following the
Ms Marvel title, so I don't know for sure if she's not a Skrull, but that's the conclusion I'm coming to.

Also, The Black Widow gets Tony Stark back in the game. Or at least starting to get him back in the game. He wakes up from the virus and he says that he needs Reed Richards. Okay so now the humans are regrouping.

Finally, in terms of "events", Thor and the new Captain America come into the fray.

So I mean, it's not like nothing happens... it's just that nothing major is happening. For example, Jarvis having SHIELD surrender takes place over two issues! Talk about decompression! Also: oh noes, the Baxter Building is destroyed - big deal. It happens every decade. Reed Richards being taken off the playing field for half the series is major. But since Bendis refuses to have a focal character in this series, we're not feeling the sting of losing Richards.

I hate to do this so early in the game, but with in two issues of
Final Crisis, Morrison manages to create the same amount (or more) of dread and fear than in four issues of Secret Invasion. Both writers take the big brains off the board quickly: Batman and Richards. But with Final Crisis, Batman's exit is gruesome and hard to handle.

Yu's art manages to be serviceable and nice and terrible all in the same issue. Why does every male have to have the same weird lantern jaw? And every female has the same overly pouty lips? I dunno. There's bits where the art is tremendously effective, such as the continuation of the Jarvis scene. There, Jarvis is very creepy.

Hopefully the second half of Secret Invasion goes better and more grand. So far it's been average, but I wanted chaos on the highest level. C'mon Bendis. I know you can make the sh*t hit the fan even harder. Keep going.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Revolutionary Road


Sometime in March, I posted about Richard Ford and his trilogy of novels about Frank Bascombe. Often, Ford is categorized as belonging to the "dirty realism" genre, an unfortunately named subgenre of realism that relates to the sadnesses and losses of ordinary people. One of Ford's inspirations is the forgotten Richard Yates, author of the 1961 masterpiece
Revolutionary Road, which I finished today.

Revolutionary Road is the simple quiet story of Frank and April Wheeler, a suburbanite couple who are slowing breaking under the pressures of their marriage, of their jobs, of their children, of their neighbours and their neighbourhood. The America of 1955 is one of crushing development ambition, but they want only to move to Europe, where they can find themselves. The novel slowly traces their dissolution and their mistakes until the final moments of their marriage.

Yates uses numerous techniques to effortlessly convey the sadness and tragedy of it all. The prominent and most clever techniques is the bookending of the Laurel Players, a group of suburbanites who have made themselves an amateur theatre community. The first play they put up is The Petrified Forest, starring April Wheeler, but it goes poorly. All of the suburbanites turn out to be poor actors. From there, Yates intersperses that motif of poor acting throughout the novel, especially with Frank, an archetypal dreamer, who acts continually and without guilt. They're all just pretending to be happy, Yates implies.

For a novel written in 1961 and set in 1955, this is an extremely fresh feeling novel, as if I could have pretended it was set in the nineties or eighties (the lack of cellphones and computers being too big to pretend otherwise). The problems and issues that the novel talks about and that the characters talk about are still so very relevant today. It's so forward-thinking in terms of the prevalence of technology (Frank signs away the European freedom - sorta - for a job selling vacuum-tube computers) and the emptiness of suburbia and commuting and offices and seas upon seas of cubicles. It just goes on.

But when I say that the novel is an indictment of suburbia, you're probably thinking that it features two dumb suburbanites and we the audience laugh at their inanity and their stupidity. Instead, Yates uses the two main characters to comment on the inanity of suburbia for him. Frank and April Wheeler think they're above the common life; they're from Greenwich Village and college-educated. They ridicule the people and make their snide comments while we the audience can see their foolishness. We know that they will be ultimately defeated by Revolutionary Hill, the housing complex in which they live.

Yates' narrator (who may or may not be Yates) lets Frank Wheeler do much of the telling. We get inside of Frank's head while he perceives every injustice, every slight, every insult he receives and gives. Even his own wife gets short shrift in terms of physical appearance, but we know thanks to the narrator that she's actually quite pretty. Frank is the kind of man who thinks that life owes him; instead, life owns him. He thinks he can have an affair with a sort-of pretty office girl. He thinks he can talk his way out of and into anything. Every fight with his wife, he perceives as a battle that he vigorously plans and maps out. He tries to think of everything to make April see his side. He talks her out of an abortion, even though he doesn't want a child nor is ready for one. He's a despicable man, but thanks to the seemingly effortless narration, it's more sad than anger-inducing. I sympathize for the ordinary man, even if he doesn't think he's ordinary or thinks he deserves sympathy.

Another thing that pleased me about this novel was the high quality of dialogue. In my experience, dialogue wasn't terribly realistic in novels written in the first half of the twentieth century and before. It always came off stilted and plain. But Yates' dialogue is fresh sounding and realistic and I can hear their voices. This is the same quality as William Gaddis, in my opinion, the undisputed master of American dialogue.

I am absolutely in love with this novel and this subgenre currently. I've been reading Ford and some Raymond Carver and some Andre Dubus and other stuff currently, and I've got a bit ying for the sadnesses and losses of ordinary people. There's a dignity to Frank Wheeler and the blue-collar joes that Carver talks about. I strongly recommend this novel for any fans of American fiction, because this is American fiction in the definition that it doesn't just come from America but it's specifically about America. No other country or culture could have written this, and it's still very relevant.

So relevant actually, that famed director Sam Mendes, teamed with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, are bringing this novel to the screen in December. I hadn't known this until yesterday when I was Wikipedia-ing the book. Mendes seems a capable director, but I wonder if he can restrain himself from the garish or overly dramatic visuals. Yates' novel is quiet and psychological, rather than teeming with visual metaphors.

Look for my review of the film, for sure. I'm definitely seeing it.

Fantastic Four 558


Ugh. Another month, another disappointment. The previous issue, 557, was a letdown and anticlimactic. I know that Millar putting the pieces in place like he did with all of his other works, but this is just tedious. All of the shocking reveals in this issue, all the shocking teases, are all telegraphed from six miles away. Except for Banner being revealed as the architect of Doom's kidnapping. That's just confusing. Wasn't he locked away at the end of World War Hulk? Or did he escape in the pages of Jeph (bleurgh) Loeb's Hulk title? Who knows?

Anyway, this issue was boring and I don't really want to talk about it. Hitch's pencils are decent, but Millar's dialogue is verging on annoying in this issue. He attempts to make everybody sound so smart, but all the characters come off as stilted and wooden when they regurgitate Millar's reading of the Warren Ellis messageboard.

I didn't like this and it's harder and harder for me to review this title, considering my excitement and my affinity for the writer and the artist. You're making this hard, Hitch and Millar. I want you to do so much better and I know you can. Impress me, please.

Final Crisis 2


With the first issue of Final Crisis, I enjoyed it. I thought it was an good spin on very familiar DC tropes, but with Morrison at the helm, and Jones on art chores, it's gonna be good. So what's the deal with issue 2?

It's terrific. It's better than the first issue and why? Because Morrison's ridiculous pacing (no establishing shots, no catch-up with the reader) and Jones' ridiculous pencils all convey a gorgeous sense of absolute dread and fear. There's something sinister and evil brewing with Libra and the armies of Apokalips, and with this issue, the sh*t starts hitting the fan. Also, Barry Allen comes back from wherever he was. Whoops. Spoiler alert. Sorry about that. Also, the Alpha Lanterns are evil. Whoops. Again. Man I'm terrible with this spoiler thingie. OH yeah, the Daily Planet blows up and Lois is seemingly killed. Jeez. Another spoiler.

So yeah, all these crazy things happen at an incredibly fast pace - densely plotted as per Morrison's JLA-style - and pieces are put into place to make this a terrific story. I absolutely love Morrison's grand action style - nobody writes the dialogue better than he does and nobody makes it as dense as he does.

This is superhero fiction at its best, I think I'm going to say. If only Jones could keep up the art (Carlos Pacheco is on hand for the last three issues I think), then this would be awesome.

In two issues, Morrison has made me more excited about the DC universe than any other writer working in that sandbox. I look forward to what comes next.

New Avengers 42 and Mighty Avengers 15

We continue to rewind the clock with both Avengers titles, as Secret Invasion continues to... exist? It's not really doing anything. In two issues, Final Crisis got me more jazzed than twenty issues of Secret Invasion and its spin-offs. So anyway, let's take a look.


In New Avengers 42, we get some Jim Cheung art, the guy who did the decent Illuminati mini-series, and some decent Bendis reveals. This issue is all flashback as it shows us how the Skrulls switched places with Spider-Woman, and all the underhanded spying she did for four sides... yes that's right, she's a quadruple agent. Let me list them for you: the New Avengers/SHIELD, Hydra, Nick Fury and finally the Skrulls. Confused? Well don't be. It makes a weird amount of sense. Anyway, Bendis even recycles scenes from previous issues of New Avengers, but with Jim Cheung art. Literally it's the same pages but with different art. Kind of neat when you bookend it with additional panels that show the Skrulls being all insidious. This was another issue in a long line of slow-moving Bendis issues. I'm not blown away by it, but neither am I bored by it.

A question, though. At the end of New Avengers 42, Spider-Woman and the Avengers and the X-men go to Genosha to confront Wanda Maximoff, and then the "film" burns and it fades out. When did this happen? Wasn't this after House Of M, which was before the beginning of the New Avengers, which clearly took place before this confrontation in this issue? This is me being confused, not being a continuity nitpicker. I don't get it! Oh well.


In Mighty Avengers 15, it's the exact same story, but this time, with John Romita Jr art. Yes! Well, sorta. He does layouts and Klaus Janson does finishes (but Janson has always been a good mimic - either JRjr's style or Frank Miller's, Janson can do it) but it still looks neat. With this flashback issue, we take a look at Hank Pym being replaced. It's interesting, but it doesn't have the same punch, considering Pym has been a tertiary character for years. This issue lacks the wallop of revisiting scenes in a new light, like New Avengers 42. This issue had some good Bendis dialogue, and some good character bits, but like most of Bendis' Avengers output, there is little plot movement, little forward thrust.

So whatever. This week, Secret Invasion 4 comes out, and we'll see what plot twists Bendis has got planned.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Lisey's Story


On the road trip, I read entirely Stephen King's 2006 "horror" novel Lisey's Story. I had just recently finished Duma Key, and I was sort of impressed. I had heard fairly good things about Lisey's Story, so I thought I'd pick it up.

In my review of
Duma Key, I wrote about King's trademarks, such as coining phrases as shorthand for things, and the constant revisiting to the theme of the creation of stories and the telling of stories as conduits. Consistently, King carefully dusts off the idea that the storytellers and the artists are merely portals (figuratively and literally sometimes) and that stories are bigger than people or places.

Well... in
Lisey's Story, he finally comes out and says it. The stories we tell are merely fishes we've net from the story-pool. It's not an idea invented by King, it's something humanity has toyed with forever, but in this novel... King does it very well.

Lisey is the widow of Scott Landon, famous author and winner of numerous prestigious literary awards. Two years after he's died, Lisey finally starts to unlock painful and mysterious memories about Scott and about Scott's past and about his own stories. These memories may be the only thing that keeps her from being killed at the hands of an unhinged Scott Landon fan.

The story is incredibly psychological. This is King channeling The Master to the best of his abilities. We spend practically the entire novel in Lisey's thoughts and memories as King weaves a complicated structure of reliving the past and escaping the present. For a good part of the novel, I was simply enjoying the quality of the prose (obviously King agonized over some carefully selected sentences like Flaubert would) and the numerous coinages and phrases he invented (or stole, see the afterword). But then, as the layers upon layers of memories got more complicated, I put on my "literary criticism" hat and started looking past the surface, past the story-pool's mirrored surface into the deeper waters of symbolism and metaphor, if I might paraphrase King's central thesis here.

King's novel channels more than just Henry James or Flaubert; he's practicing Mrs. Dalloway and Stephen Dedalus with the level of stream-of-consciousness he's playing with. This might be King at his most deeply psychological. Lisey comes across so vividly sometimes that it's majestic, as a real breathing human with common thoughts and anxieties.

Unfortunately, there are flaws in this novel, that stops it from rising to the lofty heights of the aforementioned authors. Lisey might seem real sometimes, but not all the time. More real than anybody else is the dead author at the centre, Scott Landon, an author sort of kind of like King himself. The most real character in the book is the dead one? I'm not sure if that's intended, but it doesn't matter - it's a flaw.

Of course, the horror in the novel itself is okay and entertaining, but nothing like the layered memory games that King plays in the novel's middle sections. In fact, the climax is seen from so far away that I want to quote the fictional editor in the novel and say that "the plot creaks a bit there, old boy".

It doesn't ruin the novel at all, but keeps it from floating with the greats. No, it's simply another Stephen King novel that's quite a bit better than most pop-lit superstars but not nearly at the level of the masters that he's so obviously inspired by.

I really liked this book, but I didn't love it. I'll stick with King, and see what he produces as his ambitions grow, and hopefully he rocks my socks off, like I think he might be able to do.

The Little Friend


I finished this in North Dakota of all places, too bad not in Mississippi, but I finally finished it nonetheless. I've been reading it since May, and now that I finished it, I can try and get my thoughts down.

I liked it. That's for sure. I loved the sheer muscular quality to the prose. Tartt, who's only other novel is The Secret History published ten years prior, has an unmistakable confidence in every sentence, and it exudes without arrogance. At first, I was a little bored by the languid pace of the novel, as Harriet, the main character, moves slowly around solving the murder of her elder brother in rural Mississippi. Once I understood what was happening, that Tartt was carefully crafting a comment on children's adventure stories, I was hooked. This isn't a novel about children solving mysteries... far from it. This is a novel about children and stories.

Let me spoil the novel for you. Years before, Harriet's brother Robin was mysteriously murdered and with no clues, leads or suspects, the police gave up the investigation and moved on with their lives, unlike Harriet's entire family, her spacey grieving mother, her adulterous and never-present father, her sleeping and shy sister, and her pantheon of mothering figures in the form of a grandmother and numerous great-aunts. Inspired by Captain Scott and Ivan Hoe and whoever else Harriet is reading, she sets out, with the help of her friend, Hely, to solve the murder. Their primary suspect is Danny Ratliff, a former schoolmate of Robin and now speed addict, and brother to Farish, the local drug dealer.

Things spin out of control as the naive children get involved in the darkness of the drug dealing and obviously dysfunctional Ratliff family, until it reaches a climax in which Harriet may or may not have drowned Danny (who has just murdered Farish) in a gigantic obelisk-like water tower. Recuperating in the hospital, Harriet has Hely dispose of the gun she stole from her father which did not kill or shoot anybody, which implicates her in the murder of Farish and the disappearance of Danny. When she tells Hely to get rid of the gun, she then implicates Hely in the matter - and Hely is far from the most trustworthy person in the world. Unable to keep a secret, Hely reveals what he thinks has happened to classmates and to his brother Pemberton (the boy casually dating Harriet's sister).

In the novel's final pages, Harriet finds out Danny is alive and she's not in trouble, but she devises a story to tell Hely anyway, to either impress him or keep him as her friend. At the same time, Hely reveals to Pemberton what he thinks has happened (because Harriet never told him the full story) and Pemberton laughs it off as a story that Hely is inventing.

I spoil the novel for a specific reason. It's important to note that both Hely and Harriet, at the end of the novel, are figuring out ways to tell stories to people, for the story they craft is far more important than the real story, which is that Danny is most certainly innocent of Robin's murder and that the true murderer is never revealed to the audience or to Harriet. Since the stories of what they read informed them of the story that we read, the story that they make is more important than the real story that we want to know.

Again, I find myself reading a story about stories and how they shape people. "A word after a word after a word is power" said Margaret Atwood, and it's never more apparent than in this novel. Now, I'm not a professor of literature, and I might be interpreting this novel incorrectly, but that's what I took from this. It's a story about stories and it was damn good.

I relish reading The Secret History now and I wait anxiously for her next novel. Hopefully she isn't like Gaddis and puts one out faster.