jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Links go to trailers:
  • In Bruges: a heartwarming Christmas tale of two UK hitmen laying low in a scenic Belgian town after a hit gone wrong. Only for "heartwarming" read "dark and thoughtful and sometimes quite funny and always, always, dark." I enjoyed it, I think; would watch again but not for another year or two. (See also: F***ing Bruges, a 90-second clip of all the swearing in the movie.)
  • Young Adult: a character study of the kind of woman who was popular in high school and never had to learn how to be an adult. Also funny but that's not really the point. I've enjoyed all of Jason Reitman's other films (Thank You For Smoking, Juno, and the sublime Up In The Air) so I figured, why not? Well done and discomforting and I'm not sure I'd see it again. (I didn't so much care for Juno either, which makes me think I just don't get on with Diablo Cody's scripts.)
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: a slow-moving Cold War espionage thriller starring an almost unrecognizable Gary Oldman. I loved it but I'm a sucker for twisty plots and watching people put pieces together, and this had those in spades.
  • The Artist: there's really no point in making a black-and-white silent movie in 2011 unless it a) is about late-twenties and early-thirties Hollywood and b) uses its lack of sound as commentary. The Artist does both, quite well. I'm glad I saw it, and even more glad I saw it in a theatre: it seems the kind of thing that's a little pointless to watch in the privacy of one's home.
In front of those I got a bunch of forgettable trailers, plus one for Ralph Fiennes's modern-day Coriolanus which I will probably see, and one for a Margaret Thatcher biopic to which I said, out loud, "You have got to be kidding me." I really don't feel like I'm missing anything by not indulging in more pop culture, especially not at $13 a pop for a matinee.

Over Xmas I also read all of Azzarello & Risso's 100 Bullets because I never did get around to finishing it, and then for good measure reread Ennis & Dillon's Asshole Irish Vampire Preacher, neither of which moved me as much as I'd hoped. Cassidy's "Ye're a wanker, aren't ye?" is still the greatest thing one can say to a goth, and 100 Bullets has its own crowning moments of cool ("You can't feel numb. You can only be numb." Or, "...they'll tell you about some noble bullshit that killed her." "How do you know?" "I'm noble bullshit.") but ... I dunno. The glimmers of interesting depth are drowned in gore and patriarchial crap.

The interesting thing about the end of Preacher is that at the end of it... nothing's changed. Tulip and Jesse are back together, and Cassidy's out doing whatever Cassidy does. Sure, the Grail's broken, and God's been shot, but honestly? None of that affects the characters at all. We're /told/ that Jesse and Cassidy have grown up some but we don't actually see it.

I seem to be less impressed with comics than I used to be. I'm almost afraid to reread Sandman, it's been so long.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Mario Puzo, The Last Don

It's no Godfather. The main thrust of the plot is set up in the first chapter, and everything else is watching that plot resolve. Except that it gets complex enough that I forgot what that plot is, and spent some time wondering "Why do I care about this?" The characters are interesting enough but not sufficiently compelling. If this is what the rest of Puzo's books are like I'll stick with Godfather, thanks.

Garth Ennis and Killian Plunkett, Unknown Soldier

Every so often I reread something and recognise where it shaped some of my attitudes. Unknown Soldier, to choose an example not at all at random, pretty clearly laid the foundation for my present-day distrust of and distaste for real-world covert government operations. That said, it's a fantastic story with pretty good art and some disturbingly good character work.

Charles Schulz, Peanuts: A Golden Celebration

Yep, more Peanuts. A collection of strips with Schulz's commentary on some, and other people's notes on others. Amusing but (for me) not worth a purchase.

McSweeney's editors, Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans

A humor anthology, the best of McSweeney's web humor articles. About a third of these I'd seen before but were still worth revisiting. Especially Noam Chomsky's commentary on Fellowship of the Ring and "On the implausibility of the Death Star's trash compactor." A good gift book, I think.

J. Michael Straczynski et al, Supreme Power: Contact
Supreme Power: Powers & Principalities

What if Marvel wrote the DC universe in the twenty-first century? Excellent stuff, some of the best superhero comics I've read. I particularly liked the black Batman, though Superman's naivete is rather charming as well . . ."I though I could wear a disguise, maybe these glasses." Worth reading, possibly worth buying.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts: 1950-1952
The Complete Peanuts: 1953-1954

Yay Peanuts! The first four-plus years of my favorite comic strip collected in one place (starting in October 1950). Watching the characters turn into their familiar selves is fascinating: Lucy in particular grows up from being a baby that Charlie Brown has to keep an eye on to "World's Greatest Fussbudget." Amazing stuff, and still quite funny fifty years later.

Jeph Loeb / Jim Lee, Batman: Hush

Eh. Apparently a super-hyped story with a SOOPER SEKRIT villain. News flash: if you introduce a random new guy from Batman's past, people are going to assume he's the bad guy, because they've seen this schtick before. Other than that, it felt like the typical cavalcade of villains, plus the obligatory fight between Batman and Superman. Unimpressive, especially considering it was released in two volumes. I pity the people who spent money on this.

Jeph Loeb / Tim Sale, Batman: Haunted Knight

Far better. Three (four?) one-shot Halloween stories, including one genuinely creepy one involving Scarecrow. Short Batman stories are generally better than the long arcs, I'm finding. [Obvious exceptions exist, like Year One.] Good to know that Jeph Loeb's reputation isn't wholly unfounded.

Neil Gaiman / Yoshitaka Amano, Sandman: The Dream Hunters

Fantastic take on a traditional Japanese tale ("The Fox, the Monk, and the Mikado of All Night's Dreaming") with gorgeously painted artwork. The saddest thing I've read in ages.

Jeph Loeb / Tim Sale, Batman: The Long Halloween

An exception to the 'short Batman better' rule I just came up with. Thirteen issues, each about a differnt holiday (well, except that #1 and 13 are both Halloween), each another grisly murder (except for April Fool's). Good stuff, well-written, and a good mystery.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Grant Morrison / Steve Yeowell, Sebastian O

Steampunk, with Illuminatus! levels of sex and weirdness. How quaint. Morrison has yet to really overwhelm me, especially when I could be reading Warren Ellis instead. Even the overall plot is subpar. Bleh.

Jerry Scott / Jerry Borgman , Random Zits

Collections seven and eight. Yet more daily comics about growing up a teenager. The sequence in which the antique VW bus actually starts moving amused me greatly.

Matt Boyd / Ian McConville, Mac Hall volume One Whatever

First collection of a fairly amusing webcomic. If I didn't know for a fact this was the first collection I'd feel like I was missing several weeks' worth. A lot of it comes across as in-jokes that I'm not in on. The art is alright, and the guy with a cat on his head for no discernable reason is rather cool. And the in-jokiness gets less as the collection goes on.

Bill Willingham et al, Fables: March of the Wooden Soldiers

Volume four. I really don't know why I never started collecting individual issues of Fables. Too late now, though, especially since Vertigo is being really good about releasing trade paperbacks. Some good development in both character and plot, and the first glimpse of the Adversary's forces. It's definitely going somewhere and will be a good ride as it goes.

Jon Stewart, America: The Book

Amusing history of the US, in pseudo-textbook format. Sort of an American version of 1066 And All That: brighter-colored and more in-your-face, but less clever. Still a fun read. Worth buying if you can get it on sale.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Gene Wolfe, In Green's Jungles

Short Sun vol.2. Continuing with the half-and-half treatment from the first volume. Horn's lander is taken over by inhumi [alien creatures, more or less like vampires] and diverted to their home planet of Green, rather than heading straight for the Whorl. Horn escapes the inhumi and wanders in the jungle, eventually dying and passing into the body of an old man on the Whorl. Meanwhile, the protagonist leads a war against another colony-state on Blue, and mentally journeys to Green and to Urth in the time of Severian.

Still confusing but I'm getting a handle on it. Parts seem irrelevant but probably aren't; parts that feel especially relevant aren't fleshed out. Frustrating. But still a damned good read.

Barry Hughart, Eight Skilled Gentlemen

The third of the Master Li and Number Ten Ox books; the second [The Story of the Stone] is essentially out of print. It's not as lighthearted as Bridge of Birds and even more steeped in Chinese mythology, but the humor and heart are still present. I'd really like to read more of these.

art spiegelman, In the Shadow of No Towers

Oversize comic, collecting some of spiegelman's work for the New Yorker [I think] in the months after the fall of the World Trade Center. It's alright, but the last eight or so pages are reminiscences and 'classic' comics, and I clearly lack the erudition to really understand [say] Little Nemo, or the depth of Krazy Kat and Ignatz. The first half is worth the read; the second not so much.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Gene Wolfe, Caldé of the Long Sun

Long Sun 3, in which Silk gets put in charge of the city, more or less. There's a rebellion that's been in progress since the end of the last book that gets sort of resolved. I really don't remember a lot about this volume, but I don't doubt that it was important to the plot.

Gene Wolfe, Exodus From the Long Sun

A conclusion to the series. Some backstory revelation, an invasion of Silk's home city, and [as expected] a departure from the Whorl. The series started to fall apart just a little in this volume; the return of the god Pas in particular felt forced. That's overshadowed by the way-coolness of what's at the end of the Long Sun, though.

And then you get the epilogue, where Wolfe sets up for the next series and tacks on his standard confusing-narrator issues to an otherwise somewhat straightforward series. Bah. Bah, I say. This cheapens the work he's done building up the characters in the rest of the book. Bah. [The series as a whole is still my favorite of his work.]

Patrick O'Donnell, Mutts: I Want to be the Kitty

Cute comic strip about pets and owners. O'Donnell writes some of the best cats I've ever seen [Bucky and Catbert are parodies; Mooch is much more real], and his artwork is distinctive and functional. He's not always as funny as Darby Conley or Stephan Pastis but he's got heart, and that's worth something.

Gene Wolfe, On Blue's Waters

Book of the Short Sun volume 1. Hoo boy. The narrator issues are back in force here. The book is told in first person, but the cast of characters distinguishes between the 'protagonist' and the 'narrator.' Ow.

This is the story of Horn, a pupil of Silk's, who now lives on the planet Blue with a bunch of colonists from the Whorl. He's been sent back to the Whorl to find Silk and bring him to Blue to rule over the colony. [Silk got separated from the departing colonists at the end of Long Sun.] The book's split between two timelines: Horn writing down his journey from home to the lander that will eventually take him to the Whorl, interspersed with Horn talking about what's going on in his life right now. If this sounds confusing, it is. Adding to the confusion, the people he's hanging around with are calling him Silk, though he's convinced that he's Horn. Ow ow ow.

This isn't anywhere near as easy a read as Long Sun. I question whether it'll be as rewarding, too.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe, A Walking Tour of the Shambles

This is the sort of book that says something utterly outrageous, laughs a little too loud, and then abruptly stops laughing and stares directly at you, so that you're pretty sure it wasn't really kidding. It's ostensibly a guidebook through a scary section of Chicago ["mysteriously untouched by the Great Fire. 'Ya can't burn Hell,' one resident joked"'], and is in actuality a chance for Gene and Neil to write something fun and creepy. Probably not worth $16, but what the hell.

David Callahan, The Cheating Culture

Perhaps the most fundamentally depressing book I've read in ages. Callahan explores the widespread epidemic of cheating in modern culture: he looks in-depth at sports, education, and finance, and mentions other areas as well. I found the "how the heck did we get here" section especially enlightening: I'd heard Jonathan expound on the combination of sixties individualism and eighties greed before, but Callahan also excoriates the conservative focus on "values" for its tacit insistence that only results matter. Plus there's the Red Queen effect, where if you don't cheat and everyone else does you're handicapping yourself . . . it's an ugly mess. He offers some potential solutions in the last chapter, but overall this isn't a solution book, it's a problem analysis book. Everyone should read this one.

Ted Naifeh, Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things
Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics
Courtney Crumrin in the Twilight Kingdom

Three wonderful comics featuring a junior-high-school outcast studying witchcraft. "Coraline, only not by Neil Gaiman and a comic book" is how I once described it. Courtney's a far more believable character than the average angst-ridden teen. She's genuinely unpleasant to people, for starters. And when you see her emotional fragility it feels genuinely fragile, and not like something that can be solved by whisking her away to someplace magical.

The first volume is a collection of four short tales; the second is a complete story arc. The third is curiously inbetween: its first issue was a separate story, and then the next three belong together. The second was probably the strongest of the three but I can see an argument for preferring the third one. Good stuff all around, though.

Terry Bisson, Bears Discover Fire

The best short-story collection I have read in a very, very long time. Witty prose and ideas, good characters, and just plain fun. Includes the brilliant title story, as well as "They're Made of Meat" which can be found online, and a weird piece entitled "Coon Suit" that appeared in F&SF when I had a subscription. A lot of the shorter stories in the book have an eco-theme; in the Afterword he says that this is because A) he's conserving paper and B) if they got longer they'd get preachy. I dunno; some of them are a bit preachy already, but it's hard to see thme becoming any more so.

Jeff Smith, Bone

Sixtyish issues of epic comic book story. Originally published in nine volumes. I'd probably feel gypped if I'd had to buy nine books to get the story told here, but in one volume it's worth having. It's at its best when Smith's laying on the funny ("Stupid, stupid rat-creatures!"); about three-fifths of the way through the plot starts to get pretty serious, and I think the story suffers as a result. I do like the art, though.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Stephan Pastis, Pearls Before Swine: Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Book

Collection of the first two Pearls books, with commentary by Pastis and the Sunday strips in color. Still one of the funniest strips around, and the commentary is pretty good too.

Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, et al, 1602

Neil writes Elizabethan-era Marvel comics. Hilarity ensues. "The four from the ship called Fantastic" were a nice touch, as were young Peter Parquagh's constant brushes with spider-bite. Captain America incarnated as a blond-haired blue-eyed Native American was a bit much, but it all ties together nicely in the end. I had fun with this one even knowing as little about the Marvelverse as I do.

Mark Waid, Barry Kitson, et al, Empire

A comic about life under the bad guy's rule. I remember bits of plot [the daughter, the betrayal] but not how it made me feel, and I have no strong desire to read it again. So I guess it didn't have much impact on me. Oh well.

Steven Brust, Agyar

Still the best book ever. On Steve's advice I watched for the phases of the moon and their correspondences with Jack's behavior this time. Nifty.

Susanna Clarke, three stories

Susanna's a wondrous writer with a flair for capturing the fun of nineteenth-century prose without the dullness. "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse" is a fun romp in Gaiman & Vess's Stardust world, and "The Ladies of Grace Adieu" introduces the inimitable Mr Jonathan Strange, about whom more later. The checkerboard story from the NYT whose name escapes me was less cool, but still a good story.

Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

What a wondrous book. Some of Childermass's actions at the beginning leave me a bit puzzled, but overall I can't think of anything I disliked about it. Except maybe for the fact that it ended. I especially appreciated the description of faeries as having much magic but little reason, as opposed to humans. And the occasional bits of very dry wit. "Mr Norrell, who knew that there were such things in the world as jokes as he had read about them in books, but who had never been introduced to a joke, nor shaken its hand . . ."

[Posted with hblogger 2.0 http://www.normsoft.com/hblogger/]
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Mario Puzo, The Godfather

Picked this up at work one day and flipped through it, and decided I needed to sit down and read the whole thing. The prose has a lot of the same fluid quality of the dialogue in the film; I don't know if I can really describe it. It flows through the book like olive oil. You think, oh, that odd word choice or word order is just an affectation, nobody really thinks like that. But they do. Precision. Cold rage. "And perhaps someday, a day which may never come, you will do a favor for me" is an only slightly exaggerated example. I adored this book. Now I'll have to find something else interesting by Mario Puzo to see if the style can hold my interest for more than a single book.

Andy Diggle and Jock, The Losers: Island Life

Nine through twelve. I fear the comic may degenerate into a series of fetch-quests for the next Maguffin: this time they're after the contents of a safe, mostly because the Goliath corporation is also after it. There's bits of metaplot that trickle in, and this story arc has a volcano which makes everything better. I keep reading, and enjoying, but I start to worry.

Andy Diggle and Nick Dragotta, The Losers: Sheikdown

Two-part story, issues thirteen and fourteen. New artist. Bleh. I hadn't realised how much of my enjoyment came from Jock's art-nouveau characters [like The Kindly Ones, only good]: having full faces and less sharp angles feels jarring after a year of pointyness. The story is better, too, with a solid supporting-cast member or three.

Leonard Mlodinow, Euclid's Window

In which the author of Feynman's Rainbow documents the history of geometry. Which is kind of interesting stuff, to me at least. He sprinkles nifty factoids throughout [one guy "proved" the parallel postulate by positing an alternate form of the postulate and then deriving Euclid's statement of it from that, for instance] and uses his children in all his examples, but I still wasn't too thrilled by the book. I got even less thrilled when he tried to relate geometry to Einstein's relativity [which makes sense] and then to string theory [which doesn't, much]. Part of the problem may be that I still can't conceive of Lobachevskian ["hyperbolic"] spaces.

I'm mostly fascinated by the idea that not only is the parallel postulate [given a line and a point not on the line, there's exactly one line parallel to the line that goes through the point] unprovable in Euclidean geometry, but that breaking it gives you wonderfully consistent alternate geometries, which may even represent space better than Euclidean. If anyone knows of a good introduction to Lobachevskian geometry, I'd love to take a look at one.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Alan Moore and David Lloyd, V For Vendetta

I hate the art for this book. Looks too much like newsprint, and there's far too much use of yellows and browns for my taste. Having said that, V is a neat post-nuclear-war Orwellian anarchist fable. It clarifies the distinction between anarchy ["without leaders"] and chaos, it invokes Guy Fawkes and Thomas Pynchon, and it's generally a good story. Not great; ranks behind From Hell and Watchmen. But still quite good.

Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, Black Orchid

I read this when I lived in Apt 6 and had just started getting into Sandman. I remember thinking that it had a great beginning ("I'm just going to shoot you. Now.") and got kind of weird.

It's still got a great beginning, and it still gets kind of weird. Behind the weird is a really effective story about living your life, with references to the DC comics universe strewn hither and yon. Dave McKean's art is first-rate, and Neil's scripting is good but has gotten better over time. I'm glad this is finally back in print.

Jamie Delano and David Lloyd, The Horrorist

I'm not actually clear whether this is a two-part book called The Horrorist, or whether the story is called "Antarctica" and it's part of a larger series called "The Horrorist." With that out of the way . . . David Lloyd's art is a lot more palatable here than it was in V. The story itself is a kind of small Constantine story about how he's dead to the world, can't feel anything, and he encounters a creature that preys on human, well, horror. Sort of interesting but nothing to write home about. I'm not sure whether I keep reading Constantine because I like the character or because I feel vaguely obligated to do so, having gotten this far.

Alan Dean Foster, The Mocking Program

Aborted halfway through.Okay, it's set in a nifty gritty near-future, yes, even cyberpunk world, and it's a murder mystery with cool technology. But the main character is just too perfect. Not only is he the perfect moral cop, but he's an "intuit" [low-level empath], so you can't even lie to him. People he questions tell him things he wants to know after making a token show of resistance-- this includes young street punks, shopkeepers who could get killed for spilling their guts, gangsters about to kill him, etc. The exploding house in Chapter 2 was cool enough that I kept reading, hoping for more stuff that was that cool-- but when Foster interrupted a sex scene for a paragraph-long digression about the technology, I realised that the man simply has no sense of pacing and prepared to give up. Not even the appearance of talking monkeys halfway through was enough to save this one.
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Mike Mignola etc, B.P.R.D.: Hollow Earth and Other Stories

Hellboy stories sans Hellboy. The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense employed Hellboy until he quit, and still employs Abe Sapien and Roger the homunculus, though [as the first story opens] maybe not for much longer. In "Hollow Earth" the two are joined by a disembodied German medium and go in search of Liz Sherman, who took an extended leave of absence in one of the earlier books. "Hollow Earth" is probably the best of the stories in the collection. It's got Nazis ["Those guys were everywhere"], some solid character work [the first few pages with Liz and the monks are some of the best writing Mignola's done in the series], and some great lines ["It's not always like this. Sometimes we play cards"]. Hellboy appears occasionally in flashbacks; the team misses the big red guy, but the story does just fine without him.

There's also two short pieces, a Lobster Johnson story, and then an Abe Sapien story written and drawn by not-Mike-Mignola. Ehh. The storyline itself isn't bad, but the art . . . Abe has scales. Nuf sed.

Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Well. I picked this up on a lark one morning at work, and it just kind of drew me in, 'til I finished it that evening. It's about an autistic guy who decides, on his own, to investigate the murder of the dog across the street. Not really. I mean, that's the plot, but the book is really about autism [well, Asperger's syndrome] and seeing the world through the eyes of one of its victims. It's about someone who doesn't -- can't -- realise he's being supremely annoying, who's definitely made great strides since he started therapy [he can at least recognise that other people have minds now] but is far from wholly functional . . . it's an absolutely fascinating read.

See, Christopher [the main character] doesn't recognise that there's anything unusual about what he does at all. He compares having a bad day because of the number of yellow cars that he passes on the way to school to an indoor office worker having a bad day because it's raining. Okay. I can understand that. But it's [for him] a short step from that to refusing to have anything to do with anything that's yellow. . . and explained from his point of view so well that it takes me a second to realise "Wait a minute. This is nuts." I'm cruising along, reading, loving the story and the prose, and all of a sudden I realise that people are shouting at Christopher for the simple reason that, as Adam Cadre put it, he's persistently fucking annoying.

Man. This probably merits a re-read, just so I can talk about something other than the style.

Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, Batman: Broken City

They put 100 Bullets on hiatus for this? It's a vaguely interesting and well-drawn Batman story that pulls in random Batvillains for no reason, and in fact would have been much better Batless. *sigh* At least they're back to work now.
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Gene Wolfe, The Sword of the Lictor

Well. Well, well, well. Lots going on here, as usual: conversations with Hierodules, wrap-up of some plot threads that have been dangling since book 1, a glimpse at life in a city outside Nessus. There's also a lengthy digression from the plot [I know, I know: how could I tell?] involving a child named Severian and a giant named Typhon. An interesting digression, yeah, but I got through it and realised "Nothing just happened here." Still and all, I'm really enjoying these. They're making me think.

Gene Wolfe, The Citadel of the Autarch

Um. What the hell just happened? I swear, if I hadn't read that couple of sentences out of Castle of the Otter I would be so lost. As it is I'm only sort of lost. I think I understand what happened, but the time-travel stuff has me really weirded out. I think I'll need to reread these in a year or so. [Though on reflection, some of it makes a bit more sense. Only a bit.]

The Ascians are really neat. They're sort of the end result of Confucianism crossed with totalitarianism; they can only say pre-approved phrases, and it's not clear whether or not they have names. ["I am Loyal to the Group of Seventeen."] Dorcas is dealt with appropriately, and the apparent contradictions in her revivification aren't dealt with, but are pointed out, just like it's pointed out that Severian managed to bring his dog Triskele back to life years before he ever got ahold of the Claw. And the multiple-personality Autarch is fun as well. It was a fun trip, but I'm not too sure where it's brought me.

Scott Adams, Don't Stand Where the Comet Is Assumed to Strike Oil

Dilbert number twenty-three. The strips in this volume range from fairly funny to "ehh." Maybe it's that my snark quotient is being filled by Pearls, and I thus have less need for Dilbert's corporate-type snark.

Grant Morrison, Chris Weston, and Gary Erskine, The Filth

Interesting comic book about a secret government agency that cleans up various Illuminati-like messes. There's a lot of neat ideas in here [like the bottled secret agents], but I kept thinking that Warren 'Transmetropolitan' Ellis could have done it all so much better. Probably just a matter of taste. Doubt I'll be reading the rest of The Invisibles, though.

The intro, though, is pure gold. "WARNING: The Filth contains the active ingredient metaphor. If you are allergic to metaphor, please consult a doctor before consuming The Filth." Et cetera.
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Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light

One of Zelazny's first novels, and one of his best. Sort of science-fiction crossed with superheroes and Hindu mythology. Perhaps the best opening paragraph I've ever read:

His followers called him Mahasamatman, and said he was a god. He prefered to drop the Maha- and the-atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god. But then, he never claimed not to be. Circumstances being what they were, neither admission could be of much use. Silence, however, could. Therefore he remained silent.

This time through it was the humor that really stood out. Sam declaring his new Buddhism in opposition to the Hindu pantheon: "Since I start my religion in protest, I suppose you can call me a protestant." "It occurred to me that Kalkin would be a prime suspect, except that he was already dead. Discounting this for the moment. . . ." For me it's a tie between this, Lonesome October, and Nine Princes in Amber as to what's Zelazny's masterwork. Lord of Light wins on a technicality: it's complete in itself, and it's just so much bigger in scope than the other two.

Bill Willingham et al, Fables: Storybook Love

Issues 11-18. A short story about a reporter who threatens to reveal the Fables' existence [and who has a, um, special interpretation of their lives], and a longer arc detailing some treachery by someone we all suspected from the start. Fables is one of those books I kind of regret not reading on a monthly basis; it's quite good. Plus it's got a flying monkey, who briefly takes over as mayor of Fabletown. ["I'm a good monkey. I hardly ever fling my poop anymore."] Eagerly awaiting the next trade paperback.

Bill Amend, Foxtrot: Am I A Mutant Or What?

Nth collection. I'm not sure what Foxtrot's appeal is, but I do enjoy them. Just not enough to subscribe to the daily feed, I suppose. Maybe it's Jason the geek kid, who dresses up as all the mutants he can think of.

Paul Jenkins and Sean Phillips, Hellblazer: Critical Mass

Issues 92-96, in which Jenkins justifies the major changes he makes to Constantine's character over the course of his run on the series. The return of Someone who really should've stayed dead, or at least offscreen, a cameo by Aleister Crowley, and more John Constantines than we really need. The last couple pages, though, are worth it; Constantine is still screwing his friends over, even when he tries to do the decent thing. [So help me, I like Rich the Punk, too.]
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Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, with Richmond Lewis, Batman: Year One

A Batman origin story. Suitably original; you don't read 'classic' comics expecting brilliant creativity, but sometimes you're pleasantly surprised. Detective Gordon. Alfred saying "Next you'll be wearing a cape, like that fellow in Metropolis." A sane Harvey Dent. Plus the origin of Catwoman. All this and the emergence of Batman from Bruce Wayne. Yeah, we all know about his parents being killed before his young eyes, but what actually made him put on the tights? Now we know.

I understand the movie with Christian Bale will be loosely based around this concept, if not the actual storyline. This bodes well.

Vivian Vande Velde, Dragon's Bait

YA novel about a young girl falsely accused of witchcraft [so that the greedy next-door neighbor can seize her land] and left out as bait for a dragon, who proceeds to befriend her and help her get revenge. It's preachy at times, which turned me off, and some plot points come together a little too neatly. To the left, there's bits like "When I'm a human I can speak to you. When I'm a dragon I speak dragon, when I'm a hawk I speak hawk. I take the tongue of whatever beast form I'm in" and the iron manacles that made it worth reading. Don't know if I could really recommend it to anyone else, though.

Leonard Mlodinow, Feynman's Rainbow

Mlodinow was a young physicist at Cal Tech during the last few years of Feynman's life, and had an office right next door to Feynman and [on the other side] Murray Gell-Mann, Feynman's partner and rival. Reminiscences, M's personal growth, a contrast of Feynman and Gell-Mann's personalities. Not life-changing, not brilliant like Surely You're Joking or What do You Care. . . but still a good read, and a pleasant portrait of Feynman. Worth reading if you want to know more about him.

The About the Author says that Mlodinow, after doing some sort of excellent work in string theory [I think], went on to write scripts for Star Trek. This strikes me as not wholly implausible, given the direction of the end of the book. Feynman tells him to make sure that he's doing physics because he loves it, not because he thinks he ought to be doing it; later, a Distinguished Professor [nameless] expresses disdain at the idea of M writing a screenplay, because it's not 'real work.' Good stuff.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Richard and Florence Atwater, Mr. Popper's Penguins

First reread in a good many years. Mr Popper gets a penguin from an Antarctic explorer, and then gets another one from a zoo because his is lonely, and then has a bunch of baby penguins, and then they become a performing act. It's cute and amusing, but also very dated. The general feel of late-1930s household is overwhelming. Mrs. Popper says things like "I don't know how I'll be able to get all the cleaning done with a man sitting around the house all day." Etc. Plus large plot holes, but I really shouldn't be taking a children's book about performing penguins to task for that.

The penguins are pretty cool, and what good is litereature if it can't give you penguins tobogganing down fire escapes?

Darby Conley, Get Fuzzy: The Dog is Not a Toy (Rule #4) / Fuzzy Logic / The Get Fuzzy Experience / Blueprint for Disaster

Get Fuzzy isn't as brilliant as Pearls, but the art is better. ("Better?" The technique is better; the Pearls art does its job without distracting from the funny. "Good art" is basically a useless phrase.)

Most comic strips feel like the work of one person. I imagine Darby Conley as two people, though, riffing off each other until there's enough funny to support a strip. Or a week of strips. [Like the week of the cat conference, featuring cats who want to take over the world. Fidel Catstro. Meowsollini. Karl Manx. Kitty Amin. Etc.] Maybe it's that the conversations just seem so natural, so much like people I know only wittier.

Tony Cochran, Agnes: I'm Far Too Young to Look This Hot

Comic strip about a middle-school girl who lives in a trailer with her grandmother. Cute and amusing, but not nearly brilliant. I do appreciate seeing a nontraditional family in a comic strip, though.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Christian T. Petersen et al, A Game of Thrones Boardgame

A multiplayer wargame more like Diplomacy than Risk, set in a fantasy world that bears a more than passing resemblance to War-of-the-Roses-era Britain, using mechanics cribbed from probably half a dozen games. It's good stuff. Lots of negotiating, some interesting high-level randomness (you'll get new units at the start of your turn just under half the time), and battles are partially determined by the strength of units (attacking and defending, with the potential of "support" from adjacent units on either side) and partially by the play of cards from your hand. There's a decent amount going on, but not so much that it's overwhelming, and there's a lot a lot of player interaction. It's got a few problems (navies are bordering on overpowered, and the five-player game has an unfortunate balance issue due to the vagaries of the map) but overall it's a really good game. This one'll probably get broken out about as often as Puerto Rico did this time last year. Looking forward to the expansion (due out at Origins!).

Ian Jones-Quartey, RPGWorld Volume One: Unlikely Hero Out for Adventure

It's a webcomic about the characters in a [nonexistent] console RPG. It mostly pokes fun at all the cliches of console RPGs ("Why did we get all fuzzy just now?" "It's a battle transition!") but managed to slide a bit of character development in there as well. The art's nice and the jokes are mostly pretty good. If it weren't an ongoing story I'd probably start reading it. (I hate having plot doled out to me in N-panel-per-day increments. It's all I can do to read comic books at twenty-four pages per month.)

Serena Valentino and Ted Naifeh, Gloomcookie

A comic book that starts off as the story of a small group of goths and their soap operas but quickly veers off into Changeling / Books of Magic territory. Neat, though bits feel a bit shallow (one character starts out looking like he's going to be fairly major, and then vanishes about halfway through the book and is never heard from again). I'm considering buying this one and the next two collections. It's drawn by Ted Naifeh of Courtney Crumrin fame, so the art is top-notch gothy.

Andy Diggle and Jock, The Losers: Ante Up

Trade paperback collecting issues one thru six. My second time through they still tell a compelling story. I don't feel like I necessarily got anything more out of it this time, but I did pick up on the clues that Character X is a traitor. (I'm upset that they played the "traitor among us" card so early; dangerously close to shark-jumping. To the left, there's time to work in the ramifications of the betrayal, and there's nothing that says no one else can betray them later.) The art's good, and several of the one-liners are brilliant. "That's one giant step for, uh, people who steal things."
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Bob McCabe, Dark Knights and Holy Fools: The Art and Films of Terry Gilliam

Not really a biography, more an examination of all the movies Gilliam's directed, with bits of biography dropped in. The thing that really struck me reading this book was "I've seen all of Terry Gilliam's movies, and they were all pretty good." [Except for Jabberwocky, and I'm willing to give it another go.] Lots of good pictures in here, and reading about how things get made always fascinates me. The Brazil mess is covered in some detail, and the headache that was Munchausen (referred to in Lost in La Mancha) is explicated. There's also mention of the triumphs: Fisher King, 12 Monkeys, even the box-office goodness of Time Bandits. Each chapter is devoted to a specific film, and closes with a brief interview with Gilliam. Worth flipping through for the shots of Johnny Depp and Hunter S. Thompson, and for watching Gilliam age (pretty well, too). A neat book.

Mike Mignola, Hellboy: The Right Hand of Doom / Hellboy: Conqueror Worm

Right Hand is another collection of short stories, spanning most of Hellboy's life. The first story is a two-pager called "Pancakes" and is bloody brilliant. The rest are pretty good, too. The whole "beast of the Apocalypse" plot gets [mostly] resolved in the last story, making me much happer. I hate it when the hero is Fated To Do Great Things. Means there's less of a chance to actually, you know, develop his character by focusing on his choices. Also, there's a story where Hellboy fights a dragon, which may be the best Hellboy story I've read.

Conqueror Worm is [so far] the last Hellboy story, and with good reason. I'm not sure where the character can possibly go after this. It ties together bits from all four previous volumes, and does so quite well. Plus it's got more of Abe Sapien, who's just that cool. Hellboy develops more character strength and grows up somewhat, makes some tough choices. I look forward to seeing him again, five or ten years down the line. [And I still think the Ogdru-Jahad is kind of a wacky idea, but Mignola makes it work here.]

Grant Morrison et al, The Invisibles: Say You Want a Revolution

Illuminatus! as a comic book with more Brits and more hermetic magic. Also the ghost of John Lennon and the actual physical presence of de Sade. Guess I'll have to finish reading these, now. Not sure yet if I want to drop actual money on owning them or not; they're really cool, but I don't know if they're the sort of thing I'll ever want to reread.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Mike Mignola and John Byrne, Hellboy: Seed of Destruction
Mike Mignola, Hellboy: Wake the Devil / Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Others

Hellboy falls into the category of "comic books I kept meaning to read because I kept hearing how great they were from a variety of sources." Preacher's in there as well. The first Hellboy book (written by John Byrne, drawn by Mignola) is pretty cool. Nazis, an origin story, dumps you right into the middle of something that feels like a long-ongoing tale without leaving you totally lost. Well drawn and exciting. Number two (Wake the Devil) is the first 'long' Hellboy arc that Mignola wrote himself. It's a bit rough in places, but it's also where we really get some of the humor showing through. "Smoke on the horizon." "Hellboy must be blowing things up again." Etc. More backstory, which is good, and hints of a Great Fate awaiting Hellboy, which isn't. (Had quite enough of that in David Eddings, thank you.) The third book is a collection of shorter pieces written at various times (I don't think any are earlier than Seed, but I'm not sure). They range from pretty cool (The Iron Shoes) to only so-so, but the dialogue and the art are excellent. Hellboy is officially Good Stuff, and I'll read the other two collections on the next slow day at work.

Stephan Pastis, Pearls Before Swine: This Little Piggy Stayed Home

As of this writing, the LJ RSS feed for Pearls is b0rked. This makes me sad.

I discovered Pearls by picking up the first collection at work one day and reading the strip on the back:

Rat: If you could have a conversation with one person, living or dead, who would it be?
Pig: The living one.
Pig: You must think I'm really stupid.

That got a louder-than-usual "Heh" and I started reading, and haven't really been able to stop. It's dark and witty and occasionally involves random characters from elsewhere. (There's several weeks in the second book where various characters defect to other strips.)
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Lloyd Alexander, The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian

Sadly, most people only know Lloyd Alexander for the Prydain cycle. Which are good books, and get lots of coolness points for drawing on Welsh myths, but come on, the man's been writing books for over thirty years now. The three Westmark books in particular are among the best YA books I've read, and The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha probably has a lot to do with why I think deserts and Bedu and viziers and such are so cool.

Sebastian isn't his best, but it's got some good points. The Archetypal Alexander Female ("Eilonwy of the red-gold hair") is nowhere to be found; Princess Isabel is a fairly decent character in her own right. There's a cat, and a travelling circus, and a hot-air balloon, and a daring band of rebels. It honestly felt a lot like a version of Westmark for a younger crowd, which isn't a bad thing. Lessons about appearances deceiving and democracy being Good, and Alexander's typically excellent prose. I'm happy with it.

Charles M. Shultz, It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, Snoopy

They've started collecting Peanuts strips one year at a time, though you can't really tell from the covers or publication info. This one is, as I recall, 1995. It's always funny, sometimes a bit sad, and worth reading. I miss Peanuts.

Snoopy actually gets a book published in one of the strips. ("We have published a first edition of one copy. If it sells, we will print another.")
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, The Dark Knight Strikes Again

Miller's The Dark Knight Returns was nothing short of brilliant. DKSA is . . . less brilliant. I dunno. It didn't really grab me in the same way. Too preachy, maybe. It felt like Miller was saying "I dislike the erosion of civil liberties in the wake of Sept 11, therefore I shall write a thinly-disguised Batman comic about it." Which is disappointing, 'cos I know he's better than that. The reappearance of all the old heroes came off feeling cheesy as well. Superman in DKR was handled brilliantly: tied down by the bureaucracy of the humans he's sworn to serve. Having the Flash be running a treadmill to provide electricity to the eastern seaboard. . . just not the same.

The plot itself? Again, eh. More superhero and less dark than DKR. Braniac blackmails Superman into doing his dirty work with the bottle-city of Kandor, and Lex Luthor is generally just there to be large & obnoxious. The Big S33kr1t Villain at the end felt like a rip-off as well.

Worth reading? Maybe, if you're seriously in need of more Batman. For me, it felt like a waste of time.

Tim Burton, Big Fish

To steal a bit from Gareth, the six-word, three-apostrophe review:

Tim Burton's Munchausen's Adventures Isn't Bad.

You've got an old guy on his deathbed, telling stories to anyone who'll listen and some (like his son) who won't. The stories all sound a lot like tall tales, but towards the end you start wondering just how much of them could have actually happened. Tim Burton's flashy visuals are more subdued here than in a lot of his other stuff: they kind of bubble just under the surface, or you catch something really cool out of the corner of your eye, but for the most part it's an almost-normal-looking film.

The plot involves the son trying to get to know his dad, a task made exponentially more difficult by Dad's tendency to overembellish everything. (Or maybe not?) Around midway through the film Dad says "[Son] probably told it wrong. Put in all the facts, left out all the truth." By the end, of course, Son learns to accept Dad's stories as being in a sense better than what really happened (especially with the doubt thrown over What Really Happened by the story of the lady in Spectre).

I dunno. It was good, but it didn't quite feel fulfilling. Maybe I need to watch Munchausen again.


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Adventures in Mamboland

"Jazz Fish, a saxophone playing wanderer, finds himself in Mamboland at a critical phase in his life." --Howie Green, on his book Jazz Fish Zen

Yeah. That sounds about right.

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