Archive for the '2008 Books' Category

“Love’s Labor’s Lost” by William Shakespeare

Friday, July 4th, 2008

The tongues of mocking wenches are as keen
As is the razor’s edge invisible…

Love’s Labor’s Lost
is a bizarre and entertaining play to read. The King of Navarre and three friends vow to study for three years and eschew the company of women. Then the princess of France shows up with three friends. She wants to bargain for war funds and the property of Aquitaine. The King must meet with her, and the men’s strict vow is immediately undone; they fall hopelessly in love with the bewildered women. The men profess romantic love and attempt to trick, charm and woo the women, who see through their schemes. The women toy with the infatuated men, there are plays within a play, then a messenger arrives with sad news for the princess. A typical comedy would end with four (or more) weddings. Instead, LLL ends with a death, and no marriages.

There is an abundance of playful language, puns and malapropism. The play progresses from the men’s idealistic vows of chastity and intellectual study, to their idealization of the women. It becomes grounded in reality, though, with death. The men’s view of women as either goddess or whore is ridiculed, and the women are complex, capable and intelligent. It’s easy to see why many scholars believe this is a proto-feminist text.

I read this play in anticipation of a production of it I hoped to attend. Alas, life intervened, and I wasn’t able to see the play. My dear friend Thalia, instrumental in my adult approach to the Bard, taught me that reading the plays was a two-dimensional endeavor. Reading the play without seeing it performed is not a complete experience. Plays were, and are, meant to be performed and interpreted on stage. The film of LLL is poorly reviewed, so I won’t seek it out. I’ll wait for a production, and hope it’s not too long distant from my reading. For now, I’ll imagine that I could attend this one in the fall, with this geek-fan-favorite actor as Berowne.

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Denis Johnson’s short story collection, Jesus’ Son, got on my radar during The Morning News’ Tournament of Books. Several judges preferred it to Johnson’s more recent book, Tree of Smoke. I thought ToS was quite good, so I was intrigued to see what Jesus’ Son would yield.

I liked to sit up front and ride the fast ones all day long, I liked it when they brushed right up against the buildings north of the Loop and I especially liked it when the buildings dropped away into that bombed-out squalor a little farther north in which people (through windows you’d see a person in his dirty naked kitchen spooning soup toward his face, or twelve children on their bellies on the floor, watching television, but instantly they were gone, wiped away by a movie billboard of a woman winking and touching her upper lip deftly with her tongue, and she in turn erased by a–wham, the noise and dark dropped down around your head–tunnel) actually lived.

This passage, about riding the train in the city, described how I felt as I read the linked stories–along for a whiplash ride. The unnamed main character is addicted to heroin and alcohol, and stumbles through bars, rehab, relationships, jobs and crime. The writing is beautiful, while also conveying both the horror and kaleidoscopic nature of addiction. The stories and book are brief, but powerful. If you like the short story form, these charted new territory when they were collected in 1992, and still resonate today.

“Hellboy: The Right Hand of Doom”

Friday, June 27th, 2008

This graphic novel, Hellboy: The Right Hand of Doom, reminded me why I stopped buying individual issues of Hellboy, the darkly humorous horror comic. Publisher Dark Horse does a fabulous job of collecting them, and author/artist Mike Mignola adds lots of interesting extras. The first short story, “Pancakes”, featured a two-year-old Hellboy, and made me laugh out loud. And the last story, “Box Full of Evil,” not only gives interesting background on Hellboy (those aren’t goggles on his head) and contains some of the funniest panels of series, I think:

Hellboy: Hey…what’s that in the corner?
Abe Sapien: Is that a monkey?
Hellboy: HE’S GOT A GUN!
Monkey: [BLAM BLAM]

A Doonesbury Selection by G.B. Trudeau

Friday, June 27th, 2008

I first learned about the Vietnam War by reading a set of Doonesbury books: Even Revolutionaries Like Chocolate Chip Cookies, Just a French Major from the Bronx, The President is a Lot Smarter Than You Think, Don’t Ever Change Boopsie, and Bravo for Life’s Little Ironies. I don’t remember how old I was when I went scrounging around my parents library looking for something, anything, to read. Collecting the earliest strips starting in 1970, these books covered student riots, race relations, women’s rights, the Vietnam War, unemployment and more, all seen through the characters of schlump Michael Doonesbury, football star B.D. and activist Mark Slackmeyer. Butthe supporting characters made me love these books: Rufus the tutoring student, wacky Zonker, ditsy Boopsie and mad scientist Bernie. The cartoons are funny, depressing and political, and probably as good a way as any to learn about the early 70’s United States. They’re also a good complement to my recent reading on the Vietnam War.

“Dispatches” by Michael Herr

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

As part of my post-Tree of Smoke reading on Vietnam, Dispatches was recommended by trusted pen pals Kate and Duff. Herr was a writer for Esquire in his mid-20s when he went to cover the Vietnam war in the late 1960’s. He spent most of his time with marine soldiers on the ground, or “grunts” and his respect and affection for them is palpable. The feeling was mostly, but not always, mutual:

…another of the war’s dark revelations. They weren’t judging me, they weren’t reproaching me, they didn’t even mind me, in any personal way. They only hated me, hated me the way you’d hate any hopeless fool who would put himself through this thing when he had choices, any fool who had no more need of his life than to play with it in this way.

Herr’s prose is poetic, and often trippy, reflecting both the insanity of the war, and the drugs many took to help get through it. He often uses second-person address to draw the reader in:

It seemed the least of the war’s contradictions that to lose your worst sense of American shame you had to leave the Dial Soapers in Saigon and a hundred headquarters who spoke goodworks and killed nobody themselves, and go out to the grungy men in the jungle who talked bloody murder and killed people all the time.

It’s an interesting counterpart to Tim O’Brien’s Things They Carried. Herr was older and had a different vantage point, and Dispatches is labeled military history, not fiction. There are also some significant differences in the Army and Marine soldiers, according each to their author. The books are different, but the same. They’re often tragic and wrenching, but redeemed, perhaps, by the telling of other’s stories to show the brute stupidity of war. They are still frighteningly relevant today, and probably timeless.

The Sandman: volumes 1, 2 and 3 by Neil Gaiman

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

I’ve begun to reread Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels, prompted by my recent viewing and reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare is but one of many sources the author draws on in this sprawling tale of Morpheus, the King of Dreams. Milton, mythology, and magic are a few of the others. The series of 76 total issues has been collected in ten graphic novels.

Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes.

You say that dreams have no power here? Tell me, Lucifer Morningstar–ask yourselves, all of you–what power would hell have if those here imprisoned were not able to dream of heaven?

The first volume plants the seeds for both the mood of the series, and many of its later stories. Morpheus is captured and imprisoned for decades. Once released, he seeks revenge and to regain his power. It’s sometimes hard going, but the whole is well worth the reading. Don’t stop before issue #8; you’ll miss something wonderful.

Sandman: The Doll’s House. From the introduction by Clive Barker:

There is a wonderful, willful quality to this mix: Mr. Gaiman is one of those adventurous creators who sees no reason why his tales shouldn’t embrace slapstick comedy, mysterical musings, and the grimmest collection of serial kills this side of Death Row.

The tales diverge, and Rose Walker, an American teenager with a peculiar provenance, becomes the heart of the story, with Morpheus appearing on the fringes.

Sandman: Dream Country
. Of four standalone short stories, my favorite is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, based on and around Shakespeare’s play, and beautifully illustrated by Charles Vess. It was the first, and last, comic book to win a World Fantasy Award. (They changed the rules for the award so it would not happen again.)

Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.

“Out of the Dust” by Karen Hesse

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

I sought out Karen Hesse’s Newbery Award winning Out of the Dust after reading Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Both are tragic stories about families from Oklahoma’s dust bowl during the Great Depression; that’s about where the similarities end. Out of the Dust is a short, spare novel in free verse, narrated by 14yo Billie Jo Kelby. More details might spoil the reading experience for others. Sad but redemptive, it’s a beautifully written historical novel.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Last weekend, my husband, G. Grod, and I went to the Guthrie Theater to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I wore a dress, heels, lipstick AND mascara. It was truly an event.

Joe Dowling directed, so we knew to expect a crowd-pleasing, rather than an intellectual, take on the material. The fairy costumes were appropriately ostentatious, but looked like leftover Cats costumes. The play had other similarly dated cultural references, not surprising given it’s a revival of a production Dowling did over a decade ago.

I find the Guthrie succeeds best on a small scale, rather than when it tries to emulate New York City. The fairy productions felt weighted down with effects and gimmicks, as well as by pedestrian musical numbers. But the smaller scenes, especially those of the players, were successful. The final scene featuring their play within a play went long, but was one of the funniest parts of the production.

I followed the play by reading the text. I savor the familiar lines, like Puck’s “Lord, what fools these mortals be,” and Lysander’s “The course of true love never did run smooth.” It is not a play in which it’s good to be a woman. Hippolyta does not seem nearly as eager as Theseus to wed, perhaps because he “won [her] love, doing [her] injuries.” Hermia must choose among death, marriage to a man she doesn’t love, or a nunnery. Helena is spurned by her former lover, who wishes to marry the unwilling Hermia. And Titania is bewitched by Puck and her husband Oberon into loving the foolish mortal Bottom, whom Puck has disguised as an ass. While the ending is replete with the weddings required for this to be a comedy, I didn’t enjoy this earlier play of Shakespeare’s as much as I do the later romances.

Hellboy Graphic Novels

Monday, June 16th, 2008

On a whim, I unearthed my Hellboy graphic novels: Seed of Destruction, Wake the Devil, The Chained Coffin, and Conqueror Worm. I was surprised to find that one of them, Conqueror Worm, I’d never actually read. They were all a lot of fun. Hellboy is a demon with a mysterious past who grew up to be the “World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator.” He tracks down monsters, demons and their ilk. Creator Mike Mignola has a distinctive art style, oft imitated and perfectly suited to his pulp-y monster comics. The cast of characters is fascinating and keeps growing with the stories. Hellboy is for fans of old-time monster movies like Bride of Frankenstein, and newer works that are scary, sharp and funny.

Fables vol. 10: The Good Prince by Willingham, Buckingham, and Leialoha

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Fables is one of the consistently best comic books in any genre. A worthy successor to fantasy comic Sandman, by Neil Gaiman, Fables is the ongoing saga of fairytale characters in our “mundy” world, and their ongoing struggle against The Adversary, a powerful Fable intent on conquest. “The Good Prince” stars one of the series’s most sympathetic supporting characters, janitor Ambrose Flycatcher, better known as The Frog Prince. For years he subsisted in a barely conscious fugue in order to forget how he saw his family killed and home stolen by armies of The Adversary. As he returns to himself and faces the truth, he is presented with a quest, which he faces without flinching.

“The Good Prince” is a well-nigh perfect story. Strong characters, powerful story elements–villains, love, intrigue, chivalry, redemption–and beautiful art combine in a compelling whole. I had problems with the previous Fables graphic novel, 1001 Nights of Snowfall, I read, but not with this one, which I enjoyed tremendously.

“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Grapes of WrathSteinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath is my book group’s next selection. It is the Nobel- and Pulitzer-Prize winning epic novel of the Joads, a sharecropping family from Oklahoma. They’re evicted from their farm during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. Like hundreds of thousands of others, they pack their belongings into an undependable vehicle, and set out for the promised land of California. As with the biblical story of the Israelites exodus from Egypt, the journey is far more difficult than the Joads hoped it would be.

Every strong novel redefines our conception of the genre’s dimensions and reorders our awareness of its possibilities. Like other products of rough-hewn American genius–Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (three other “flawed” novels that also humanize America’s downtrodden by exposing social ills)–The Grapes of Wrath has a home-grown quality: part naturalistic epic, part jeremiad, part captivity narrative, part road novel, part transcendental gospel. –from the Introduction by Robert DeMott

Criticism of the novel tends to extremes. Some hail it as a masterpiece. Others called it didactic, sentimental and overblown. Critics complained of its flat characterizations.

I found it a powerful, moving novel that had a strong historic effect on injustice in its time. I agree with all the above criticisms, though. The novel alternates between “telling” chapters of analysis, and “showing” chapters of the Joad’s journey. This interrupts the main narrative, and I found obvious and repetitive. The Joads are sympathetic, but reductive characters. They are “noble savages“, and barely flawed or complex in any way. Tom, the son who returns at the start of the novel, meets a former preacher named Casy who joins the Joads. Tom and Casy can be seen respectively as analogs to Jesus and John the Baptist, or to Jesus and Doubting Thomas. In his effort to detail the hardships of the Joads, Steinbeck painfully detailed many of the degrading details of their new life. This leads to a greater understanding of the difficulties of the time, but was difficult to slog through over 619 pages. Chapter 16 is forty-three pages long, and concerned mainly with a broken rod in the car, and how a replacement is located and replaced. The novel ends with a deliberately provocative scene in which Rose of Sharon, who recently delivered a stillborn baby, offers her breast to a starving stranger. This heavy-handed scene conveys Steinbeck’s idealization of the poor’s willingness to share to survive, as well as his romanticization of mothers that pervaded through the book. (I believe there is a Biblical or saint myth about a woman nursing a man in prison, but I am still searching for the reference.)

A recent article by Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post questioned whether the “earnest but artless” Steinbeck’s works are ones that speak more to younger readers than to older ones, and wonders at their enduring popularity. Had I read Grapes of Wrath when I was younger, I might have been less attuned to matters of craft, and perhaps not as sensitive to being preached to on matters of social and political justice. As a more experienced reader, I appreciated the well-meaning passion of the work, and the effect it had on society at the time. I can’t, however, recommend it as a masterpiece.

Added later: I still can’t find a religious reference for a woman breastfeeding a man in jail, though I remember seeing an old painting of this in an Italian chuch. But just a little research turned up many, many similarities between the gospel of Luke and Grapes of Wrath.

“Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer” by Joseph Conrad

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

In preparation for the dvd Apocalypse Now, which follows my recent reading on the Vietnam war, I sought out Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, booked with “The Secret Sharer”. I always find it weird to read a story I “know” but haven’t yet read. I had similar experiences with Dracula, Jane Eyre, and Frankenstein. The books were familiar in the famous details, but surprising in their complex wholes.

I was reminded of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, which I read earlier this year. There is a detailed framing narrative, and much psychological detail about ugly aspects of human nature. HoD is narrated by Marlow, to a ship’s crew. Marlow was sent to Africa, where he encountered, mostly by hearsay, a man called Kurtz. The details of Kurtz’s behavior are deliberately vague, and thus more creepy. This also serves to put the characters’ psyches in sharper focus. The tale has many interpretations, among them the dichotomy between good and evil, or the characters as analogs to Freud’s concepts of id, ego and superego. What I noted, though, was Conrad’s penchant for emphasis by repetition. Marlow is described many times as a Buddha in the telling of his tale. I believe this implies an acceptance of all of human experience, not just the pleasant, socially accepted ones.

all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There’s no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And it has a fascination, too, that goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination–you know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate.

Heart of Darkness is a difficult read because of its racism, and its synonymous use of “dark” for “evil” and “primitive,” for example. But it’s a short tale worth reading for its examination of the nature of all people. “The Secret Sharer” is also worthwhile, a short story of a new skipper who takes on a stowaway wanted for murder. Through repetition and psychological details, the character of the skipper grows, both to himself and to the reader.

Added later: Heart of Darkness is in production as an opera. My favorite comment from a member of the test audience? “Too dark.”

“In Our Time” by Ernest Hemingway

Friday, May 30th, 2008

I took a brief detour from my reading on the Vietnam war to WWI with Hemingway in order to give some attention to my own bookshelves, instead of the library’s. Hemingway’s In Our Time was his American debut, a set of stories interspersed with thematically related vignettes. Based on his spare, evocative writing, Hemingway was called the voice of his “lost” generation.

At first Krebs…did not want to talk about the war at all. Later he felt the need to talk but no one wanted to hear about it. His town had heard too many atrocity stories to be thrilled by actualities. Krebs found that to be listened to at all he had to lie, and after he had done this twice he, too, had a reaction against the war and against talking about it. From “Soldier’s Home”

Note the similarity to the passage I quoted from Tim O’Brien’s Things They Carried. Hemingway’s collection, though, covers episodes before, during and after the war. Most of the “during” pieces are the vignettes, not the stories. The vignettes also deal with the blood and gore of bullfighting. Terse and well written, it’s a loosely connected collection that hints at larger, more painful truths of war.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Friday, May 30th, 2008

Further evidence that a truly great book will wait for me; it won’t become dated or tired. Minnesotan author O’Brien’s linked story collection about Vietnam, The Things They Carried, was as good as readers had assured me. It was sometimes so funny that I laughed aloud, at one point so terribly sad I had to set it down. The stories and characters are so engaging that it took a while for me to realize and admire the skill with which the stories are crafted. The combination of O’Brien’s writing, structure, and story makes for a powerful soldier’s-eye view of the Vietnam war.

A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.

Throughout, O’Brien subverts the desire of a reader to know what is “really” true. The stories are identified as fictions, but they don’t read as them, unless viewed through the lens of O’Brien’s above caution.

“The Quiet American” by Graham Greene

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Graham Green’s Quiet American was mentioned several times in Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, which I recently finished and admired. Green’s book is set earlier in time, during the French occupation of Vietnam. Fowler is a weary, middle-aged reporter covering the conflict. He’s built a comfortable life for himself in Saigon, with a beautiful mistress and an opium habit. All this is jeopardized with the arrival of Pyle, the well-intentioned quiet American of the title.

Captain Trouin insisted that night on being my host in the opium house….he watched me as I stretched out for my second pipe. ‘I envy you your means of escape.’

‘It’s not from the war. That’s no concern of mine. I’m not involved.’

‘You will all be. One day….you will take a side….We all get involved in a moment of emotion, and then we cannot get out.’

I saw the film a few years ago. I thought it was quite good, and now think it is a faithful adaptation of this spare, well-written novel.

“Tree of Smoke” by Denis Johnson

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

the war hadn’t been only and exclusively terrible. It had delivered a sense, at first dreadful, eventually intoxicating, that something wild, magical, stunning might come from the next moment, death itself might erupt from the fabric of this very breath, unmasked as a friend

Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke wasn’t high on my to-read list. I’d read mixed reviews and didn’t feel much like a novel about the Vietnam war. Yet when it was selected as one of the favorites at The Morning New Tournament of Books, and a friend lent me her copy, I decided to give it a go. I was surprised when I quickly made it past the 50-page mark, and continued on. Johnson is a strong writer, and he crafts memorable characters, following them over twenty years, from 1963 to 1983.

My experience reading it was probably similar to that of the people Johnson writes about: I’m going to Vietnam; I’m worried this is going to get gruesome; hey it’s going ok; still ok; OH NO SOMEONE JUST GOT HORRIBLY TORTURED; whew it’s over; going ok; going ok; AUGH SOMETHING TERRIBLE HAPPENED TO A WOMAN; going ok; going ok; OH NO ONE OF MY FAVORITE CHARACTERS JUST DIED!

At 600+ pages, it’s a wrist-strainer that shifts between stories of spies, military men, soldiers, Vietnamese, and a missionary. The plot is murky and convoluted, but representing the mood of the times. The book ended about as happily and satisfactorily as the war itself, but the people, and how the war changed them, are what stands out.

While I didn’t love the book, it provoked me to want to read more: Graham Green’s Quiet American, Tim O’Brien’s Things They Carried, Johnson’s Jesus’s Son, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and the Apocalypse Now dvd. Though this is a qualified recommendation of the book, I am interested in how strongly I’ve reacted to it.

I Put Down Roberto Bolano’s “Savage Detectives”

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

I vet my books pretty carefully. I read reviews. I listen to advice from like-minded readers. I usually know a thing or two about them before I begin. I try not to recommend a book till I’m finished, because the ending can make a difference–consider Smilla’s Sense of Snow, or the books of Neal Stephenson. I only read one book at a time. So I rarely don’t finish a book. I try only to start books I’m likely to want to finish.

But a few years ago, after slogging resentfully through about two thirds of Life of Pi, one of my librarian friends, Rock Hack, told me about Nancy Pearl’s Rule of Fifty. If a book didn’t “have” me by page fifty, put it down. Life is short; books are plentiful. There is little reason to read without enjoyment.

And so it was with Bolano’s Savage Detectives, a novel about poets in 70’s era Mexico City. The main character was passive and uninteresting to me. He was surrounded by a throng of characters I could barely keep track of. I realized that reading it was work, and unrewarding. So at page 81 I put it down.

The book was on many of last year’s best-of lists. I’ve read more than one review that says it’s not only a good book, but an important one. All those could be true. What I know is that I wasn’t enjoying it, or learning from it. I put it down, and started something else. I feel much better now.

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Cat’s Eye is another one of my shelf-sitter books that made the move west with me ten years ago from Philadelphia. My book group of fond memory had read Handmaid’s Tale, and at least one member recommended Cat’s Eye. I bought it on sale, and have since read Alias Grace, and left the older book to gather dust.

It’s good to know that good books will wait for me. Once I began, it was if the narrator reached out of the pages, grabbed my hand, and wouldn’t let go till the end. It’s a small paperback, so I could take it with me, and I read little bits whenever possible. It’s the story of an established painter of a certain age, Elaine, who becomes immersed in painful memories when she returns to Toronto for a retrospective of her work. The story unspools both in the past and the present, but Atwood pulls off time shifts in the narrative seamlessly. Around the age of ten, Elaine had three friends. Bad things ensued, in the manner of young girls. I had forgotten, until this book, how cruel young girls could be. The teen years were nothing compared with the pre-pubescent ones. Atwood captures the power and potential horror of younger girls’ behavior with skill.

Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized.

I found this book powerful, moving and even frightening. Set in the everyday world of the forties through the eighties, it was more emotionally frightening, perhaps, even than the dystopian Handmaid’s Tale.

“The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch” by Neil Gaiman

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

I was perplexed when I saw The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Michael Zulli. It looked like a nicely produced hardcover graphic novel, typical of Dark Horse, a publisher of upscale, quality books. Yet something didn’t feel right, and it was the $13.95 price tag. Nice HC GNs are usually $20 and up. This one was thin, though. Once I read it, I understood. This was not a graphic novel, or even a graphic novella. It was a graphic short story, gussied up in hardcover and given a price about double what it would be if the book had been released like most one-shot stories, in a perfect-bound softcover for $6.95.

Enough geeking about the packaging though. The story starts off clumsily, I thought, with three friends eating sushi, talking about the end of some event involving a woman they call Miss Finch. Then the narrative is picked up by one of the three, years later. This double flashback didn’t work for me: end of event, years after end of event, beginning of event. When I finally got myself situated in time, though, I really enjoyed the story. It’s vintage Gaiman, based on an old prose short story of his, beautifully and evocatively painted by Zulli, one of Gaiman’s collaborators on Sandman. Dark, adult, fantastic, odd and funny, it’s a quick, enjoyable read.

Worth $13.95 in HC, though? Methinks not, though I don’t begrudge the creators my money. Gaiman and Zulli are both local, so some of it is staying in my community.

Two Graphic Novels by Brubaker

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Ed Brubaker is perhaps my favorite writer in comics right now. I love his noir series Criminal, and have been enjoying his run on The Immortal Iron Fist, which he writes with Matt Fraction. Since the individual issues are so littered with obnoxious ads, I bought the graphic novel collection of the first story arc. It improved on rereading, and benefits from the absence of interruptive ads.

The Last Iron Fist Story
is a play on words, in once sense because it was supposed to be a miniseries that got picked up as an ongoing one. Danny Rand is a wealthy businessman whose secret identity is The Immortal Iron Fist, defender of the mystical city of K’un Lun. I’d never read the series before, and all necessary background was helpfully and skillfully incorporated into the narrative. Rand is attacked by goons, his company is in the throes of a hostile takeover, and someone else has been using the power of the Iron Fist. How this all ties together is an entertaining superhero story with a good segue to the next arc, enhanced by the moody art of David Aja.

I enjoyed Brubaker’s Daredevil: Hell to Pay vol. 2 much less. I really enjoyed the run that Brian Michael Bendis had on the title. In spite of my admiration for Brubaker, his follow up has never quite seemed to live up to what went before. Perhaps it’s that I find one of the central characters, Matt Murdock’s wife, an utter void. Even if she’s being moved off stage, which it seems might be the case from this collection, I think it won’t be enough to keep me hanging on. I’ve been waiting for a while for Daredevil to get good again. I think I’ll spend time on other comics that I enjoy. I’m sure if it does get good again, I’ll hear about it.