31 August 2016

Faster than a DC Bullet: Prose Fiction #11: Project Crisis!, Part LIII: Final Crisis [novelization]

Trade paperback, 305 pages
Published 2010

Borrowed from the library
Read February 2016
Final Crisis by Greg Cox

I think I'm going to have to give up on these novelizations of comic stories, because for the most part, they're too limited by their medium. Marv Wolfman's Crisis on Infinite Earths novelization was great because he played to the strengths of his medium by transforming the multiverse-shattering epic into a personal story. But Cox's novelizations of Infinite Crisis, 52, Countdown, and now Final Crisis have not really done this; instead they mostly transcribe the dialogue and the action. But Cox captures none of the feeling of the stories he's novelizing: I may not have known what to make of Final Crisis, but there's not denying that it's epic and overwhelming and in turns despairing and triumphant. In Cox's telling, all of this is flat, just events without emotional resonance. There's no added depth here; his insights into the characters tend to repeat what they already communicate in dialogue. While Wolfman communicated something new with his novelization of his own story in the original Crisis, and Denny O'Neil's novelization of Knightfall was an adequate substitute for a set of comics I'll probably never get to, reading an outside author's take on comics I've already read hasn't really done much for me thus far.

Next Week: Time to start playing catch-up, first with Gotham cops in Gordon of Gotham!

30 August 2016

Review: Bernice Summerfield: Genius Loci by Ben Aaronovitch

Last year I wrapped up reading The New Adventures, the Doctor Who spin-off novels starring the Doctor's companion Bernice Summerfield after she left the TARDIS. Now I'm looping back around to read all of The New Doctor Who Adventures, the ongoing range of seventh Doctor novels published by Virgin Publishing. Before I get to the actual NAs, though, I'm reading a couple lead-in books, starting with some of the Bernice Summerfield prequel novels:

Hardcover, 208 pages
Published 2006
Acquired and read August 2015
Bernice Summerfield #8: Genius Loci
by Ben Aaronovitch

I read a lot of tie-in fiction. And most of it is decent. Not great, but it scratches an itch to have more adventures of characters I like and love. But by and large it doesn't hold a candle to the majority of the original fiction I read. But it is possible to do so, and every now and again I read a work of tie-in fiction that's so good it I would recommend it without hesitation to people who don't normally read such things.

Genius Loci is such a novel. As a Bernice Summerfield novel, it's completely standalone, covering her first archaeological expedition as an eager postgrad with forged credentials. As a science fiction novel, it's completely excellent. I haven't read much of Ben Aaronovitch's prose fiction, but his work here is excellent: young Bernice is a real person trying to figure out how to grow up, while uncovering an ancient mystery on an alien planet. Aaronovitch handles character well: Benny and all her friends come to life here. It feels painful in the moments where they turn on each other because we've really gotten to know them prior to that. He handles worldbuilding well: there are some great ideas here, like the two sentient city-building robots who fall in love with each other, and the ecology and history of Jaiwan. He handles plot well: there are some tough surprises in this book that I didn't see coming, but made whole sense once revealed. He handles prose well: like, most tie-in writers are perfunctory at best. Some stuff here is lovely, like the tale of the two robots in love.

He even does archaeology well. Most Bernice novels have a pretty superficial grasp of archaeology, which I guess makes sense for the books' Indiana Jones-derived action-adventure roots. Benny needs to be in a new location with something exciting; that's all you need archaeology for. But here-- I don't know if archaeology field work is really like this, but based on my experience with ecology field work, it feels right. Archaeology is slow and painstaking and halting; you don't just zip in for a week, do a little digging, and zip back out. More than any other Bernice Summerfield book-- and probably more than any other science fiction book I've read-- this book captures the joys and frustrations of being a space archaeologist.

Seriously, this book is great. I read it in like two days at most, and when I finished it, I handed it to my wife, who couldn't care less about Bernice Summerfield, and she enjoyed it too. It's a complete shame that a story this good only exists as #8 in an out-of-print series of expensive tie-in hardbacks. It should be reprinted as a paperback standalone for all those folks who like Aaronovitch's Rivers of London books. Highly recommended.

Next Week: More of the early days of Bernice Summerfield, as we experience her Missing Adventures!

29 August 2016

Review: Kidding Ourselves by Joseph T. Hallinan

Hardcover, 260 pages
Published 2014

Acquired June 2014
Read August 2016
Kidding Ourselves: The Hidden Power of Self-Deception
by Joseph T. Hallinan

This book is 260 pages long, but cut out the notes and index and you've got 210 pages of actual content. It's a light, breezy read: Hallinan writes in that style of modern nonfiction where he's essentially taken what would be a really good long-form essay and stretched it out a bit to make it into a book, putting together lots of examples in an accessible style. Which isn't a bad thing; I'm just saying this isn't a very deep or complicated book. I read it on the bus in one round trip, which means it took me something like 90-105 minutes to read the whole thing at most.

Hallinan covers a number of facets of self-deception: our belief in placebos in medicine, outbreaks of mass hysteria not based in facts, prejudice in observations of sports events, Stephen Jay Gould's refutation of nineteenth-century physiognomy (and contemporary refutation of Gould), people who think Romney deserved credit for the death of bin Laden, superstitions of baseball players, people who have unprotected sex because they think it can't happen to them. The best parts of the book are when Hallinan shows the positive effects of self-deception, how it confers advantages. Which isn't always the case (mass hysteria probably has few benefits, right?), but those forms of self-deception that convince us we have control over our own lives do some good for our emotional health and for our prospects of future success.

Some good anecdotes, not that hard of a read. I wouldn't rush out to buy this book, but if you have two hours, it's probably worth your time.

26 August 2016

Teaching Notes: The Apocalypse and After

This summer, after years of trying, I landed myself a literature course: "Popular Literature." This course title is as broad as all get out, and I struggled for a bit to narrow it down. I wanted to do science fiction, of course, but another instructor was doing science fiction that summer (under a different course number), and his course was on-line, and I was worried that no one would take my in-person sci-fi course if they could just take an on-line one. I think I was listening to a Survivors audio drama around the time the course description was due, so I quickly whipped up a course description called "Apocalyptic Literature and Cultural Transformation."

The only winning move is not to play.

When push came to shove and I had to place my book order (my course now titled "The Apocalypse and After"), I ended up assigning the following six books, plus two short stories and one excerpt in order to put a little more meat on the weeks were we did comic books:
  • Mary Shelley, excerpts from The Last Man (1826)
  • H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (1895)
  • Nevil Shute, On the Beach (1957)
  • Manjula Padmanabhan, "Sharing Air" (1980s) and "2099" (1999)
  • Octavia Butler, Xenogenesis: Dawn (1987)
  • Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, et al., Y: The Last Man: One Small Step (2002-03)
  • Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (2008)
  • Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard, The Walking Dead: Too Far Gone (2010)
Now, six books and three shorts is way less reading than I would usually assign in a course (when I taught The Modern Novel, for example, I did nine novels), but the pace of a summer course is such that it seemed impossible to squeeze more reading in than that. They were already doing a novel a week! So I supplemented by also requiring them to watch a film or an episode of a television show each week for homework:
  • When Worlds Collide (1951)
  • The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959)
  • The Twilight Zone: "The Old Man in the Cave" (1963)
  • Survivors: "Law and Order" (1975)
  • Survivors reboot: Series 2, Episode 3 (2010)
  • True Detective: "The Long Bright Dark" (2014)
It made for an interesting assortment. They are a diverse set of apocalyptic and postapocalyptic narratives: you have ones that focus on the actual event, like When Worlds Collide, and ones for whom the actual event is in the long distant past, like Hunger Games. You have ones about rebuilding, like Survivors and Dawn, and ones about humanity sort of sputtering to the end, like On the Beach and "The Old Man."

In the Dust of This Art Print

I'm sure I could write you a whole essay about while I picked each particular text, but I'll just highlight my approach to the course as a whole, which was to frame at as an investigation into genre: What does this genre do? What's its appeal? Both historically (it's been going in a recognizable form since the early 1800s) and contemporarily (obviously the apocalypse is super-popular right now). I kicked the whole thing off by playing my students a pair of segments from the 13 Mar. 2015 episode of On the Media, "In the Dust of This Planet" and "Staring into the Abyss," where Jad Abumbrad and Brooke Gladstone explore the contemporary and historical appeal of nihilism by tracing a book by philosophy professor Eugene Thacker about the "horror of philosophy" that suddenly became a fashion statement and inspired True Detective. We then kept coming back to that idea of nihlism throughout the course, discussing the ways in which the texts we were looking at were or were not nihilistic. Each week I would lecture on one "theory of apocalyptic literature" to my class, and I tied it all together by doing Thacker on the last week, tying him into Hunger Games and True Detective.

In the Dust of This Fashion Shoot

(True Detective I forced my students to make an argument about how it could be considered apocalyptic. I was inspired to teach it in this context by its appearance on On the Media and by this really interesting article on it from The Atlantic, which one of my friends shared on facebook. I think it's valuable to look at fringe cases when discussing genre: though True Detective isn't conventionally an apocalyptic text, it has some of the same interests: what happens at those moments where human understanding of the world ceases?*)

In the Dust of This Jay-Z Video

I was a bit worried going into the class because I only had eleven students and it met for three hours and fifteen minutes at a time. That is a long time if you have reticent or uninterested students! Thankfully, none of my students could be described as such. I only had three English majors, but hey were all interested and invested, and if they weren't doing the reading, they were doing it well enough to fool me. I think it's always a sign of a good course when my class plans became four bullet points long because I can trust the students to go somewhere interesting, and that happened here pretty quickly. They responded both to me and to each other (I make them take turn posing discussion questions) very well, and I think it ended up one of the best courses I've ever taught. Hopefully they agree when I gain access to their evals!

Actually, it turned out I liked Woody Harrelson's character best, mostly for the way he cussed Matthew McConaughey out whenever he got too philosophical. I should finish the show.
* I almost always end up assigning something in a lit course I haven't actually read before assigning it. This semester it was True Detective, The Twilight Zone, and When Worlds Collide. It's a bit of a risky gamble, though it hasn't actually gone against me yet. Thankfully I was able to make something interesting of all three texts, though I wouldn't teach When Worlds Collide again-- I'd probably sub in Planet of the Apes (1968), which I think is a lot more interesting, but didn't occur to me when I first planned out the course.

25 August 2016

Review: The Purple Cloud by M. P. Shiel

Trade paperback, 295 pages
Published 2012 (originally 1901)
Previously read March 2011 
Acquired June 2014
Reread September 2014
The Purple Cloud by M. P. Shiel

I read this book and loved it, so I was a little disappointed when I taught it in the context of a seminar on British literature from 1890 to 1950, and my students pretty much bounced off it, finding it all a bit weird. I'll be honest, I was a little disappointed, too, as I remembered it being weirder. The notes to the Penguin Classics edition I assigned to my students indicate its copy text is the novel's original 1901 serialization, whereas the 2001 Bison Frontiers of the Imagination edition I'd read a few years prior was drawn from a 1929 revision, so maybe that accounts for the difference. (Editor John Sutherland's claim that Shiel was fortunate to not live long enough to see the 1959 film adaptation The World, the Flesh and the Devil is, however, total pish. The film is excellent.)

24 August 2016

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Gotham, Part XXXVI: Batman: Year 100 and Other Tales: Deluxe Edition

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2015 (contents: 1998-2006)

Borrowed from the library
Read February 2016
Batman: Year 100 and Other Tales: Deluxe Edition
by Paul Pope

Colorists: José Villarrubia, Ted McKeever, James Jean
Letterers: Jared K. Fletcher, John Workman, Ken Lopez

Year One Hundred
It's been fourteen months since I kicked this whole Batman project off by reading Batman: Year One, but for Batman it's been 99 years, as I'm wrapping up with Batman: Year 100. In the future, America seems to be a wasteland ruled over by tyrants, but the Bat-Man of Gotham, the last of the superheroes, still stands for justice, along with the few who aid him, including a new Robin. The story is ostensibly about an overcomplicated murder mystery, but it's really about what Batman stands for: standing up and saying "no" to unjust systems.

Not a guy you want to meet in a dark alley. Or anywhere, really.
from Batman: Year 100 #2

Paul Pope both writes and draws the whole book, and I found myself engaged more by his unique visual style than by his writing. His Batman is a terrifying enigma, seemingly over a century old but as full of energy as ever, and his Gotham is a bleak dystopia where the Gotham City Police Department seems to operate out of a pile of trash, and the rest of America doesn't seem much better off. He establishes the grotesque nature of this world perfectly, from its attack dogs to the tragic ways that even criminals are treated in the future. But the story itself felt somewhat rote to me, and what the ending conflict turns out to be doesn't really resonate thematically with what Pope is trying to say about Batman.

23 August 2016

Deep Space Nine Reread, Season Seven: Prophecy and Change edited by Marco Palmieri

When I left off writing Deep Space Nine book reviews last December, we were watching Season Seven still, so I hadn't got to its book yet, which I finally did in February. At long last, here it is!

Acquired 2003
Previously read October 2003
Reread February 2016
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Prophecy and Change
edited by Marco Palmieri

This seemed like a good book to read when the television program was fresh in my memory, since it weaves between its episodes. There are ten stories, plus a frame, though not every season gets a story, as we shall see, as the book is weighted toward the later parts of the series run. Not every character does, either; though the book does a decent job of giving each a tale of their own, poor Worf doesn't receive a tale of his own.

"Ha'mara" by Kevin G. Summers (Sisko and Kira, Season One)
Like a lot of stories in this book, "Ha'mara" slots pretty clearly between episodes, in this case coming shortly after "Emissary." Something my wife and I noticed when (re)watching the series was that Sisko's status as the Emissary goes weirdly unmentioned between "Emissary" and "In the Hands of the Prophets." This is especially a weird omission because the only person Kai Opaka tells about Sisko being the Emissary in "Emissary" is Sisko himself, yet by the time of "In the Hands," it's public knowledge. So when did this revelation happen and what effect did it have? That's the ground covered by "Ha'mara," where a group of Bajoran terrorists attack Sisko, Kira, and company on a visit to Bajor. Kira and Sisko have to work together to stay alive and save a group of Bajoran children; Kira's personal journey to accepting Sisko as the Emissary (I don't think the show deals with this until Season Three, bizarrely enough, though "Destiny" does try to explain why it's never been mentioned before) is the focus here, presumably a stand-in for the journey the whole planet will undergo. It's kind of an awkward story when it comes to the interpersonal interactions, but I think that's largely because Summers does a good job of capturing the awkwardness of the crew dynamics in Season One. (Bashir is a doofus.)

It was disappointing to me that there was no Season Two story, as I feel like early Season Two is one of the show's best periods.

"The Orb of Opportunity" by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels (Nog and Kai Winn, Season Three)
The team-up you never knew you wanted! When the Maquis steal an Orb that's being returned to the Bajorans, Nog proves to be Kai Winn's best hope of recovering it. It's a cute little tale, especially when Nog receives an Orb vision that opens him up to possibilities he'd never seen before. Martin and Mangels handle this well; the story could easily have drifted into "explaining" where Nog's desire to join Starfleet came from, but instead the Orb unlocks something within Nog that he didn't know was there before. The focus on Winn is a little less successful; she's a difficult character to get right, and Martin and Mangels are better than some, but not as good as others, and she doesn't have a very clearly delineated character arc.

"Broken Oaths" by Keith R.A. DeCandido (O'Brien and Bashir, Season Four)
Definitely another gap-filling tale, in this case: how did O'Brien and Bashir overcome the rift in their friendship that was caused by "Hippocratic Oath"? Keith, as always, captures the character voices well, but I'm not convinced that this is a story that needed to be told. Or rather, that telling it in the tie-in fiction does much good. The show could have done something with this, but didn't; writing a short story about it eight years later doesn't really solve the problem that it seems to have no ramifications for their friendship.

"...Loved I Not Honor More" by Christopher L. Bennett (Quark, Season Five)
It's a bit disappointing that the show never brought Grilka back (or even mentioned her) after her two appearances on the show; Bennett, of course, explains that for us. It's true to the characters, and I like how it points out that Quark was willing to compromise with Grilka, but Grilka was never willing to compromise with Quark, and that proves the divisive point that means they can't have an ongoing relationship. But like "Broken Oaths," I think it feels largely like gap-plugging.

"Three Sides to Every Story" by Terri Osborne (Jake Sisko and Tora Ziyal, Season Six)
Something my wife and I noted is that there's a period on the show where there are tons of kids running around: Jake, Nog, Ziyal, and Alexander are all there in late Season Five / early Season Six. Yet the show never does anything with this: I feel like there ought to have been one episode that brought these characters together. "Three Sides to Every Story" weaves through the Season Six Occupation arc (one of my favorite periods of the show) to invent a relationship between Jake and Ziyal. And it's brilliant. Suddenly these two characters we never saw interact on screen have a deep and meaningful relationship that makes perfect sense. Ziyal's death hits even harder in this context, and both characters get to show their stuff. Jake really falls by the wayside on the show after this arc on the show, which was a real shame, but "Three Sides" is Jake at his best.

"The Devil You Know" by Heather Jarman (Jadzia Dax, Season Six)
Jadzia is another character who fell by the wayside on the television series sometimes. The stories that deal with her as a Trill in the first couple seasons ("Dax," "Invasive Procedures," "Equilibrium") always make her a bystander in her own tale, subject to the minutiae of space biology. Later in the show, episodes that are ostensibly about her really become about her and Worf; her best moments really come as a side character in other stories. Like, she's great as a member of the ensemble, but the writers struggle to give her her own episodes. "The Devil You Know" falls into none of these traps, however, giving us a story that is very Jadzia and very Trill in a way that's revelatory: Jadzia Dax is tired of death. The war hits her even harder than it hits everyone else because she has already seen centuries of death by this point, and she is fed up with it. What she will do to stop this from happening gives us a side of Jadzia we never saw on screen, but one entirely consistent with it, and I appreciated this plumbing the depths of Jadzia's soul. Plus this story contains a surprisingly sexy Jadzia/Worf scene. Like, whoa. Way to go, Heather Jarman, and too bad the show never ever pulled that off.

"Foundlings" by Jeffrey Lang (Odo, between Seasons Six and Seven)
Lang's story reunited Odo with his predecessor as chief of security on Terok Nor, Thrax, a man we never actually met because in "Things Past," Odo substituted Thrax for himself in his memories. I like their interactions, and I'm a sucker for any DS9 story with an "Odo investigates" plot; like all of the writers in this book, Lang has a good command of his chosen characters. But the ending of the story reveals a plot too convoluted to believe; I don't buy why all the subterfuge was necessary.

"Chiaroscuro" by Geoffrey Thorne (Ezri Dax, Season Seven)
Geoffrey Thorne is a very distinctive writer of Star Trek fiction, with out-there, cosmic plots that function more on an allegorical level than a literal one. Sometimes it works for me (Sword of Damocles is the best Titan novel, and if you disagree with me, I will fight you over it) and sometimes it does not ("Chiaroscuro"). This is a weird story, where Ezri discovers that on a pre-DS9 mission Jadzia found a key to resetting the universe, set up a maze to access based on Dante's Inferno and knowledge of her past hosts, and then wiped the whole incident from her own memory. There's a lot of great imagery here, but it's used in service of a series of weird and arbitrary puzzles. Plus for some reason everyone in this story gives mission briefings that omit essential information, which may build suspense, but is hard to believe.

"Face Value" by Una McCormack (Kira and Garak and Damar, Season Seven)
Una McCormack can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned, and this story confirms it. Set during the Season Seven Kira-on-Cardassia arc, this story expands on its events, and lets us see more of how Kira and Garak were able to work with the man who killed Tora Ziyal. McCormack is famous for her capturing of the voice of Garak, but here she shows that she also gets Kira and Damar perfectly as well. A great story about how three people from very different walks of life can come together under a common cause they never even thought they'd have in common. (Also it has a shifty fellow in it named "Vilar," who is so totally Blake's 7's Vila, played by the excellent Michael Keating.)

"The Calling" by Andrew J. Robinson (Garak, long after Season Seven)
This is a weird story, and I'm not convinced it makes sense. I like a lot of the individual components (the deterioration of Cardassia, Garak visiting Paris), but the story doesn't always successfully integrate them: if Garak is going to Paris to get help for Cardassia, why does he assume a cover identity and need to get a job while he's there? Robinson is, of course, the only person better at capturing Garak's voice than McCormack, so the story is worth it for that if nothing else, and it's filled with lovely Garakian insights into the human (and Cardassian) condition. I haven't yet read any Star Trek novels that take place after The Next Generation: Losing the Peace; do they deal with any of what's going on in here? I know Bashir becomes a Section 31 agent, which I guess could explain why Garak can't make contact with him.

"Revisited" by Anonymous (Jake Sisko, even longer after Season Seven)
The whole book has a nice little frame sequence that shows how "The Visitor" played out in the Prime timeline, where Jake wasn't warped by losing his father at a young age. (I shall remain convinced it was written by Marco Palmieri until someone comes forth to prove otherwise.) It's pretty nice, except that the whole thing is premised on a statement Melanie makes to Jake: "In all your writings, you never talk about the station where you grew up. About Deep Space 9." But Jake's first book is, according to "You Are Cordially Invited," a set of stories about the Dominion Occupation of the station!

During Marco Palmieri's time at Simon & Schuster, he edited four anniversary anthologies: Prophecy and Change for Deep Space Nine's tenth anniversary in 2003, Distant Shores for Voyager's tenth in 2005, Constellations for the original's 40th in 2006, and The Sky's the Limit for The Next Generation's twentieth in 2007. Together, they constitute one of my favorite parts of Star Trek fiction, and though Constellations is probably my favorite, Prophecy and Change is next. The richness of the Deep Space Nine tapestry means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; it's great to see the characters grow and change all over again.

Next Week: I return to another reading project, my journey through the adventures of Professor Bernice Summerfield!

22 August 2016

Review: Reading for Our Time by J. Hillis Miller

In a move that's probably about as far from George Eliot as you could get (though it does feature a Judoon reading Victorian literature), I've reviewed Doctor Who: Classic Doctors New Monsters, Volume One over at Unreality SF this week.

Hardcover, 191 pages
Published 2012
Borrowed from the library
Read June 2016
Reading for Our Time: Adam Bede and Middlemarch Revisited
by J. Hillis Miller

Let's start with what this book is. I was inspired to pick this monograph up after my examination of the metaphor of "animated tax-pennies" in Middlemarch, as J. Hillis Miller had one of the only sustained discussions I could find of it. Miller's book is a detailed close reading of George Eliot's Adam Bede and Middlemarch, specifically those parts of those novels about reading itself. Miller argues that both books are about the reading of signs and signs to be read. The discussion of Adam Bede is mostly there to buttress that of Middlemarch, which takes up half of the chapters, but about 70% of the text.

Miller argues that Middlemarch is about our tendency to want totalizing systems that let us understand the world, and about the fact that those totalizing systems tend to break down and not encompass as much as we would like. Miller finds a pattern in Middlemarch of those who are “mystified by a belief that all the details she or he confronts make a whole governed by a single center, origin, and end”-- and this pattern is lethal, causing problems for Casaubon, Lydgate, Bulstrode, Fred Vincy, Rosamond, and Dorothea (49). But that failure is okay, Miller goes on to argue, so long as we are aware of the limitations of the system. Dorothea seeks a totalizing system when she marries Casaubon (of course I like this guy, he's got my argument basically), but does not find one. She doesn't find one when she marries Ladislaw later, but his incomplete system yields useful action at least, unlike Casaubon's, plus Ladislaw doesn't care about origins (50). He's willing to accept the shortfall in the system if it lets him accomplish something.

Miller also argues that the novel (both as a general concept and Middlemarch in particular) is an incomplete but useful system as well, a series of signs that allows us to learn something about the interpretation of signs from the way that its characters and narrator interpret series of signs. Metaphors are slippery and don't have a real base; the torturous tax-penny metaphor, Miller argues, is designed to reveal that. Its complexity is a feature, not a bug: “The meaning of Middlemarch is indeterminate not in the sense that useful commentary may not be written on it, or that one can say anything about it one likes, but in the sense that no commentary can be exhaustive or wholly coherent. It will be the less coherent insofar as it yields to the richness of the text” (137).

As a guide to the complexity of Middlemarch (and Adam Bede), Reading for Our Time would be difficult to surpass. His own totalizing system of how to understand the novel is compelling and comprehensive, taking in numerous aspects, and not being beguiled. For any reading of Middlemarch to be compelling, it must reconcile the epilogue where Dorothea gives up on reform and sticks to being Ladislaw's wife-- probably the most disconcerting part of the novel, especially to a contemporary reader. But I reckon he just about manages it, arguing that it's a true decision, as it derives from Dorothea's emotions, not her feeling compelled to live up to totalizing system of society/morality that probably doesn't exist.

Where the book falls short is in its stated mission, in arguing that Adam Bede and Middlemarch are relevant to our time and our lives. While I agree with the premise, his examples are facile, complaining about American partisan politics of 2012 in a seemingly un-self-critical way, with jabs at the Republican party for its stance on Obamacare and tax cuts. Miller seems unable to step outside the totalizing system of contemporary American liberal discourse; as a result, his book provides only the most banal of insights. But despite its prominence in the title, it's actually a very minor part of the book, so it doesn't drag the book down. It just caused me to make the occasional eye-roll.

19 August 2016

Recasting across David Lynch's Wild at Heart and Álex de la Iglesia's Dance with the Devil

There's a story about when two different films were being made of two different Elmore Leonard novels by two different directors for two different production companies at the same time: Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown (1997) and Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight (1998). Both novels and thus both films featured appearances by the character Ray Nicolette. (I haven't see either film, but I believe he's a central character in Jackie Brown and a cameo in Out of Sight.) Tarantino cast Michael Keaton as Nicolette, and Steven Soderbergh asked if he could do the same for Out of Sight, to maintain continuity. Thus followed a lot of legal wrangling between the two production companies over the ownership of the character and Keaton's performance of the character, until Tarantino stepped in to say that his production company needed to just give the character to Soderbergh's, and that was that, and Michael Keaton appeared as the same character in two otherwise completely unrelated films.

This doesn't always happen, of course. Probably it almost never happens. The Marvel character of Quicksilver, a mutant whose real name is Pietro Maximoff, appeared in both 2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past and 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron played by completely different actors in completely different circumstances. (I liked the X-Men version better.)

Earlier this year I read the first seven Sailor & Lula novels by Barry Gifford, and I grew curious about the film adaptations, because the first two books, Wild at Heart: The Story of Sailor and Lula and Perdita Durango, have both been adapted into films, but by completely different directors with completely different casts: David Lynch's Wild at Heart (1990) and Álex de la Iglesia's Dance with the Devil (1997). Though recently I've been watching most any film adaptations of books I read, my motivation for watching these films back to back was mostly to see to what extent they could be perceived to go together.

The books aren't exactly sequels per se; Perdita Durango is a side character in Wild at Heart, who gets her own adventure in the second book. Sailor and Lula, the stars of every other novel in the series, do not actually appear in Perdita Durango. So the main character who carries over between Wild at Heart and Dance with the Devil is Perdita herself:
Isabella Rossellini as Perdita in Wild at Heart
Rosie Perez as Perdita Durango in Dance with the Devil

I'm not sure if it's possible to rationalize these two characters as the same person. Isabella Rossellini's version in Wild at Heart is apathetic and sardonic, unreacting and uncaring. She's the girlfriend of a hitman, and seems to have something of a history in the business herself-- Sailor comes to her to find out if a hit has been placed on him. Rosie Perez's version in Dance with the Devil, on the other hand, is wild and impulsive and giggly. We don't have a clear vision of what she did prior to the film's events, but she quickly hooks up with a drug smuggler/bank robber/witch doctor/kidnapper seemingly mostly for the thrill of it, which it's hard for me to picture the Rossellini version doing.

Rossellini is Italian (though not playing Italian), whereas Perez is Puerto Rican (though again, I don't think playing as such; the character seems to cross the Mexican-American border a lot, but I'm not sure it's ever said which side is her home). I'm not sure how much that difference matters. They are both equally unperturbed by violence, however; when Rossellini's hitman boyfriend is blown apart (literally), she just legs it without a second thought, while Perez's version sees some pretty terrible things and does some pretty terrible things in the course of her adventures.

Perdita actually isn't the only character who appears in both films. There's also Marcelles Santos, a gangster chief: (In Wild at Heart he's based in North Carolina, in Dance with the Devil, Texas.)
J. E. Freeman as Santos in Wild at Heart
Don Stroud as Santos in Dance with the Devil

I liked both performances, but they're not really the same. Freeman is very intense, very focused, whereas Stroud plays it comic but then says completely something completely awful in a totally genial way.

Most difficult to reconcile is Reggie, a small-time gangster hired to do a hit by Santos, because he changes race between the two films:
Calvin Lockhart as Reggie in Wild at Heart
Carlos Bardem as Reggie in Dance with the Devil

In Wild at Heart, he's hired by Santos to kill Harry Dean Stanton's Johnnie Farragut (my favorite character in either film; a nice private detective to whom Lynch does terrible things that he does not deserve). In Dance with the Devil, he's made into the cousin of Romeo, Perdita's partner in crime. Reggie is hired by Santos to eliminate Romeo after Romeo botches a smuggling operation he's doing for Santos. Beyond the race transformation, it would sort of stretch coincidence that Santos would hire Perdita's boyfriend to kill Sailor and Romeo's cousin to kill Johnnie Farragut, and then later hire Romeo's cousin to kill Perdita's partner! (At the time of Wild at Heart, Perdita and Romeo have not met, and they don't meet through Reggie or Santos; they just bump into each other on the U.S.-Mexican border.) Though Barry Gifford loved coincidence, so maybe it's totally in-keeping with the style of the novels.

There's also Juana, Perdita's sister. The two versions can't have anything to do with each other, I think:
Grace Zabriskie as Juana in Wild at Heart
Andaluz Russel as Juana in Dance with the Devil

In Wild at Heart, she's another contract killer (working with Reggie, actually). Lynch builds this out of one(!) mention in the whole novel-- Perdita tells her boyfriend that her sister Jauana called, and that's all Juana has to do with anything. I don't think the film ever specifies that Perdita and Juana are sisters, though I guess they do have the same hairdo. In Dance with the Devil, she only appears in occasional flashbacks of Perdita's: she was murdered by her husband years ago when he snapped one day.

I'm sure there are other examples I can't think of of two books in the same series that get adapted into films relatively independently. You could probably make Wild at Heart and Dance with the Devil line up if you really squinted and contorted and ignored the race change-- surely Reggie could be Romeo's cousin, and maybe Juana got killed by her husband between the two films, and maybe Santos moved his whole operation to Texas. And we're just seeing different facets of Perdita's personality on different days-- the differences between Rossellini's and Perez's Perditas probably aren't any bigger than, say, Ed Norton and Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner, who are definitely meant to be the same guy. (And don't forget that Billy Dee Williams and Tommy Lee Jones both played the same Harvey Dent!)

What's interesting is what does line up: tone and technique. Gifford's original novels discuss some very brutal events, but always in a very matter-of-fact fashion. The books tell about terrible things, which usually don't feel terrible thanks to the detachment of his speakers. Both Lynch and de la Iglesia use the same technique of cross-cutting this detached narration with flashbacks to the actual brutality of the events. And in Lynch's case, he sometime heaps on extra violence not implied by the accounts given in dialogue. I found this removed a lot of what made the books charming and interesting to me; the films are less depictions of eccentric characters and more unfoldings of grotesque spectacles. There's a cynicism to it all-- Gifford loved Sailor and Lula, whereas Lynch is mocking them. (I haven't cared much for Perdita Durango in any incarnation, to be honest.) They have their moments, but on the whole, both films left me cold.

18 August 2016

Review: Victorian Science Fiction in the UK by Darko Suvin

Hardcover, 461 pages
Published 1983
Borrowed from the library
Read January 2013
Victorian Science Fiction in the UK: the Discourses of Knowledge and of Power
by Darko Suvin with John Sutherland

The heart of Suvin's book is a 110-page bibliography of science fiction published in Britain between 1848 and 1900, which is definitely its most useful feature; I have consulted his descriptions many times now, skimming for topics of interest (for example, violent uprisings) in order to direct my current research toward books of use.

The rest of the book is sort of a hodgepodge of essays on various topics, like "Nineteenth-Century SF and the Book Trade" (this one by John Sutherland), "Biographical Sketches of S-F Writers, 1848-1900," "The Social Addressees of Victorian Fiction," and "Narrative Logic, Ideological Domination, and the Range of SF." Some of them are better than others; Suvin is at his best when discussing transformations and influences of genres (I liked his categories of the different subgenres of science fiction pre- and post-1871, for example), and at his weakest when he gets too theoretical, or goes off on historical flights of fancy, or starts delivering value judgments based on his personal definition of science fiction, not one rooted in the period under discussion. So for some essays, I took lots of notes because there was lots worth nothing, whereas in other, I found nothing worth noting at all.

17 August 2016

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Gotham, Part XXXV: Batman: Dark Detective

Comic trade paperback, 136 pages
Published 2006 (contents: 2005)

Borrowed from the library
Read February 2016
Batman: Dark Detective

Writer: Steve Englehart
Penciller: Marshall Rogers
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: John Workman
Colorist: Chris Chuckry

Year Nineteen, November
I'm reading this because it's a sequel to Strange Apparitions, reuniting the all-star team of Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, and Terry Austin, and bringing back Silver St. Cloud, one of the great loves of Batman's life, now engaged to Senator Evan Gregory, now running for governor. Strange Apparitions wove a thread about Boss Thorne through its various issues; Dark Detective weaves in Gregory's bid for office, especially the Joker's declaration that he'll also be running. Meanwhile, Bruce's meeting with Silver rekindles old feelings, and Two-Face and the Scarecrow both put in appearances.

Word and image. WORD AND IMAGE!
from Batman: Dark Detective #4

Sometime when you get the band back together, they don't play as well: Dark Detective is not quite as grabbing as Strange Apparitions, but it's still very good. Rogers and Austin are still an unbeatable Batman art team, capturing the twisted gloom of Gotham in all its splendor. They're slightly let down by Chris Chuckry on colors, who makes Silver St. Cloud's hair white instead of, well, silver, which I found very distracting.

16 August 2016

Deep Space Nine Reread, Season One (Bonus Installment): Warchild by Esther Friesner

Finally, my blogging of reading projects can swing back to Deep Space Nine, which I left off writing up last December. But before I get to my Season Seven book, here's a bonus book for Season One. Largely coincidentally (I have a very large reading list that I move through very slowly), I recently read Esther Friesner's Warchild, which takes place, according to the "Historian's Note," between Seasons One and Two. Unlike the books I read during my rewatch, this one was not a reread; a friend gave it to me with his recommendation as one of the best numbered novels.

Acquired July 2008
Read May 2016
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #7: Warchild
by Esther Friesner

This is true. Warchild came out around the time Season Three was premiering, and Friesner has an astonishing grasp on the characters as they existed at this point in time. Kira is wary of the Federation, but knows it can help her world; Sisko is skeptical of being involved in local political and religious matters. It even manifests in the small touches and running jokes, such as Kira's weariness when Bashir brings up the pre/postganglionic exam mistake that cost him the valedictorian position in his class at Starfleet Medical. As this indicates, where Friesner especially nails it is Bashir. Long before the show did any of those (usually strong) Bashir's idealism and propensity for personal investment causes him to throw himself into a medical crisis beyond his capacity to handle ("The Quickening," "Hippocratic Oath," "Chrysalis"), Friesner captures that very well here. I think this might also be Bashir's first romance in the course of the series, as he gets involved with a young Bajoran healer who ends up entering into a religious order. Friesner also portrays Bashir as an excellent multitasker-- something that neatly ties into the Season Five revelations that he's genetically engineered. (Though here he has no experience with genetic engineering himself, and in fact, Jadzia does the heavy lifting in this regard when it comes to finding a cure for a Bajoran epidemic.) Let me quote a passage (at length, sorry), that I think really captures her handle on his character:
     He often told himself that he'd chosen a career in medicine first of all as a result of that incident during the ion storm on Invaria II,* when simple medical knowledge might have saved that poor girl's life. Having his career as a professional tennis player pop like a soap bubble during his first match merely confirmed his choice. But he knew as well that he had chosen to become a physician because it satisfied many different urges of his soul. As a doctor, he would be able to solved a thousand fascinating human puzzles-- puzzles that must be solved, with stakes of life and death in the balance. His expertise would earn him as much admiration as any of his boyhood heroes, and even if dashing bladesmen no longer existed outside of holosuite programs, he could still save the lives of countless damsels in distress with a scalpel if not with a sword.
     But even the many promises of a medical career were not enough for him. He refused to become just another doctor; he would become the best. He joined Starfleet because their standards were almost as high as his own, and because the dream of adventure on some distant frontier still beckoned.
     His posting to Deep Space Nine seemed like the fulfillment of his every desire. And once here, finding Garak was icing on the cake. Julian was never more pleased with himself than after having a long and-- he hoped-- revealing interview with the Cardassian. He couldn't for the life of him understand why no one else on the station seemed to recognize or appreciate his efforts.
     That didn't stop him from trying to make them see what a good job of amateur espionage he was doing.
I quote all this because I think Friesner captures elements of Bashir that the writers of show had scarcely pinned down at this time: his need to solve puzzles, his need to be the best at everything he does without fail, his desire to play the spy, even his propensity for placing himself in heroic roles in holoprograms, which the show didn't give us until Season Four! It synthesizes some of the disparate rationales given for Bashir's desire to be a doctor, something the writers on the show would grapple with in Season Five when it came time to write "Doctor Bashir, I Presume." There, it's kind of explained by Bashir lying/deflecting, but here it's more because our motivations are complex and disparate.

Friesner is more interested in the realities of decolonization that any of the DS9 novels I read: her Bajor is fragmented into political and religious factions trying to decide the destiny of their world, and the portrayal of the refugee camps feels very authentic to the Bajor of the early seasons. One wishes the show had done more Bajor episodes like this, as opposed to making them gullible superstitious peasants like in "The Storyteller." Friesner gives names and identities to different political and religious groups, something the show did only sparingly. It's a damaged world, with a significant need for healing, and Friesner makes that seem like real, important work, instead of writing it off as the show often did.

Sometimes the book feels ambling and unfocused: it's about an epidemic, it's about Bashir's going rogue, it's about a child of Bajoran prophecy gone missing first on Bajor and then on the station. But what makes it work is Friesner's keen grasp of the characters. It's a shame her only other piece of Star Trek fiction is a TNG book written during the "rainbow stripe" era, where I feel like the books got particularly generic; I'd love to see what she could do with the DS9 characters as they were made even richer by the later seasons of the show.

Continuity Notes:
  • Supposedly the book takes place between "In the Hands of the Prophets" and "The Homecoming," as I stated earlier. I'd favor a slightly earlier placement, as the references to the death of Kai Opaka make it seem like the election for the next kai hasn't really gotten started yet; certainly the DS9 crew doesn't have the personal investment that would come from the Winn/Bareil showdown. The latest episode to have an explicit reference is "Progress" (Mullibok puts in a nice little cameo), so I'd put it sometime after that.
  • Though, ideally, I'd like to put it before "The Storyteller," as Sisko is very nervous about sending Bashir on a medical mission to Bajor-- something he's already done if this takes place after "Progress"!
  • Contrary to what is stated on Memory Beta, the Revanche party (a faction of the Cardassian government from the novels Valhalla and Betrayal) have nothing to do with this book.
  • The end of the book nicely sets up Season Two's opening trilogy, with this novel's major antagonist revealed as an adherent of the Alliance for Global Unity, a.k.a. the Circle.
  • "The Temple" is referred to throughout the book, which is the complex we occasionally see in matte paintings where Opaka and later Winn hang out. I don't think this term was ever used on screen, but it made me realize that this location has no name at all on screen! Warchild indicates that all Bajoran religious orders are housed in the Temple.
  • Friesner draws on the fact that Bashir's father was a diplomat, as mentioned in "Melora."
  • I can't say that I ever noticed the earrings of Bajoran children on the show. When talking to a 17-year-old boy who looks much younger because of malnutrition, Bashir observes that he ought to have known the boy was 17 because of his earring: "I see you're well past the age of initiation."
Other Notes:
  • The Ferengi have epic poetry about price wars; Nog recited one for a school assignment. Jake, of course, recited "Casey at the Bat."
* This is what the show called "Invernia II," and is from "Melora"; it is characteristic of Friesner's folding in of some of the character flavor established in Season Two back into Season One. There is also a conversation between Kira and Odo recalling "Necessary Evil."

Next Week: I finally finish off Deep Space Nine, with Prophecy and Change!

15 August 2016

Review: Star Trek: Alien Spotlight, Volume 2 by Keith R.A. DeCandido, Scott & David Tipton, Stuart Moore, J. K. Woodward, Elena Casagrande, et al.

Comic trade paperback, 122 pages
Published 2010 (contents: 2009)
Acquired July 2012
Read May 2016
Star Trek: Alien Spotlight, Volume 2

Written by Arne Schmidt and Andy Schmidt, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Scott Tipton and David Tipton, Ian Edginton, Stuart Moore
Art by Agustin Padilla, J. K. Woodward, Elena Casagrande, Wagner Reis, Mike Hawthorne
Color by James Brown, J. K. Woodward, Ilaria Traversi, Priscilla Ribeiro, Mike Hawthorne
Letters by Robbie Robbins, Neil Uyetake, Richard Starkings

The first Star Trek: Alien Spotlight collection was a decent set of comics, more notable for its enjoyable variety than the quality of its individual tales (except for John Byrne's excellent Romulan story). The second one is similar, but I'd say it has more hits. The best is clearly, and oddly, the Tribbles story by Stuart Moore and Mike Hawthorne: a Federation cargo ship is forced down on an alien planet by Klingons (the story takes place in the runup to "Errand of Mercy") and receives some unexpected assistance from the mysterious creatures that have displaced the planet's original inhabitants. It's cute and fun.

Tribbles are actually pretty insidious if you think about it.
from Star Trek: Alien Spotlight: Tribbles (script by Stuart Moore, art by Mike Hawthorne)

Most of the other tales aren't really notable either way. One can't argue that Keith R.A. DeCandido doesn't get Klingons, for example, but I didn't find his and J. K. Woodward's tale of Kang recounting three different perspectives on his observation that "four thousand throats may be but in a single night by a running man" particularly impactful. The Q tale by the Tipton brothers and Elena Casagrande has an interesting premise, but (like most Tipton tales) is too slight: Q decides to live as Picard for a day to prove he can do better. I would love to have seen this on screen; one can imagine John De Lancie relishing the part of Picard, and Patrick Stewart as the disembodied voice heckling Q the whole time would be great. There are a number of good moments, but the Enterprise-E mission this all interrupts is simplistic at best, and there's not enough space to explore all the possibilities of this set-up. Ian Edginton and Wagner Reis's Romulan story is all right. Like John Byrne's tale from the previous volume, it's a prequel to "Balance of Terror"-- in fact, it's a prequel to Byrne's prequel! But Reis is no Byrne when it comes to art or character, and the politics are a little too simple. Okay, but it suffers by comparison.

Disembodied advice head Picard is the snarkiest.
from Star Trek: Alien Spotlight: Q (script by Scott Tipton & David Tipton, art by Elena Casagrande)

The only outright bad story is the Cardassian one, by the Schmidt brothers and Agustin Padilla. Padilla is not very good at drawing Cardassians that look differently from one another, even though one of them is half-Bajoran, and one of them is Garak! This makes the story basically impossible to follow, but I suspect there's not much to it, anyway, and it seems odd to make a part-Bajoran Cardassian-hater the central character of your story that's ostensibly about Cardassians.

Thank God someone said Garak's name, because there's no way I ever would have guessed that was meant to be Andy Robinson.
from Star Trek: Alien Spotlight: Cardassians (script by Arne Schmidt & Andy Schmidt, art by Agustin Padilla)

12 August 2016

The Greatest Haircut Scene in Cinema: Race at the End of the World in The World, the Flesh and the Devil

I've been teaching a class these past five weeks on apocalyptic and postapocalyptic fiction (I'll probably talk more about this in a future blog post). This week we watched the film The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959), solidifying my view that it is one of the best movies I've seen.

I first saw the film last year, when I made an effort to watch the film versions of all the books I'd taught in Fall 2014. The World, the Flesh and the Devil (yes, the lack of Oxford comma irks me every time I type the title out) is very loosely based on the 1901 postapocalyptic novel The Purple Cloud by M. P. Shiel, though about the only thing that's carried over is that there's one man and one woman left alive after the end of the world. Everything else-- method of apocalypse, character names, setting and locations, themes-- is entirely different.

The World, the Flesh and the Devil stars Harry Belafonte, who I actually didn't know much about, but was a popular singer in the 1950s. He's the guy who made "Day-O" into a popular hit in America:

Belafonte was an actor, too, though he eventually largely gave up the profession because he didn't like most of the roles available to him as a black man. He even produced his own film (Robert Wise's Odds against Tomorrow, which I'd really like to see) once in order to get a role worth playing.

Belafonte plays Ralph Burton, the last man alive, a black coal miner safe underground when radioactive dust kills the population of the world. He carries the first third or so of the film by himself, filled with striking imagery of an abandoned city. (For some reason there are no bodies anywhere.)

But after he's set up a life for himself in a New York City apartment, he meets another human being: Sarah Crandall, a young white woman. Ralph and Sarah quickly take to one another, but race presents an insuperable barrier between them. This is where the film really shines, in my opinion, as the two dance around each other. Sarah isn't racist-- but she's also largely unaware of the privileges her race has given her compared to Ralph, proclaiming at one point, "I'm free, white, and twenty-one, and I'm gonna do what I please," apparently a bit of an historical catchphrase for young folk declaring their opinions. She says she likes Ralph completely, and it's true, but Ralph points out that in any other context than the end of the world, Sarah wouldn't even know him. "Why," he asks, "should the world fall down to prove I'm what I am?"

After an argument about Ralph's emotional isolation (he won't even let Sarah live in the same apartment building as him), Sarah asks Ralph to cut her hair. Here's the beginning of that scene:

When my wife and I first watched this movie, we paused after this scene, and were like, Whoa, what happened? Every thing about this scene screams sex and intimacy: the way Ralph moves from being too timid to being too forceful, the way Sarah gasps with each movement he makes, the little comments they make about lack of experience and need. Harry Belafonte and Inger Stevens are on fire here. I don't think you have to be an overinterpreting English teacher to conclude that this scene is as close as screenwriter and director Ranald MacDougall could get to sex in a 1950s film about a black man and a white woman. But it's probably sexier than a more straightforward encounter actually would be.

It's not much a spoiler to say that a white dude named Ben eventually turns up (he's on the poster). Ben wants Sarah because she's the last woman left alive, and he's happy Ralph is ostensibly staying out of his way. Ralph isn't overtly racist, but he does make a number of assumptions about Ralph's role in their little community. At one point, Ben tells Ralph, "I have nothing against negroes"; Ralph responds in a very biting line, "That's white of you." Things are especially tense, I would argue, because as soon as Ben wakes up, Sarah attempts to give him a haircut. As much as Sarah might possibly love Ralph, what is difficult with Ralph comes more easily with a member of her own race.

Inger Stevens, who died of a drug overdose at the age of 35, was actually secretly married to a black man in real life. She kept the marriage hidden for the last nine years of her life because of her career, and it only came out after she died.

Something we've discussed in my class throughout the semester is that many work of apocalyptic fiction feature a reversion to a "state of nature": they imagine human beings without the trappings of society. Sometimes this is good: Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra's Y: The Last Man argues that without the trappings of a sexist society, women can do all the things men can do, for good and for ill. More often it is cynical. Humans turn on each other in the state of nature in stories like Octavia Butler's Dawn, the BBC Survivors, and Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead.

I would argue that there is no state of nature in The World, the Flesh and the Devil. Ralph, Sarah, and Ben all bring their own racial and sexual biases with them into the postapocalypse, despite the complete lack of meaning they hold there. They don't just magically lose these systems of knowing the world that they've internalized.

The first time I saw the film, I found the ending a little corny and a little unsatisfying. (The Science Fiction Enccylopedia says of it, "in the world of 1959 Cinema the last sequence – which invoked both miscegenation and polyandry – was relatively daring. The film tanked in America.") After a fight (I like that one of the characters calls it "World War IV," and I like that the fight takes them to the United Nations Plaza), Ralph, Ben, and Sarah walk away hand in hand:

But watching it with the framework of the state of nature in mind, I see it as all three of them rejecting the social systems they grew up with. Now they really will return to the state of nature, and who knows what will happen next?

(Well, probably, the human race dies out anyway because three people do not make a very big genetic pool, but whatever.)

If you haven't seen it, and I imagine most of you haven't, I highly recommend it. The directing is good and the script is decent with occasional flashes of brilliance, but the performances by Belafonte and Stevens are must-see. I haven't seen them in anything else (one of my students informed me that Stevens turns up in The Twilight Zone a few times), but their work here is excellent.

11 August 2016

Review: I Killed Adolf Hitler by Jason

Comic trade paperback, 48 pages
Published 2007
Borrowed from a friend
Read January 2015
I Killed Adolf Hitler

Author: Jason
Colorist: Hubert
Letterer: Paul Baresh
Translator: Kim Thompson

This is a quick, weird book about an assassin-for-hire in a world where hiring an assassin to kill your neighbors for being annoying is considered socially acceptable. He has relationship problems and time-travel problems in what turns out to be a very distinctive, very compelling, very odd story. Not what I expected-- it was much more personal-- but very enjoyable.

10 August 2016

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Gotham, Part XXXIV: Batman: Poison Ivy

Comic trade paperback, 47 pages
Published 1997

Borrowed from the library
Read February 2016
Batman: Poison Ivy

Written by John Francis Moore
Pencilled by Brian Apthorp
Inked by Stan Woch
Colored by Patricia Mulvihill
Lettered by Todd Klein

Year Fifteen, September
Like I said in my review of A Lonely Place of Dying, I've moved beyond the early days of Batman, but there are a couple more stories I want to read, follow-ups to stories from those early days. The first is this, a Poison Ivy one-shot that reunites the same art team as the excellent "Poison Ivy: Year One" story included in Four of a Kind. Poison Ivy is not as good, mostly because there's just not very much Poison Ivy in it. Brian Apthorp and Stan Woch are at their best when drawing her, but they don't get a lot of opportunity to do so here, as she drops out through the middle of the story in favor of some Batman investigations into a perfume manufacturer.

Looks like you're dead.

Of course, it all turns out to be related, but one would expect a story subtitled "Poison Ivy" to be about her, not to merely include her. The "Year One" story they illustrated really played up the sexual tension between Ivy and Batman, but that's largely absent here, too: Ivy claims that Batman is in love with her, but it just comes across as a delusion on her part, as Batman never seems tempted by her. Apthorp and Woch's artwork is great, but John Francis Moore's script just doesn't give them much of interest to do.

Poison Ivy has had enough of your shit.

Next Week: The return of Batman's lost love, Silver St. Cloud, in Dark Detective!