Winter Reading

I rather enjoyed ripping into hard working writers and artists at the beginning of last month, so I thought I’d do it all over again.  My reading list is still a bit of a hodgepodge, but bear with me because that’s never going to change.

Civil Warcivil-war

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Marvel’s event comics tend to be more miss than hit and Civil War is no exception.  It’s a series people love to hate on, and for good reason.  It’s littered with problems chief among them is the fact that basically every character is acting like a jerk.

Marvel recently announced that the next Captain America film would be based around the Civil War plotline, so I thought I’d give it a read.

The premise is that after an attempt by an amateur team of reality show “superheroes” to apprehend Nitro ends in hundreds of deaths including the deaths of 60 children, the U.S. signs a new law requiring superheroes to register and report for training. X-Men are already being monitored by the Sentinel program.  The registration announcement splits the Avengers right down the middle, as well as the Fantastic Four.  Captain America leads the anti-registration group while Iron Man leads the pro-registration.  A lot of people believe it should be switched, but I’ll let you make that decision yourself.  It feels like they simply flipped a coin to determine who would be on which side.

I could let all of that go if it didn’t have such a quick, dry ending.

Manifest DestinyManifest Destiny

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I finally picked this up for 20% off after flipping through it every time I visited my local comic shop for the last few weeks.

It was well worth it.  I went in without any idea what to expect.  It’s a bit light on historical accuracy, but pretty high on grand fantasy.  The whole premise is that Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark into the Louisiana Purchase not to chart it, but to fight back the monsters living on the frontier.  In typical comic book fashion, Lewis and Clark stumble upon all sorts of monsters — buffalo centaurs and plant zombies in this volume.  It strikes a good balance between comedy and horror.  The artwork is beautiful, and the characters — prisoners and soldiers alike — are interesting.  There were several characters I got to liking in the first few pages.  Those same characters would die shortly thereafter, but I still count it.

They may have lost me with the superpowered Sacajawea, but I find Lewis and Clark compelling.  The whole expedition is setup as a powder keg with military on one side and criminal expendables on the other.  It’s worth the read.

Arkham AsylumBatman Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth

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I know it bares the Batman moniker but if you’re looking for a traditional bat-tale you’ll have to look elsewhere.  Arkham Asylum isn’t a very superhero-y superhero story.  This book is particularly high on existential musings.

What is a “batman?” What separates him from the criminals he pursues?  What is the nature of madness? Is Batman really just as batty as the criminals he pursues? (As always, that pun was intended.)  My favorite musings concern the treatment of Two-Face.  The doctors at Arkham have been slowly increasing his number of options.  They replaced his coin with a di then a pair of dice, so that when he leaves a decision to fate he is no longer given a “yes” or “no” of a coin toss.  They’ve given him options.  However, Batman is appalled to find him completely paralyzed by his new choices.  Rather than being frightening, this Two-Face is pathetic, and this angers Batman.  He demands to know how robbing him of his humanity has cured him.  That got me thinking about whether or not mental illness is a part of a given personality.  Could curing a mental illness change a person for the worse?  Sure, Two-Face isn’t a criminal mastermind anymore, but he’s also not Harvey Dent.

I enjoyed this read with its philosophical musings and abstract, often frightening artwork.  I’m just not sure I’d recommend it to everyone.

The Killing JokeBatman: The Killing Joke

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Speaking of more tradition bat-tales…  The Killing Joke is exactly that.  It has a bit of a reputation as “the one where Batgirl becomes Oracle” but there is a lot more to it than that.  It also gives a little bit of a back story to The Joker.  Now, I’m of the opinion that The Joker works best when he is a random agent of chaos without reason for any of his acts other than that they are evil.  This is how Nolan portrays him in the film series.  He’s a mystery to everyone, including Batman.  The Killing Joke gives him a reason to grind his axe, and gives Batman a reason for not killing him.

He’s less scary in this than he is in the movies or in the Arkham Asylum comic above.  That isn’t to say he’s a weaker character.  You’ll rage against him by the end.  He’s more of a bastard in this one.  He doesn’t just shoot Barbara Gordon; he also uses her to torture her father.

It’s a good story and certainly worth the read, but I think it was a bit overhyped.

The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride

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Turns out this was a book before it was one of the best movies ever made, ever.  (Sorry, Marissa, but you know it’s true.)  Now I know literary people are supposed to say “read the book. It’s much better,” but that doesn’t seem to hold true here.  They’re pretty much the same.

It’s a good movie, and it’s a good book.  Your favorite lines from the movie are in the book and your favorite scenes from the movie are in the book.  I encourage you to make your own evaluation, but it’s worth noting that William Goldman is a screenwriter that dabbled in novel writing.  He wrote the novel and a bit later he wrote the screenplay.  Of course they’d be very similar.  It’s not really an adaptation at all.

If you’re not familiar with either rendition I suggest picking your favorite medium and digging in.  The book is a bit more rewarding, but the film is an awesome cult classic.

graveyard-bookThe Graveyard Book

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Another work by Neil Gaiman who appears to have at least one successful work in each genre and medium targeted to each demographic which gets more and more impressive every time I think about it.  Then again, his acknowledgment page thanks about 40 more people for encouraging his writing than have even read my stuff.  I’m not bitter.

Especially when Neil Gaiman’s work is so good!  The Graveyard Book is my absolutely must read for this post.  It’s also the most celebrated of this post, so you don’t have to take my word for it.

The Graveyard Book follows a toddler who narrowly escapes the murder of his family and is raised by ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and other creatures of the night.  The body, aptly named Nobody, spends his time learning grammar, math, and magic from long dead teachers then sets out in the world to track down the man that killed his family.

I’m not going to ruin it for you.  It’s a quick enough read to finish in a couple of days, and well worth the time.

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