Monday, July 24, 2017

Reader's Diary #1625- Nicole Mullen: Read This If Your Child Was Eaten By a Pelican

I stumbled upon Nicole Mullen's "Read This If Your Child Was Eaten By a Pelican" last week and because of the title, I just had to read it.

I was enjoying it quite a bit; it was as funny and bizarre as the title promised, plus it's got great description and a modern voice. Then I came upon the line,
I should have known that those dock pelicans, emboldened by the generosity and passivity of the sockless, boat-shoed and pancake-breasted weekend warrior sailboat fags that populate the docks, would not only see my son as non-threatening, but delicious even.
Yeah, that word "fags" jumps out. Clearly an offensive word, it's distracting to say the least. It also makes the narrator far less likeable. That's okay, I rationalized, I don't have to like a character to appreciate a good story. And maybe making her a bigot makes her more believable?

Then I came to end and saw the two sentence author bio: "Just a fun mom and a teacher at a retarded school. I like recipes and my kids."

Hmmm. Retarded school? Does this woman still have a job?

So I clicked on the link to her Twitter page and it turns out that Nicole Mullen is a pen-name of comedian Nick Mullen. And Nick Mullen, it turns out, is no stranger to controversy. I'm not going to weigh in on that as I don't want to expend the energy going through his work. (I can appreciate off-colour humour if done right.) But back to story at hand, I'll say that the 2 words in question above add nothing to the otherwise good story and unfortunately even detract from it. Negative shock value.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Confession Redux

It was ten years ago that I confessed to not having read some pretty major titles, books that no self-proclaimed bibliophile should have skipped:

1. Harper Lee- To Kill A Mockingbird
2. Jane Austen- Pride and Prejudice
3. Joseph Conrad- Heart of Darkness
4. Bill Bryson- A Short History of Nearly Everything
5. Joseph Heller- Catch 22
6. Vladimir Nabokov- Lolita
7. Gabriel Garcia Marquez- One Hundred Years of Solitude
8. J. R. R. Tolkien- The Hobbit
9. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle- The Hound of The Baskervilles
10. Charles Dickens- A Tale of Two Cities
11. Louisa May Alcott- Little Women
12. Ian McEwan- Atonement
13. Douglas Adams- The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
14. Don Delilo- White Noise
15. Carson McCullers- The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter
16. Richard Adams- Watership Down
17. Scott O'Dell- Island Of The Blue Dolphins
18. Salman Rushdie- The Satanic Verses
19. Madeleine L'Engle- A Wrinkle In Time
20. Katherine Patterson- Bridge To Terebithia

It was shocking. I could barely show my face in public. But now, 10 years later (at an impressive rate of 2 books per year!), I can finally say I am well-read.

What's the sound of tires screeching while a record scratches?

Yes, apparently my ranking as a reader has only risen to amateur. To be a professional, I will have to commit to reading the following:

1. Geoffrey Chaucer - The Canterbury Tales
2. Thomas Pynchon - Gravity's Rainbow
3. Jonathan Franzen - The Corrections
4. Anne Brontë - Agnes Grey
5. Ayn Rand- Atlas Shrugged
6. Charles Darwin - On the Origin of Species
7. Albert Camus - The Stranger
8. Nathaniel Hawthorne - The Scarlet Letter
9. Henry Miller - Tropic of Cancer
10. Dante Alighieri - Divine Comedy
11. Unknown - Beowolf
12. Ralph Ellison - Invisible Man
13. Nalo Hopkinson - Brown Girl in the Ring 
14. Chinua Achebe - Things Fall Apart
15. Charlotte Brontë - Jane Eyre
16. D.H. Lawrence - Sons and Lovers
17. James Joyce - Ulysses
18. Frank Herbert - Dune
19. John Kennedy Toole - A Confederacy of Dunces
20. Marshall McLuhan - Understanding Media

So, yes, a few doozies in there, but I'm guessing that by 2042 I'll have knocked them off of my list. In the meantime, I call on all authors to put a freeze on writing anything important so I'll have a chance to catch up.

How many of this 2nd list have you read?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Reader's Diary #1625- Various writers, various artists: Spider-Man Maximum Carnage

In some ways Spider-Man Maximum Carnage reminded me of Sam Raimi's infamous Spider-Man 3. Just as that movie was killed by bloat, so was Maximum Carnage. But just as there were kernels of good stories in Spider-Man 3, there was potential here as well.

For those still unfamiliar with the necessary Spider-Man lore, in the late 80s the world was introduced to one of his now legendary archnemeses: Venom. An alien symbiote that originally bonded with Spider-Man, it later did so with one Eddie Brock. Proving to be a quite popular character, Marvel kept him around and somewhat in the vein of the Punisher, made him an anti-hero. Yes, he went after bad guys, but his brand of justice was cruel and most often outright murder.  A few years later, however, Venom spawned a new symbiote that attached to a serial killer to create the psychotic Carnage. He was no hero, nor anti-hero, but a straight up murderous villain.

Having three characters in one book then should be a great way to explore the lines of vigilantism; where does heroism begin and end? But while this is touched upon in Maximum Carnage, it is sadly underdeveloped. Likewise, attempts at a debate regarding ends justifying the means were woefully inadequate.

Instead, the writers seem to just constantly toss new characters in and and out of the battle between Spider-Man and Carnage, often with little rhyme or reason. Spider-Man allies himself with no less than Black Cat, Cloak and Dagger, Firestar, Morbius, Captain America, the Iron Fist, Deathlok, Nightwatch, and Venom, while Carnage partners up with Shriek, the Spider-Man Doppelganger, Carrion, and Demogoblin.

Now I say the problem is one of bloat, but that's not entirely accurate. I don't think it's impossible to do a good story with an abundance of characters (Captain America: Civil War was pretty great), but quantity needs to be matched by quality for it to work. Sure I liked hearing the names of unfamiliar characters (I hadn't been aware of Carrion, Nightwatch, or Firestar before), but I don't feel that I really got to know them at all. They simply added to the noise.

As for the art, it was the early 90s, so it wasn't spectacular, but not terrible. A couple of exceptions that crossed the line into crap: Black Cat's impossible falling-off suit and this panel:

Monday, July 17, 2017

Reader's Diary #1624- Mary Hallock Foote: A Cloud on the Mountain

Mary Hallock Foote's "A Cloud on the Mountain" is one of those stories that would make for great classroom discussions.

It involves a woman named Ruth Mary who's destiny seems largely out of her hands, due largely to the sexism of the times. Analyze this story from a feminist perspective. Her family, who doesn't seem to really understand her at all (or make any efforts to), has pretty much arranged a marriage for her. But Ruth Mary is rather preoccupied with a traveling stranger who, in the end, remains somewhat indifferent to her. Is this stranger the "cloud" on the mountain?

So, yes, I did enjoy the food for thought. I was, however, left with a few stray observations. The beginning is odd and lead me to believe that it would be a story of a missing, perhaps kidnapped, child. (It's nothing of the sort.) Speaking of odd, there's a bizarre character named Angy whose slight unexplained, idiosyncrasies are distracting to the story. Finally, the perspective seems to follow Ruth Mary but suddenly switches to the stranger. The change is jarring at the moment, but makes a little more sense in the end.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Reader's Diary #1623- Sterling Gates and Rob Liefeld: Hawk and Dove Volume 1 First Strikes

I first picked up Hawk and Dove: Volume 1 First Strikes as they were a couple of DC Comics characters I hadn't heard of before. That's when I noticed Rob Liefeld's name on the cover.

Where had I heard that name before?

Checking back over the blog, I hadn't read anything by him, but I soon discovered the online vitriol directed at his art. Yep, I'd definitely come across this article before. And while I do feel somewhat bad for this self-taught artist, his critics aren't wrong.

This Hawk and Dove collection came out in 2012, a few years after the linked article above, and sadly there were few improvements (less of an aversion to drawing feet, at least). Perhaps it's knowing his reputation that's the problem. The art is undeniably bad, but worse when you're intentionally on the lookout for it though the perpetually glowering, lipless, sphincter faces would be hard to miss regardless. And that asinine costume of Hawk's with the weird appendages sprouting out and back from his chest? What the hell are they supposed to be? Move over Dagger, Vampirella, and Hawkman; we have a new contestant for the worst superhero costume award.

If the story was stronger, I suppose, it would be easier to look past, or at least forget the shitty art. (Not that one should ever separate them in a comic.) But while the story in Hawk and Dove isn't terrible, it's just lackluster. It's marginally interesting, I suppose, that despite complementing each others' powers (she's an avatar of peace, he's an avatar of war); they are not a romantic couple, barely even close friends. Still what they and their villains are suppose to be, and what motivates them, is pretty ill-defined beyond a convoluted bird motif.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Reader's Diary #1622- Barbara Honigmann: Double Grave

Barbara Honigmann's "Double Grave," a story about a Jewish woman visiting a gravesite in Germany with a Jewish scholar.

It's a deft tale of the way horrific and traumatic events (such as the holocaust) tend to split a person's identity. Still, it does not advocate for choosing one identity over another but rather acknowledging them as new parts of a whole.

Obviously not a light-hearted story, it is at least a thinker.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Reader's Diary #1621- J. T. Krul (writer), Freddie Williams II (artist): Captain Atom Volume 1 Evolution

While reading Geoff John's Hawkman collection last week I was pleasantly surprised to see a cameo from Atom, DC Comics' answer to Marvel's Ant-Man. Wanting to read more about him, I picked up J.T. Krul's Captain Atom: Volume 1 Evolution.

Wow, I thought, Krul's version of this character is a pretty wild and different interpretation. When's he even going to get small?

So, here's your comics lesson for today kids: Captain Atom and Atom are not the same person. Yes, they're both DC, but the latter is more Ant-Man while the latter is more Watchmen's Doctor Manhattan. And here's the second lesson: Doctor Manhattan was based on Captain Atom, not the other way around.

Captain Atom is blue and had godlike powers. He can basically rearrange atoms to whatever he desires. He turns jet fighters into feathers, he cures cancer.

Unlike Doctor Manhattan, this version of Captain Atom is made more personable as he's new to the powers and still learning how to control them, as well as dealing with how this will drastically who he is as a person.

This particular collection is very much an origin story and so the stakes are necessarily high. Still, the story is just interesting enough to encourage a further commitment.

This all said, I wonder how DC Comics will deal with him now that the Watchmen characters are being added to their regular universe. If having Captain Atom and Atom characters isn't confusing enough, will readers now also need to deal with two pretty much identical characters?