Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Liberator, Vol. 1: Rage Ignition by Matt Miner (2014)

I'm happy I purchased this book back when it came out; the message is spot-on and it's the kind of work I really want to support.

The art is mostly great.  I especially love how Damon is drawn.  If I was much younger I'm sure I'd want to "ship" him with someone (I mean, I'm surely too old for that now, right!) but there's not really anyone to do that with in this comic, unless I did hetero-shipping, which, you know, like, ew.


I'm in that mode because this is definitely a book geared to the younger set.  The young teen set.  I would have loved something like this as a kid.  Not because it's great storytelling (because it's not), but because it would satisfy my own rage.  Rage is the theme of the book.  Rage is not really explored, but it is the theme.  It's presented, and very briefly, a character or two thinks about the implications of it.  But it would be an overstatement to say it is explored.

Bits of plot are thrown in to justify (and this leads to watering down) the actions of the characters.  Do the actions need justification?  Maybe not.  But for some reason Matt Miner thought it important to add sexual abuse to the past relationship of a fur-farm overlord and our hero, which allows for a bit of moralizing of "are you doing it for the animals or are you doing it for yourself?"

See, I know this is for kids, and possibly the kids who haven't had much experience in life at ALL, because life isn't compartmentalized like that.  The argument is false.  If you care deeply about animal rights and how they are treated, then anything you do on their behalf is also something you're doing for yourself.  It's not exactly healthy to somehow slice those things in half.

And idealism in itself isn't a reasonable justification for anything.  You separate your ideals from your heart and you're on the path to a happy dystopia, whatever the parallel would be to oligarchy, but with treatises leading the way instead of corporations and profit.

I'm making this too complicated, of course.  The story is simplistic and, toward the end, rushed.  We hit "the end" after big revelations are thrown at us and never developed.  The bad guys are ridiculous, exaggerated caricatures of demonic terror.  The characters soapbox a lot but never develop much beyond that.  I commend the message; I'm there with the creators here.  But I can't bring myself to inflate my review just because I share an ideology. 

PS: this edition comes with bonus features, like any good trade paperback: cover gallery, "pin-ups," some good (some not good) bonus stories from different creators, articles about different action groups.

PSS: I always love to see projects of the heart see the light of day because of Kickstarter and other similar programs.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Cages by Dave McKean, Collected in a single volume in 1999

High on the wonder that was The Sandman, but near the end of my first phase of comic collecting, I started grabbing the first issues of Cages when they were being released, but stopped, and due to their odd physical shape and my constant moving, they became damaged and it appears I no longer have them.  I finally, over twenty years later, remembered that I haven't read these yet, and now I feel like a fool.

I mean, how had I gone so long without bathing in this wondrous work? 

Seriously, I mean, how?  Wit and one else needs to try to put those two together, because McKean already perfected the damn thing.  Or am I being ironic in saying that?

Cages touched me philosophically, artistically, emotionally, spiritually.  And who's to say those are really separate categories, or, ahem, separate cages?

We can stop caging things, and ourselves.

At one point I paused in reading in order to do some writing of my own.  See, I was inspired, and I was actually happy with what I had written.  If you know me, you know that's rare.

I just read a nice review I'd like to share with you all.  It was written back in 2002 (still a decade after the work was done).  Now, I see that they are doing a new printing of the full collection later this year (I saw that on Amazon myself).  Anyway, check this out:

Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman: Bruce Wayne, Murderer? (New Edition) by Various Writers and Artists (2014)

I've come and gone into and out of the comic book hobby since the late 80s when I was a teenager discovering that yes, I too could become obsessed with a hobby now that I'd outgrown being a lead singer in an air-band. The danger of leaving and returning, though, is that titles one used to like will become huge families of titles suddenly, and it's daunting to catch up. This is why I am very grateful for big omnibus kinds of books like this. During the period when the whole "bat family" (I don't recall that concept from the late 80s) is trying to figure out what happened that led to Bruce Wayne being framed for a murder, continuity apparently required that he be dealing with that issue in all the Bat-titles. So thank you, D.C., for helping me out here. I'll never catch up, but I can at least enjoy some storylines this way.

The creators did a nice job NOT being too jarring, it turns out. Good teamwork, good editorship, perhaps? I admire it though, regardless. The shifts in visual-art style was the only off-putting thing here, but I'm a grown-up and can adapt. I won't say I liked the styles in their entirety, but I must stress that this is not a criticism, but more about preference, though I wondered how the more cartoonish styles were supposed to fit with the writing at times.

The only storyline I didn't care for was that of Nicodemus. His motive was familiar and cliche. The story felt tired. I was also unsure of why (begin spoiler)around that phase of the book Bruce Wayne decided that he was not to be Bruce Wayne anymore and all of that - it seemed more like a way they could bring Batman back into the titles for fans to see their Batman kick-butt stories while still dealing with the murder frame-up storyline (end spoiler), but perhaps the next volume, which I will definitely read, will reveal something about this.

I have to say I really enjoyed the way the Bat-family has fleshed out. I like the characters, and the roles they have taken on. They have a really great team of writers and artists across the board. Reading this volume brought me back into the real of actually liking mainstream comics again. Most of my comics reading is more adult lately, fewer superhero titles. It feels like kind of a homecoming for me.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande (2014)

The puzzle of death is one that many religions claim to answer, though I suspect few, no matter how pious, devoted, or faithful, could with a sense of certainty honestly say they feel comfortable they understand it. Perhaps that is why those who embody what we don't understand - and therefore often fear - are so often looked upon as analytical problems to be solved with the outcome of prolonged living.

This book dares to challenge all of us - both medical professionals and people like me, non-professionals who inevitably find ourselves at one time or many times helping people we know and perhaps love reach their end.  The challenge is one of humaneness.  It's one of respecting the wishes of the dying, and honoring their dignity.

Filled with stories, including of the author's own father's journey toward death, Gawande's book brings emotion to a clinical issue, and that's the way I think it should be.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Bhagavad Gita: The Oxford Centr for Hindu Studies Guide by Nicholas Sutton (2014)

The study of religion and religions, both for intellectual learning and for spiritual exploration, has constituted a large part of my mental world for my entire adult life.  Now in midlife, I'm starting to reconcile my desire to "land" in a religious home with the fact that said landing is unlikely to happen in a predefined way.  I've accepted that it's just fine for me to go where the wind takes me.  Every year, I take that "Belief-O-Matic" quiz online (link), and every year, my top two are Neopagan and Unitarian Universalist.  So the world is my buffet, and there's no shame in that. 

This is my second translation of the Gita, which I picked up because I liked the way it dealt with commentary.  No footnotes on this one.  Here are four or five verses, and then some commentary, with a summary at the end of each chapter.  I don't know Sanskrit, so I don't have the tools to comment on the translation.  The commentary includes many references to how certain phrases were translated, however.  The commentary also gives nods to different ways certain passages have been interpreted by different schools of thought.  This was personally gratifying to me, because it told me that not everyone in the Hindu thinking world thinks that each of us is God.  Happily, Nicholas Sutton does not take sides, though he will give his academic opinion regarding which interpretation seems to be most likely to be the intended one. 

I have learned a lot, and will keep this electronic text (which is only available as an e-book).  I spent a lot more time than usual on my first read-through.  I didn't see a point in rushing it.  I read small portions at a time.  I also discovered that there is much here that affirms and adds to what I've been observing spiritually on my own. 

The previous translation I read was for a course in Indian philosophy.  It was Barbara Stoller Miller's, which is also very accessible and was perfect for the context of that class.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Loner, a novel by Teddy Wayne. Expected to publish 9/13/2016 by Simon & Schuster

Loner is very readable.  The main character, David, has a strange kind of charm, and a different way of speaking, which personally I liked.  His perspective is skewed; he's defensive and as he does the manipulative and downright disturbing things he does to other characters in his small circle of peers, playing them off of each other, using them to reach deluded goals, it seems undeniable that he really buys into the untruths he tells himself.  This part is quite effective: he is a stalker, but he doesn't really see himself that way.  By "effective" I mean to say that I found him to be successfully creepy.

And now that I've finished writing my review I feel it best to put the large middle section as a spoiler.  I do give away significant plot points here!

Do I believe a person could really be that naive and directed at the same time?  I guess so, as I myself find myself missing cues not given to me succinctly.  But directed?  I don't know about that in this circumstance.  David really wants Veronica.  His manipulations, for the most part, are relatively innocent on the surface, showing up where she is and pretending it's coincidental, for example.  So maybe, in the end, when he attempts to rape Veronica after he discovers how she may have been manipulating him all along, I can accept that he felt he had a chance with her if he just showed her what a great guy he was.

But what he does to Sarah in order to get closer to Veronica, well, that's pretty directed and at the very best, cynical.  While he may not be as cunning as Veronica, he's definitely as cynical.

Overall, I experienced several things in reading Loner.
...a strange longing to revisit my own college experience, at least for the first quarter of the book, because I sheltered myself too much to have experienced the darkness explored here, and the personalized response dissipated pretty quickly when the stalking began.
...a growing dis-ease and eventually dread
...a mixed reaction by the ending...was it too predictable? was the author trying too hard to build a psychological case to explain the character's actions?

I don't know what to make of the book, to be utterly honest.  I liked reading it.  It's a good example of "the unreliable narrator."  I just don't know if the author wants me to take his novel as a warning, a character study, a philosophical exercise, a social commentary, something else, or a combination of these.  I suppose I'm bothered not because of unanswered questions, which is never a point against a work of art for me, but because I truly feel I am left flailing with these questions, and plugging potential answers into the final product leaves results which seem to me to be not quite right, and I'm left with puzzlement and not much else.

My gratitude to the publisher for an ARC of this book.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Funny Thing Is... by Ellen DeGeneres (2003)

I could almost leave a rating off of this, because the rating is irrelevant. the reason for this is that some of these chapters are five-star hilarious and some were zero-star non-chapters. 

A non-chapter is one which just passed and you didn't notice it, because nothing happened and if it did it was neither insightful nor funny.

And if there are things in a chapter which give me the wet giggles, that's five stars. The phrase "freshly washed monkey" is enough for me.

What does this mean? Who cares? It's comedy. I'm happy to spend time with Ellen DeGeneres, because her personality comes through even when I'm not sure what the hell she's doing. 

Chronological tidbit: This book was released just before her talk show started.