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Monday, January 31, 2011

Batman and Son

"Ninja Man-Bats. Alarming twist."


Batman and Son marks the beginning of Grant Morrison's (JLA, The Invisibles) run on the Caped Crusader, though it's not the first time he's written about him. Arkham Asylum is still considered one of the best Batman stories ever written, and his portrayal of Batman in his JLA run (sometimes affectionately known as the “Bat-god”) certainly had a huge influence on Batman’s portrayal in a lot of recent writings.


Batman and Son offers a somewhat different, though no less Morrison-esque take on the Bat-mythos. As the title suggests, the bulk of the plot revolves around the revelation of the existence of Damian Wayne, Bruce’s son by Talia al Ghul, daughter of the villain Ra's al Ghul. Damian is about as much of a brat as you’d expect from a wunderkind raised by the daughter of a psychotic criminal mastermind and trained to be a perfect ninja assassin. In other words, he’s a complete snot, but understandably so. Not surprisingly, his relationship with Bruce is a bit tenuous at best, and isn’t helped by his constant disobedience, and his apparent desire to kill anyone and everything he doesn’t like (including Alfred and Tim Drake).


This collection also introduces the “Three Ghosts of Batman” (not their actual name), a group of Gotham Police Offices trained to replace Batman in the event hat something happened to him. Of course, something went horribly wrong, and they’re all crazy. Let’s face it, Batman himself isn’t the most stable guy in the world, and trying to make someone into him probably isn’t going to work out to well.


The collection also includes one very odd story about the Joker, in much the same style of Arkham Asylum. This is one of those stories you either love or hate…it’s hard to find a middle ground on it. And one story about the future of Damian, where he’s taken on the mantle of Batman, made a deal with the devil, and is still fighting to save Gotham from the apocalypse.


Seriously.


This is a fun collection, but it’s really just a prologue to the Black Glove and Batman: RIP stories that follow it. There’s a ton of things that are introduced here that really don’t get resolved at all. You cannot read this as a stand alone collection. Well, I guess you can, but it won’t be very satisfying.


On the flip side, if you haven’t read much Batman before, this is a decent place to start. Morrison pretty much tells you most of what you need to know in the first few pages, and other relevant details come along as they must. Sure, there are probably some obscure references you won’t understand without Wikipedia and a whole lot of time on the Internet, but it’s perfectly enjoyable without that.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Edgar Nominess Announced

The Mystery Writers of America have announced the 2010 Edgar Award nominees. I confess to not having read any of them, but it looks like there is some interesting stuff on there.

Monday, January 24, 2011

JLA: Earth 2

JLA: Earth 2 by Grant Morrison

JLA: Earth 2 is Grant Morrison’s take on one of the classic plots of science fiction and superhero stories, the “Mirror Universe”, where good is evil, evil is good, and everything is backwards.


The concept of an alternate earth has a long history in comics, and even in the pages of the JLA, where Earth 2 was originally a home for the silver age versions of the DC characters. Earth 3 was actually the earth where good was evil, etc…


Yeah, don’t ask. This shit doesn’t make any sense to me either.


JLA: Earth 2 pretty much ignores all of that. It is basically a stand alone story (though Kurt Busiek would trot it back out later), written at a time when DC had dispensed with all of this multi-verse nonsense. So Morrison basically has a free hand to do whatever he feels like. Of course, he only has one small graphic novel to do it in, so this is not the sort of crazy, sprawling, epic that you might expect out of Morrison. Instead, it’s a tight little story about the JLA reacting to meeting their evil counterparts.


Whether or not you’ll like this story mostly comes down to a question of whether or not you like Mirror Universe kind of stories. If you do, this one is a pretty fun one. Morrison plays fast and loose with the inversions, with members of the CSA (Crime Syndicate of Amerika—the evil JLA) using expressions like “God Below”, and all the people on the Evil Earth having their hearts on the left side of their bodies. The idea of a universe where evil always wins actually turns out to be a central plot point, and the key to victory on the part of the JLA actually turns out to be exploiting that entire concept. It’s not quite as “meta” in its plot as some later stories (like Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis), but it’s definitely in there.


If you don’t like Mirror Universe stories, but like superheroes, and the JLA, then this is a fun ride. If you like none of those things, I don’t know why you’re even considering reading this book, frankly.


[Side note/nitpick: I know that this is not Morrison’s fault, but why is Batman’s counterpart Owlman? In what way are Owls the opposite of Bats? And why does my spellchecker actually recognize the name Batman, anyway?]

Thursday, January 20, 2011

On Theft

Got this from Bookshelves of Doom. It's a pretty clear, compelling statement about why stealing (I'm sorry, pirating) books is wrong.

And yeah, I do think it's wrong. There's enough free public domain stuff out there, if you want to download something and read it.

Going to start trying to post more about books, instead of just review of them. We'll see how I do.

Friday, January 14, 2011

We3

We3 
Grant Morrison
 

"Home is run no more."



I was trying to describe this book to my wife, and realized that, even at face value, it's tough to describe in a way that conveys how well done it is. "It's like the Incredible Journey, except that it's a dog, a cat, and a rabbit, and they've all been turned into cybernetic super-weapons by the US Government, which is trying to 'de-commission' (read: kill) them."


And honestly, that is a pretty fair synopsis of the book. A dog, cat, and rabbit, fleeing from the U.S. Gov't, Jason Bourne style. Right down to the fact that they're more bad-ass than everything that the government sends after them. Almost.


Also, they can talk. Not WELL, mind you, but they can talk. Which is good, because otherwise, there would be zero dialogue in the story. Though honestly, Frank Quitely's artwork conveys enough emotion that dialogue isn't necessary (or present) a lot of the time. While the human dialogue is more conventional, the animal dialogue is short and stunted. Honestly, it almost reminds me of the modern day LOLCATS (someone on another review pointed this out as well).


This is a very fast-paced story. No extraneous padding, nothing put in there to up the page count. Short, to the point, but poignant all the same. Morrison sometimes takes flack for having confusing stories, but there is nothing confusing about this one.

What there is here, in spades, is a lot of emotion. The stories not particularly morally ambiguous (the animals are clearly the good guys), but there is a lot of poignancy in their actions. Not surprisingly (at least to me), the dog comes across as the most sympathetic, perhaps because he's the most tortured/eager to get along with humans. There is an absolutely heartbreaking scene where he realizes that he's killed a man, and sits, head hanging, saying "bad dog" to himself.

I confess, it's possible that I'm more susceptible to this because I'm a dog lover, but I don't think so. This is just a genuinely wonderful piece of writing. Even if you are not a reader of graphic novels, this is worth reading.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Eagle of the Ninth

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff


I really wonder about my reading habits sometimes; specifically, I wonder how I keep ending up reading books with absolutely no idea how I came across them. Such is the case with Eagle of the Ninth, a work of historical fiction that apparently is relatively well known, as is the author. In any case, I had not heard of her until recently, nor do I remember how or where I heard of her. But however it happened, I'm glad I dug her up.

Centurion Marcus Flavius Aquila is the son of one of the members of the Ninth Legion, a Roman legion deployed to Britain that vanished under mysterious circumstances. Assigned to a command in Britain, Marcus eventually undertakes to discover the facts behind the disappearance of his father's legion, and to recover the legion's missing eagle. Along the way, Marcus acquires a number of companions and aids, most notably Esca, a British slave who becomes Marcus's guide and companion on his quest.

Eagle of the Ninth is a fun book; the plot takes some interesting twists and turns, and the circumstances that lead up to Marcus's search are not quite what I expected. The characters are sometimes a bit simplistic, but they are still engaging, and the evolution of the relationship between Marcus and Esca feels natural and right. There are a number of ancillary characters that get introduced early on, but seem to have little purpose for the majority of the story (the most notable of these being the wolf Cub, who does surprisingly little given his nature and introduction into the story). Sutcliff strikes a nice balance between creating a fast paced adventure and taking the time to create a vivid picture of life in Roman Britain.

Classical history buffs looking for a fun adventure read would probably enjoy this one, as would anyone else who enjoys historical fiction. Historians who take history to seriously to enjoy someone messing with it will be annoyed, but those people are annoyed by everything. This one is definitely worth checking out.

*Side note: I did not realize it until I went to see The Fighter, but apparently, this book has been made into a movie (the Eagle). From what I saw in the trailer, they have botched up the plot royally, and made Marcus into a way bigger asshole than he actually is in the book. Fuck you Hollywood.

**Side note two: Apparently, this is part of a series. I did not realize this when I bought it, but I'd be willing to read the rest of it. And may, since I signed up for this "Historical Fiction Challenge".

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein




I read this one at the insistence of my wife, who read it herself on our honeymoon. I wasn't entirely sold on the idea, but the flight home from Italy was a long one, and I found myself needing something to do.

The gimmick (or "High Concept") of the book is that the narrator, Enzo, isn't human. Enzo is a dog (some sort of terrier mutt), adopted by a man named Denny, who works as an auto-mechanic while pursuing a career as a race car driver. Enzo considers himself something of a philosopher, and muses upon the nature of people, dogs, and other things, while simultaneously telling the story of Denny's marriage, his wife's struggles with cancer, and his subsequent struggles regarding the custody of his daughter.

As a narrator, Enzo is kind of fun, though he sometimes sounds less like a dog wishing to be human, and more like a human who wants to sound like a dog. Ezno's admiration for all things human is taken to a point where he seems to find certain aspects of being a dog distasteful, which makes his whole narration on that subject seem a bit unreliable. That said, he serves as a breezy, and fun storyteller, and the book moves along at a reasonable clip under his direction. There are a few moments that do seem to capture a more canine view of the world, such as his choice to destroy a stuffed animal that is clearly taunting him.

What hampers this book is not so much Enzo, but the plot itself. A string of unbelievable coincidences, both good and bad, assail Denny's life, and ultimately, make Denny seem like a puppet of much larger (or random) forces. The great struggle of the book (Denny's battle for custody of his daughter with his former in-laws), is resolved by nothing more than a chance meeting. For a book obsessed with racing, and understanding how to find control in dangerous situations, there's very little sense that the main characters have any control at all. With one or two exceptions, Denny does very little. Events just sort of happen to him, and he hangs on as best he can.

Ultimately, this is a CUTE book, but I'm not sure it's a GOOD book. Dog loves and race car fans may enjoy it, and it's a decent lazy Sunday read. If you want deep and profound insights, look elsewhere.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Beyond Bodybuilding

Beyond Bodybuilding Muscle and Strength Training Secrets by Pavel Tsatsouline

Pavel Tsatsouline is one of those guys who produces stuff I like, backed by marketing I usually hate. He is one of the kings of the "OUR SYSTEM IS THE UBER BESTEST" style of marketing, which drives me crazy. On the other hand, I cannot deny that he has put out some good stuff, and Beyond Bodybuilding is no exception.

This is not so much a book as a collection of articles, many of which first appeared in Muscle Media. The book is divided into eight sections, covering power training, training planning, training for various body parts (legs, chest, back, arms), and a section on bodyweight training. Each section includes several articles relevant to the section at hand, as well as a large Q andA section addressing many common concerns from trainees.

The good thing about this book is that it contains a ton of information. The bad thing about this book is that it contains a ton of information. The information is all good, but the book isn't designed as a single, unified, plan. Indeed, there are easily a dozen different training plans in here, and some of them are contradictory. You cannot do everything in this book at once; pick and choose carefully based on your goals.

For that reason, I wouldn't recommend this book to a new lifter. There's just too much info here, and it's too confusing. If you are new to lifting, and want some solid, basic, strength training, check out Pavel's Power to the People, or a similar book (I hear good things about Starting Strength, but haven't read it yet). On the other hand, if you've been lifting for a while, and are looking for a new routine or some ideas to spice things up, this is a great resource to have on hand. I know I'll be using it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Rory Miller's New Book

Is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Obviously, I haven't read it yet, but I highly recommend Rory's writing. His stuff is gold.

His actual training is cool too, though I have much less experience with that.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Oh, Hey, It's 2011

Yeah, I've been offline for a while. Well, not really. I've just gotten behind on reviewing books. I've got quite a stack too. I'll get there though. I've got some time to play catch up this week.

I'd like this blog to be a little more active this year, so, well, I'm going to try and make it more active. I may start writing about stuff besides books. Who knows? We'll see what happens.

Until then: several folks I know (okay, two) are participating in the Historical Fiction Challenge. I like Historical Fiction, so I think I'll try jumping on. I may jump off, but at least I'll have a starting point.

Here's to a 2011 full of good reading!