Books

Books I’ve Finished Recently:

March by Geraldine Brooks. This one came highly recommended – both by Mary-Helen and the folks at Kinokuniya – but I have to say I’m a little conflicted about it. On one hand I think it’s a great story, well-told and engaging, and the author’s conceit of filling in the missing “grown-up” parts of Little Women is cleverly executed. (Almost too cleverly; I found myself ticking off each expected plot point as it occurred: the parents’ courtship, the Marches’ lost fortune, Marmee’s temper, Aunt March’s feud, etc.) Brooks is unflinching in her portrayal of the Civil War and the moral conflicts faced by those abolitionists who took up arms. Yeah, I wept when I read the message on the silk scarf, and I was surprised at how the happy ending of LW was changed into something completely different here. But for all its good points… it’s fan fiction. Really good fanfic, but fanfic nonetheless. I kept thinking back to the horrible The Wind Done Gone and the salacious Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife (especially with all the unexpected sex). *shudder* Are they really giving out Pulitzer Prizes for exceptional achievements in fan fiction now? Because the Harry Potter slashfic geeks will be ALL OVER THIS.

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson. Yeah, Snookums has already read this one to me as a bedtime story, but I fall asleep and I miss parts. It was nice to go back and fill in the gaps. Man, I just can’t get enough of Sniff! He’s definitely my favorite character (followed closely by the Hemulen). “Five horrible experiences. It’s beginning to be monotonous!” I like how Sniff is always screaming and running after shiny things.

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb. I absolutely love the look of this book. This is what comic books should look like. That said, the story was a bit hard for me to get my head around. I can tell from the way it’s structured that many of the cameos, in-jokes, and references were gifts for the hardcore fans (who no doubt loved them), but with my limited knowledge of Batman canon most of them went right over my head. (For example, I’d never heard of Clayface before so his appearance was really confusing for a while.) But man, the look of it! Great hulking heroes and ass-kicking voluptuous babes… It was worth it just for the visuals. (And for Supes getting his butt kicked. That’s always a bonus.)

Ultimate Spider-Man (Volume 1) by Brian Michael Bendis. Meh. I didn’t love this one so much. The vivid cartoony style just doesn’t appeal to me a lot. Is this the way Spidey has always looked? So gangly and Disneyfied? I know it’s just the origin story, but right now it reads like Spider-Man meets Saved by the Bell. Maybe I just prefer darker stories…

Y: The Last Man (Volume 1) by Brian K. Vaughan. Like this one! A mystery plague wipes out every male on the planet except for one guy and his pet monkey. And oh yeah, his Mom’s a Congresswoman and this girlfriend’s somewhere in Australia. The artwork is okay – not visually arresting like Hush, but not too distracting to the narrative like Ultimate Spider-Man. (It took me a little while to work out that 355 is actually female.) The writing is awesome, really well done. (I like it when comic book characters swear.) I was wary that the concept would get boring and cheesy, but I got sucked into the story really quickly. And the violence! Those crazy Amazons, cuttin’ their own boobs off. I can’t wait to see where they go with this…

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  1. The ‘Ultimate’ take on Spider-Man is fairly garish: the Ultimate line was intended as a reboot of the stories, aimed at slightly younger audiences and involving a somewhat different origin story and a different setting. (The various Ultimate titles take place in an entirely separate universe from the main Marvel titles, which take place in the 616 universe.)

    I’ve enjoyed the first couple of volumes of the black-and-white ‘Essential Spider-Man’ reissues, which cover the first three or so years of the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spider-Man stories and were much closer to the tone of the Sam Raimi films (though the films played fast and loose with some supporting characters, and the scripts have tended to downplay the wisecracking, villain-taunting side of Peter Parker), but I have to confess that I’m not currently following any of the mainstream Spider-Man titles so other than the Essentials… line (which, I appreciate, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea) I can’t recommend an alternative.

    [Incidentally, if you think the Ultimate Spider-Man looks odd, get a load of his current Earth-616 universe outfit.]

    By the way, God-among-men Grant Morrison is about to start a run on one of the Batman titles, with the first issue out this very week: if Morrison’s work on ‘All-Star Superman’ is anything to go by, his take on Batman is going to be good fun for newbies and long-time fans alike. Oh, and while I’m handing out recommendations, Joss Whedon’s third story arc on ‘Astonishing X-Men’ is proving to be enormous fun, if a little bit too direct a homage to the classic 1980s storylines for some old-timers’ tastes. Me, I’m enjoying every minute of it, and I suspect that you will too.

  2. So the Essentials are actually collections of the old stories, while the Ultimate are a totally new retelling? It’s just all so confusing to the novice who only recognizes a few big names and characters. The Wikipedia article about Ultimate Spider-Man made it sound like it gets better, so I may give it another chance. You know, I only just got around to watching the movie Spider-Man 2 the other day, and I actually remarked to the Snook that movie Spidey seems to wisecrack a lot less than comic book Spidey. Yay, I made a valid observation! 🙂

    I’ve been reading Morrison’s run on the New X-Men for a while now. (I like the ones with Quitely the best.) And ooh, I can’t wait for Joss’s as well! I still haven’t worked up the nerve to buy an actual comic book yet; I’m still getting trade paperbacks at the book store. I’ve been to Sydney’s big comic book store once (on Free Comic Book Day) but quite frankly it’s really intimidating. I’ve got to work my way up to that. 🙂

  3. That’s right: the ‘Essentials’ are a cheap way to keep the older material in circulation, whereas the Ultimates were supposed to be a retelling of the classic characters in a modern setting, without the burden of forty years-worth of continuity. (Those who’ve been following the longer-standing Ultimate titles have been known to suggest that after half a dozen years or so those titles are starting to get bogged down in their own continuity too. There’s a theory someone expounded that any monthly superhero comic can only manage about five years before it starts repeating itself, succumbing to pressure to wheel that big, popular bad guy on to menace the hero again for a rerun of their big battle from the second year of the title, or to break up the masked hero and his girlfriend again, or to kill off someone close to the hero to provide him with an opportunity to ‘go dark’ or whatever.)

    That said, all I’m really doing within the parentheses above is reciting received wisdom. I’m all in favour of giving a title a chance rather than ditching it just because of a weak issue or two, so I hope that you’ll persevere with Ultimate Spider-Man and one day post that it’s going great guns, thereby persuading me to pick it up. (And yes, nice pick-up on the lack of wisecracking in the big screen Spidey.)

    I don’t blame you for feeling confused at the array of versions of the big name characters: beyond the small number of titles I follow I feel exactly the same way! The worst of it is that when a good title does show up it can be killed because the market won’t support a fifth comic about that team. For example, Dan Slott wrote a marvellous little series ‘The Thing’ about the solo adventures of Ben Grimm, the big rocky guy from the Fantastic Four: you may remember them making a guest appearance alongside Whedon’s X-men battling a big lizard in New York. Slott – whose ‘She-Hulk’ I strongly recommend (ignore the hideous cheesecake covers, the comics themselves are funny and charming) – wrote funny, accessible adventure stories using one of Marvel’s best-loved characters, but there were four other monthly titles featuring the Fantastic Four so the title lasted just eight issues.

    One strategy to take is not to follow characters or titles but instead find a creator you like and check out whatever he does. I’ve followed that strategy most fully with Grant Morrison (especially when he’s paired with Frank Quitely) and Alan Moore, but there are other writers who are on the verge of persuading me to pick up pretty much anything they do.

    I fully intended to stick with the ‘wait for the trade paperback’ strategy when I started reading comics with Morrison’s ‘New X-Men’, but I’ve slipped. First it was Whedon’s run on “Astonishing X-Men’: I held out, but after reading rave reviews of the first two issues I decided I couldn’t hold out for six months or more and started buying. Then it was Slott’s ‘She-Hulk’ – I got the first two trade paperbacks, but started buying the monthly title. Now as I write this I’ve just got back from a trip to my local comic emporium and I’ve got *four* comics to read: two Batman titles (one the debut of Grant Morrison’s new title), and two X-Men series not written by Joss Whedon. Worse yet, I’m reworking one of my web sites and am seriously considering posting reviews of the comics I read there: my transformation into Comic Book Guy is well under way!

    (Joking aside, the idea of the site is to write about what I read/watch listen to, not just about comics. However, I’m probably going to make a post at the revamped site listing the comic titles I currently follow. I’ll drop you an email once it’s up, in case you feel like checking out any of my regular reads.)

  4. I absolutely loved Hush, but I know plenty of other die-hard Batman fans who didn’t. The artwork was indeed one of the best parts of reading this story arc. I loved the use of watercolors for the flashbacks; it really gave them a dreamlike feel.

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