Monthly Archives: March 2007


Although I’ve done a little bit of delving into old-school Spider-Man and X-Men, for the most part I’m only barely aware of the Marvel canon, outside what movies have told me. Of course, the comics have lots of advertising and in-story references to the other Marvel characters, so I’m getting a vague idea of what the universe looks like, thanks to the aforementioned excavations. So sure, I know that Thor spent some time as an Avenger (whatever that is), and that his comics frequently refer to Norse legend, which seems only right. But when I got the Marvel-branded book Loki for Christmas, I had no idea if I’d really be able to follow. As it happens, this story pre-supposes no Marvel knowledge at all that I could discern, so yay that! Even yayer, despite saying on the back that it collects Loki #1-4, it’s a completely self-contained story, so I wasn’t stuck wanting to buy future volumes and hope they might come out someday, and so forth. My point is, as far as the presentation, all good.

So then there’s the part between the covers. The art is amazing, though not entirely comic-like. Rather than contained action on each page, it’s more like a series of paintings. But since the story is a very introspective one, that works well. We open with Loki triumphant, in command of Asgard with all of his foes vanquished and Thor on his knees in chains at Loki’s feet. All that is left is for Loki to get the common people to follow his will, to decide how he will accomplish this, and, part and parcel, to decide what kind of ruler he will be. What follows is 60 or 80 pages of recriminations, impassioned arguments, and bitter tirades as Loki wanders a castle that holds no real meaning for him in itself, trying to apportion blame for his fate, the fate of the other Asgardians, and especially the fate of his brother Thor.

I know it sounds like one of those apologist texts that finds a way to blame other people for one’s own bad actions and decisions. To an extent it is, but only to the extent that Loki sees himself as a victim. The reader is free to make whatever decision they walk away from the text with, as all points of view are given equal time. But anyway, that’s just the sideshow. The burning question, ‘What will Loki do?’ is addressed with measured deliberation and to excellent effect by the story’s end. I don’t know how good this is for people who like Marvel, but I definitely recommend it for people who like Norse mythology.

Siu lam juk kau

After a long, long time, I’ve started watching Netflix stuff again. Which is nice, because it means I get to spend my money a little better and also because I might get to see the final season of Alias sometime this year and also also because every so often I get some random movie or other into the queue, something I missed theatrically and then nearly forgot about and would never have heard from again, but for those fine people. (The ones at Netflix, you see.)

In this case, I get to be the last person in America to see Shaolin Soccer, despite that I had heard about it in 2001 when you could only get it via illegal download. Sure, it’s a ridiculous movie that you’ve seen a million times before. An underdog coach gets a chance to redeem himself by defeating his longtime rival, but only if he can whip his scrappy players into shape in time for the big game! (Or maybe the lead player is the one who’s redeeming himself against the longtime rival. Either way.) So yeah, of course you’ve seen it.

But, have you seen it with tai chi sticky buns? Or with a cunning plan to repopularize kung fu via lounge singing? Or with a nemesis who looks suspiciously like Takeshi Kaga? I am willing to bet that you have not, outside of this movie, which admittedly you have almost certainly seen. Perhaps it’s worth another look, though? ‘Cause, let’s be clear here, there’s something really cool about a movie that not only uses the over-the-top magic-laden version of kung fu to play a game of soccer, but does so in the same script that pauses long enough to make fun of wirework in Chinese cinema.

The Fall of Reach

A few years back, a game was released for the X-Box. You may have heard of it. This guy in green armor who everyone thinks is the badass to end all badassery crash-lands onto a ring-looking device that has atmosphere and terrain on the inside surface, and then races against multiple alien species that are bent on the destruction of humanity to discover the device’s purpose. There was a sequel, too, and maybe another one coming out? Anyway, relatively popular.

Apparently, a tie-in prequel novel was written along about the time the game first came out, providing some valuable backstory on how this Master Chief guy and his cool armor came to be present on the Halo in the first place. And, okay, it’s a video-game novelization, so how good could it be, right? Answer: perfectly serviceable! There are some glaring editing problems wherein the numbers of Spartan students fluctuate unexpectedly and wherein the amount of time that passes between the start and finish of the story might be ten years off depending on which section you believe. But those aren’t actually bad, just dumb. The plot itself flows pretty smoothly, borrowing here from Ender’s Game and there from Starship Troopers (not the satirical movie version, though) and generally providing enough information to make the first game a lot more full of sense than it was when I initially played it. I’ll probably read the two game novelizations as well, though that will be a mistake: one of this book’s biggest strengths is that it has a much higher plot density than descriptions of fights against aliens density.


The problem with not reviewing things right after you finish consuming them is that you run the risk of acquiring a debilitating sports injury and having a hard time remembering what you might have wanted to say through the haze of pain, tiredness, and general malaise that accompanies such events. But, y’know, through such tribulations I forge ahead.

So, it was like this. On Sunday, I went to see the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie with a few of the guys and mostly the kids. It was a kid friendly movie, of course, in that there were lots of kid-laughs that tended to make me roll my eyes, but it definitely had a little bit of depth shining through the stylized art and sporadic comic relief. A couple of paralleled but different takes on the meaning of family and teamwork, thoughts on vigilantism, good hint-dropping for a sequel, plus all kinds of mutant ninjas vs. regular ninjas vs. regular mutants three-way combat action. If that’s not enough to convince you but you’re still fan in general, I should point out that this is clearly Raphael’s movie. Since he’s the best one, that should persuade any remaining foot-draggers.

Girls: Conception

I may yet buy more individual comic collections, but I don’t have any big plans for new series for a while, now that I’ve started this one. Five at once is plenty, surely. So, Girls. In Conception, we’re introduced to wide-spot-in-the-highway Pennystown, population 65. It’s a nice little town, just ask anyone who lives there. Except, our hero- let me strike that and go with main character, Ethan, isn’t so happy with the shape of his life. He’s alone and feeling it, and in a drunken moment snaps and lashes out at all the women in the bar, which is pretty much to say all the women in town. It’s a Friday night, and did I mention population 65?

So, okay, this is not the most interesting premise in the world, I know. Except, just as this confrontation is coming to a head, Something Happens. And then, driving home to sleep off his mistake, Ethan finds a naked, attractive girl in the road. Over the next two days, things collapse for Pennystown in violent and unpredictable ways, all thanks to that fateful meeting. I gotta say, I liked it. Good pacing, slow unravelling of what eventually becomes downright creepy atmosphere, good characters made all out of grey. The only thing I can say against it is that the art is a little iffy compared to what I’ve gotten used to seeing lately. It’s not bad at all, but it’s a little generic. The people look too much alike is mostly what I mean. There are maybe five faces split up between the fair number of characters I’ve seen so far. The rest is fine, though.

Also: great cliffhanger.

Narcissus in Chains

61OauXqsD6LTo be clear, this is not the worst book I’ve ever read. It might well be the worst book I’ve ever finished, though. I’d try to make a case for the fact that I’ve been in a poor mood the last week or two, but the fact is, I hated it and nearly quit reading long before the mood started. If I was in jail on a deserted island and this was the only book available, I might have to renounce literacy. Let this be a warning to you.

The funny part is, I was praising the last book for being so much more on target than the couple before it. The way this was accomplished, I have since realized, was by taking our Anita out of her home turf, out of the range of her various boyfriends, and putting her somewhere completely different with a man with whom she has only a strictly professional relationship, and helping him solve a mystery. How did I realize this, you ask? By virtue of the fact that Narcissus in Chains is the exact opposite of that book in practically every way.

Anita returns home, ready (thanks to some unfortunate lessons learned in New Mexico) to come to terms with her relationships with vampire and werewolf, both emotionally and parapsychologically, I guess. (They share some kind of power between them, you see.) In the process of doing so, she discovers just how badly the things she has been ignoring in her life for the past six months have collapsed and goes about setting them right. Meanwhile, there are plenty of new players in town to create distractions and complications for all concerned. Plus, a little fraction of a mystery? Sort of? As has happened before, I’m willing to admit that everything tied up much more neatly than I had expected, in the last 40 pages or so. But that’s pretty cold comfort. It’s fine for Anita to not see the strings connecting everything together, but after enough times that I can’t as a reader, it starts to become an exercise in futility. I’m simply not paranoid enough for these books, I guess. All I know is, the mystery part seemed so backburnered that by the time the bad guy was revealed as having tried to kill Anita twice before, I had no idea who they were referring to, and couldn’t find any indication of it at a couple of earlier points in the book that I thought might be applicable. And then, sure, a few pages later, I figured out what they meant. But somehow, that seems like a pretty bad sign. This is all I’m saying.

The Number 23

Numerology is kind of cool, I guess. It’s like astrology or fundamental Christianity in that you can grab the parts that you think fit with your life and run with them, and ignore the parts that appear to be irrelevant. Or even better, you can go in for that one Jewish Kabbalah group and get the best of two worlds! None of which is particularly relevant to my having seen The Number 23, except for the part where it’s all numerological its own self. And particularly with 23, since it’s been popularized via such well-known groups as the Illuminati and the Discordians and so forth.

The movie, of course, takes little note of any of this. Except the numerology, I mean, because it’s all about that. So Jim Carrey gets this book, and notices strange parallels with his own life, just off enough that it’s not literally a retelling of his childhood. And as soon as the main character takes note of the frequent occurrences of 23 happening all around him, Jim Carrey starts noticing the same things in his own life. Letters in names adding up to 23, the number appearing in odd places, birth dates, social security numbers, pretty much everything. (And, fun for the audience, it crops up in all kinds of places that he doesn’t notice even though the camera does.) Unfortunately, the number eventually drives the book guy to kill, which sets off Carrey’s paranoia about what he might do in his real life. And then he discovers a real murder which, if it’s possible to believe any of the thoughts bubbling around in his mind, can easily be attributed to the man who wrote the book.

The mystery part is pretty good, the filming of the book’s story is a delight to behold, and for the rest, any of the rough patches in believability or dialogue are smoothed over by the eternal quest for more references to 23 scattered across the filmscape. No rough acting patches that I can point to; I was pretty happy with everyone. I got to have a treasure hunt and laugh frequently, which gives it a leg up on most movies I see. (The treasure hunt part does, I mean.)


I find that I haven’t got much to say about 300. I think this is because everything that you need to know about it, you already knew long before you ever entered the theater. It’s a historical tragedy, which means that everyone is going to die. But it’s a Greek historical tragedy, which means that none of them will mind dying, because all that talk about your name being remembered down through the ages was actually true in those days, for those people. So, death and glory; the rest is just the details.

However, it must be acknowledged that the details were quite awesome. At least, they were after the plodding introductory exposition on the youth of King Leonidas of Sparta had finally run its course. Lots of cheesecake and beefcake? Check. Creepy giants and hunchbacks and monsters that would not look out of place in a Resident Evil videogame? Check. Political intrigue? Absolutely. Piles and piles of bloody violence? You’re damn right. Stilted dialogue that sounds like it could have been written 3,000 years ago? Well, but that’s kind of a feature, right? Unfortunate imagery that forces comparisons to Gladiator? Well, you can’t win ’em all.

On balance, it pleases me that these graphic novels are being written, and it pleases me that they’re being adapted. There are other reasons, but the fact that Stylized Comic-Book Movie is a genre that still feels fresh and new would be reason enough all by itself.

Y: The Last Man – Unmanned

And now, the first of two new graphic novel series I’ll be in the middle of. Which, counting the Sandman reread, brings my total to five. I approve of this, inasmuch as so far they’ve all been really fun and I get to catch up on a completely new medium. And that doesn’t even count the forthcoming Buffy Season 8 or the three or four years of old X-Men comics I’ve read lately. In theory, this indicates that I am 31 going on 11. In practice, there’s not been anything yet that I’ve thought was beneath me, discrete instances of eye-rolling at the X-Men stuff notwithstanding.

In Y: The Last Man, we have this fellow named Yorick. He is an escape artist, has a pet monkey, a girlfriend in Australia and a mother in Congress. Suddenly, mankind is wiped out! Well, okay, malekind. Because it’s not just the people, it’s all of them. Or maybe just the mammals? I’m not sure. The point is, amoebae are probably going to have a field eon before very long. Unless the women start cloning themselves, I guess. Or Jeff Goldblum’s curse comes to fruition and some of the females spontaneously become male? They might just die when it happens, though, because there’s no way to tell what caused the insta-death in the first place, or if it might be reversible. Except, wait. That guy Yorick, he might be relevant to the story in some way despite being male. Else, why bother to explain his circumstances?

As it happens, Yorick (and his wholly non-euphemistic pet monkey!) survived the world’s being Unmanned after all. Which, come to think of it, makes the name of the series a lot more sensible as well. The problems that face him are numerous: his girlfriend is on the other side of a world in which much of the grid has collapsed; there are roving bands of women on motorcycles who are removing one of their breasts Amazon-style and who think this is pretty much the best thing that has ever happened, and are on a crusade to make sure that whatever caused it didn’t miss any stragglers; everyone who is not Yorick and who does not want him dead thinks he needs to be studied and/or studded, in the hopes of getting things back on track; and hell, the two-party political system isn’t even finished being a pain in the ass yet.

Good art, fun and somewhat breezy storyline despite a fair amount of violence, a couple of good twists already. My favorite theme so far is the idea that men are not to blame for the patriarchal system in which we live. That is, they are, of course; they did it. But the point in the book is that it was inevitable. Nature abhors a vacuum, and once the horrible men in control of everything are gone, you can rest assured that some horrible women will come along and recreate the same system, never recognizing their culpability or the irony of their desires. I trust more themes will spring forth as the series progresses.

The Grapple

As anticipated, another alternate history of the many wars between the USA and the CSA was released, and then I read it. I mean, months later, also as anticipated, but that’s fine because there’s only one left, and now I can not wait a long time to see how things turn out, if that’s my preference. It probably won’t be, but, y’know. It’s nice to have options. Also, of course, it would probably be easy to keep on rolling the clock forward even after World War II ends, since the face of the planet is so different after eighty years of Confederate existence. America allied with non-fascist Germany, Russia still under the control of the tsar, Canada occupied… lots of differences.

The main problem with The Grapple is that the surprises are running out. Is there a crazy guy in charge of a downtrodden nation who has united his people in hatred of an outsider ethnic group, which group is now being slaughtered by the millions? Why, yes. Does this slaughter actively interfere with what could have been a successful war effort? On multiple levels, in fact. Does he at least have VX rocket analogues with which he can create a little bit of tension? You know he will sooner or later! Is there a top secret atomic arms race? Heck, that even happened in the aliens version of World War II that Turtledove already wrote, so no way is it going to vanish this time.

The one thing that does recommend the series is that it has spanned ten books now and three generations. As a result, I find myself interested in the individual fates of the characters, wherein some drama is still possible. I suppose I couldn’t expect the outcome of the war to be different, since there are stark lines between good and evil at this point. But it still hurts a series when you know almost exactly how it’s going to end and you’re only a little over halfway through it. (I mean, not that there will be twenty books, but that this particular war forms its own “mini-series”, if you will. That right there is a handy term. You’d think someone would have thought of it before now.)