David L. (marauder34) - Reviews

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Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale
Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale
Author: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 8/25/2014


I expect that just about everyone in the United States knows about Archie Andrews and the rest of his gang. Even if you didn't grow up watching "The Archies" in syndication, it's impossible to avoid the Archie digests at the supermarket. Archie Comics aren't as big as Spider-man, but they're every bit as much a part of America.

And that's what makes "Afterlife with Archie" such a treat. In a nutshell, Sabrina the Teenage Witch does something with good intentions, and inadvertently brings the zombie Apocalypse to Riverdale. Before long the zombies are chowing down at Pop's Diner; they're coming to the high school dance; and Archie and his gang are running for their lives, while hell comes nipping at their heels.

There's an undeniable comic appeal to a story that blends two pictures as contradictory as the horrorific Walking Dead and the idyllic Riverdale, and "Afterlife with Archie" definitely enjoys that appeal. But aside from the goofy charm that comes from such a juxtaposition, the story itself is well told. Betty and Veronica are still rivals for Archie's affections, but with a sharper edge than usually shows in traditional Archie tales; Reggie is still selfish and self-absorbed, but with graver consequences than before; and other, minor characters from the Archie universe emerge with new and sometimes more disturbing wrinkles than they otherwise ever might have shown.

Throughout the entire volume, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa manages to create a zombie story that is both unnerving and thoroughly human, as Archie and members of his supporting cast come face to face with soulless monsters who used to be loved ones, and must make the horrible choices they need in order to live.


If you're a teen or older, and you have only vague recollections (or better) of Archie and his ilk, do yourself a favor and read this collection when you can. It's scary fun.


American Gods (Audio Cassette) (Unabridged)
American Gods (Audio Cassette) (Unabridged)
Author: Neil Gaiman, George Guidall (Narrator)
Book Type: Audio Cassette
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 16
Review Date: 4/30/2009


"American Gods" is a book that is nowhere near as good as its sequel.

While "Anansi Boys" has engaging characters that will leave you cracking up, "American Gods" is a slow read. Much of this is due to the main character, appropriately named Shadow, who is not someone who causes things to happen as much as someone whom things happen around, without evoking much of a reaction.

Gaiman's minor characters, such as Wednesday, Sam Black Crow, and Wood, all shine; but Shadow, as Gaiman himself has noted, was just a plain difficult character to get into. So thank goodness for Odin's little escapades and trickeries ... and if you think Odin is a treat in this book, check out Anansi in "Anansi Boys."


Anansi Boys
Anansi Boys
Author: Neil Gaiman
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 187
Review Date: 4/30/2009


"Anansi Boys" is a brilliantly hilarious story of what happens when your father happens to be the trickster god Anansi, and he dies suddenly, leaving you even more embarrassed than ever, just in time for the brother you never met to come crashing into your life and make it even worse.

"Anansi Boys" is related to Gaiman's earlier novel "American Gods" ... and if you thought Odin was a treat, Anansi is light years funnier.)

In "Anansi Boys," the characters are so engaging and real that I was cracking up at the misfortune and bad luck Fat Charlie had to be the son of Anansi.


Angelwalk
Angelwalk
Author: Roger Elwood
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
 15
Review Date: 12/30/2012


"Angelwalk" is probably one of the angriest books I've ever read. It tells the story of Darien, an angel who considered Lucifer a friend before the war in heaven, and who now believes that God may have been unjust in banishing the fallen angels from heaven. So, to assuage those doubts, God sends Darien into the world of men to see what Lucifer has been doing since his departure. When he finishes his journey, if Darien concludes that God was wrong, then the war will be over and God will allow not only Satan but all the fallen angels to return.

It's certainly an unusual setup, and I've got to give Elwood points for creativity in the concept. Still, if you thought the next 189 pages would deal with symptoms of humanity's brokenness, like our petty-mindedness, our indifference to the suffering of others, our sometimes open lust for power, or even some big sins like the exploitation of illegal immigrants, or human trafficking, you'd be mistaken.

"Angelwalk" was written for an evangelical or fundamentalist readership, and as such it is preoccupied with issues that offend those readers. Thus we're treated to a narration of an abortion from the perspective of one being aborted; we attend a funeral for a gay man and get to overhear attendees discussing having an orgy and possibly involving the corpse, and so on. (Elwood is vague on whether this scene occurs in Sodom or in California.)

There's no sense of moderation here, not even an aside that this particularly abhorrent sort of behavior is extremely deviant. There are two groups of people Darien encounters in his travels: the utterly depraved, and evangelical Christians. This sort of strident, circle-the-wagons sort of thinking, which views those outside the evangelical church as abhorrent and a threat to decent church-going sorts, is outrageous. I'd like to think he didn't mean for it to be taken seriously -- but given the content of later books in this series, and the warm reception I recall this book getting in the late 1980s, it's safe to say that he did.

Because it deals with angels and demons, and the effects of sin on our world, "Angelwalk" often gets classed with C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" as a book about spiritual warfare. If only that were the case. Lewis' book, which purports to be a series of letters from a devil to a junior tempter, on how to lead a man away from faith in Christ, is at times witty and thought-provoking, and always thoroughly original. The difficulties faced by the unnamed human in the book are common enough to the human race, and easily related to.

"Angelwalk" pretends to raise questions about God's justice and mercy, but the examples are so extreme that its answers are meaningless; and the book is so full of anger at its oversize instances of sin that there's nothing to think about, nothing to remember, nothing to savor or comment on.

Ultimately, the book is rather like a hellhouse, that horrifying evangelical alternative to Halloween. If you're inclined to agree with the message of "Angelwalk," then you'll like it. If you don't, you're probably going to be revolted, feel a little sick after reading it, and never want to talk again to whoever convinced you it was a good idea to try it in the first place.


Anthem
Anthem
Author: Ayn Rand
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 258
Review Date: 6/25/2013


Written by Ayn Rand, Anthem is a hymn to the importance of the individual, set in a dystopic future where a totalitarian regime has all but eradicated individual choice and even individual identity. The protagonist is a man named Equality 7-2521, although he later chooses the name Prometheus, because he hopes to return the spark of individual value to a world that has lost it.

Anthem is Rand's first work to advance her Objectivist philosophy, which grew in large part as a response to the Bolshevik Revolution during her childhood, and her family's ensuing loss of wealth and comfort. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the dystopia in "Anthem" is a grotesquerie of collectivism. In the course of the story, Equality 7-2521 recounts the various sins he commits: a desire to learn and to understand the world, rather than being content with being a street sweeper, the job that was assigned for him by the committee; singing and being happy, because everyone is already happy in this dystopic paradise, and he should not presume to be happier than his fellows; feeling and friendship and love for specific people, because that means he favors some people over others; and of course, being taller and healthier than others, because difference is wrong.

In that sense, "Anthem" has an empowering message for teens and other young readers who may feel social pressure from their own peers to be something other than what they want to be, or to do things that don't interest them. It is a good thing for people to pursue their own dreams, forget their own identities, and conform to others' expectations for themselves, rather than to forge their own identities and pursue the things that interest them.

But one of the things that irks me about Rand's philosophy, especially as I've seen it applied by libertarians in recent years, is that it rejects the notion of responsibility to one another. (Equality 7-2521 is pretty clear on this point in Chapter 11.) The other thing is that, particularly in books like "Atlas Shrugged," Rand inverts the order of the world and claims despite all logic that it is the wealthy and the powerful who are oppressed and exploited by society, and not the people whose hard work makes their success and fortune possible.

In order for a society to truly function and not come apart at the seams in a generation, it is necessary for us to respect the inherent worth we have as human beings created in the Imago Dei, something Equality 7-2521 explicitly and repeatedly rejects in his grand-sounding but ultimately self-serving essays at the end of the book.

Ironically, as Equality 7-2521 becomes the the first of Rand's characters to espouse this worldview, he claims for himself the name "Prometheus." Unlike Rand's sympathetic but ultimately unlikeable hero, the original Prometheus was driven by compassion for others and a concern for their welfare that came before his own. By bringing fire from Olympus to Earth, Prometheus earned the ire of Zeus and for a thousand years was tormented daily by an eagle that came to tear out his liver, which would regrow every night so that he could suffer anew in the morning.

Which Prometheus would you say is the better, and more moral role model?


Avengers: The Korvac Saga
Avengers: The Korvac Saga
Author: Jim Shooter, George Perez
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 1/15/2013


"The Korvac Saga" first appeared in single-issue format in 1978. I was able in my teens to buy some of the individual issues at comic conventions, but never read the entire story until recently.

It's disappointing.

In all fairness, comic books in 1978 had a younger readership than they do in 2013, and so you have to expect that they're going to focus on adventure and spectacle more than on the humanity of their characters. That is particularly true for comics about superhero teams with rosters with legends like Captain America, powerhouses like Iron Man and Wonder Man, and the occasional Norse or Greek god.

But to a 42-year-old who still finds something to enjoy in superhero comics, this comic did disappoint. There are too many clumsy asides, to bring the reader up to pace on what happened last issue; too many people casually walking around in public or in the privacy of their own home in silly costumes; and too much melodrama to make sure we know just how powerful and menacing a figure Michael Korvac cuts. (Korvac was the creation of Jim Shooter, and one of many of the nemeses he created for Marvel whose godlike powers were so tremendous that he was virtually undefeatable -- except of course, the heroes always manage to find a way.).

And then there are other things that just feel odd. Never in my life did I expect to see Captain America and Iron Man squabbling like children, but that's a spectacle that awaits inside this volume. "It's my turn to be in charge and give the orders!" Iron Man whines. "But you're doing it wrong!" Captain America shouts, before punching him in the face. (No, I am not making that up.)

That's not to say the comic was awful, though, because it wasn't. If the story seems too juvenile at times, there are moments when the writer's wit shines through. There's the fashion show hosted by the Wasp, that gets crashed by a supervillain wannabee wearing a suit made of brown projectile quills and calling himself the Porcupine. Or there's the moment when the Avengers realize, their special flight privileges revoked, that they have to take a bus to Queens to save the world.

The story's got some of the great Marvel cliches, like a threat to the entire universe, but it also uses some of the storytelling techniques that have made Marvel Comics worth reading for so long, such as the use of a subplot involving the Collector that finally reveals its relationship to the larger story just as the subplot concludes. And of course, this is the story that gave us Henry Gyrich, the government agent whom every superhero is afraid of.

All told, I enjoyed the story for what it is, though I'd be lying if I said I didn't skim it at times. On the other hand, my daughters, who still love a good superhero romp as much I once did, have been enjoying it quite a bit.


Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman: The Killing Joke
Author: Alan Moore, Brian Bolland
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.2/5 Stars.
 27
Review Date: 8/25/2014


First published 25 years ago, "The Killing Joke" may be one of the three finest Batman stories ever told. It's certainly the finest ever written about the Joker.

Killingjoke[1]Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland, "The Killing Joker" has the Batman starting to boil over in his frustration with his green-haired foe. He knows how Harvey Dent became Two-Face, and that all his decisions come down to the flip of a coin. He knows that the Edward Nigma is the Riddler, and he understands the Riddler's compulsion to lead people on a chase. Ra's al Ghul, the Royal Flush Gang, Poison Ivy, the Penguin -- Batman gets the entire Gotham City rogues gallery, and knows how they work and why. But the Joker remains a mystery to him, and Batman wants to change that before it becomes too late and one of them kills the other.

The Joker, of course, has other plans.

In one of the most iconic scenes from the comic, the Joker shoots Barbara Gordon at point-blank range and paralyzes her. This event, which sidelined Barbara Gordon from being Batgirl for the next 25 years of comics, wasn't even the main attraction as far as the Joker was concerned. His goal is simply to drive her father, the police commissioner, insane.

"The Killing Joke" is the comic that cemented the Joker in readers' minds as a nihilistic madman, and one of the central themes of the comic is how far one bad day can take a person past the edge. Without knowing the details, the Joker alludes to the events that drove Bruce Wayne to become Batman, and assumes that Commissioner Gordon also has been pushed over the edge by what the Joker has done.

But what makes the story worth reading is that Moore depicts the bad day that pushed the Joker himself over the edge, when all his hopes and dreams came crashing down, when the bottom fell out of his world, and he plunged into the void.

Around the same time that DC Comics published "The Killing Joke," it also published Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Batman: Year One," which showcased the endpoint and genesis of Bruce Wayne's career as the Caped Crusader, and that established him as an antihero with mental health issues of his own. Add "The Killing Joke" to the mix, and there's nothing else DC has published that comes even close to their level.


The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism
The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism
Author: Karen Armstrong
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 23
Review Date: 9/15/2009
Helpful Score: 1


This book is too ambitious to succeed, but it's not for want of trying.

In "The Battle for God," author Karen Armstrong attempts to trace the rise of fundamentalism in the world's three major monotheistic religions, beginning with the rise of modernity in the latter 15th century up to the present time. In covering this 500-year sweep of history, she traces developments in Judaism from the Spain of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel to modern Israel; follows the changing fortunes of Egypt and Iran; and tracks the currents of Christianity as it moves from Europe to the United States.

Along the way, Armstrong shares some thoughtful insights into how each of these three religions has evolved over the centuries in reaction to the rationalism of the Enlightenment era. She traces the pattern of the negative response religious conservatives typically have to their liberal co-religionists, common to all three religions; and makes a compelling argument that fundamentalism is not a return to the fundamentals of any religion, but it is a spirituality driven by fear of and anger at a secular world that fundamentalists feel is threatening their religion and their way of life. (And it underscores how difficult a dialogue between fundamentalists and secularists is, since each group often regards the other with horror.)

"The Battle for God" is worth reading, if you have an academic interest in religion, but it's got serious flaws. The biggest of these is its scope. Five hundred years of history is too much to compress into 400 pages; and because Armstrong assumes (most likely correctly) that her readers are less familiar with Islam than with Christianity and Judaism, she spends a fair amount of time explaining the early history of Islam, particularly the split between Shi'a and Sunni, and explicating the customs of Shi'a Islam and important beliefs concerning the Hidden Imam.

Still, it's the chapters where she deals with recent history -- the rise of the Christian Right in America, and the Islamic Revolution in Iran -- that Armstrong shines. Her analysis of that often violent intersection of religion and politics, where faith is subverted by a desire for power, influence and control, is nothing short of stunning and thoroughly absorbing.


Black Like Me
Black Like Me
Author: John Howard Griffin
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.2/5 Stars.
 29
Review Date: 1/2/2013
Helpful Score: 1


There are times I feel that my public education denied me important parts of my education. This is one of them.

"Black Like Me" is the true account of journalist John Howard Griffin and his journey through the South as a black man during the days of jim crow justice and segregation. Through a combination of melatonin pills, ultraviolet light treatments and a dye, Griffin made himself appear to be black, in order to better understand racism and how it affected society. The idea alone is incredible. That someone actually did this and then wrote about it, is nothing short of mind-boggling.

Griffin's book is written as a series of journal entries detailing his experiences as a black man in the South. Much of this details things that are textbook segregation: not being able to eat at white restaurants, not being allowed to drink from white water fountains, and not even being allowed to use white restrooms. What raises this above mere textbook knowledge is the immediacy of the narrative. Reading the book, you get a real sense of the indignity of having to walk for more than a mile just to go the bathroom, of not being given a drink of water on a scorching hot day, and of being subjected to what Griffin calls "the hate stare."

Beyond the obvious racism and racist attitudes, there were a few things revealed in the book that I found disturbing. One is that, in the afterword, Griffin notes that once the Civil Rights Act was passed, a number of white Civil Rights advocates felt that the work was finished. Blacks were guaranteed the right to vote, segregation was over, and things were looking up, What else was needed? Further demands by blacks for advancement and opportunity were met with incredulity and anger.

Secondly, Griffin had some illuminating thoughts on black achievement and the attitudes Southern whites had on that subject. As he traveled the South, Griffin noted the substandard living conditions many black families had, and noted that many whites attributed this to the overall shiftlesness of black culture, and the lack of desire on the part of blacks to get ahead and achieve for themselves.

Of course, at the same time, blacks routinely were being denied economic opportunities, funding for their schools was low, and their overall access to culture in the form of theater, concerts, and even libraries was minimal. And why should the wealth be taken from hard-working whites, and given to people who haven't worked for it?

As with questions on Civil Rights protections, it's obvious that the questions Griffin raised during his day are questions that we continue to discuss in contemporary American politics.

Right now we're at a crossroads in American education, where our standards are being adjusted to stress nonfiction reading, to "improve work-readiness" and to make us "more competitive in the global job market" and a lot of other things like that. There are a lot of books that are being cut from the national standards that shouldn't be, like "To Kill a Mockingbird." This is another book that should be part of our national curriculum, because it should be a part of our national conversation.

We have made some progress since the 1950s in terms of race, but we still have more to go. As we make that progress, "Black Like Me" should be a part of our discussion.


The Cat Who Walks Through Walls : A Comedy of Manners
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls : A Comedy of Manners
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 89
Review Date: 2/9/2009
Helpful Score: 2


Many sci-fi fans consider Heinlein to be one of the genre's luminaries. That may be deserved, with titles like "Stranger in a Strange Land," "Have Spacesuit Will Travel" and "The Man Who Sold the Moon," but if this were the first Heinlein novel I had read, it would have been my last.

As books go, this one has all the things you're supposed to avoid. Pointless, gratuitous and unerotic sex? Check. Meandering story, resulting from an incoherent plot that never really goes anywhere? Check. Unresolved mysteries? Check. Self-indulgent asides and self-references? Check. While he manages to avoid the appalling racism of "The Fifth Column" and the equally reprehensible sexism of "Friday," the writer in this book fails to deliver anything that is worth reading.

Serious devotees of Heinlein's writing will enjoy the tie-ins to "Time Enough for Love" and "Number of the Beast," but for those looking to discover for themselves why Heinlein remains so popular today, or merely working their way through the science fiction collection, this is a book best skipped.

Half a star.


Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt
Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt
Author: Anne Rice
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 173
Review Date: 11/17/2009
Helpful Score: 2


Rice made headlines four years ago when she announced that she was writing a novel about the childhood of Jesus. As she was known for vampire novels laced with sensuality, I recall a fair amount of skepticism and even dread at the thought of how she might write about a person whose life is central to the faith of billions worldwide. I know my own confidence wasn't boosted particularly high when he heard that she was drawing on the childhood stories told of Jesus in some of the apocryphal gospels.

Lo and behold, this book isn't bad. It is excellent. I had trouble putting it down, even to eat. I should have picked it up years ago.

What Rice has done in "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt" is to create a compelling story set in the childhood of Jesus, covering the year of his family's return from Egypt, where the gospel of Matthew says they had fled to escape King Herod the Great. The story unfolds against the backdrop of Herod's death: the riots in Jerusalem that preceded his son Archilaus' assumption of the throne, the widespread lawlessness as one band of brigands after another tried to take power, and ultimately Caesar's decision to divide the kingdom among Archilaus and two of his brothers, with Herod Antipas becoming tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, and Philip becoming tetrarch of territories east of the Jordan.

The characters are amazing: Joseph, quiet, thoughtful and faithful to a fault; Mary, quiet and innocent; James, angry and jealous, but maturing; and Cleopas, a man with a tremendous sense of irony, a love of forthrightness and a deep heart. And Jesus himself.

I don't care for the christology at work, to be honest, but the Jesus whom Rice presents is a fascinating one: a boy who is seven years old and growing older, deeply sensitive to how others feel, and yet possessing a power he doesn't understand. He's also a Jesus who has been kept in the dark by his family for his entire life so far: He doesn't know the circumstances surrounding his birth, about the shepherds who came to the manger, nor about the astrologers with their odd gifts, nor even what happened when Herod found out that the messiah had been born.

The book, then, is a story about self-discovery, as Jesus learns about his birth; begins to understand the power that enables him to bring clay birds to life, to heal his uncle of illness, and to give sight to a blind rabbi begging outside the Temple; and ultimately comprehends the nature of his unique relationship with God. It is fascinating to see the boy coming to terms with life, and seeing hints of the man he is to become, and also to see how it might work for God to walk among us, disguised even to himself.

An excellent book.


Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana
Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana
Author: Anne Rice
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 41
Review Date: 11/26/2010


"The Road to Cana" is the second volume of Anne Rice's trilogy about the life of Christ.

I didn't enjoy this one as much as the earlier volume, but it was still a good read. Like many other Christians, Catholic and Protestant, Rice is enamored with the notion of Jesus as God Incarnate, emphasizing his divine nature over his human nature. She makes nods to his human longings -- the love he feels for a woman he knows, his desire to be alone for a while -- but far and away, the theme she keeps returning to is Jesus as God-who-chooses-to-be-finite. By the end of the book, Jesus is just oozing omniscience at will, eavesdropping on events, hearing the voices of everyone in the world, and seeing everything going on around him.

That's not my christology, but it's not my book either. If her Jesus becomes less interesting to me as the book goes on, her other characters remain fascinating to the end. There is the tension and anger between Jesus and his older brother, James; the simmering frustration of a rabbi who feels that Jesus has wasted himself as a carpenter; the delicate choreography his neighbors dance through when they ask him to pray; and, at times, the helplessness Jesus feels when things go awry.

"Out of Egypt" moved the young Jesus through the backdrop of history, as the Holy Family returned to Galilee from Alexandria just after the death of Herod the Great, and it was punctuated by the burning of Sepphoris and other moments recorded by Josephus and other ancient historians.

That continues here; as someone who has read extensively about ancient Rome and how the Judean and Galileean countrysides fared under the Caesars and under Pilate, and how the rumbles of politics in Rome made themselves felt across the Mediterranean, it's interesting to see how those things play out in Rice's imagining.

I've enjoyed seeing how the people in Galilee feel the shadow of Sejanus, witnessing the generational conflict over how to handle Pilate's legions and their ensigns when they come to Jerusalem, and all the other events that take place on the edges of Jesus' life.

Rice's "Christ the Lord" trilogy is the second fictionalized treatment of the gospels that I can recall reading. It's been worth the time to read.


The Color of Magic (Discworld, Bk 1)
The Color of Magic (Discworld, Bk 1)
Author: Terry Pratchett
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 422
Review Date: 11/26/2010
Helpful Score: 1


"The Color of Magic" is the first in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series of novels.

As befits its name, the discworld is a flat world, borne upon the backs of four enormous elephants who stand astride a cosmic turtle as it swims through the universe. Aside from having a wicked sense of humor, Pratchett also is wildly imaginative.

The book chronicles the adventures of the wizard Rincewind and the tourist Twoflower he is accompanying as they journey around the disc.

It's not a great book, though you can see hints of the wit and skill that Pratchett would develop over writing a series of these books, most having nothing to do with Rincewind, or the gaming and high fantasy cliches he's making fun of as he writes.

As a stand-in for devotees of the fantasy genre, Twoflower is an insurance adjuster who has come to Rincewind's part of the disc to see the great things he's always heard about but never seen: heroes, tavern fights, wizards, dragons, you know, the garden variety of menances that by rights should clean his clock and rob his till within ten minutes. Along the way, he accidentally summons a character based on Chthulhu (and then blinds him and drives him away by taking his picture), brings a dragon into existence, and destroys an ancient city.

The book is well done, and it's amusing. Nice work.


The Comedians
The Comedians
Author: Graham Greene
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 5
Review Date: 12/30/2012


"The Comedians" is a darkly ironic look at life in Haiti under the Duvalier regime, through the lives of visitors to the country: a British hoteliere, a well-intentioned but naive American couple who want to bring a gospel of vegetarianism to Haiti, a purported arms dealer, and the wife of a South American ambassador to the country. The group are the titular comedians because of the farce between what they present themselves as and what they truly are.

It was eerie reading the book, which is fictional. I recognized several of the places and even some of the dynamics he described, even though I lived in Haiti well after the time period the book was set in.


The Complete Persepolis
The Complete Persepolis
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.2/5 Stars.
 61
Review Date: 8/27/2014


Every now and then, a work comes along that reminds you just how great the potential is that comic books have as a literary medium. I don't mean things like "Watchmen" or "Kingdom Come" that show you the potential for superhero comics, but works like "Maus," that remind you that comic books are just as rich a medium as the novel.

Something like "Persepolis."

Written by Marjane Satrapi, "Persepolis" lifts the veil on a country that is unfamiliar to most Westerners, and does so by telling the story of her childhood and coming-of-age experiences in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. The book is striking for its depictions of her Westernized family, which valued its freedoms and found ways to protect and safeguard them during a time when the nation was publicly moving sharply to the Right; for the personal touches it brings to light of Iran during its lengthy war with Iraq, including the cynicism and distrust that some Iranians came to view their government with; her lonely time as an adolescent attending school in Vienna, away from the strictures of the fundamentalist regime and the dangers of war; and the bittersweet years when she returned to Iran.

I've never been to Iran, and like many other Americans, I know very little about the country beyond what I read in the newspapers. Reading "Persepolis" made me realize just how hungry I am to know more about its history, its literature, and its people, whom I see I can relate to much better than I ever would have guessed.

I'm around the same age as Satrapi, which made it interesting to see her recollections of the Iranian Revolution that precipitated the hostage crisis of 1979-80. I especially enjoyed discovering that she has the same affection for Islam that I have for Christianity, albeit she had it at a much younger age than I did; and I found that I identified with her disdain for what fundamentalists have done to, and in the name of, her religion.

If the book shows the human toll of fundamentalist Shi'a Islam -- and it does, make no mistake -- it also shows the failings of Western culture. Satrapi's life in Europe was often a lonely one, where her experiences were disbelieved, where people took advantage of her vulnerability however they could, and where her normal adolescent drift was heightened by her deepening sense of alienation from the world around her.

"Persepolis" tells a remarkable story of hope in the face of oppression, of a girl's search for her own identity in a world lost in tremendous upheaval, and, ultimately, it is the story of her pride in that identity as she finds the freedom and the strength to forge it for herself.


The Complete Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe
The Complete Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe
Author: Edgar Allan Poe
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 9/4/2013


I started rediscovering Edgar Allan Poe last month on vacation with my family. Thanks to a Kindle I recently was given, I was able to take "The Complete Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe" with me.

There are certain poems of Poe's that we all know from our days in middle school and high school, like "Annabel Lee," and it was wonderful to have those at my fingertips. It was an ironic delight to search for the city of gold with "Eldorado," and to sink into the sublime gloom of "The Raven." And I can say it was an honest thrill to discover the despair of "A Dream Within a Dream" and the sweet, tender message of "To Frances S. Osgood," which poem I have no recollection of reading before.

In those respects, reading a collection of Edgar Allan Poe's poetry was like a chance meeting with someone unseen for years, and discovering what a remarkable person you wish you had known better.

On the other hand, there was a lot of other stuff in this book, including long sections of plays that Poe worked on but never finished, and poems a'plenty, including poems that scholars think he wrote under an assumed name while he was working as the editor of a literary magazine. A lot of these just weren't that interesting or memorable, and suddenly I understood why schools usually make students read only a few of them.


Daredevil: Ninja
Daredevil: Ninja
Author: Brian Michael Bendis, Rob Haynes
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 2/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 9/8/2009


I ordered this books with such high hopes. After all, it was by Brian Michael Bendis, whose run on "Daredevil" has taken the comic to heights not seen since its glory days under Frank Miller. I was expecting the gritty film noir realism that dominated Bendis' run on the book, or some of the intelligent wit that has underpinned his work on "Ultimate Spider-Man."

Alas, sometimes our hopes are not to be met. The story told in "Daredevil: Ninja" is an uninteresting one that draws on Miller's work solely for supporting characters like Stone; references to Matt Murdock's mentor, Stick; and a return of the Hand that seems nowhere near as menacing as it did when Elektra was mixed up with it. If Bendis' seminal run on Daredevil is dark, then this can only be described as Daredevil Lite.

The book enjiys the clean art style of David Self. Light on blacks and keen on the smooth, his work uses the clean lines that once were emblematic of American superhero comics.

The story is simple enough -- Daredevil has to help the Seven find a reincarnated hero of Japan before the Hand does -- but it never really engages, and as the story works its way toward the conclusion, it leaves too many loose threads resolved, too many stones upturned without regard for what lies beneath, and too many initimations of something greater that go unexplored. There are places where Bendis' wit and gifted writing do peak through, but they are too few to save the story.


DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore
DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore
Author: Alan Moore
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.4/5 Stars.
 5
Review Date: 8/25/2014


I have a few of Alan Moore's major comic book works around the house already: "V for Vendetta," "Watchmen," "The Killing Joke" and "Saga of the Swamp Thing," among others.

This volume is a collection of other stories he wrote for DC Comics, and not surprisingly, given the author, there are some real gems in here. Stories include items like "For the Man Who Has Everything," where we get to see how Superman imagines life might have gone if Krypton hadn't exploded; a couple Green Lantern short stories, including one that illustrates the difficulty of recruiting corps members from species that have no concept of light or color; and a Batman annual where the villain Clayface has to deal with his wife's infidelity. (Apparently she's been seeing Batman on the side.)

There's not a single story in this collection that I didn't enjoy.


Death Note, Vol 1
Death Note, Vol 1
Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.5/5 Stars.
 102
Review Date: 4/23/2009
Helpful Score: 2


Suppose you found a book that allowed you to kill anyone you wanted, just by writing that person's name in the book.

That's the essential conceit behind the manga comic book "Death Note." In it, an honors student named Light Yagami finds a book dropped by a shinigami, a Japanese death god. Rather than being petty and using it to off people he finds annoying, or sensibly recognizing the dangers of the book and attempting to destroy it, Yagami decides to put it to the practical use of making the world a better place.

One after another, he begins to write the names of criminals in the book, and one by one, they die.

It's an intriguing idea for a story, and it just gets more interesting when Interpol notices that high-level criminals are dying at prodigious rates. That's the point at which Light begins to explore the capabilities and limits of the Death Note, and where the reader gets caught up in the potential battle of intellects between Light and the mysterious L who is spearheading the investigation. And because it's a comic book, L is able to determine fairly quickly that Kira -- as the mysterious killer has been dubbed in the mass media -- is a student outside Tokyo.

I picked up a copy of the book on the recommendation of a friend, who likened Light-as-Kira to God in the Hebrew Scriptures. A better comparison might be with Raskolnikov, the would-be übermensch in Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" who believes that he has the right to murder a useless and spiteful old woman, since her death will benefit others. (And like Light, Raskolnikov kills again to cover up his first crime.)

Dostoevsky's protagonist was also a bright student who thought that he possessed the moral clarity and vision to make the world a better place, and to whom common morals did not apply, though in the end he discovered that he was not beyond the reach of a conscience after all.

It doesn't look like "Death Note" is going to explore those themes in later volumes, although it touches lightly upon them. The appeal of "Death Note" lies instead in the cat-and-mouse game between Light and L, as the two try to discover one another's identity, with their respective lives at stake.

The themes won't be as deep as Dostoevsky's, and this comic won't leave you thinking for hours afterward, but the story will move along at a faster pace, and it's a comic you can read again and again.


Death Note, Vol 2
Death Note, Vol 2
Author: Takeshi Obata, Tsugumi Ohba
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.6/5 Stars.
 59
Review Date: 8/14/2009


The tension increases between Light and his mysterious foil L in this, the second volume of Tsugumi Ohba's series.

The first volume laid out the rules of the Death Note: Light, who has found a notebook belonging to a death god, can kill anyone he wants by writing that person's name in the book. He decides to improve the world by using the notebook to pass final judgment on the worst criminals of the world, eventually drawing the attention of police agencies around the world.

Volume 2 sees the stakes raised for Light as he uses the notebook to eliminate an entire team of FBI agents who had been sent to catch him. Predictably this action drives off most of the police who had been intent on capturing him, except for a dedicated crew in Japan, led by the mysterious L, and the grieving fiancee of one of the FBI agents killed.

There are a couple dangers in this sort of story, one of which is to become completely consumed by the moral and ethical nature of what Light is doing, so that the story becomes lost. The other is to ignore it completely, which unfortunately is what happens here.

As possessor of the Death Note, Light is completely convinced of the rightness of his actions, even when it involves killing police officers who might pose a threat to him. As a behind-the-scenes police investigator, L is completely convinced of the rightness of his actions, even when it means putting police officers in harm's way. There are no real heroes here, nor any morality being served; it is simply a battle between two equally matched foes with little to no regard for the others who perish in course of their private feud.

A few hundred years ago, this battle would have been fought with swords and armor, and the reader would have been treated to endless and tedious feats of strength, similar to the boasting of Beowulf in Heorot. Because this is a battle of intellects, we're treated instead to endless and inconceivable leaps in logic meant to show us how incredibly brilliant Light and L are.

It gets old fast.

Because of how evenly matched Light and L are, the series would not be able to continue in this vein indefinitely, and the first volume was fast-paced enough that I am confident the third volume will be better, but Vol. 2 was a marked disappointment on its own merits. Hopefully it will act as decent bridging material to the third volume.


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