Mark Millar, You Crazy: Superman Red Son

Time for something crazy. It's Millar time baby!

Elseworlds: Re-envisioning Superman
Last weekend I finally read Mark Millar's mini-series Superman: Red Son. I've been waiting for it to get reprinted in a nice new format, so I was excited to get my grubby hands on the new hardcover Deluxe Edition. In typical Millar fashion he takes an icon and turns it on it's head in a shocking fashion. Superman: Red Son is an Elseworlds tale where Superman is born in the Ukraine, rather than Smallville. He grows up as a devout member of the communist party, is co-opted by Stalin, and becomes a totalitarian dictator.

In this alternate world we also get glimpses of Lois, Lex, and Jimmy. Millar has a great time playing around with characterizations. He does an amazing job in just 3 issues of hitting every part of the Superman mythology. The characterization I enjoyed the most was "Lex Luthor, obsessive mad scientist." It was fun to see Lex portrayed as a "Reed Richard"-type with Brainiac at his side. They even managed to get in Batman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman. And it all works together seamlessly. Millar understands the Superman mythos, and he loves the characters. There is no sign of Millar's signature shock moments like you see in Wanted and Kick Ass. He wouldn't dare soil these characters. Even when Superman becomes a dictator, his actions are still in character. He does what he thinks will be best for his people, even though slowly he's crossing the line into villainy.

Making him communist adds a philosophical edge that bends his relationship with Lex Luthor. In this world Luthor has the support of the American government in his vendetta against Superman. His hubris and intelligence are working to stop the enemy of the United States. Millar is able to subvert our expectations by turning the reader against Superman. In the Orwell-esque communist state that Superman rules, he is not universally loved. Of course Superman's idealism can be twisted and morphed into something evil if he is not put in check by other superheroes. In the Justice League Superman has to answer to Batman, Wonder Woman, and even the Flash.

Though in this scenario Superman is forced into unlimited political power and it's not where he should be. Superman protects the earth by doing good deeds, serving as a symbol, and then letting people alone. Superman does not force his will onto the people that he protects. Millar does a great job showing the consequences of when Superman is co-opted by a particular ideology. On a metatextual level Millar is showing his disdain for whenever that occurs amongst politicians, pundits, or idealogues.

I highly reccommend checking this out in the deluxe hardcover so you can enjoy the art from Dave Johnson. Johnson, who is known these days for the covers of 100 Bullets, draws amazing interior pages. I loved every rendering of these classic characters in a completely different context. It's just as good as the recent work of Gary Frank and Frank Quitely.

Check this out. You won't forget it. Book Slave.


Zombies, Yes More Zombies.

Playing a little catchup on trade reviews before the end of the month.

Continuing to be Awesome: Walking Dead vol. 9 & 10

I've caught up on my Walking Dead trades that continue the story after the shocking ending of vol. 8. Don't worry I wouldn't dare spoil this series for you all. Kirkman continues to be relentless with the tension and action in this book. No character is safe. This series takes me back to Y the Last Man and it's crazy cliff hangers. The reader is placed into the same mentality as this group of survivors. And it's great.

One of the major things I noticed about this series was how quickly I blew through these trades. Seriously I read these two trades which were 12 issues total in an hour. It was that literally that fast. Now this is not simply because of the graphic novel medium, which admittedly can be a quicker read sometimes. Other graphic novels can take much longer to get thru. And it's not a question of art vs. word balloons because Kirkman is not afraid to write the occasional "talking head" issue. I really think it's the continuous threat of violence that these character's exist under.

Also praise should be shown to the art team. Artist Charlie Adlard, who took over from original artist Tony Moore, does a great job setting up the chaos of this world. There always seems to be a zombie somewhere in the frame whenever our characters venture beyond their camp. Vol. 9 introduced the idea of a "zombie herd" which was terrifying due to it's stupifying power. These zombies are for the most part mindless but if there's thousands of them then they can overwhelm you by complete force. There is no way that our protagonist's can make it past these zombie things. Also Adlard is not afraid to use unique angles and splash pages to show the action. My favorite panel would have to be the page which showed Michonne killing a zombie with a sword from the back of the head, through the mouth, from the perspective of look up from below. It was awesome and sick.

Now I'm down to issues on this series so I look forward to being able to follow it month-to-month. Book Slave.


"You think you deserve this pain, but you don't."

Hey Cyber-world,
This Tuesday was very exciting for me. Some good things happened. You have to hold onto days like that when sometimes you might feel persecuted by fate.

Then Zach Sampinos chooses to surprise you. If you have ever met him, he is a quiet guy, but I tell you don't underestimate him. As moderator of the Hard Boiled Book Club, this week he had a Miranda July Trivia Competition with prizes. Luckily, completely by chance, I had done some googling of July online this afternoon. So guess who rocked the Trivia competition? Yes it was moi. I won a copy of Me You and Everyone We Know on DVD, which was very spiffy. In 2005 I fell in love with the film which she wrote, directed, and starred. It was a wonderful surprise. Again folks if you live in the SLC area and are looking for a fun book club (with occasional prizes!) I urge you to drop on by. Details can be found here.

This month's book club centered around Miranda July's No One Belongs Here More Than You. This was actually a re-read for me. I initially read it when it was released in 2007 because I'm interested by July's mix of emotional truth and offbeat sensibilities. She is an artist who has a very original view of the world that is rooted in her entire being. This bleeds through in all her work. It doesn't feel calculated or posed. Call me naive but I think it's for real.

This time around I was impressed more by the raw honesty that permeates this collection of short stories. Every page is full of complex emotional truth that can be overwhelming and somewhat depressing. The main theme of these stories is the need to be loved, even if it's not in a healthy relationship. There's also a fair share of self-deception and solipsism in her characters. As some of the fellow book-clubbers pointed out the characters were often unlikeable or fair too quirky. I think that this is by design. July writes in a stream of consciousness, first person narrative style that emphasizes the characters self-centered mentalities. I believe that July's message is that it is because of this selfishness that the characters cannot build the relationships that will make them happy and loved. These characters are not supposed to be successful due to their own emotional self-destruction.

Noticeably my favorite characters were the least selfish. Particularly the lead characters in "Swim Team" "Something that Needs Nothing" and "The Sister" find power after laying open their own hearts. I think that July is at her best when she allows her characters to be awkward and vulnerable without being solipsistic. Miranda July's characters are so unafraid to be human, it hurts. But from the pain, magic emerges, and in that magic is the essence of what it means to be human. Again I honestly feel that their is real human emotion on every page.

Have a great week! Book Slave.


Reading List 2/23/2010-3/2/2010

Here's what I hope to read this week. How will I finish up this month?

Reading List
The Savage Detectives-First 75 pgs. (this is part of a readalong)
Alias Omnibus
Phonogram vol. 1

Green Arrow & Black Canary #29, Action Comics #886, Amazing Spider-Man #620, Batman & Robin #3 & 4

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Also just to be very self-promotional if you live in the SLC area: On Saturday 2/27 @ 1 pm, Main SLCPL on Level 2. I & colleague Mary Anne Heider will be leading a group discussion of Y the Last Man vol. 1 & 2. So come on down. We'll have a great time discussing this seminal comic series.

Have a great week! Book Slave.


I shot a man in Reno.

More comic thoughts. Well it is what I've been reading lately.

Sometimes it's hard to be a villian: Rogues Revenge & Sleeper Vol. 2

Every great writer (and reader for that matter) will tell you that a hero is only as good as his villain. This is especially true in comics. In the modern era writers such as Alan Moore and Frank Miller have taken the medium to a new level by blurring the line. Recently I picked up two books that expertly examined the psychology of villiany by featuring the bad guys at the center.

Out of the grand chaotic mess that was Final Crisis emerged a small gem of a mini-series called Rogues Revenge. This side trip from the main story focuses on the Rogues from Geoff Johns's run on The Flash. Led by Captain Cold this Rogue team is dealing with the crazy havoc being wrought by Libra. They also are feeling the consequences of their gang murder of Martian Manhunter. Of course this team of villains has it's own share of dysfunctionality.

Geoff Johns is one of the best writer's in comics. That's just a fact. This series was so much fun. He deftly makes Captain Cold a badass, while still revealing his humanity. I was particularly impressed by how Johns brought in Cold's relationship with his sister Golden Glider. Johns understands that even the bad guys are still human beings with human emotions. He finds a way to make them interesting and complex. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fantastic art from Scott Kollins. His pencils are very clear and sharp. He sticks to the traditional panel style but has a great depth of field and detail. It's not photo-realistic though, but it still looks like comics.

While Johns is the perfect writer for the Flash, on the other side of the aisle Brubaker is the best noir writer in comics. I read Season 1 at the end of last year and loved it. You can find that review here. So I could not wait for Season 2 and it didn't disappoint. This series was fantastic. Brubaker masterly mixes the noir and superhero genre. He's not afraid to have his main characters do vicious evil acts. Sleeper centers around Holden Carver, a man who comes into contact with an alien substance and develops a resistance to pain. He is also able to absorb pain from others and then redirect it out towards his enemy. Carver is then recruited to go deep undercover with evil mastermind Tao, where he begins to lose perspective. By the beginning of Season 2 Carver is able to reconnect with his handler Lynch but he has turned double agent and is now morally lost.

This is all incredibly compelling because Brubaker is fearless. In fact my favorite character is Holden's girlfriend Miss Misery. I loved the issue where the reader follows Misery as she goes on a horrible tear through the city just killing people left and right. Miss Misery thrives off committing evil acts, otherwise she gets physically ill. If she is not evil, then she's an invalid. It's a fascinating irony that Brubaker explores. Sleeper is all about these kind of moral quandaries. As a reader I constantly questioned what I would do in the same situation. In this world the line between right and wrong is completely blurred. The dark ending is inevitable and expected, but still satisfying.

The art of Sean Phillips adds to the dark tone of this story. His muted colors are wonderfully noir. He also allows the color red to pop out from the page which emphasizes the horror of the violence in this world. Phillips never shies away from the blood and sex that is inherent in this book. Phillips is an incredible artist whose work I already admired from his work on Brubaker's Criminal. Noir and crime is definitely Phillips's wheelhouse.

Have a great week! Book Slave.


Interconnect with Me.

Hey all,
It is crazy times at chez Book Slave. A lot going on but watch out you're gonna have a great deal to read as we crash into the end of this month. Why does February always seem so short?

I want to throw a shout out to author Emily Wing Smith whose book The Way He Lived I reviewed here. She was nice enough to say hello, shake my hand, and put up with my slobbering praise at an author event in my library. Later on I discovered that she had posted a link to my review on her own author blog which I appreciated immensely. Again I reiterate that I meant every word of praise and can't wait for her next book. On a similiar note I also had a fun time talking to Sara Zarr, author of Once Was Lost, and she was great. Having seen her speak several times it's wonderful that she is still excited to connect with her readers.

I think that this is indicative of author's in the young adult genre. I see a notable enthusiasm whenever I attend an author's event. Why is that? It's clearly to match the reaction of their audience. Despite protestations to the contrary, teenagers are voracious readers. If they get hooked into a series young adults want to read them all. This is especially true of young females, more so than young males. Now I'm no literacy expert but I work with young adults all the time in my job. It seems to me that any young adult, no matter how snotty, will be hooked by a great engaging story. (Well really isn't that the case with anyone? but I digress...)

I've noticed though that those in the YA field are more apt to embrace any way that they can connect with their audience. Twitter is full of crazy wonderful authors such as Maureen Johnson and John Green (one of the famous vlogbrothers, already a youtube sensation) who love to interact. Often these authors have personal blogs which balance information, promotion, and some personal insight. This can only increase connectivity with the so-called Net Generation who have adopted the internet as social media. The pioneer of all this is Neil Gaiman. He has written a blog for 9 years now. 9 years! He often answers questions, posts pictures of his dogs, and sometimes shares what he's working on. Clearly he understands and enjoys being able to share with his audience.

The closeness that the internet provides is a natural progression for a genre that is all about emotions. The YA genre has evolved away from easy moral lessons or cutesy humor. (Well maybe not in Meg Cabot books...) Being a teenager is about discovering your identity, being powerless, and learning that life is not always fair. This does not always lead to cheery subject matter. The best books of this genre in my opinion, such as Speak, have intense raised stakes. The protagonist's reward is often an emotional revelation that's a source of empowerment. The internet allows for a sort of empowerment that is becoming unlimited. That's what the new social media is all about.

Either way I think that it's great for teens who are interested in writing to have an opportunity to meet there favorite author. Definitely before the cold cruel world of cynicism smacks down their dreams. By reaching out and embracing their audience, authors are more likely to mold potential talent and gain readers for life.


Some Comic Talk.

So I finally caught up on the most recent part of my comic pile. Here's some thoughts on those issues, as well as some Things I've Learned. Enjoy!

Comic Pile: Things I've Learned and Other Thoughts

1. New Avengers #61-Bucky should stay Captain America. Spider-man has no chance with Spider-Woman but I love to hear him try. Bendis needs to stay on this book Forever.

2. Fantastic Four #575-Jonathan Hickman has put the fantastic back in this book. This is becoming a consistent favorite due to it's great storytelling, characterizations, and "big idea" concepts.

3. Detective Comics #861-Jock is the perfect replacement for J.H. Williams III. Like Williams, Jock continues to use innovative sequential art in a way that only comics can do. Take a look at the strip to the left. Do you see Batman in each panel? I wouldn't have if someone didn't point it out to me but he's there. It's also great to still have Batwoman in the title because I love how dynamic she is as a character. Rucka is known for his ability to write strong messed up females who feel compelled to fight against evil. Can't wait for the next issue.

4. Green Lantern #50- What to say? It's still awesome. Doug Mahnke is killing it on the art. Fantastic splash pages and Black Lantern zombies are as good as Ivan Reis's work in Blackest Night. In fact I think Mahnke would have been great on Flash: Rebirth, and he would have gotten it out on time.

5. Blackest Night #4,5,6-As much as I'm loving this event I also see that this a very nihilistic books. Frankly it's more than just a zombie horror story. Geoff Johns is examining the nature of death in comics. It's hard to disagree with the Black Lanterns argument that death should be final. Although comic heroes like Batman, Superman, and the Flash have all overcome and come back. Due to these characters iconic status as a reader I always expect that they'll save the day. Superman always finds a way. However it could be argued that this takes away any suspense in the comic genre. So it's never about will he save the day but how...

Johns is deftly questioning this dynamic, however in a very dark scary way. These heroes keep trying to battle the evil zombie versions of there friends, family, and adversaries. And these Black Lanterns gain power thru emotional response so they say the most vicious things to get a reaction. So the only way to defeat them is by being an unemotional killer who tears these Black Lanterns apart. Is this really how we want our heroes to be? I'm not sure where Geoff Johns is going with this. And we're on issue #6 of 8! Still can't wait but I want to see some light at the end of this tunnel.

Oh comics. *sigh* Now it's time to attack the older issues. Book Slave.


Reading List 2/16/2010-2

Here we go.

It's time to catch up on some trades so:
Walking Dead vol. 9 & 10
Phonogram vol. 1
Powers HC
No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories
-Book Club Pick (and I'm psyched!)

New Avengers #61, Fantastic Four #575, Green Lantern #50, Detective Comics #861, Blackest Night #4, 5, 6. (Yep I'm always playing comics catchup.)

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Also I've gotten into Vidcasts, so add that on top of the far too many podcasts that I already listen to. Wish me luck. Book Slave.


Indie Spotlight: Chew

Here's a spotlight on a fun new series.

Indie Spotlight: Chew Vol. 1

I've been waiting for this series to come out in trade since last summer. If you keep up on comics like I do then you've already heard of Chew. It was the surprise indie smash of last summer from writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory. Chew follows Detective Tony Chu who is a cibopath, a person who receives the history of anything he eats. Imagine the horror of biting into a hamburger and feeling the cow being slaughtered that you've just imbibed. Now you know a small portion of the hell that Tony Chu feels every time he sits down to eat.

This a world of big imaginative ideas. Layman doesn't shy away from creating an entirely new world and characters, but this isn't a superhero or horror book. Another interesting layer to this comic is that in this world poultry has been outlawed due to a bird flu epidemic. And as with all illegal substances that people really enjoy there's an underground blackmarket. Because of this the FDA has become the most powerful crime agency. So Tony Chu is recruited due to his cibopathy and detection skills in the first issue.

John Layman sets up these characters and world with such a great sense of humor and imagination. Tony Chu is smart and funny in a way that detectives should be. He isn't a gritty cynical cop yet. This trade pairs him with a mentor who is also wonderfully original and savvy. Chu has a unique super power but it makes him a miserable person. These first issues are about him discovering how to use these powers and what his morality is.

Now this should be boring and predictable but it's not. A major part of that is due to the art-style of Rob Guillory. He has a cartoony and hyper-exaggerated style that lends it an original look. I think this book would be a terrible experience if it was realistic. The cartoony look helps emphasize the humor and downplay the gross-out factor. It reminds me a lot of Humberto Ramos, who is another artist that started at Image. Guillory also does a great job with action which is essential since this is a crime comic, sorta.

I highly reccommend checking out this new book and I can't wait for the next arc.


A Little Keats On This Fake Holiday

On this horrid fake holiday, commonly known as Valentine's Day, my thoughts turned to my fave doomed romance of the moment: John Keats and Fanny Brawne. These two met in November 1818, when she was 18 and he was 22, and fell in love while walking the Hampstead Heath. Three years later he was dead from tuberculosis. I've cracked a copy of their letters and they are amazing.

Now I love poetry because it forces you slow down and luxuriate in the experience. Poetry is not read to be figured out like a math problem. It is about how words can create a sensual experience. It's meant to provoke an emotional response. This is becoming more and more important in an age where we are feeling more disconnected. If you have to buy a Hallmark card to express your feelings towards another person, well then...

Alright I'll stop, but here's a gift to my small readership. Enjoy.

Bright Star

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art —
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors —
No — yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever — or else swoon to death.
--John Keats, written in 1819, first published 1838

Now that's love.

Have a fine week! Book Slave.


Emotional Truth: The Way He Lived & Once Was Lost

This is the start of some "review" entries for the next few. Any of you gentle readers who have missed some of my thoughts about fiction, well you're in for a treat.

Emotional Truth: The Way He Lived & Once Was Lost
I've been struggling to write this review for days. It's difficult to revisit the experience of reading Emily Wing Smith's The Way He Lived. There was a moment in the first 25 pages when I realized that I couldn't read this book in public. It was hard enough to keep myself emotionally composed at home-no need for me to break down while riding the bus. The Way He Lived is that kind of book.

Smith's debut novel interweaves six characters who are affected by the death of a young man in their community. Joel Espen died from dehydration while on a cub scout trip to the Grand Canyon. Smith uses multiple character voices to show the terrible void left behind by this loss. I was struck immediately by the emotional rawness of Smith's characters. The author has a real connection with the feelings of these characters. Going beyond the usual 5 stages of grief, Smith is able to find complex emotions in unexpected ways. Miles's anger is linked to Adlen's frustration, even though these characters would never be connected in real life. In turn Claire, Joel's sister, is able to help Norah move on from her secret crush on Joel.

It was not a mistake that at the same time I read The Way He Lived I also read Sara Zarr's Once Was Lost. These two books deal with the existential angst of teenage lives. Lost deals with this dilemma directly as the lead character is already loaded with her own religious baggage. Samara Taylor, nicknamed Sam, is a daughter of a pastor in her community. It is just expected that she should have an unshakable faith. However she has begun to doubt, which mirrors the experience of many teenagers. Both Zarr and Smith are able to capture the doubts and angst of their teenage characters with a heartbreaking acuteness.

The realism of these character's voice reminded me of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak which I reviewed here. Speak is also written in first person point of view as the main character Melinda tries to sort out her own emotional trauma. This narrative technique allows for a degree of emotional truth that has elevated the genre. These teenage characters deal with tragic events but are able to find an inner strength. My cynical heart shrinks away from the corniness of that description, but the author's ability to make us relate to these characters is important. I desperately wanted Melinda to succeed, to overcome and find her voice.

I felt the same way about Sam in Lost. Zarr has a great ability to capture female characters that are conflicted about the superficial lives they see around them. Sam realizes the failure of her parents which is a pretty common revelation for teens. However Zarr is able to parallel this realization with a loss of religious faith. It's not hard to see the narrative construction at work, however the originality lies in the plot. Sam's existential angst is pushed over the edge by the kidnapping of a young girl in their community. Zarr allows for the religious questions that this situation would bring up as seen through the POV of her teenage lead character. Although Sam is not related directly to the missing girl, she realistically is conflicted by the tragedy. Again I feel that this is due to Zarr's ability, like Anderson and Smith, to accurately capture emotional truth.

Like Melinda in Speak, I desperately wanted the characters in The Way He Lived and Once was Lost to overcome their problems. As a reader I need to be emotionally invested in their success. I want to root for them. It's a testimony to Sara Zarr and Emily Wing Smith that I still cannot let go of these characters.


Reading List 2/9/2010-2/16/2010

Reading List 2/9/2010-2/16/2010
Here we go!

Eating the Dinosaur
Chew Vol. 1

OMG comic goodness!

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Also on the music front: I have had the fantastic Johnny Cash compilation set of Love, God, & Murder that I need to listen to.

Also I have in my possession Bright Star on DVD. Cannot wait to see this again. Some Keats is always good for what ails you & I am still somewhat in recovery from last week's bout of plague.

Have a great week! Book Slave.


It's too late...

So where'd I go? Well folks last week, ironically after two weeks of vacation, I got terribly sick. Really sick. Like my brain felt like a brick in my skull. I abandoned you all for a week, however I am now on the mend. I can actually form thoughts and connect words. So I'll be back with a vengeance this week. You'll see. Book Slave.


As January Bites the Dust...

Hey folks,
I thought that I would start doing a bit of a wrap-up at the end of each month. And then a preview for the upcoming month. Enjoy!

January Wrap-up
*Started off w/a massive wrap-up for the past year.
*Some stats. I love stats, although ironically I never took a statistics class. Huh.
*Read some great graphic novels involving Batman, Sleeper, and a Giant. (BTW if you don't check out Matt Kindt that you are doing yourself a disservice.)
*Made a suggestion considering the new Spider-Man reboot.
*I learned that my life would be far worse if there was a zombie outbreak.
*I still love Cranford. And can ramble on about Jane Austen.
*Book Club + Jesus's Son=Epic Wonderfulness.
*J.D. Salinger died.
*Stephen Fry In America is must-see TV.

Book-wise Stats
Total Books=7
Completely true. However The Walking Dead Compendium was the equivalent of 8 trades so I counted it as such.

This included:
Graphic Novels=4

Borrowed from Library=6
TBR pile=1

Previews, Coming Attractions, Things to Come
*Chuck Klosterman talking about time travel.
*Sherlock Holmes!
*More Comic goodness.
*Meeting Sara Zarr and Ann Dee Ellis.
*Return of Sleeper.
*My thoughts on the new Masterpiece Classic version of Emma.
*Launch of the new graphic novel book club @ SLCPL.
*Well...I guess we'll just have to see eh?

Have a great week! Book Slave.