Review: Astro City, Vol. 1: Life in the Big City

Astro City Vol. 1: Life in the Big City

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Storytellers: Kurt Busiek, Brent E. Anderson, and Alex Ross

Publisher: Wildstorm

Year of Publication: 1996

Page Count: 192

What I Learned About Writing/Storytelling: Kurt Busiek writes in the introduction of this trade paperback that superheroes are a great way to illustrate metaphors. Superman is a male power fantasy, and Spider-Man is the teenage experience writ large. That gave me an idea: How could a superhero metaphor be used to illustrate religious experience? There’s an idea! Aside from that, I also learned something about the nature of narrative realism. Busiek again writes in the introduction that Astro City is not a realistic take on superheroes; It’s got time travel, aliens, evil shark cults, and vampires. It is, however, a plausible story which relies on complex character studies to drive the plot forward. This flies in the face of the idea that a story about superheroes are a substandard genre of comic book storytelling.

What I Learned About Art/Storytelling: Brent Anderson’s art avoids the excesses of most ’90s comics, while retaining a visual “oomph” that lends and impressive, intimate feel to the art. If I learned anything, it’s that a good artist can make all the difference in a comic book story. With writing like Busiek’s and art like Anderson’s, the feeling of nostalgia and humanity that generally sums up the stories found in this trade is completely palpable.

Recommendation: A

Notes/Review/Synopsis: I really like Astro City. It’s basically a wholesale meta-critique of the DC Universe, often from the point of view of the man (or woman) on the street. In a previous review, I covered The Dark Knight Returns, which helped kick-off the wave of superhero deconstruction that lasted up until the early 2010s. Astro City is the first in a wave of comics that are a response to that deconstruction, a reconstruction, I suppose. Every comic of that persuasion from Robert Kirkman’s Invincible to Bryan Q. Miller’s Batgirl almost certainly owes a debt to Astro City. I certainly do now.

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Review: Clinton Cash: A Graphic Novel

Clinton Cash: A Graphic Novel

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Storytellers: Chuck Dixon, Brett R. Smith, and Sergio Cariello

Publisher: Regnery Publishing

Year of Publication: 2016

Page Count: 112

What I Learned About Writing/Storytelling: Chuck Dixon and company managed to take a work of popular non-fiction, written by a reporter and columnist, and turn it into a more-or-less compelling graphic novel. If I learned anything from reading this book, it’s that comics, being the versatile medium that it is, is more than capable of handling more substantial content, in this case, reporting mixed with political satire. Unfortunately, most of the jokes fall flat, and the comic itself reads more like an illustrated abridged book than an actual comic. Mr. Dixon and company would probably have had more success in my book if they had tried to tell a more convention story rather than providing an extended series of illustrated info-dumps.

What I Learned About Art/Storytelling: The art style used for this book stayed toward the middle of the road on the sliding scale of the cartoonish and the realistic. That worked well for the story, which is meant to be a funny and unsettling take on rather serious contemporary American political intrigue. Insofar as art is concerned, it helped communicate the story well. In regards to that element of the graphic novel, there is nothing wrong with it.

Recommendation: C

Notes/Review/Synopsis: Politics aside, I personally didn’t find Clinton Cash: A Graphic Novel to be particularly funny or unsettling. Sure, it’s got goofy illustrations and it pokes fun at various politicos and cronies, but I just didn’t find anything worth laughing at. If I were in Mr. Dixon’s shoes, I would have focused on a particular episode in the Clintons’ sordid political careers (as covered in Clinton Cash) and constructed story, be it funny or unsettling, out of that specific incident. That would have a lot of great humor potential.

Incidentally, my dad thought it was incredibly funny that somebody made a graphic novel based off of a work of non-fiction. He wasn’t laughing at the comic itself, but at the fact that it had been made at all. Go figure.

Image from Amazon.com

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Goodreads Review: The Giver

The Giver (The Giver, #1)The Giver by Lois Lowry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been on my shelf forever, but I only read it recently in an effort to quickly finish my Goodreads challenge. I now wish I’d read it years ago.

This book, ostensibly for middle-graders, blew my mind in a way no book has done so since I read “Ender’s Game.” Written in deceptively simple and sparse, almost clinical prose, “The Giver” tells the story of a perfect community where everyone goes about their lives, from cradle-to-grave, in a world free from pain, unhappiness, and choices.

The book’s hero, Jonas, is named Receiver of Memory upon turning twelve, even though he doesn’t really know what that means. His mentor, the previous Receiver of Memory, known as “The Giver,” slowly reveals to him the horrible truth behind The Community.

At it’s most basic level, “The Giver” is “1984” for kids. I believe it is quite clear that Lois Lowry has penned a warning against Statism. It even has a heart-crushing, ambiguous ending similar to the one which Orwell included in his book, though this book’s case is slightly abated by the existence of three related installments. I understand that none of these are direct sequels.

The book reads really fast, I being able to go through it in less than two days. I guarantee that you will be kept glued to your seat with this book. It’s just impossible to put down.

I think this book is particularly prophetic in its portray of The Community where Jonas lives. There’s an enforced hypersensitivity about the use of language. Euphemisms for death, euthanasia, and infanticide are rampant. Jonas and children his age are given pills to combat “the Stirrings,” itself a euphemism for sexual arousal. Motherhood is looked down upon as a rather unimportant “job.”

This book is chilling. Give it to your kid to read, but only if you fully understand what it’s about. I’d advise reading it yourself, because it’s a darn good book, and also you can answer their questions when they read the thing.

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Goodreads Review: Look Who’s Back

Note: This review is from my Goodreads account. I will be periodically be sharing my reviews on that site to my blog. Please enjoy.

Look Who's BackLook Who’s Back by Timur Vermes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I learned about this book after reading a review in The Wall Street Journal. Reading the review alone left me gasping for air because I was laughing so hard. Now that I have finally gotten the book and read it myself, I am glad to say that it was just as enjoyable as I expected.

The premise of this book is that Adolf Hitler wakes up in an empty lot in Berlin in 2011 with no memory of anything that happened after 1945. He is at first astounded at what he sees, but soon adapts to modern life while digesting the status quo of contemporary Germany through his rather… unique point-of-view. He winds up as a viral YouTube sensation as he struggles to make it clear that yes, he is the real Hitler, and yes, he means every word he says.

One half of the genius of this book is that it manages to humanize one of the most vilified characters of modern history, Adolf Hitler. As another reviewer wrote elsewhere, he is neither likable nor unlikable, he simply is. Since Hitler is the narrator of his own first-person account of this admittedly farcical story, the fact that Vermes managed to pull off such a feet is incredible. We see him fiddle with a television set, struggle with a bad night’s sleep, and express genuine sorrow.

The other half of the genius of “Look Who’s Back” lays in the originality of its premise and the execution thereof. The book is very much a darkly comedic satire, mocking the superficiality of the YouTube generation through one of the greatest monsters in history. Hitler’s take on everything from dogs to cell phones to Vladimir Putin is nothing short of hilarious. It edges toward the disturbing, however, when you realize that you’re laughing in the context of the antics of a fictionalized version of, well, Hitler.

A lot of this book depends on the reader’s knowledge of German pop culture, politics, and Hitler’s personal biography, but a short glossary in the back of my English edition manages to more of less clear this up for non-Germans. Granted, the book is probably much funnier for Germans, but I will be the first to declare that it remains a brilliant parody of our modern celebrity culture.

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