Friday, February 25, 2011

Unimaginable (Tom Pinchuk/Kurt Belcher)

You may remember Tom Pinchuk from last year's Why Buy Hybrid Bastards!? segment. His newest OGN, Unimaginable, just hit stores this week, and is every bit as quirky and high-concept as his past efforts.


In Unimaginable, strange girl named Stump wakes up in a dream world where she is put to work as a Solver, someone who is tasked with solving problems of all sizes and natures. She is aided by two cooky Solver sidekicks, Lank and Chin, who insist on following the rule book when confronting each problem. Stump, on the other hand, uses her own mix of common sense and absurd logic to overcome the obstacles she faces. Behind all of these problems are the Unimaginables, creatures so terrifying and powerful that no one can even imagine who, what, when, where, why, or how they are. Stump and her fellow Solvers must come up with creative ways to thwart the Unimaginables ever more complicated and dangerous schemes.

What makes Unimaginable unique is the accessibility of the metaphors at play throughout the story. While not necessarily marketed as a children's book, the playful tone and proverbial nature of the protagonist's challenges are reminiscent of morally-centered children's fare. Stump faces her problems head on, and encourages her accomplices to not be afraid of coming up with innovative solutions. It's actually quite charming how Pinchuk keeps the allegorical problem-solving nature of his plot so readily accessible on the surface of the narrative.

There are plenty of cute moments in the book where characters use dream logic or some other absurd literalism to solve a problem, but really you want to read this one for the overall message. Kurt Belcher's art is a bit chaotic, and the lettering leaves much to be desired. If you can get into the story, though, those things can be overlooked. I wouldn't recommend Unimaginable if you're a die-hard comics fan looking for a challenging or powerful read, but this book seems like it would be a fantastic choice for introducing a younger reader to the medium.


by Tom Pinchuk and Kurt Belcher

Not very challenging, but a cute and quirky concept that the plot clings to genuinely.

Belcher's art is not for everyone, but it certainly has a distinct style, and Pinchuk's writing is clear and easy to follow.

If you've got a young one at home who you're trying to get interested in comics, or reading in general, Unimaginable would be a great place to start. That is probably the exact opposite response that one would have to Tom Pinchuk's previous OGN, Hybrid Bastards!, which shows that the man's got range.


Keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, February 11, 2011

THE BOOK OF LIES by Brad Meltzer


Despite being the most well-known murder of all time, the weapon with which Cain killed his brother Abel remains unknown. The Bible is vague on Cain's ultimate fate as well — while we know that God reprimanded him for his actions, it is not revealed how or when he actually died.

On an unrelated note, Mitchell Siegel, father of SUPERMAN creator Jerry Siegel, was mysteriously shot and killed when Jerry was young. Neither the murderer nor the murder weapon were ever identified; in interviews, Jerry would tell that his father died of a heart attack.

If you've ever wondered about the connection between the original Biblical murder and issue #1 of SUPERMAN IN ACTION COMICS, then Brad Meltzer's got your ticket. He took two seemingly unrelated stories and through them weaved a labyrinthine conspiracy thriller, a Da Vinci Code for comic book fans, except good.

The story follows Calvin Harper, a former Homeland Security officer who now works for a homeless shelter in Miami, driving around in a van and picking up vagrants off the street. One night he comes upon his estranged father in a park with a fresh bullet wound. Calvin doesn't trust this as a chance meeting, and soon finds himself wrapped up in an elaborate search for Cain's original murder weapon (an artifact that could potentially uproot the entire Christian establishment), with nothing but a mint condition copy of ACTION COMICS #1 as his guide. Meanwhile, he and his father are pursued by a devoted Cain worshipped named Ellis Belasco. (CALvin and ELlis? Get it?...oh. Ya know, don't worry about it)

Brad Meltzer is a talented writer; you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would argue with that fact. I had heard nothing but high praise for him, with reputable creators touting him as "a master of structure," and so forth. Even the trailer for the book (below) features Damien Lindolf, Joss Whedon, and Brian K. Vaughan worshipping at the altar of Meltzer. As such, I was initially disappointed in The Book of Lies, because it was only good. It's nothing groundbreaking, nothing that will be studied in universities for years to come and mined for its literary richness.

But as I continued reading and found myself wrapped up and intrigued by the story, I realized — that's okay. Not every story has to blow my mind open and change the way the world looks. I started the book with unfairly high expectations, but ultimately enjoyed myself. Brad is a master plotter capable of writing sleek and thrilling prose. The characters never felt truly real and alive, but they were richly developed enough to service the story, and each fulfill their given roles. I cared less for them than I did for the Byzantine conspiracy that drove them, but I didn't mind letting them guide me there either.


The Book of Lies
by Brad Meltzer

Style — 6.0
Meltzer is clearly a competent writer, but his prose isn't particularly colorful or imaginative. It's effective and thrilling, but not especially fanciful. He does lose points, however, for including multiple lines of dialogue like, "This isn't just some action movie cliché!" or "This isn't like some covenient thriller novel, this is serious!" As you can probably guess, everytime a character uttered something along those lines, it actually was a typical action/thriller movie/novel moment. Which is fine, but pointing it out to me (even if the irony wasn't intentional) pulled me straight out of the story, every time. I was also bothered by the inconsistency of perspective — different chapters were told from different characters' points of view, but the Calvin chapters were in First Person, while everyone else was in Third, and there was really no reason for this (especially since there were a few parts that focused on Calvin written in Third Person). It may just be me, but I generally prefer my perspectives to be all or nothing.

Story — 6.8
The clever and creative connection between the murder of Abel and the first issue of Superman, and the accompanying conspiracy of Bible re-interpretations was endlessly captivating. Meltzer certainly did his research, and keeps the mysteries coming all the way through the end, slowly revealing his cards and twisting the plot around more. It's a great idea, and the plotting is masterfully executed. That being said, the characters hardly mattered to me at all — I just wanted to knew the truth about the relationship between Cain and Superman.

General — 6.7
Once I got over my expectations for the book to be the modern day Ulysses, I really enjoyed it. It was an easy read, always entertaining, and endlessly intriguing. If I had found this on the paperback rack at the airport, I would have thought it was incredible. Meltzer is certainly a step above your average paperback thriller, but certainly not yet in the upper echelon of literary masters. He just writes really enjoyable books, and if you're looking for a good read, it's absolutely worth checking out.

Overall — 6.5

Friday, February 4, 2011

Cathedral (Raymond Carver)

Cathedral is Raymond Carver's fourth short story collection. Though the collection is most famous for its title story, each story reveals Carver's talent and dedication to the ordinary as extraordinary.


If you're unfamiliar with Carver's work or style, I am tempted to ask what is wrong with you. That being said, you have an exciting opportunity to delve into the works of one of my favorite short story writers. His intensity and deceitfully quiet writing never fails to wake me up to the hidden meanings in everyday life or just knock me out of whatever writing slump I'm in at the time. From genuinely funny and charming characters in "Feathers" (one of my favorites) to the eerie sound of a phone ringing in "A Small, Good Thing," Cathedral explores the gamut of human failure and, thus, emotion.


It's hard to review a collection of short stories without being tempted to write about each story, which would be tedious and besides the point. Instead I'll highlight some of my favorite stories, ending with the most famous title story that closes the collection.


Never has a short story made me laugh harder than this one. Carver manages to write about a woman who keeps her old jacked up teeth on a TV, a peacock, and an ugly baby without ever leaving the realm of reality or believeability. The couples in this story aren't perfect; each half of each couple has their flaws and Carver shows them to us not merely to endear them to us, but to explain what lies ahead of them. He hints at a bleaker future, when all of the hope and optimism that they experience in one night has been drained from them. Rather than sucking the joy out of the happiness they do get to experience, however, Carver skillfully displays the ebbing and flowing of life and the futility of trying to guess what's ahead.


This story strikes me as relevant to the current economic state in America. Though this collection was published first in 1981, the themes and despair in "Preservation" rings true today. There is a universality to hopelessness that transcends time and circumstances, and Carver was a master at relaying that in his stories. The narrator's husband loses his job, and the rest of the story is the slow descent that occurs afterward. The story is strongest in its unexpected moments. The narrator is strong, but not stronger than the forces against and we can't help but watch and wait, guessing which straw will be the one to break her back.


In this, one of Carver's most famous stories, there is just as much misunderstanding and miscommunication as in his other stories, but there is an underlying hope that makes it a lighter note to end the collection on. The narrator grapples; there is the understanding of blindness and an attempt, rather than a resignation, to communicate.


by Raymond Carver

Stories: 10 - This is one of my favorite collections of Carver's stories, as it travels the range of his humor and his despair.

Style: 9 - You can't help but read Carver with the background filter of how autobiographical his writing is. Stories like "Chef's House" and "Where I'm Calling From" hit closer than close to home, and his quiet and honest style resonates long after the story is through.

General: 10 - I'm biased; Carver has played a major role in my growth as a writer, as a reader, and as a writer who reads.

Overall: 9.67 - Take this glowing review with a grain of salt, but only after you've read the collection for yourself.

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