Friday, April 24, 2009

The New Avengers (Brian Michael Bendis)

Someday fairly soon I'm going to review another comic series that I feel is the BEST way to hook your non-comic book reading friends, but that day is not today. Today I'm going to review a series that I feel is integral for any lapsed comic book fans who are looking to get back into the thick of things. Those of you not interested in such nonsense, you're probably not gonna care from this point forward, so hopefully I'll see you next week.


The New Avengers begins pretty spectacularly with the breakout of several dozen major supervillains from The Raft, an extremely high security detention facility off the coast of Manhattan. Luckily, there happen to be several major superheroes present at the time of the breakout, and they're able to keep many of the inmates in check. 42 villains in total escape, however, and Captain America sees this as an opportunity to reform the Avengers using those few heroes that were present at the breakout (for reference, the Avengers had broken up following the events of Avengers: Disassembled when the Scarlet Witch went crazy and tore the team apart). Cap's team consists of Iron Man, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, and Luke Cage, but as the series evolves, the team does as well. These "New Avengers" set off in search of some of the major escaped criminals, which leads them very early on to the Savage Land, where they meet up and are joined by Wolverine. These six individuals form the core team for much of the series, and work well together, both in an action sense and in a hilarious sense. It's really a great group to have together.

On the whole, this series—which recently passed the 50 issue milestone—has consistently been very strongly written. There have been a few minor hang-ups during some of the major crossover events, but Bendis has written this title into the forefront of the Marvel Universe, and in many ways has made it one of the flagship books, so those crossover stories affect our New Avengers more than most. The group dynamic is incredibly strong, the plots are intricate and well-written, and the art is some of the best out there. Leinil Yu, especially, draws some AMAZING scenes. If you've never seen his work, check out this or Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk, which is conveniently being reprinted right now. It's hard to tell you how much I like this series without giving too much away, but if you're a fan of superhero books, classic Marvel characters, action, humor, or all of the above, New Avengers is a great title to check out. It's the perfect gateway drug to the current Marvel Universe, and provides strong footing as a jumping off point into the books of any of the individual characters on the team, too.


The New Avengers
by Brian Michael Bendis

I wouldn't say it's the most complex stories ever told, but the plots do weave in and out very smoothly, and almost all of the issues are goal-driven, which keeps things moving. The story does well at keeping the reader engaged.

It's a superhero team book, and Bendis writes good superhero stories, there isn't much more to say about the style. It's humorous, has a lot of action, and utilizes many of the most popular Marvel characters. The guy know's what he's doing.

I have a lot of fun going through these issues again, so there is definitely some solid storytelling going on, but there are also just some really cool comic book moments that can catch you off guard. I like a writer who can be versatile and get into the heads of several different characters.


I'm planning on having a novel I'm currently reading finished by next Friday, so I'm excited for next week! In the mean time, keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Blue Like Jazz (Donald Miller)

There must be something wrong with me, because I went back and read another nonfiction book. I was punished severely for it.


The cover of the book really should've tipped me off on this one: Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. Some points:

a) I don't like jazz.
b) I went to Catholic school for many years, so I've got more than enough thoughts on Christian Spirituality.
c) That title is actually a lie, since most of the thoughts were VERY religious. And poorly written.

I don't usually get quite this emphatic regarding the awfulness of a book, but I was really disappointed, because I thought I would be given some fresh insight into the spiritual world. I was not. It was mostly a book of random events in the life of a guy who says he has trouble connecting with his faith on one page, but then tells stories in which he's the most religious guy he knows on the next. And the writing is really bad, I'm sorry. He basically makes a statement. Then maybe he'll he make another statement. Often he'll make a third statement. Each of these statements will be their own complete sentence. Most of these sentences will be very simply constructed. He very rarely uses commas. I felt like I was in third grade. When I was in third grade I took my first religious classes. Stop dumbing things down, Donald Miller.

I'm pretty sure that this might actually have been a decently interesting book if it were written a little better. It's really frustrating when the author talks at length about something you actually might be connecting with, like wondering how people can be so sure of their faith when he is not, and then immediately jumping to how he tries so hard to convince his friends that Christianity is the way to go. Hold on, didn't you just say you weren't sure if it was the way to go? And I thought this was a NONreligious view on Christian spirituality? It sounds to me like a cheap ploy to get people to buy into your religious views. Mind you, I SHARE his religious views and I still got that feeling. Bad writing is bad writing, no matter how devout you are.

There really isn't much more for me to say. I hate to seem so closed-minded in a review, but aside from the random touching story of the miracle of how someone came to embrace Christ in their life blah blah blah, it's really bad. Don't read this book.


Blue Like Jazz
by Donald Miller

There are stories included, but no real story. I'm gonna cut the guy a break and give him an "N/A" instead of a 2 or something.

I guess journal entries on the glory of Jesus is stylistic?

Mindless rambling about vague spiritual dilemmas interspersed with fairly pointless stories of how people saw the light. Yeah, I got nothing.


Genoshans, I have a challenge for you. I challenge you to find me a competent book on religion/spirituality/whatever. Please. I'd really like to think that it's a coincidence that the two books on religion that I've reviewed so far were the two worst books I've read. Help me out, here. And as always, keep reading, Genoshans!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Candide (Voltaire)

Finally, a novel! And an old novel, at that. Candide: Or, Optimism, was first published over two hundred years before any other book I've reviewed so far, 100 Years of Solitude having only been published back in the not-as-olden days of 1967 (well, olden for me, still, but maybe not for you). If I spoke French, I'd insert some kind of snobby, intellectual French phrase here, maybe something vaguely philosophical, but not too committal. Oh well, c'est la vie. That's how you spell that, right?


There's a reason this book has been around so long. To me this is a perfect example of great literature that's accessible on several different levels and overall very enjoyable. It's a fairly straightforward story about a young man named Candide, whose entire philosophy on life is that "all is for the best." Every terrible, horrible, atrocious thing that can happen to a person—and most things you could think of do happen to someone at some point in the book—are all in fact necessary for the greater good of the world, and could not have happened any other way. Throughout the story, which moves from Westphalia to Portugal to Argentina to France to England to Constantinople, Candide suffers through a flogging, a shipwreck, an earthquake, several wars, extreme poverty, an illness, and his girlfriend becoming ugly. Others are affected by similarly miserable afflictions: plague, hanging, rape, stabbing, forced prostitution, burning, and cannibalized buttocks. No matter what, though, Candide maintains that "all is for the best."

Now, I've written reports on classic literary masterpieces before, but I've never really done a review on one, so one of the best ways I can think to really give you a feel for this book is this: I wish they made us read this in high school. Public schools need more satire. Instead of being a dreadfully serious philosophical/political book like Crime and Punishment or The Stranger, Candide is wonderful because it gives a commentary on life while being hilarious. Voltaire is known to be a witty writer, and since most of his humor is situational, it comes across very well despite the translation from French. I don't care what you say, an old woman who can't sit on a horse properly because she's missing one buttock(s?) is hilarious. And Candide's naive attitude towards life is a great filter for Voltaire's opinions on the philosophies of his day. Plus, not only is this book funny, it also works fairly well as a straight adventure novel. It's pretty suspenseful for a satire. It's not the longest book in the world—only 144 pages—but even so I read it extremely fast because Voltaire constantly leaves Candide in some great predicament. It also helps when the chapters are really short and titled fun things like "VI—How a magnificent auto-da-fé was staged to prevent further earthquakes, and how Candide was flogged." I still don't really know what an auto-da-fé is, but I find that chapter title pretty exciting. I don't mind that it tells me some of what's going to happen, since it usually only makes me more curious as to why or how it's going to happen.

Anyway, this was a pretty stellar book, especially considering it was written by an old French guy 250 years ago. I'm not gonna say it's my favorite book ever or anything, but it's solidly written, gets its point across, and is quite entertaining. I highly recommend it to you for some light reading, and to teachers across America as a substitute for ghastly tomes like Tartuffe or Beowulf.


Candide: Or, Optimism
by Voltaire

While not very complicated, it's a great vehicle for the message, and is still interesting if you don't care about all that philosophical mumbo-jumbo.

This is satire at its best. It's funny, it's accessible, it allows the reader to judge for themselves; Voltaire knew what he was doing.

You'd think it would be stuffier, but it's pretty easy to read and still relates to current issues. Some of the cultural aspects are understandably outdated at this point, but they're written about from an outsider's perspective, so it doesn't usually feel like you're missing anything. All in all it's a great book.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Scud: The Disposable Assassin (Rob Schrab)

I'm haven't finished any of the novels or non-fiction books I'm reading at the moment (possibly because I read too many books at once, oops), so this week's review is on an amazing comic book series that I plowed through this weekend. Scud's first publishing run ran from 1994-1998 and ended with a cliffhanger that lasted ten years, but the series was recently concluded, and the entire collection can now be found in a new omnibus, Scud: The Disposable Assassin: The Whole Shebang!


The title may seem to give a lot away here, and that's partially true, but Scud: The Disposable Assassin ended up being way more intelligent and complex than it initially lets on. The series takes place on an earth several decades in the future, where violence has become much more common than it is today. A "Scud" is a brand of robotic assassin that can be purchased from vending machines on any street corner, and programmed to kill whomever you would like however you would like, for only a few dollars. Our Scud is sent to kill a strange squid/mousetrap/electrical plug monster named Jeff who is terrorizing a mannequin factory. Scud easily takes care of Jeff, but as he is about to finish the monster off, he notices a sign on his robotic back that informs him that he will self-destruct upon termination of his primary target. Now, Scud doesn't want to die, so he instead sets Jeff up in an intensive care unit at a local hospital to keep them both alive as long as possible, and then starts working freelance to pay the medical bills. He does all this rather matter-of-factly, and as a reader you kinda just go along with him for a while.

The first few issues—there are 26 total in the omnibus—introduce the reader to Scud in a very blunt way. He blows stuff up, he shoots a ton of people, he makes witty remarks as he blows up said stuff and shoots said people. These issues are fun and completely absurd, but not necessarily all that interesting. Also, there are times early on, especially during any one of the near-constant action scenes, where the art is a little confusing. Wait, how did that guy lose his arm? Hold on, I thought Scud was behind that soldier in the giant ape suit? Stuff like that. There's so much going on, so many bullets and body parts flying all over the place, that it gets difficult to keep your bearings. I admit, I put the book down a couple times during the first half of the omnibus. Something about the characters and way the stories unfolded kept bringing me back, though. Around issue twelve or maybe even a little later, once the character of Sussudio is introduced (she's a spy with a robot fetish, for the record), all of the minor details that were overlooked earlier start coming back in highly impactful ways. The loose ends begin to tie themselves up, and the stories start to get down to the real meat of what's been going on since the very first issue. Seriously, shit goes down. Villains you thought were stupid and meaningless end up being extremely powerful, others who you assumed were running things get kinda pushed aside, and God Himself even makes an appearance, but it all makes sense somehow in the context of the story. I was even hoping for the series to keep going when I found myself at the end, the writing and art having gotten significantly better than where it was when it began. Similar to Agents of Atlas, though, I don't think I would necessarily recommend this series to someone who isn't already a fan of comic books. However, for those readers who are fans, I'd say Scud is like reading Deadpool, if Deadpool was a robot, had an insanely hot spy girlfriend, battled forces straight out of Heaven and Hell, and had to keep alive an absurd squid monster thing named Jeff who was trying to kill him. So, very similar.


Scud: The Disposable Assassin: The Whole Shebang!
by Rob Schrab

It's a surprisingly complex story hidden beneath a million explosions and a hilarious robot assassin who time travels, goes to outer space, joins the mob, and fights not only a squid monster and zombie dinosaurs, but also a choir of angels and a reanimated Ben Franklin. Sign me up!

The witty assassin anti-hero character may not be the most original in the comic book pantheon, but the writing keeps getting better and better as it goes, while maintaining a level of consistency regarding the quirkier and more absurd aspects of the story. The art gets better as well, and each page is treated as its own work of art. Scud never falls into the trap of boring/repetitive layout.

It's a ton of fun, with some surprising twists, interesting characters, and more blood and firepower than a Quentin Tarantino movie. It's a little long, and definitely slow up front, but it's worth it in the end. I'd say it's a winner.


Keep reading, Genoshans!

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