Thursday, July 30, 2009

X-Men: Mutant Massacre

This is a classic story from the X-Men's long and convoluted history that I had never read before, so I wanted to see if it was all that it's been hyped up to be.


A team of assassins known as the Marauders track a group of mutants called the Morlocks down to their underground Manhattan lair, the "Alley," a complex series of tunnels. The Marauders then proceed to exterminate the virtually helpless Morlocks, until members of the X-Men, led by Storm, and X-Factor/X-Terminators, led by Cyclops come to their rescue. Several prominent Morlocks are saved, but many more are killed, and members of both the X-Men and X-Factor are critically wounded.

Mutant Massacre was a huge X-men crossover in the Fall of 1986. Parts of the story could be found in Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants, and even Thor, Daredevil, and Power Pack. The overall story was mainly conceived by legendary X-writer Chris Claremont—also notable for the stories "Days of Future Past" and the "Dark Phoenix Saga"—but several writers and pencilers had a hand in the crossover. Aside from the near-decimation of the Morlocks, Mutant Massacre is also an important story in X-Men history because of several events that spun out from its pages. Angel suffers severe damage to his wings, which later have to be amputated to save his life. This leads directly to events that turn him into Archangel, one of the Four Horseman of Apocalypse. Kitty Pryde's mutant ability to become intangible is disrupted, leaving her unable to revert back to her solid form. Colossus sustains incredible damage, leaving him quadriplegic for a time. Wolverine discovers that Jean Grey, thought to be dead, is actually alive and well. All of this is very important, and has a lasting influence on the X-Men universe for years to come, but is the story any good?

The 1980's were an interesting time for comic books, and books written back then definitely don't read the same way as books written now. Claremont and the other Mutant Massacre writers tell a great story, with tons of conflict and drama, but at times it seems a little corny. Almost half the page is dedicated to speech, narration, or thought bubbles. The events of each individual issue are much more exciting than the issues themselves. The Marauders track down the Morlocks, then begin hunting them, killing them off one by one, until finally the X-Men intervene. That's exciting! I can absolutely see Jim Shooter, the Editor-in-Chief of Marvel at the time, getting really amped up and excited for this huge crossover. But then you get horrible narration like this the entire time:
A mile beneath Manhattan...

...are the tunnels where the Morlocks lived...

...until the Marauders killed them.

Wolverine moves silently through the carnage, alert for the slightest sound, the smallest movement, the faintest scent of life.

Violence is in his nature. Murder is not. He means to find those responsible and pay them back--in full measure.

Like, come on now. I know this was written a long time ago, but haven't you ever heard of "show, don't tell"? This is a COMIC BOOK! If there was ever a medium where you could beautifully "show" this is it! Yeah, this was written in 1986, but when you think about it, it was only written in 1986. Think of all the classical works of literature that are hundreds of years old that still read just as well today. You could argue that, because the medium has only been around for about 75 years, the quality mark has yet to stabilize. Back then, maybe tons of speech and narration was the way to go. But is the problem comics from that time period in general? or this book in particular? Either way, I don't highly recommend reading this. The story is important. The events that take place and their consequences are important. If you really need to know first hand everything that has happened in the X-Men universe for any reason, this book is definitely important. It's just not all that fun to read.


X-Men: Mutant Massacre
by Chris Claremont with Louise Simonson, Walter Simonson, John Romita Jr., and Sal Buscema

Chris Claremont is somewhat known for his poor execution of extremely high-concept ideas. This is a major event in X-Men history, and sounds like it would be a great read. In theory. Give me a solid, well-written story over this any day.

It's not unreadable, and you definitely have to allow for the fact that this was written during a time when comic books generally tended to have a lot more speech, narration, and thought bubbles. That being said, it doesn't make it any easier to read.

If you just kinda skim through most of the dialogue and narration, it's actually a very dramatic story. There's a lot going on, tons of suspense and conflict, and many characters are forced to make difficult decisions. It's got the framework to be something incredibly intriguing.


Keep reading, Genoshans!

Thursday, July 23, 2009


*With our head Genoshan off wandering the streets of San Diego (probably dressed like Rocket Raccoon), he's handed the reins of the kingdom over to me for the week, so here goes...something, anyway.

You're sick, now you're better, there's work to be done — Kilgore Trout

The final novel published by acclaimed Absurdist/Sci-Fi author Kurt Vonnegut (followed only by a collection of essays and short stories), Timequake is inherently a failure. Don't get the wrong idea here; Timequake was actually the first Vonnegut I ever read (when I was about 12 — boy, did that go over my head! Why did you buy this for me as an Easter present, Dad?), and I enjoyed it even more the second time around (when I could actually comprehend and appreciate it), but the book Timequake is constructed entirely around Vonnegut's inability to complete the novel Timequake to a satisfactory degree.

Confused? Don't worry about it. Vonnegut's metafictional conceits have metafictional conceits, which in turn have more metafictional conceits, but not in that hurts-your-head kind of way; no, Vonnegut is clearly having fun with this, in that quirky, self-conscious way he does so well. And fortunately, he lays it all out on the line for the reader right up front, to avoid any unnecessary confusion: Timequake was (originally) a novel in which the universe suffers from a crisis in self-confidence—should it go on expanding? What's the point?—and forces everyone within it to re-live the last 10 years of their lives. Everyone would retain their memories of the first 10 year go-round, but would still be forced to go through them again on autopilot, reliving every moment precisely as it happened the first time, unable to change a thing.

Eventually, Vonnegut mostly gave up on this idea, and the Timequake that was ultimately published transformed into a different creature. The book consists of part salvaged sections from the original novel—presented as such, and usually concerning Vonnegut's fictional literary alter ego, Kilgore Trout—and part personal memoir. Taking the notion of a Timequake and applying it to his own personal experiences, as well as to the personal experiences of those close to him, Vonnegut explores ideas of fatalism, determinism, and human nature in the modern world through this fascinating (and often quite comic) lens. These anecdotes range from tragic (a woman who accidentally paralyzes her husband, and must relive it through the quake) to triumphant (a man wrongly imprisoned but eventually released and exonerated who must relive his entire redemption arc to become a hero again) and everything in between, narrated with that delightfully sardonic wit for which Vonnegut has become so renowned.

That being said, Timequake tends to eschew most of the traditional conventions regarding plot and linear cohesion, and this might turn some people off from it. Vonnegut does eventually return to many of his (and Trout's) briefly touched upon anecdotes and stories, often giving us small, almost stream-of-consciousness bursts of information before moving on to something only tangentially related and eventually working his way back several chapters later, but one gets the feeling that it never really goes anywhere. Each anecdote or story has a beginning, middle, and end, and the thematic connections are typically clear, but the story as a whole lacks an arc. As a reader, you are drawn in not by the ongoing meta-adventures of Kilgore Trout, but by the sheer enjoyment of each story as conveyed by Vonnegut (or Trout); there is very little beyond that, however, to compel you to turn the page and continue.

But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The end of the novel is surprisingly uplifting, and Vonnegut does flirt a bit with the massive destructive forces of Ennui and Apathy (the true antagonists of the story) that overcome the human race once they are free from the grasps of the Timequake (this would have been the action-packed, heroic climax of the original Timequake, in which Kilgore Trout must wake the people up and urge them to continue living, etc., etc.), which all kind of resembles a plot. Surprisingly enough, the apparent lack of cohesion almost makes it easier to read, as most of the anecdotes are both brief and enjoyable. As a reader, you never quite know where it's going to take you next, and a large part of the enjoyment is seeing where all of these seemingly non-sequitur characters and concepts lead and intersect. For those of you entirely unfamiliar with the works of Kurt Vonnegut, a large part of his appeal lies in his ability to speak simply about the most profound things, and this book is certainly no exception. There are times when his language and sentence structure feel almost childlike, but the concepts and ideas contained within are enough to blow your mind all the way to Tralfamadore, to Dresden, or to somewhere else entirely.

I give Timequake 3 and a half out of 5 Vonnegut self portraits:

So it goes.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bone (Jeff Smith)

Wow, where do I even start with this one?


I guess the best way to go with this is to just let you know: Bone is incredible. It may not be the best comic series of all time, it probably isn't even my favorite, but I have to admit that Jeff Smith must have done something to make God very happy, because the dude has a ton of talent. Bone is the story of three cousins—Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone— who get run out of Boneville by a lynch mob after Phoney manages to anger the entire town. Lost and wandering around the desert, the three are separated when they get caught in a swarm of locusts. Desperately searching for food, water, and each other, all of the Bones manage to find themselves in an enchanting valley filled with talking animals, mysterious dragons, and cow races. They quickly get back together, but only just before they find themselves involved in an ancient war between the Lord of Locusts and the dragons and humans determined to protect their world from being completely destroyed.

But all that is just plot. Bone is a terrific, terrific story, especially when you read Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume (1,332 pages for only $39.95!!!). But the true beauty of this comic is in the art and the characters. Jeff Smith really shows off his range in this book. He'll sometimes transition from a cartoony, almost comic-stripesque scene into a sprawling two-page splash that stops the reader right in their tracks. And he does it smoothly. This seamlessness carries over into characters, too. The three Bone cousins complement each other so well that it's often difficult to figure out which one is your favorite. Fone Bone is generous and brave; Phoney Bone is greedy but cunning; Smiley Bone is a huge goofball who just wants everyone to have a good time. Throw in a pair of blundering rat creatures, a cow-racing grandma and her beautiful granddaughter, and a grumpy innkeeper who used to be a great warrior, and you've got a mix that produces some of the best written scenes I've ever come across. Not only that, but it's extremely accessible. Smith never writes down to the reader. There are plenty of goofy moments that I would've loved when I was a kid (and, admittedly, still do), but it's so long and epic that I can't help but be impressed by its complexity. There were a few times past the 1,000-page mark that I thought it dragged on a little longer than it needed to, but considering that it was originally 55 separate comic book issues, I'm honestly surprised I never thought so sooner. Seriously, folks, at $39.95 you really can't go wrong. It's almost definitely the best bargain in comics, and it's worth the time and money. I would highly recommend checking this one out.


Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume
by Jeff Smith

This isn't a groundbreaking literary masterpiece, but when something is written so well, so consistently, over the course of such a long story, it's hard not to admire it.

It's clear he was influenced by a unique group of writers ranging from Charles Schulz to J.R.R. Tolkien (clear because that's what his Wikipedia page says). He uses these influences well, combining a masterful epic scope with a decent amount of absurdity.

This book is fun, accessible, and compelling. I'm not sure what else you need.


Keep reading, Genoshans!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Dead Guy Interviews (Michael A. Stusser)

Sorry for the recent drop off. I was away, followed by a series of mishaps that led to not having reviews ready. Not to worry, though! I've got at least the next three weeks' worth of reviews all prepped and ready to go. There's some decent stuff coming up, it's gonna be fun.


So, the inside cover says this guy spends most of his time inventing board games and writing for parenting magazines. I guess one day he came up with an idea he just had to write, and churned out this little gem. Alright, I'm gonna cut to the chase on this one and say right now that I wasn't impressed. The concept was really intriguing: interview famous dead people. Okay, I can go with that, show me what you can do. Well, what Stusser can do is be racist and repetitive. The end. He interviews 45 deceased personalities, including Lincoln, Beethoven, Houdini and Caesar, but the book gets old after the first ten. Instead of giving each subject their own distinct personality, he gives them all their own distinct accent, but somehow they still wind up sounding the same: flat. Not only that, but each celebrity was presented as a ridiculous characterization of themselves: Cleopatra is a sex fiend trying to get Stusser into bed; Mozart is a petulent child too rambunctious to even sit still; Poe is so drugged out that he asks if he can drink turpentine in the middle of his interview. And most of the interviews are five pages, which is probably two pages too long.

There were definitely some humorous moments, don't get me wrong. Stusser often makes fun of himself by having his subjects get annoyed with him, some even threatening him with death repeatedly (and then another threatens him with death, repeatedly, and then another, repeatedly, repeatedly, again, and again, repeatedly). There were also plenty of useful little factoids about each person strewn throughout the interviews, which I assume was one of the main purposes of the book, so maybe it would be helpful for kids? At this point I really don't know. I'm thinking this might've been better as some kind of website, though, where people can come in and read up on people in a new and fairly interesting way, but without having to read all the rest. Right now the book is too long, very repetitive, and living in this bizarre place between informative and absurd.


The Dead Guy Interviews: Conversations with 45 of the Most Accomplished, Notorious, and Deceased Personalities in History
by Michael A. Stusser.

It really was a great idea. I'll at least give him credit for that.

Reading the same thing over and over gets boring after a while, which is unfortunate because some of the better interviews aren't until later on in the book.

It's informative, and had a decent premise, but it isn't executed very well. The only reason it's rated this high is because it's a fairly quick and simple read, so it's not necessarily painful to get through. Maybe if it had a different framing device or something? Who knows.


Sorry this one was a dud. Now at least you know not to pick it up when you see it on the "Buy 1, Get 1 Free" table at B&N or Borders. Until next week, keep reading, Genoshans!

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