The Remains Of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – A Book Review

I shouldn’t have enjoyed this book, yet I couldn’t put it down.

The novel details a butler named Stevens nearing the end of his career.  Part of the book revolves around Stevens driving across the countryside in order to reunite with a former fellow servant, Miss Kenton.  He’d like to offer her a position … or is there something more he has in mind?  These are no mere servants, however.  Stevens was once the epitome of perfection as the highest ranking butler in Darlington Hall, a mammoth estate owned by an internationally renowned gentleman.  Though those days are past, Stevens reminisces about them as he travels.

I agree that the plot is not the most enticing, yet trust me when I tell you that as the story unfolds, Stevens becomes a fascinating character.  He is incredibly conscientious, yet emotionally impotent.  His loyalty is unfaltering, but he also lacks critical perspective.  His work ethic is nearly super human; however, he cannot prioritize between his work and his personal life.  And his morality?  Dubious, at best.

These contrasts create a deeply satisfying character study.  Make no mistake, though, it is Ishiguro’s pacing that makes it so captivating.  He knows exactly when to introduce revelations.  Just as things seem to be stagnating, the author embarks upon a relevant piece of information that calls everything prior into question.

Best of all?  The entire book is from Stevens’ perspective, so as these alarming details arise, we must doubt not only the guilty parties, but Stevens himself.  There are moments when the reader suspects Stevens may not be the most reliable narrator …

Because Stevens takes his role so seriously, he is an incredibly well studied, intelligent man.  His vocabulary is complex which results is very high diction throughout the novel.  Consequently, Ishiguro creates beautifully structured sentences that demand both concentration and consideration.  I’m ashamed to admit this is my first Ishiguro book, so I don’t know if this style is a reflection of Stevens’ personality or the author’s typical delivery.

Though I only read the book because a friend recommended it, I’m glad I did.  If you appreciate excellent pacing, engaging vocabulary, and a true character study, I believe you will enjoy The Remains Of the Day.

Advertisements

Aquaman: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

I happen to really dig Aquaman.  Peter David’s unprecedented run on the title in the early ’90s won me over due to the sheer originality and complexity of character, and I’ve followed the character ever since.  Of course, as he does with everything he touches, Geoff Johns returned Aquaman to his classic greatness while keeping him just as interesting over a decade later.

Since I found myself in the comic book shop anyway, I figured I’d pick up Aquaman: Rebirth #1 to see what new approach DC and Dan Abnett would take with our favorite Sea King.

Unfortunately, of all the Rebirth titles I’ve read so far, Aquaman struck me as the least innovative, revolutionary, or even interesting.  That’s not to say Abnett wrote poorly – he didn’t.  The dialogue flows well and is consistent with the characters.  The art is fine as well.  Both script and art progress the story resulting in a crisp, pleasurable read.

My issue with the, well, issue is that I didn’t notice anything new of consequence added to the character or mythology.  This installment seemed purely intended to catch up someone who has never read Aquaman before.  We’ve sailed these waters before.

So while the writing and art is well executed, the story itself offers nothing new and, consequently, makes this issue irrelevant.

 

Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

Wonder Woman is nothing if not a contradiction.  She is warrior of peace, after all.  She absolutely believes in truth and justice, yet she will fight to the death in pursuit of those things.  This complexity of character, an attribute that has always accompanied Wonder Woman, came especially to the forefront during Brian Azzarello’s masterful time on the title.  Within the last six years, it came to light that she was not only the child of the Amazon queen but also of Zeus himself!  To further add depth to the icon, she eventually became the God of War!

Greg Rucka embraces all of these contradictions and uses them to create a gripping first installment to what appears to be a captivating story line.  In Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1, Wonder Woman remembers two distinct pasts, two separate lives, and she wants nothing more than the truth concerning these contradictory recollections.  She uses a unique approach to achieve this desired truth which sets her on a new path, and this new journey will seemingly put her in direct conflict with the entity Wally West is warning of in DC Universe: Rebirth #1.  I love that already Batman, Flash, and Wonder Woman know something is amiss, that they are being manipulated and watched, and it’s only a matter of time before they do something about it …

Two artists are featured within this issue.  Matthew Clark handled the Wonder Woman for whom we are familiar, and then, half way through the book, Liam Sharp takes over when Wonder Woman ditches her New 52 costume and adopts more traditional armor befitting an Amazon warrior.  Consequently, this new armor is very similar to what she wore in her big screen debut last March.

Rucka, like Azzarello, delivers a complicated, multifaceted Wonder Woman with a clear mission in mind.  He is treating her with dignity, respect, and as the capable hero she is.  Like The Flash: Rebirth #1, this issue seems integral to the overall story unfolding within the DC Universe.

I left Wonder Woman after Azzarello’s departure because I didn’t care for the way the new creators handled her, but Rucka has definitely brought me back.  I can’t wait to join Wonder Woman as she discovers her truth.

 

 

 

 

 

The Flash: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic Book) Review

You may remember I went a little goo-goo for DC Universe: Rebirth #1.  I’m very happy to say that The Flash: Rebirth #1 is a can’t-miss connection to that seminal issue.

The first several pages establish Barry Allen’s character and background in case anyone is new to the title.  But then Wally West appears exactly as it happened in DC Universe: Rebirth #1, and it prolongs that moment, makes it even more emotionally resonant, and provides direction for both Wally and Barry.  Then, unbelievably, it goes even a step further and takes Flash into the Batcave to discuss that yellow pin Batman found.  I won’t spoiler any of the actual conversation, but this issue absolutely seems pivotal to the imminent conflict I personally cannot wait to witness.

So from a plot standpoint, this issue is extremely important to where Barry, Wally, and even the DC Universe is headed.  In that regard, I deem it required reading.

I also want to note, though, that The Flash is one of my all-time favorite heroes, and I have to say I much prefer Wally over Barry because I grew up alongside Wally West.  (Again, check out my ecstatic raving …)  However, this issue features the most likable and identifiable Barry Allen I’ve seen since the New 52’s inception.  Joshua Williamson seems to have a great handle on Barry’s persona and, let’s face it, Barry is so much better with Wally by his side.  Like Superman, Barry has always struck me as a father figure, a pure hero.  He is at his best when he is caring for those closest to him, and he needs those closest to him present in order to shine.  I absolutely believe Wally and Barry can share the Flash mantel.  They’ve done it before after Barry’s initial return … they can do it again.

I enjoyed Carmine Di Giandomenico’s art, but it definitely benefited from Ivan Plascencia’s colors.   This is a supreme case of the coloring making the art standout.  They both work together to denote forward movement, fluidity, and ultimately speed.  They are a good team for this character.

Quite honestly, I think this is my favorite Flash comic since the New 52.  It’s got heart, soul, and it seems to be filled with crucial plot points.

Batman: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

Now fully into the DC’s “Rebirth” movement, you just knew I’d have to check out Batman: Rebirth #1.

I’ve been reading the collected editions of Scott Snyder’s masterful Batman run, so when I heard someone named Tom King was taking over the title, I honestly felt as though he probably would not live up to the superb precedent.  A friend told me Tom King was the real deal, though, so I felt compelled to pick it up when I went in for Superman: Rebirth #1.  (Yes, I can’t believe Superman got me into the comic book shop rather than Batman.  It’s nuts.  I admit it.)

I have to say, it was a good read.  I’ve always enjoyed Mikel Janin’s art, so everything looked fluid and dynamic as I would expect, and new writer Tom King quickly established his Batman as a man who knows he’s crazy for fighting against the evil sickness of the city but does it anyway.  His Batman is willing to take chances and has supreme confidence in doing the impossible.  Furthermore, his Batman is willing to try new things, too, as proven by his offer to Duke Thomas.  It’s Thomas’ new role that has me most excited about this book, frankly, and I think that was absolutely King’s point.

I’m still a little confused by the plot involving the Calendar Man, but I enjoyed the funky take on the classic villain.  I’ve never seen him depicted in such a way, which King readily acknowledged within the context of the story.

Of course, other than Duke’s new development, this is a Batman we know and expect, and that’s okay.  The dialogue proved crisp, the story unfolded naturally with urgent pacing, and he even experimented a little with the narrative style.  Snyder got a co-writing credit with this issue, but I have faith that King will maintain the excellence we’ve come to expect from the Batman title.

And while I know it debuted a while ago, I have to say that I like the slight changes made to Batman’s costume.  The purple inside the cape along with the yellow border around the emblem adds some much needed color to the character.  It’s a little weird, but I like that and I think it suits the character well.

Green Arrow: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

Green Arrow is a character I’ve always really enjoyed when appearing in the Justice League books.  At times I’ve even felt compelled to read his solo title, especially when Smith, Meltzer, and Lemire were at the helm.  More often than not, though, I just follow him from afar.

One major thing drew me to his “Rebirth” book, and that’s his reunion with Black Canary.  It’s my understanding that Green Arrow and Black Canary only peripherally knew each other since the dawn of the New 52 back in 2010.  To newer fans this may not seem like a big deal.  To old guys like me, though, that seemed outrageous!   Black Canary and Green Arrow are one of the greatest partnerships and romances in all of comic book lore.  I don’t know when they got together, but I’ve been reading comic books since about 1980 and they were an item even back then.

In “Rebirth,” they come fact to face, join forces, and have an adventure together.  I’m honestly not familiar with the author, Benjamin Percy, but he nailed the chemistry that must exist between these two icons.  He kept each character true to their core but also made sure they amplified the best attributes of the other.  Isn’t that what all great romances are meant to do?

He also ended the book with a nod to the audience, that yes, this has been too long in the making, which I thought clever.

I think one really interesting development with bringing Arrow and Canary together for the “first” time is that even old fellas like me get to see something I’ve never seen before — the advent of the relationship.  Like I said, even in 1980 this couple felt firmly established to my three-year-old eyes.  It’s nice to have them both very young, very fresh, and very inexperienced with each other.  I really hope DC takes its time fostering the relationship and giving them the time they deserve to grow together.  But, man, it’s nice to see them side by side!

In fact, this entire book seemed intent on giving the audience back what it wants.  Green Arrow has his famous goatee again, he once again considers himself a social justice warrior, he’s the most lighthearted I’ve seen him in a long time (which, to me, is a must with GA), and his costume is simple, sleek, and dynamic.

The story itself didn’t prove all that interesting.  Honestly, it accomplished the one thing it needed to do, which was give GA and BC a reason to team up.  And while the writer certainly captured the charisma and charm of this famous couple, there were several instances of clunky dialogue and redundancy.

Even so, if you’re a Green Arrow AND Black Canary fan, I’d consider this required reading.  While the plot concerning the conflict wasn’t great, it still firmly delivered on providing a memorable first interaction between two of DC’s greatest characters.

 

 

Superman: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

As you can tell, I’m all in on DC’s “Rebirth” initiative.  I actually went into the comic book shop again today — making it two weeks in a row — and bought THREE single issue comic books.  It’s been well over ten years since that’s happened.

The book I felt most excited to purchase?  Superman: Rebirth #1.

Bear with me.  As you know, I like Superman, but I don’t love Superman.  What’s always made him fall short with me from a story telling perspective is that he’s too powerful, too self-assured, and too moralistic.  Don’t misunderstand, these are wonderful qualities in everyday life, but when discussing a character who has appeared in monthly stories since 1938, well, things can get a little predictable.

So when I heard the pre-New 52 Superman would arrive in the New 52 universe, the Superman I read in high school, you know, the one killed by Doomsday, and that he would replace the New 52 Superman, and that he would have his wife, Lois Lane, and son along his side, well, I couldn’t be more excited.

(I promise, an actual review will eventually unfold …)

You see, Superman has always been portrayed during my lifetime as the ultimate good guy, a fatherly figure  who is nearly infallible.  But unlike Batman, he never had much of an extended family.  We had trouble identifying with him.  Sure, he had an amazing cast of characters, but very few of them knew Superman like an Alfred, Dick Grayson, or Tim Drake knew Batman.

Now, here I am at the age of 39, married with two kids, and my Superman is also married with a son!  I think this is incredibly interesting because those of you with kids realize that no matter how much you think you have your act together, kids will unravel you into a chaotic mess within minutes.  I’ve never seen Superman cope with raising a child, and a child with powers similar to his own!  Acting morally is one thing, teaching another to be just as moral is quite another.  This is a Superman I can’t wait to see.  This is  a Superman with whom I can identify.  This is a Superman who may have met his ultimate match — fatherhood.

Furthermore, how cool is it that kids can read this book with their parents and everyone can identify with someone in the book?  DC figured out long ago that kid sidekicks boost sales among young children because those children can live vicariously through said sidekick.  Just imagine swinging through the sky by Batman’s side, running alongside the Flash, firing arrows through the air with Green Arrow, or, now, flying faster than a speeding bullet with the ultimate hero!

Okay, so you know I’m sold on the entire premise of the pre-New 52 Superman being back with his family in tow.  Husband?  Father?  Hero?  I’m in.

How about the actual book?

It’s mostly set up, to be honest.  Good, not great.

Superman: Rebirth #1 serves mostly to explain what happened to the New 52 Superman and why the old Superman must replace him on a permanent basis.  The book’s primary purpose seems to help the reader remember who this new/old Superman is, what he’s been through in the past, why he knows so much about the New 52 characters, and that he has a family he feels he must protect against the world.

It’s a lot of talking, quite a bit of flashbacks, and, again, mostly set up.  Don’t get me wrong — it did a marvelous job establishing the future for this new/old Superman.  Most importantly, it also helped us to say goodbye to the New 52 Superman in a way that made me realize I liked him more than I thought I did.

Could you skip this one without missing anything important?  I think so.  Neither Lois nor Superman’s son appear at all, and new/old Superman doesn’t even don the red and blue.  I enjoyed the book, but it’s not vital to your understanding of the new direction.

I don’t regret buying Superman: Rebirth #1 at all, but it didn’t convince me to come back for more in the coming weeks.  I will check out the collected editions when they are released, but I don’t feel any urgency to buy the single issues as they are published.