Hope In the Dark by Rebecca Solnit – A Book Review

It so happened that on the morning of January 13th, I rode in my car and heard Rebecca Solnit on the NPR program entitled On the Media.  She read an excerpt from her 2004 book called Hope In the Dark.  Her reading, as well as her subsequent interview, convinced me that I had to experience the work for myself.

She begins with a quote from Virginia Woolf during WWI that says, “The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think.”  Solnit goes on to clarify that, in this case, darkness does not equate disaster, it merely reminds us that the future is ultimately unknown.

These are troubling times, and it is by no accident that this book, which is well over ten years old, is experiencing a resurgence.  Hope In the Dark illustrates some horrific calamities of the late 20th Century, but it also goes on to discuss how those disasters served as a catalyst to change, real change—positive change.  It also spends a great deal of time illustrating that the most potent of such change came through the efforts of people, regular citizens, standing up, taking action, and making their voices heard.

And even though some of these events may seem dated, if you read carefully enough, you’ll realize that the specific things she’s focusing upon absolutely have an effect on today’s local and global political climate, and, well, meteorological climate for that matter!

It is with great satisfaction that I read this book even as the Women’s March in Washington and throughout the world ensued.  It proved that what she said then is undeniably applicable today.  Our peaceful action speaks volumes; our voices can and will be heard.

Many of us feel hopeless today, but this book will instill faith in your fellow citizen … and yourself.  It will inspire you to do something, no matter how small, and to make your voice resonate.  It will, in the end, help you to realize that the future is dark, but, as Solnit points out, many things grow in the dark, things that later offer both beauty and sustenance.

We have the power to make our own story; we have the means to create our own future.

(If you’d like to listen to Solnit’s appearance during On the Media, visit this link: http://www.wnyc.org/story/rebecca-solnit-hope-lies-and-making-change/)

 

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Patience by Daniel Clowey

I have to admit that when NPR recommended this graphic novel, it did not seem to be something I’d enjoy.  If I’m being completely honest, I judged it by the cover, and the cover did not speak to me.

However, I found myself in a situation in which I had nothing else available to read, and so I gave it a shot.  The art immediately struck me as oversimplified.  Furthermore, the characters were initially completely unlikable while also making ample use of the “f” word.  The colors were far too bold.  In other words, it did not immediately win me over.

In the beginning, the story focuses on two adults—Patience and Jack.  They are truly in love with one another, but both are generally unsuccessful, uncouth, and somewhat rough around the edges.  Neither has made great choices in life; Patience has suffered indignation throughout her past; Jack has virtually no motivation.

Soon enough, Patience discovers she’s pregnant.  Both are elated, but both are also terrified.  They recognize the fact that they are not especially qualified to be parents, but they strive to forge ahead nonetheless.

But then Jack comes home from work to discover Patience has been murdered.

Of course, the authorities pin it on him, but he is eventually found innocent.  Jack is devastated.  His greatest loves—Patience and the unborn child—have been ripped away from him and cut out of his life.  He now has motivation.

The book next skips ahead several decades and we find Jack still searching desperately to find Patience’s killer.  Technology has evolved exponentially while society seems to have devolved.  We even have a few folks who don’t look entirely human.  Jack eventually gains the capability to time travel, and that’s when the book gets really interesting.

I won’t spoil the rest of the graphic novel, but Clowes delivers a story that kept me guessing and impressed me with its originality.  I won’t lie to you—I thought I had the ending all figured out, but Clowes managed to surprise me nonetheless.

This is a time travel story, with Jack jumping around quite a bit, and Clowes meticulously endeavors to make every event consequential to the overall plot.  Everything plays a role in this story—every action has a reaction.  That result may not be immediate, but it invariably happens.  I love the commitment to tight storytelling, I love the attention Clowes pays to time travel’s ramifications, and I love that, in the end, his unlikable characters grow into people for whom I deeply care.  Clowes also forced me to realize that they were actually the same all along—I am alone at fault for misjudging them.

On that note, the art, which I deplored at first, ultimately won me over.  Clowes lines are simple, but his anatomy and perspective are always perfect.  His panels are very straightforward, yet if you look hard enough, you find incredible detail in the little things such as books on the shelves or several doorways within the background of an apartment’s interior.  His colors are very bright in this book, as you can tell by the cover, but those bright colors work to contradict the dark tale unfolding. Perhaps those colors are simply his style, or perhaps those colors are meant to signify an eternal optimism even amidst the savagery surrounding Patience and Jack.  … I could be overthinking that one.

Be aware if you buy this book, there are brief, rather tame, moments of nudity, so you may not want to leave it sitting out for a youngster to grab hold of in the hopes of seeing Batman.  There is also a lot of profanity.

Patience surprised me.  I’ve never read anything quite like it, and it certainly struck me as completely original especially in regards to its medium.  It delivers a love story, a science fiction story, a philosophical take on time and space, a mystery, and a good old tale of revenge.  It studies a man who would do anything to save his soul mate and unborn child, a man who believes in the greater good even as he dives into the muck.  It also comments on how the past can shape the future, for better and for worse, and how sometimes we need to judge the present less harshly because of that fact.  Patience reminds us that we are all a product of what has previously transpired.

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Superman: Son Of Superman by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason – A Book Review

Oh, boy.  To understand Superman’s first volume under the Rebirth movement, you need to understand that the Superman in this book is the Superman we knew in the 80s, 90s, and early-2000s.  This is the Superman who married Lois Lane, the Superman who fought against Doomsday and died, the Superman who returned from the dead.

Why is this confusing, you ask?  Well, this Superman is now living in an alternate reality, one that arrived around 2010.  DC calls it The New 52 universe.  In this softly rebooted universe, everything and everyone got a facelift, modernized, updated.  The Superman in this new universe wore a suit more like armor than tights, had a romance with Wonder Woman, and wasn’t much of a talker.  He died in battle, though, and so the pre-New 52 Superman, who had been hiding out on this alternate Earth with his wife Lois and their son Jon, decides to don the red and blue again because, yeah, Earth needs a Superman.

Batman and Wonder Woman don’t know this new Superman.  No one does.  They don’t know if they can trust him.  They honestly don’t know what to think of him.  This is a really interesting dynamic because this classic version of Superman was the beacon of hope in his old universe—he was the gold standard.  To suddenly be an alien twice over adds an interesting dimension to the character, one that the creators were sure to touch upon.  I can only hope they continue to use it to drive stories.

But the real heart and soul of this book is the arrival of Superman as a family man.  Let’s face it—our classic Superman has always been a dad.  He may not previously have actually had a child, but he basically epitomized the traits we hope for in every great father—brave, selfless, compassionate, assertive, reliable, strong, and even a little boring.

Now Superman acts like a dad for good reason—he is one!  Their son, Jon, is just beginning to develop powers, and watching Superman guide his son through these changes is charming in and of itself.

Jon, who I believe is around ten or so, is an incredibly likable character.  He’s not too naïve, not too sassy, not too polished, but not too rough, either.  They’ve hit a nice tone with him, one that I hope they can continue.

I do believe Lois is getting a bit lost in the mix in this first volume, though.  In my opinion, her inclusion in the action feels a bit forced, and, honestly, there’s a moment at the end of this book where I really questioned Superman’s judgment in allowing a very human Lois to be anywhere near the cataclysmic battle taking place.

As much as the creators have hit the right note with Jon, they are missing the mark just a bit with Lois.  They’ve all been hiding out on this new Earth in order to protect Jon, and so Lois must be content as an anonymous novelist, doing house chores, and sort of playing the role of house wife.  It never felt quite true to the character, but neither did the big action scene in which she participates.  Granted, like Superman himself, getting Lois just right can be tricky.  I trust Tomasi and Gleason will eventually find the right chord for her.

So, yes, much of Son of Superman worked very well.  Seeing Superman as a father is something I very much enjoy, especially because I am a father myself.  It’s fun to be able to relate to him even now as a forty year old man.  Seeing Superman through Jon’s eyes breathes fresh life into the hero, and watching Jon struggle to become a hero in his own right is going to prove fertile ground for future stories.

But speaking of story, Son of Superman faltered with its main conflict.  The Eradicator is back, but I think this is the New 52 version of the character—I was never clear on that, to be honest.  Anyway, as an ancient piece of Kryptonian technology, he’s taken it upon himself to destroy Jonathan Kent, whom he views to be an impure blight against Kryptonian genes due to his human heritage.  Plus, as it happens, he’s got a bunch of Kryptonian souls living inside of him.

Frankly, I found the whole Eradicator plot a bit of a stretch, even by comic book standards.  There are dozens of directions they could have taken in this first volume, why they chose yet another character with an “S” on his chest and very convoluted motive is something of a mystery.  And the dozens of Kryptonian souls trapped inside of the Eradicator really took me out of the story.  It seemed like such a significant event just to kind of throw in there as an aside … it felt forced and unnatural to the general cadence of the book.  In fact, everything with the Eradicator felt a little clunky to me.

Furthermore, along those same lines, the art in Son of Superman is flat-out superb.  Patrick Gleason draws a heroic Superman, a charismatic Jonathan, and a self-reliant Lois.  But his style tends to be a little cartoony—a bit exaggerated.  There are a few installments in the book, however, where both Jorge Jimenez and Dough Mahnke fill in on the pencils.  Both are superb—I’ve been a Mahnke fan for a long while now.  But, their style tends to be a little darker, a little more realistic, a little more chiseled.  Like the storyline itself, the shift in art could be abrupt and jarring.  All of the art is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but the flow is disruptive from installment to installment due to contrasting styles.

Son of Superman is not perfect, but it’s a bold, uplifting direction for Superman and I commend the creators for embarking upon such risk.  Taking one of your flagship characters and making him both a husband and a dad is unconventional to be sure, but I have no doubt this creative team in particular will provide captivating stories to come.  I think we’re all ready for Superman Dad … I know I am.

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Han Solo by Majorie Liu and Mark Brooks – A Book Review

As you know, Disney bought Marvel some time ago, and then Disney bought the Star Wars franchise as well, so it only makes sense that Marvel would return to publishing Star Wars comics.  I have to be honest, I’ve been pleased with virtually every title Marvel has released belonging to the Star Wars universe, and Han Solo is no exception.

This limited series takes place soon after the first destruction of the Death Star.  The premise is rather simple – Han takes on a mission given to him by Leia, whom he seemingly can’t refuse.  He is to rescue some embedded Rebel spies posing as Imperial loyalists.  A famous space race is due to occur near the very planets he is to rescue Leia’s agents, and so Han will use the race as a cover for his real mission.  There’s only one problem – one of those supposed Alliance members is actually a traitor, but they don’t know which one!

Han Solo offers no backstory concerning the icon.  It does not touch upon the origin of his friendship with Chewbacca.  In other words, it steers very clear of any meaty topics the impending movie will likely address.

However, that’s not to say the book is a failure or boring.  Quite the opposite!  In fact, I think this book does a wonderful job establishing an important shift in Han.

I just watched Episodes IV, V, and VI with my young daughters, and I noticed that Han went from being a snarky, selfish pirate to a loyal, selfless hero rather quickly.  Of course, those are movies and have to operate by a different standard of pacing, but when watched in succession it’s a bit jolting.

This series showcases the struggle taking place within Han Solo.  He grapples throughout the book not only with doing the right thing, but also with introspection concerning why he’s doing the right thing at all.  Best of all?  Like Huck Finn, Han has a habit of acting heroically when he doesn’t have time to think.  There is a heart of gold under all that scruffiness, and this book makes a point to shine a spotlight upon it.

Furthermore, we hear a lot in the movies about what a great pilot Han is.  This book takes that to heart while illustrating Han’s skill on multiple occasions.  The race, called the Dragon Void, is designed to disable, even injure, the participants, and so Han must outrace, out think, and outmaneuver his opponents, all while dealing with the Empire as well as a potential traitor on his own ship.

But he does this with his usual swagger, charm, and aloofness.  Han Solo will never stand up front and center and declare himself a hero; he will typically do the right thing while self-deprecating and playing up an aspect of reluctance.  Because of this, the book helps bridge the gap between Han Solo of Star Wars and Han Solo of The Empire Strikes Back.  It hints at the good man into which Han will evolve.

It also works to establish a bit more of Han and Leia’s relationship.  Neither of these two individuals are likely to throw themselves at someone, yet, honestly, the movies progress their relationship along at a pretty fast pace.  The book does an excellent job of inching their romance along, slowly, awkwardly, even confrontationally.  But, by story’s end, there is a spark, an acknowledgement that an epic love story is about to begin.

The art, by the way, is very good.  Mark Brooks has truly captured the characters’ likenesses from film without making them appear too rigid.  His spacecraft are fun while appearing consistent with established mythology and his aliens are varied and interesting.  Best of all, he conveys motion well, especially in regards to the race.  It’s very important that comic book artists are able to literally move a story along from panel to panel, and Brooks manages to service Liu’s pacing well.

If you’re a Star Wars or Han Solo fan, this book will not disappoint.  I know on the surface it seems a little superficial with the clichéd race plot, but Liu offers some deeply interesting characterization and motivation for Han Solo that only enriches the character and grounds his actions in the films.

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Moonglow by Michael Chabon – A Book Review

While I admit that Michael Chabon is my favorite author and that I’ll read anything he publishes, I won’t go so far as to say that I love every single thing he releases.  Gentlemen 0f the Road missed the mark for me, and Telegraph Avenue simply did not connect to my soul like I thought it would.

On the other hand, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is the book I name when someone asks for my ultimate favorite.  Nearly all of Chabon’s books are the perfect blend of writing prowess and narrative charisma.  He not only writes engaging, relatable stories, but he writes them better from a technical aspect than nearly anyone other contemporary author out there.

So, with all that being said, Moonglow is my second favorite book by Michael Chabon.

Let me tell you a little bit about the plot without spoiling too much.  Essentially, in 1989, Chabon visited his dying grandfather.  Terminal, Chabon’s mother transported the grandfather from his home in Florida to her home in Oakland.  There, while the grandfather fought against death and the painkillers flooding his system, the grandfather did something which had before proven a rare occurrence – he spoke … at great length.

Chabon learned more about his grandfather in that last week of his life than all the years previous.  He learned of his grandfather’s misspent youth, his grandfather’s time in the war, his grandfather’s prison stay, his grandfather’s kinship with the stars, his grandfather’s struggles with fatherhood, his grandfather’s last months in Florida, his grandfather’s obsession with rockets, as well as his grandfather’s passionate love story regarding his grandmother.

Make no mistake, however, this story is not just about the grandfather.  The grandmother quickly becomes a star in this book as well.  Mysterious, emotional, brave, witty, beautiful, and ultimately unbalanced, Chabon’s grandmother is not what she seems – not to Chabon’s grandfather, his mother, or even to the grandmother herself.  In fact, in the end, Chabon is the only one who seems to know the truth about his grandmother.  I won’t tell you why or how.

I love this book because his grandfather is the coolest man to have ever lived.  You can’t help but think of the best aspects of your own father or grandfather as you read this story, and, believe me, he will remind you in some facet of your own paternal role model.  Chabon’s grandfather isn’t perfect, not by any means, but that’s also what makes him so loveable.  Plus, as you well know, much like ourselves, our own fathers and grandfathers are not perfect, either.

Chabon also plays with the narrative style quite a bit in this novel.  In terms of time, it is not linear.  Nothing happens in order, and it’s up to the reader to piece it all together.  But Chabon makes it a fairly seamless task for the reader, and in using such a structure, he ultimately builds mystery, suspense, and provides great emotional payoff.  Chabon’s choices are right on target; his pacing is a joy to experience; his tone, while at times very somber, is also light and warm in a manner that will draw you in and make you happy.  There’s even a great joke about Chabon’s style, delivered from the dying grandfather himself.  Be on the lookout for it.

Furthermore, Chabon makes a point to let you know that while this story actually happened, his novel is fiction.  He’s the first one to admit that he has taken great liberties without too much care or concern.  Some of it is probably word for word truth, and some of it is probably completely fabricated, and the beauty of it is that we, the readers, have no idea how to distinguish one from the other.  And to that I say, “Who cares?”  In my mind, reality is always a matter of perception.  When I read a book, I perceive, interpret, and process the story within my mind, which thus makes the book a part of my own personal reality.  As a result, “fiction” and “nonfiction” become a bit of a moot point when it comes to things like this.

I’d also like to say that this is perhaps the most straight-forward of any Chabon novel I’ve ever read.  Is it well-executed?  Magnificently so!  I laugh with my friends that I don’t believe Chabon used the same sentence structure more than once in the entire thing.  That’s an exaggeration, of course, but he’s that much of a master at writing.  And yet, this novel is easy to digest.  It’s easy to follow.  It’s not rife with metaphor.  It’s got great humor, great sadness, great love, and great action.  Oh, what action!  The World War II parts of this book set my imagination on fire.  In fact, because the grandfather is such an unusual everyman, and because the WWII scenes are so vibrant, I actually gave a copy of this book to my own father for Christmas.  I’m not sure when he read a book last, but he made a point today to tell me how much he’s loving Moonglow.

As we live our lives, they, for the most part, probably don’t seem that varied or interesting.  Yet, by our life’s ending, I’ll warrant most of our stories could fill a book, and I imagine that most of our children or grandchildren would love to read that story and experience who we were at 15, 35, 55, and even 75.  Chabon tapped into something wonderful by utilizing such a concept, and he’s got the talent to make it work.  Moonglow has shot to the top of my list of gifts to give friends, family, and coworkers.  I truly believe it’s a guaranteed good read for any reader.

How good is this book?  The minute I finished it, I turned back to page one and started reading it again.  Even better the second time.

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Wonder Woman: The True Amazon by Jill Thompson – A Book Review

I have to be honest, I’m a huge fan of Wonder Woman, but my interest in her derives from two very distinct sources.

Firstly, I have two young daughters, and as a lifelong comic book lover, I very much want them to have a super hero for whom they can both admire and aspire.  With her rich history, roots in Greek mythology, and general decency, Wonder Woman fits the bill.  Best of all?  She is not derivative of a male counterpart.  My girls love Batgirl and Supergirl as well, but I don’t want them subconsciously believing they have to copy a boy to be cool.  Wonder Woman shows them they can walk their own path and achieve heroism just fine.

Secondly, Brian Azzarello rocketed Wonder Woman up the ranks to become one of my favorite characters, and this happened well within the last six years with the advent of The New 52.  By reinventing the Greek Gods and plopping them right down into the world of both man and Wonder Woman, Azzarello brought a complexity to Wonder Woman that, for me, didn’t exist in any other title.  He somehow merged the world of super heroes, ancient Greek mythology, and modern day concerns into a monthly title that never failed to captivate my imagination.  As you can probably guess, I was disappointed when he moved on.

Grant Morrison recently released his version of Wonder Woman’s origin set within the Earth One imprint.  I’ve reviewed that title already, but in a nutshell, it seemed to rehash events and themes already well covered within the character’s multigenerational existence, albeit with wonderful Morrison flair.

When I discovered Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, I felt both intrigued and fatigued.  On the one hand, Jill Thompson is an amazing talent and the fact that she both wrote and illustrated this book makes it a must-buy.  On the other hand, I’ve experienced quite a bit of Wonder Woman’s origin within the last few years, so much so that I really didn’t want to go down that road yet again.

In the end, I’m glad I made the trip down said road, but I’d be lying if I said a few bumps did not jostle me from time to time.

Let’s first discuss the art.  I could pretty much summarize it with one word and be done: magnificent.  However, I’m not a one word kind of guy, so allow me to offer a bit more.

Thompson’s drawings and colors have an ethereal picture book quality, which is meant as a compliment.  As I read this book, I felt as though I’d entered a fairy tale, not in content, but rather in terms of atmosphere.  The material is fairly serious, as I’ll discuss later, and there are some imposing monsters and gruesome circumstances, yet Thompson manages to maintain an almost otherworldly quality that struck me as … well … magical.

Her Amazons are also incredibly interesting.  Thompson depicts them as strong, sometimes brutal women, but they never appear brutish or even physically menacing.  Their strength resonates though a certain grace Thompson bestows upon them.  They are athletic, but not hulking.  They are beautiful, but not sexualized.  They are lithe and light except when weighed down by armor.  Thompson conveys a race capable of winning wars but very much more interested in art and culture.

As for the story, I congratulate Thompson on taking a different approach, but I wish she had avoided the “origin” element of the tale.  In this version, Princess Diana is a gift to Hippolyta from the Gods, and the Amazons treat her as such.  As a result, Diana is spoiled, humored, and given chance after chance even when behaving badly.  That’s not to say she does not have the heart of Wonder Woman within.  She is still capable of great feats, and is, for the most part, a decent woman, and the book takes care to remind the reader as such, but the book also spends a lot of time displaying Diana’s flaws.

By this point, Thompson had me hooked.  I liked this new approach in that Wonder Woman did not always have a heart of gold.  Though born physically perfect, the Amazons’ influence ironically tainted her persona.  She exercised selfishness, lied, took advantage, and even treated others poorly.  Again, though, Thompson made a point to showcase her heroic tendencies as well.

I won’t spoil the ending of the book, but Wonder Woman’s impetus for travelling to the world of Man is given a major overhaul.  She now has an express reason for wearing her armor, bracelets, lasso, and golden girdle.  I especially love the tiara’s new concept and its implications upon her character.

Part of me, though, and again, I’ll try not to spoil too much, did not enjoy the significant change in motivation behind Wonder Woman’s mission to Man.  Thompson executed it well, but it does bring a certain level of darkness to the character that I’m not sure I wanted.  Does it make more sense than her original origin?  Yes, absolutely.  But, at the same time, we’ve seen this story unfold hundreds of times before with other characters, especially those within the comic book medium.  In a way, it lessens Wonder Woman’s originality even as the event itself is unique and new to the character.  I’m honestly conflicted about the issue.  Perhaps this is a good sign, though.  Thompson evoked a lot of thought from me concerning her iteration, which means that I didn’t close the book, set it aside, and move on.  It’s been days since I finished it, in fact, and yet here I am, still thinking about it and trying to revolve my feelings regarding it.

Speaking of lingering issues, Grant Morrison made his Amazons overtly homosexual in Earth One.  It makes perfect sense when you really think about it – an island paradise solely comprised of eternal women.  Thompson handles the matter far more deftly, with a far lighter touch, but proves even more provocative in doing so.  She hints at much, reveals nothing, and accomplishes the perfect tone as a result.  My pre-teen daughter could read this book and think nothing of Wonder Woman’s sexuality, whereas, as an adult, a few scenes led me to certain conclusions.

Ultimately, Wonder Woman fans need to read this book.  It is beautiful to behold and delivers a distinctive exploration of the character’s incentives.  Thompson takes a super hero trope and manages to make it feel fresh, especially in regards to Wonder Woman’s garb and tools.  I like that Thompson scuffed Wonder Woman’s personality up a little, making her not quite so pure hearted and good intentioned, but I’m not convinced of its necessity.  The True Amazon will leave you with much to think about, and that’s ultimately the sign of a successful work.

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Mooncop by Tom Gauld – A Book Review

I discovered Mooncop, published by Drawn & Quarterly, from NPR Book Concierge’s guide to great 2016 reads.  Luckily enough, my local library had a copy available.

Mooncop is a brief read, one that you could probably wrap up in a single sitting.  The concept is that a single moon cop patrols a lone colony on the moon.  This colony is sparsely populated, and the moon cop has virtually nothing to do.  The few citizens left in the colony seem to be leaving due to reassignment or simply yearning greener pastures.  It is a broken-down place, not at all the sort of wondrous settlement we imagine when thinking about the future.

We meet the moon cop well into his career.  He seems to be a staple of the community and well known amongst his fellow colonists.  However, the moon cop can’t help but notice that things are quite as boisterous as in the past, nor are things working quite as well.  In fact, the moon cop soon realizes that the colony’s decrepit machinery is being redistributed or else altogether discontinued.  Not long after that, he finds that more and more people are leaving, and the moon cop quickly suspects that he may very well be the last person on the satellite.

It’s possible to take Mooncop completely at face value.  There’s nothing wrong with doing so, but that may be a disservice and will certainly prove dissatisfying.  Taken literally, the humor within the book may garner a grin or a chuckle.  When read ironically, though, I think it achieves a more fulfilling sort of comedy.  It certainly seems as though Tom Gauld is making fun of ridiculous trends in technology – trends that offer no more than mere amusement that will surely wear off as time passes.  After all, a lunar colony has been settled on the moon, yet it seems to be doing nothing particularly relevant or meaningful and so, as a result, people leave.  The colony lacks purpose, direction, or benefit to its citizens.  Consequently, the inhabitants soon lose their sense of purpose, direction, and any feeling of achievement.  Like so many cases in the past, it aroused great interest only to eventually prove itself nothing more than a novelty.

The great irony is that by having nothing to do and by doing nothing, the moon cop reaches incredibly significant solution rates.  He is, statistically, perhaps the greatest police officer in the history of mankind.  Once again, I think maybe Gauld is commenting on the easy routine many of us fall into in regards to our career.  Instead of searching for new challenges and seeking out interesting, dynamic opportunities, we stick with what we know, we keep doing what we do well, even if that isn’t really doing very much at all.

Ironic humor also derives from the few people on the moon being replaced by machines.  Even a lunar colony suffers from the same fate as America small towns, and, like these small towns, the lunar colony eventually dries up.  The driving force of any colony should be to make sure its population thrives, especially one where no human has ever previously survived.  But, the lunar colony is no exception to commerce, and so thus people are replaced when it’s more economically advantageous.

It’s not all dry, ironic humor, though.  The book, to me, ends on a rather positive note.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it eventually seems to be stating that sometimes happiness can come from an unexpected place even while enduring a hopeless environment.  Sometimes people gain contentment by simply accepting their situation and the people around them and celebrating the positives that exist, no matter how meager.

If Gauld ever reads this, I hope I’m not reaching too far.  English majors, am I right?

There are no other credits given in this book beyond Tom Gauld, so I’m assuming he wrote, drew, inked, and colored this graphic novel.  The art is surprisingly simple.  The people are not much more than stick figures.  Each panel is essentially a horizontal view, much like what you would experience with a basic newspaper comic strip.  The colors throughout are grey, white, and blue, which actually makes for an interesting visual.  What I particularly enjoyed most about Gauld’s art is the line work and crosshatching he utilized to achieve depth.  He must be an incredibly patient man to devote so much time and effort to each panel’s depth, but it really sets the book apart.  Just take a look at the cover and you’ll see it.

I recommend Mooncop to those interested in the medium.  It’s an unusual work worthy of study.  The art, the humor, the social commentary, the overall brevity – they are all unique, especially when compared to what else is being published in the industry.  I’m not sure how much Mooncop would appeal to a casual reader, however.  If read without contemplation, it would probably strike the reader as rather simplistic and unfulfilling.

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Why the Amazon Show Fleabag Deserves Your Attention   

I first heard about the Amazon comedy Fleabag from Glen Weldon during NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour.  Weldon made a point to let the listening audience know that Fleabag is so much more than it seems.  He referenced in particular the final episode, which, according to Weldon, proved especially poignant.

What can I say?  Weldon’s praise captured my interest.  Best of all, the first season is only six episodes long, with each episode averaging not quite half an hour.  That’s the sort of fleeting commitment I adore in a show.

I introduced the possibility to my wife.  I sold it to her much the same as Weldon sold it to me, and she also seemed interested in the concept of the show.  Plus, we agreed that if either of us didn’t care for the first episode, we would jettison it from our lives and move on.

We obviously both liked it or I wouldn’t be writing about it so exhaustively and, perhaps by the time you’re done reading, exhaustingly …

The show features a British woman in her early thirties in England.  She is never mentioned by name, but the summary of each show refers to her as “Fleabag.”  Yes, “Fleabag.”  Only as “Fleabag.”  She has a habit of speaking to the camera with brief asides and explanations, letting us in on a particular joke or an integral piece of information.  When we first meet her, she is having sex with a man while offering us a play by play of the activity and even adding in a few predictions of what’s to come.  When the man rolls her over in order to use a different <ahem!> … orifice, “Fleabag” reacts unexpectedly, hilariously, and in such a way that we learn everything we need to know about her.

Or so we think.

The actress playing “Fleabag” is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and she is absolutely charming, which is astounding because she’s playing a character that should be utterly unlikable.  Her little quips to the camera are typically biting, but it’s her facial expressions that won my wife and me over.  She will deliver the most amazing joke with nothing more than a lift of her eyebrow.  She will let you know exactly what she’s thinking with a quick glare.  Honestly, Waller-Bridge entertained to no end and enriched a character that really wouldn’t work if played by someone else.

Be warned, though, this is a raunchy show.  There are many sexual situations, loads of suggestive dialogue, and ample visits by sex toys.  The language is rough, very rough, with “f-bombs” galore.  However, I wouldn’t describe it as a “dirty” show.  There is virtually no nudity by actual human beings.  If I remember, there was an errant breast coming out of a shirt and a few shots of men’s rear ends.  The most explicit things on camera were often, again, the sex toys (which were not actually in use).

So while this is a comedy, it slowly revealed itself to be something far more, just as Glen Weldon said.  I want to offer caution here, because while I will not explicitly spoil anything past the second episode, you will more than likely be able to connect a few dots.  It’s just that I can’t really address what moved me the most about this show without getting into a few specific details …

You learn early on that Fleabag (I’m dropping the quotes from here on out) is fairly amoral.  She’s not necessarily out to purposefully hurt anyone, but her impulsivity and lack of forethought to both word and deed often upsets someone in her immediate vicinity, whether strangers, friends, or family.  Actually, she doesn’t have any friends.  More on that later …

She has no qualms in taking advantage of someone to meet her own agenda, nor does she mind being taken advantage of so long as that also ultimately suits her base desires.  I wouldn’t call her a master manipulator, but she is a manipulator, to be sure.

Fleabag sleeps around, steals, drinks too much, curses, degrades people, and cuts corners whenever possible.  It’s no wonder she’s friendless.

But she hasn’t always been.

In fact, we learn through flashbacks that Fleabag had a wonderful friend, one whom she loved dearly.  They opened a café together.  Sadly, though, her friend died, leaving Fleabag with the failing café, no other real friends, and a spiraling case of depression that becomes more and more obvious as the series progresses.

Her sister, Claire, humors Fleabag as best she can.  Claire is also a complicated person, though, with issues of her own.  Though very successful, Claire cannot seem to relent control to anyone, cannot navigate a dubious marriage, and cannot achieve enough introspection to glean what she really wants from life.  She has much in common with Fleabag, but she manages normalcy in the outside world far more productively.

Her father has remarried after the death of Fleabag’s mother due to breast cancer.  His new wife is actually the sisters’ godmother, a family friend since their childhood.  The stepmother is the portrait of passive aggressiveness as she makes the sisters feel unwelcome all the while with a smile plastered across her face.  The sisters hate her, she hates them, and the father seems too meek to confront either situation.  In the process, Fleabag appears, though she never gives voice to it, to feel as though she’s lost her father as well as her mother.

The show achieves originality when you slowly begin to realize that Fleabag’s abysmal behavior is absolutely the byproduct of guilt, anger, depression and low self-esteem.  It never crosses over into cliché, it never dives into pop psychology, but it does become very apparent that she only feels of value when someone sexually craves her.  She uses sex as therapy for all of her issues, but never realizes the promiscuous sex is only compounding her problems.

Yeah, pretty deep territory for a comedy.

Furthermore, we can relate to her.  I think we’ve all done something we wish we hadn’t in the hopes of acquiring someone’s approval or favor.  She’s a likable person doing very unlikable things, and I know I personally can say I’ve been there as well.  Haven’t we all in some facet or another?

This character has lost her best friend.  Her sister doesn’t trust her.  Her father will not stand up for her.  Her stepmother detests her.  She’s losing her business.  She can’t pay her bills.  She has every reason in the world not to give a shit about anything.

Which she doesn’t.

Until … she does.

The beauty of that sixth episode is what happens when she does finally care.  How will her family react when she actually tries to engage them meaningfully?  How will she respond when she finally faces the truth of her friend’s death?  What happens when she gazes within and attains a manner of self-realization?

Comedy!

Honestly, Fleabag is hilarious, but it doesn’t shy away from these profoundly important moments.  It never feels heavy even as it’s dealing with incredibly troubling material, and it always prompts an uncomfortable chuckle, an awkward giggle, and an inappropriate laugh at just the wrong time.  It is a serious show wrapped so deeply within a comedy that it’s not until you think about each episode afterwards that you realize its gravitas.

Glen Weldon, you were right.  Fleabag is definitely worth a watch.

P.S.  I know I didn’t discuss her timid boyfriend, whom she pushes away at every opportunity.  I’ve written over a 1,000 words at this point, and frankly, he would require another 1,000, and I won’t be presumptuous enough to believe I deserve that much of your attention.  Plus, it’s late.  And, I’m tired.  Good night.