Like you, I thought the movie trailer for Annihilation looked very cool, so I thought I’d check out the source material.
When the novel of the same name arrived at my local library, the volume’s slimness surprised me. At only 195 pages, I knew it would prove a quick read.
Of course, it may be helpful to know this is only the first of a three-book series. All three collected volumes are known as Southern Reach Trilogy. The three installments appear to have been published within months of one another, so that could explain the page count.
Whatever the case may be, I have to admit that Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer immediately felt like a bad fit for me. The prose in this book is … dense. It’s full of description largely pertaining to foliage and biology. Also, a first-person narrator delivers the story to us. I don’t know if it’s Vandermeer’s style or the style of his narrator, but I found the prose clunky and difficult to follow. To me, the sentences did not flow very smoothly which forced me to read and reread in a way that frustrated.
When Vandermeer’s characters spoke, this issue largely disappeared. The dialogue flowed freely and felt natural.
The plot itself interested me enough, but things moved rather slowly. In my opinion, there is no real “revelation” that makes the book a worthwhile, satisfying experience. Perhaps the other two books provide this experience. I’m not sure I’m inclined to read them, though.
The good news is that, as I said, this is a very slim book and so you can easily read it in a day or two and prove me wrong. I have been wrong about books before. I’ve even reread a few books to find that my opinion of them changed completely.
I still plan to see the movie, but, if I’m being honest, not much that I’ve seen in the trailers evokes much from what I read in the book.
(Did you enjoy this review? Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)
I want you to know that I did not publish this comic strip lightly. I’m actually a nervous wreck putting it out there. I know it’s disturbing, violent, and maybe even shocking. It’s meant to be.
Mr. F first came into my conscious about seventeen years ago — soon after I started teaching. Even though I only started (semi) regularly publishing him within the last few years, his supporting cast, his antics, and his future were always in my mind.
He had quite a bright future, too. I planned to eventually have him capture the heart of Miss Kris. After that, I would have them get married and start a family. Mr. F’s cast would grow to include their children. Mr. F would then be depicted not only as a teacher, but also as a boyfriend, a husband, and ultimately a father.
I’ve always intended the Mr. F comic to be fun-loving. I never wanted the strip to be too critical, too political, or too heavy. I wanted the jokes typically aimed at Mr. F himself, never too much at the students. I meant for the reader to read it, chuckle, and then move on.
I meant for this strip to last decades.
But I’m tired.
Not tired of the strip — I’m tired of our children being shot to death in schools. I’m tired of America throwing up its hands and saying, “Well, it is what it is.” I’m tired of thinking, “It could never happen at my school” — as though that’s some sort of justifiable rationalization.
I want all the murdered children to know I care. I want those children to know that my heart cries for them, that thinking about them keeps me up at night, and that I can’t any longer just hope their faces fade out of my memory.
My first step is to sacrifice something very important to me — Mr. F. He’s a poor substitute for an actual living child, obviously, but I want those who feel shocked by Mr. F’s senseless death to know that his demise is NOTHING compared to each and every one of the children we’ve allowed to be killed in what should be the safest spaces in our country. The future ripped away from him is fictional. The future those children will never get to experience is real. Too real.
Mr. F is clearly based on me. I’m a teacher. For many of you, when you look at him, you see me. When you look at the above picture, I want you to imagine that it is actually me. I want you to imagine that I’ve been killed by an assault weapon at my school. I want you to imagine your child, riddled with bullets, bleeding out on the floor, or your grandchild, or your nephew or niece. I want you to imagine that, and I want you to try to rationalize why you allowed it. It’s different when it’s other people’s kids … but it shouldn’t be.
To all the murdered children … I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. Starting with this strip, I won’t just offer my thoughts. It’s time to also offer action.
This is NOT just another Marvel movie.
Black Panther gamely partakes in the Marvel Universe while largely operating as a standalone action movie striving to deliver a societal message of great relevance.
Let’s start with what I determine to be the most important aspect of Black Panther. I am a forty-one year old white male. My whole life, I’ve enjoyed white superheroes depicted in comic books, cartoons, toys, and movies. Christopher Reeve, Michael Keaton, Toby Maguire, and Hugh Jackman are but a few. Let’s not forget to mention the action stars that peppered my youth such as Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Kurt Russle, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Tom Cruise–the list can go on an on. It wasn’t until my own daughters were born that I realized women and people of color weren’t given characters who reflected their identity–not in the way that I always enjoyed.
So Black Panther ISN’T just another movie.
For many, Black Panther represents a cultural shift. It signifies an important moment in our society, a moment that says those who were previously underrepresented will now be given time to shine. And guess what? Those who are typically underrepresented on film are letting the world know there exists an audience hungry for more. It’s no accident that Wonder Woman financially overachieved. It’s not happenstance that Black Panther DOUBLED the previous Thursday night ticket sales record for February. The numbers say it all.
I’d like to quickly mention another interesting detail. My friends and I regularly go to superhero movies on either its Thursday or Friday opening night. I write this on Saturday morning, February 17th. We attended the 9:00 p.m. Black Panther show on Friday night, February 16th. As soon as we entered the theater, it became obvious this superhero movie was different. There were more African American women, men, and children in the theater than I’ve ever seen before at a premier. I instantly felt in the minority and a little out of place. The irony was not lost on me, nor should it be lost on you.
Let’s talk about the actual movie.
First of all, they have created with Black Panther a world unto itself. Wakanda, the African nation in which Black Panther rules, felt solid, real, and established. This utopia drew me in completely. Its glorious technology felt tenable, as did its ancient rituals. The clothing, the environment, the language, the customs, the unique neighboring tribes–it all struck me as genuine. The filmmakers successfully created a world that I hope will live on in the Marvel movies for decades to come.
I also loved that they introduced an entirely new technology concept to the Marvel Universe. Yes, vibranium has been seen in Marvel movies before, but never to this extent. The full potential of the metal is explored in Black Panther, and I imagine Tony Stark is going to be very jealous. However, the filmmakers didn’t just use vibrainum as a means to an end. It wasn’t just the reason they had a Black Panther suit or weaponry or ships. It also served a cultural purpose to the Wakandan society. They made it clear that vibranium influences their way of life, and has for generations. This kind of storytelling and world building is greatly appreciated by those such as me.
The supporting cast in Black Panther also made the film radiant. His mother, his sister, his general, his friends, his challengers, his mentor–they all had distinct personalities and they all utilized a charisma specific to their character. No one wasted a moment on screen.
As for the story, I believe Black Panther broke new ground for Marvel movies. Marvel always does action, humor, and general story pretty well. They are very good at blending one movie into the next. No one is denying that. However, I don’t believe Marvel ever tried to say anything socially relevant … until now. Black Panther challenges itself not just to deliver an action-packed feast full of visual splendor. It also tries to say something–something specific not only to people of color, but to all races, all peoples, all creeds, all governments. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s definitely there. Do they hit you over the head with it a little too blatantly at times? Sure, but so did The Post, and it’s up for an Oscar.
When I saw the previews, I felt a little apprehensive about Michael B. Jordan’s villain–Killmonger. I didn’t like that he also wore a Black Panther suit in the previews. This is a tried and true mistake superhero movies make time and time again. Hulk fought a version of himself. Spider-Man has fought a version of himself. Superman has fought a version of himself. Iron Man has fought a version of himself. The Flash regularly fights versions of himself on his TV show. You get the idea. I’m glad that they found a sensible reason to have Killmonger in the Black Panther suit that organically served the story well. When you see the movie, it makes perfect sense.
Killmonger brings me to my only complaint about the film. It bothered me that the only black American male character in the entire movie was depicted as angry and out for revenge. I may be reading too much into it, but it seemed as though a subtext existed that black American males cannot save themselves–only outside benefactors such as Wakandans can come rescue them. We know this is not true, especially in the Marvel Universe. We’ve seen upright American men of color in the Marvel movie and TV universe before such as Luke Cage, Falcon, and War Machine. And I realize that it would have been awkward to sandwich those characters in only to serve as a parallel to Killmonger, but it still bothered me a bit, especially because I’m positive that this is, for many people, their first Marvel movie. They may not even know about those other African American characters. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the only other major American male in the movie was Everett K. Ross, a white intelligence officer who helps save the day. See what I’m saying? Am I way off on this one?
Speaking of subtext, I loved the fact that Wakanda absolutely relied on its women to thrive. From the military to the sciences, women were the driving force of order and progress in their society. Black Panther may have been king, but the women ruled in every other way.
I believe Black Panther succeeded on all levels. It kept the overarching Marvel story line moving forward while also delivering an epic standalone film that delivered relevant social commentary. Even if you’ve never seen a Marvel movie before, you can go into Black Panther and enjoy it as an entity unto itself. In fact, I encourage you to do so. Though plainly obvious by now, I highly recommend Black Panther.
(Did you enjoy this review? Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)
Joe Hill first won me over with his graphic novel series entitled Locke & Key. Since then, I’ve particularly enjoyed his books Horns and Heart-Shaped Box. Without a doubt, though, the short story collection called 20th Century Ghosts is my absolute favorite work by the author.
Because he does shorts so well, I knew I had to read Strange Weather. This book is a compilation of four brief novels–also called novellas.
I’ll briefly review each installment …
The first is titled Snapshot. It’s about a man using a Polaroid camera that essentially steals memories. The main character first encounters this man as a child, and he is horrified to learn the villain has been terrorizing his elderly neighbor. He is eventually forced to confront the evil stranger. This story is a simple yet brilliantly imaginative concept. It takes such a universal idea but makes it feel fresh, inventive, and unique. Hill provided very likable, identifiable characters in this tale, and he kept me turning the pages until the very end. My only complaint is the “epilogue” of sorts. I think Hill let this story linger a bit too long as he updated us on the main character’s adulthood and connected his experience as a child to modern day technology. This connected felt forced to me.
The second story is called Loaded. There’s nothing supernatural about this installment, and that makes it the most horrifying of all. It’s about our nation’s sick fetish with guns, and how lives are routinely ruined due to the rampant misuse of them. Loaded is consistently either discomforting or flat-out terrifying. Hill does not let up and go easy on the reader in this story. I think it’s perhaps his best work … ever.
Aloft is the next novella in this book. There have been a few moments in my life when I blatantly got jealous of an author because he or she came up with an idea that I wish could have been mine. I don’t want to give too much away with this one because it genuinely surprised me and I want you to have a similar experience. I’ll tell you this much–a skydiver lands on a UFO before opening his parachute. … I know! Great idea, right?
Hill finally delivers Rain as his last offering. A freak thunderstorm breaks out in Boulder, Colorado, but this is no ordinary rainstorm. This storm rains nails. Honeysuckle must watch her girlfriend die in a flurry of crystalline spikes during this storm, and she then takes it upon herself to walk to Denver in order to inform her girlfriend’s father. She encounters awful, post-apocalyptic scenes as a result, but also witnesses humanity’s will to continue. Honeysuckle is challenged by awful scenarios throughout the story, but nothing is more revolting than her own neighbors. Like Snapshot, I think Hill took this one just a bit too far. I feel he should have left a mystique regarding the spiked rainfall that eventually plagues the planet, but he instead reveals the cause. The perpetrator of the vile deed struck me as too contrived, too coincidental, and too, well, manufactured.
Overall, Strange Weather proved an incredibly enjoyable experience. Hill has a talent at creating imaginative plots and filling them with rounded, charismatic characters. If you’ve ever wanted to try Joe Hill, I believe this book encapsulates the best of what he has to offer.