Bug! The Adventures Of Forager – A (Comic) Book Review

This issue is so gloriously weird and so masterfully executed that you have to experience it.  It’s seriously a  must-read book for any comic lover out there.

As part of the Young Animal imprint (which is a division of DC Comics and, apparently, somehow connected to the mainstream content), Bug! The Adventures Of Forager utilizes several of Jack Kirby’s DC contributions, most notably Bug and Sandman.

Let that last sentence sink in a moment …

The first installment of this series is so strange. Bug wakes up after apparently breaking out of a cocoon.  He’s in a basement.  He’s flashing back to Cosmic Odyssey – you may need to “Google” that one.  A ghost girl appears along with a talking teddy bear.  This may be my favorite paragraph ever.

I won’t spoil it further, but if you loved Jack Kirby’s trippy Fourth World, this book is just as  nuts if not more so!  That’s not to say it isn’t well-constructed, though.  Lee and Michael Allred definitely seem to be headed somewhere.  There is a great deal of foreshadowing, and there are also several references to the past — we’re talking before Rebirth, before The New 52, even before Zero Hour — that raise very interesting questions not just about this title in particular but about the Young Animal imprint as a whole.

So along with a wild story and appearances by several revered Fourth World characters, you also have the most beautiful sequential art you will ever see.  Michael Allred is a very special talent.  Every single panel in this book is magnificent.  Not only is he a master of anatomy, but Allred is also able to do something many artists are not — he is able to convey body language and facial expressions that progress the story.  There are no superhero poses in this book.  His characters put actual weight on a single leg while standing, their fingers are never clenched into a superhero fist, and their faces convey actual emotion.  It is wonderful to behold.

Let’s not forget Laura Allred’s colors.  Michael Allred’s pencils and inks are gorgeous, but Laura’s colors amplify them exponentially.  It’s hard to pull of pink, red, and bright yellow in a single panel, but Laura does it and makes it all look perfectly complimentary.  Amazing.

Does this issue make any sense at all as a standalone?  Not really, no.  But, it absolutely lays solid groundwork for what seems to be a focused direction, and the wonderful art, Kirby character appearances, oddness, and general sense of fun make it a must-read issue.  Enjoy!

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Locke & Key: Small World by Hill and Rodriguez – A Book Review

Locke & Key proved itself a unique, must-read series years ago.  Written by Joe Hill and primarily drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez, the series had a very clear beginning, middle, and end.  It also concluded on a good note, which is not always an easy feat to accomplish.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, it follows the story of the Lockes, three siblings (high school aged and younger) and their mother. They move to the Locke family mansion after their father is murdered. This is the house their father grew up in, and it is full of mystery, horror, and paranormal keys that impart special abilities, as they soon discover.

Small World takes place long before the regular series.  It features an earlier Locke family with what they call the Small World Key.  It can put you into a doll house, take you out of a doll house, or any combination thereof.  This story features a spider that accidentally gets enlarged and set loose upon the family in their mansion.

The art is exquisite, as always, and the story is fine.  Unfortunately, this slim hardcover delivers an incredibly short tale.  The rest of the book is comprised of interviews, alternative covers, guest artists, notes, and the original script.

I won’t lie – considering that this book retails at $14.99, I felt very cheated.  I do admit that I bought it without researching the page length, which happens to be 24.  I did not even think about what the “Deluxe Edition” may mean.  Truthfully, I was unaware a single issue format had previously been released.  But, given the price and the fact that it’s a hardcover, I expected a book more consistent with those qualities.  I saw a new Locke & Key book and I bought it out of sheer loyalty.

The brief story shocked me in relation to its high price, and this ultimately soured me on the book.  As a result, I cannot recommend purchasing Locke & Key: Small World.  I’d pick it up at your local library instead.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Arrival – A Movie Review

I could keep this review pretty simple by saying this is one of the best movies I’ve seen in quite some time and it also brought me to tears.

Not enough for you?  Okay, I’ll keep going.

The premise of Arrival is that twelve alien ships have arrived across the planet’s surface.  The ships are monolithic.  They look like giant rocks.  They defy every preconceived notion of “space ship” that we have previously employed.  Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguistics and written communication expert.  She is recruited by the military to take point on trying to talk with the aliens.  Jeremy Renner is Ian Donnelly, and he’s a mathematician partnered up with Banks to try to make sense of what the visitors want from humanity.

This is a quiet, understated film with almost quaint special effects when compared to all the star wars and super heroics we’ve witnessed.  Though technically science fiction, the movie deeply explores the ideas of time and space, communication, the modes by which we communicate and how that influences communication in and of itself, and ultimately the human condition (hence, the crying).

I appreciate this movie because it introduced fresh takes on old ideas.  Yes, we’ve seen movies about aliens landing on our planet and humans trying to figure out what they want.  But I don’t know if we’ve ever seen a movie quite this personal.  I don’t know if we’ve ever seen a movie with a linguist actually explaining important ideas about oral and written communication.  At one point, Louise actually begins to diagram a sentence.  On screen.  For several minutes.

The film also defied expectations in regards to the aliens themselves.  It recognized that life forms existing outside of our planetary environment would likely look, act, and sound nothing like us.  To even assume an alien would have eyes, a nose, ears, or a mouth in the conventional sense is awfully presumptuous on our part.  To believe that aliens will speak the way we do and write the way we do is probably childish.

Nuanced, touching, smart, though-provoking, and beautifully executed, I could easily see Arrival earning a “Best Picture” win.  It’s that good, albeit unobtrusively so.  I absolutely recommend this movie to anyone who loves a good story.

At this point, I’m going to discuss some issues concerning the movie that will unquestionably ruin it for you if you haven’t yet seen it.  I implore you to watch it now and come back to finish this piece if so inclined.  Do not forge ahead without having seen the movie, though, I implore you.

Last warning.

Arrival delved into some very serious aspects of the human condition.  It demanded we investigate the philosophical aspects of love versus duty, happiness versus heartbreak, selfishness versus selflessness.  In the end, I drew the conclusion that there is no real distinction.  We endure all of those things all the time, just as the aliens existed perpetually at all times outside of our own space and time continuum.

The movie broke my heart in the beginning when it seemed that Louise previously lost her daughter to illness.  Juxtaposing the line “Come back to me” when the child is born and then when the child dies reduced me to tears.  But when we learn that Hannah is not of the past, but rather of the future, Louise’s plight becomes all the more heart-rending.

When Louise ultimately grasps the visitors’ language, she gains their ability to access consciousness throughout an entire existence.  This gift from the aliens allows Louise the knowledge necessary to help the world avoid catastrophe, but it also informs Louise as to her exact future, and that her future daughter will die an awful death.  She learns that Ian will be the father of that child, and that Hannah’s terminal illness will drive husband and wife apart.  Yet, she chooses to love.  She opts to hang on to the fleeting moments she knows she will have with both Ian and Hannah.  She decides the time she has with Hannah will be all the more precious with the awareness she’s been granted.

For her to take on that pain, to accept a child’s death, to willingly endure such calamity … it drove me to tears.  I can’t lie—I hid in the shower and wept like a baby.  I can’t imagine ever having to make such a decision … Yet, Louise chose love.

However, today, as I kept thinking about the movie, I grew angry at Louise.  There’s a moment in the film when Louise is explaining to Hannah why Ian is looking at his daughter differently (this is after they’ve separated).  Louise explains that Ian is angry because she made a decision without his involvement.  We’re to presume that when Louise accepted her future, when she reciprocated Ian’s love, she did not tell him that this would lead to a child that was destined to die far too young.  I think withholding that sort of information would detract any marriage.  So I became angry with Louise.  First and foremost, I disliked her for being so selfish—for choosing to enjoy the brief time she has with Hannah rather than to never experience Hannah at all.  Hannah never had a choice.  (Nor do any of our children.  They are all the victims and/or beneficiaries of circumstance.)  For her to put Hannah through such torment … to thrust her child into a broken home and a terminal illness … it made me furious.  Also, to make that choice on Ian’s behalf and to preclude him from having a voice in the matter … that upset me as well.

Can you tell I’m a father of two children whom I love more than anything in this world?

However, upon further reflection I realized Louise never had a choice at all.  I say this for two reasons.  The first reason is simpler than the second, and it is the fact that if she didn’t follow through with the prescribed future revealed to her then she would not have gained the knowledge that she used in the moment of the film’s story to circumvent disaster with the Chinese and the visitors.  Each moment of the future exposed to her must occur in order for the present to survive.  Without the present, there will be no future.  She never truly had a choice.  She chose her own suffering, Hannah’s suffering, and Ian’s suffering, rather than make the world suffer.

Yet, the second reason negates the first.  The visitors say they have a weapon for us, which they actually intend to mean “gift.”  They say they will give us this gift so that in 3,000 years we can help them in return.  For the aliens, our perception of linear time has no value.  They live outside the notion of our “beginning, middle, and end” time stream.  Like their language, everything is happening, has happened, and will happen at the exact same moment.  They see all, know all, and experience all in the same moment.  Keeping that in mind, once Louise attained their unrestricted sense of perception, she lost all power of choice.  Future Louise exists in tandem with present Louise, which makes the latter powerless to change the course of the former.  I suppose some would call it a sort of “predestination.”  When looked upon through that lens, I cannot be angry with Louise any more than I can be angry with my own future self.  My only advantage is that I have no idea what glory or tragedy awaits, whereas Louise knows exactly what’s in store for her.

It’s been awhile since a film moved me as much as Arrival.  I hope it means as much to you as well.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Caped Crusade by Glen Weldon – A Book Review

Though previously unfamiliar with Glen Weldon, a friend recognized my love of Batman and recommended I read this historical overview of the famed detective.

Of course, any item pertaining to Batman generally makes me happy, so I immediately checked The Caped Crusade out from my local library and set to work.

Weldon uses a highly entertaining writing style.  He is an articulate and expressive author with a fun, even humorous, voice.  While delving deep into the history of Batman beginning in 1939, he also offers analysis as to why the character survives – even thrives – year after year, decade after decade.  This blend of scholarly prose mixed with awfully funny asides makes for an engaging, informative, and amusing read.

Fans of all eras will devour this piece.  Of course, as it probably stands to reason, I became most interested once he hit the 1980s.  As a forty year old, it was thrilling to remember the comics I enjoyed as a child viewed through a historical prism.

Another aspect of the book riveted me.  The subtitle of The Caped Crusade is actually Batman and the Rise Of Nerd Culture.  Weldon correlates Batman with his most rabid fans from the early days all the way to present.  Of course, anyone with Internet access knows how ugly the comment sections and message boards can be, and Weldon offers insight into why and how “nerds” came to such a state.  Most interesting, though it’s easier than ever to spout off, “nerds” have been raving about The Dark Knight as far back as the 1950s, just through different means.

Weldon also embarks upon a fascinating angle dissecting those “nerds” who love to anonymously threaten others via the Web.  He only touches upon the topic, relatively speaking, but it’s clearly something we, as a society, need to reflect upon.  I think he would agree that this goes beyond just “nerds” venting in animosity.  Yes, there are those who take it way t0o far when they see a “Batman” they don’t like, but such vehemence is not contained to comic book characters alone.  Politics, sports, movies, celebrities … there is a culture taking these things far too seriously to the point of threatening bodily harm, even death, to those in disagreement.  I would love to see him devote an entire book to this culture in a broad sense and not regulate it only to the Batman “nerds” within the faction.

If you’re a Batman fan, I know you’ll enjoy this book. Much of it I knew already, but Weldon did introduce some new information I’d never before encountered.  And even though I already had most of the facts, the lens through which he delivered it made it all feel fresh, new, and, most importantly, fun.

Tell-All by Chuck Palahniuk – A Book Review

Tell-All is about a nearly forgotten Hollywood starlet, her personal assistant, and a younger man who seemingly pretends to love her in order to write a “tell-all” book about their relationship, right up until the moment he kills her.  It is a book that really evokes two strong reactions from me.

The first reaction is one of appreciation and commendation.  Tell-All is a radical departure from Palahniuk’s past work, and I appreciate authors who strive to do something different, especially when they’ve fostered a certain loyalty amongst a specific group of fans.  Furthermore, Tell-All, in the true spirit of its stars, name-drops like you wouldn’t believe.  The technical term for what Palahniuk does is called “allusions,” and he has at least five allusions on each page, in bold print, daring you to disregard them.  Admittedly, most of them I didn’t recognize as they were (apparently) the names of past, well-known actors and actresses.  I also want to mention that Tell-All is funny, but it’s the kind of funny that doesn’t seem funny at the moment.  After you’ve finished the book and gone about your business, it seeps into your mind, and then, as you’re doing something else, you realize just how funny a particular scene was.

Unfortunately, the other reaction is not as positive.  Tell-All is a simple plot, and it tends to get repetitive rather quickly.  And as much as I appreciated the sheer determination to include as many allusions as possible, they sadly became distracting pretty fast.  Tell-All was very slow to start, and there were several moments when I wanted to throw in the towel.  I really and truly didn’t care about any of the characters in this book.

All-in-all, Tell-All is not a particularly enjoyable work, but I do greatly admire Palahniuk for writing something unlike anything he’s ever done before, and I also respect the fact that he completely dedicated himself to the idea of including as many allusions as possible.  To depart from his normal offerings is to risk upsetting a committed, previously established fan-base, and I believe that is both brave and artistically honorable.

Iodine by Haven Kimmel – A Book Review

This book, appropriately enough, really has me split down the middle.

One hand, I hated it.  It encompassed all of the hipster “too-cool-for-everyone” characteristics in the protagonist, Trace, that drive me bonkers.  All those songs and musicians that everyone who “dares” to be different listens to?  Yep, there in here.  The “I so don’t care about style everyone wants to copy mine” wardrobe?  Yep, that’s here, too.  The “I’m smarter than everyone in the room” attitude?  Got it.  In that regard, Trace reminded me of several characters that literally made me want to bang my head against the wall. 

However, other aspects of the book legitimately won my adoration.  Heavily immersed in Greek mythology, literary criticism, as well as Freud and Jung’s dream analyses, Kimmel presented well-researched and implemented information that played a vital and enjoyable role in the story.  In fact, I so enjoyed her plot points concerning Jung and Freud, I checked out several of their books at my local library concerning dream analysis and archetypes. 

Furthermore, Kimmel really is a good writer.  Her characters are well rounded, she has a smooth writing style, and she’s quite adept with figurative language.  Seemingly pointless details later play significant aspects in the novel that point to Kimmel’s careful attention to detail and forethought.

I personally also enjoyed Iodine because it struck me as a thinking person’s novel.  Consequently, I’m not sure how much the casual reader would appreciate that.  Yes, at times it was a tad heavy-handed and haughty, but, as a one-time English major, I really dug all the allusions and unexpected twists.

In the end, Iodine has a little bit of bad and quite a bit of good, but, unless you get a kick out of looking up psychoanalytical terms and Greek mythological figures, this may not be the book for you.