Wednesday, March 21, 2007

assorted capsule reviews

So here's the last bunch of book reviews I wrote.

Batman: Year 100 by Paul Pope
Paul Pope is one of the best comics creators at the moment, not only because he's a great visual artist and a sharp writer but also because he has a wild, unsummarizable theory about the way that comics work as an iconic language. His theory, wild though it may be, intersects nicely with the way that superheroes are currently being treated in our culture: less as characters (who would need to grow and change as their narrative unfolded) and more as unchanging archetypes, collections of iconified traits. Once a set of traits is indestructibly established (as with Batman) you can improvise off of it pretty freely, just like you'd do with a jazz standard. Pope understands all of this, and it's part of what makes his superhero riffs so great.

In this book, Pope plants Batman in the 2030s, which permits him to riff mightily, telling his tale with verve and style, but ultimately the stock elements of the State-controlled dystopian setting erode some of the freshness on display. It's still a blast to read, but ultimately it doesn't hit as hard as the best Batman stories out there, or as Pope's own unfinished masterpiece, THB.

Godland Volume 1: Hello, Cosmic! by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli
In this graphic novel, Casey and Scioli blow the dust off the vast cosmic machinery of 1960's-era Kirby-Lee collaborations, and reboot it for the contemporary present (by deploying it in a world that contains junkies, S/M, punk rock girls, and irony). It makes an ambitious attempt to be both parody and homage and a satisfying SF/adventure story in its own right—and if it occasionally falls short of getting this balance exactly right, it at least gets points for trying. Fun.

Groundhog Day, by Ryan Gilbey
Part of the BFI Modern Classics series, slim critical volumes, each on a single film. The critical elements in this one are dialed back a bit—it's more of a summary-plus-appreciation. A quick read, likeable, on an enjoyable film.

Deer Head Nation, by K. Silem Mohammad
A paranoid mind, restless in its search for pattern, can take just about anything that can be named with a noun and make an organzing narrative out of it. In this book of poems (which utterly transcends the "novelty" origins of the "flarf" genre), K. Silem Mohammad chooses deer as the thread that joins up the rest: at the beginning of the book, a deer head is merely "spooky," but by the end of the book, after being presented with a "suite" in which dozens, possibly hundreds of disembodied Internet voices have made their ellipitical proclamations on the search term "deer," the animal and its oft-displayed head both seem deeply braided into the book's other concerns (war, terror, America, human abjection). Paranoid? Sure. But these are paranoid times. Highly recommended; one of the best new books of poetry to emerge in the last ten years.

Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers by Henry Jenkins
Odds-and-sods collection from Jenkins, reprinting a smattering of essays, interviews and Congressional testimony [!] from the last dozen years. The divide between the more rigorous critical writing, and the more generalist Technology Review pieces renders this collection slightly uneven, but Jenkins is one of the preeminent thinkers on fandom and participatory culture, so even at its most fluffy, this book is always an interesting read.

The Mother's Mouth, by Dash Shaw
I seem to remember reading an online profile (or something) where Dash Shaw described his work in indie comics as exploring the effects of "putting one thing next to another." I've been unable to relocate the exact quote, but The Mother's Mouth is testament to this as an aesthetic. At its most straightforward it tells the (fragmentary, partial) story of an emerging romance between Virginia (a sunken-eyed, heavy-set librarian) and Dick (a gaunt musician). But this story is intercut with other kinds of visual material--from cutaways of geological formations to dance instructions to the drawings of children in therapy --which expand the context and deepen the narrative in intriguing and evocative ways. Recommended.

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