Monthly ArchiveMarch 2010



Books & Comic books 30 Mar 2010 10:02 pm

A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge

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Josh Neufeld’s A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge tells of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction as experienced by six survivors. It is a novel in comic-book form, one of several that Ron Hill and I are using in our inaugural Graphic Novels class at Alliance High School this semester.

While Neufeld’s book is almost 200 pages long, it reads quickly; I blazed through it in about an hour. I will need to go back and study the work further, but it was hard to stop and do that because of the big, open panels and breakneck narrative pace. Neufeld takes six real people, lightly changes telling details to protect their privacy, and lets their stories before, during and after the deluge unfold.

I could most relate to Leo and Michelle. Leo is a comic-book collector who loses 15,000 titles when he abandons his apartment for safer ground. His response to a caller on a radio talk show puts the lie to many opinions about the intelligence of people who stayed in the storm’s path. As he notes, some people didn’t have the financial wherewithal to evacuate, living as they were week-to-week and check-to-check. “It’s pretty easy to forget what it’s like to be a have-not,” he notes.

I also enjoyed the experiences of Abbas and Darnell, two good old boys who ride out the storm in Abbas’s convenience store and quickly come to regret it. Or do they? After storm waters force them to the roof and eventually to accept an emergency evacuation, Abbas says, “I think I could’ve stayed longer. I kinda felt like I wussied out.”

Neufeld illustrates the novel in a transparent style that doesn’t call attention to itself, but instead keeps the focus squarely on the characters and their situations. Differentiating among the characters is no problem, making their stories easy to follow. A limited, shifting color palette breaks up what could be monotonous if presented in stark black and white.

A.D. asks many difficult questions about our government’s response to Katrina, and about common misconceptions regarding the people who lived in New Orleans and rode out the storm or suffered in the long months afterward. It is a worthwhile read, one that makes me curious to explore other books by the same author.

Commentary & Music 29 Mar 2010 05:09 pm

Uncultured swine

I had the privilege Sunday of attending the Walsh University “Solemn Lenten Celebration,” featuring performances by the Walsh University Chorale (of which my daughter is a member), the Stark Community Chorus, and members of the Canton Symphony Orchestra, all conducted by G. Britt Cooper.

The centerpiece of the evening was a performance of Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, which was beautifully performed by the members of the above three groups. For me, however, the majesty of that work was matched by a shorter piece that preceded it, a modern-day “Requiem” composed by Eliza Gilkyson following the Asian tsunami.

All in all, it was an evening of wonderful music set in Walsh’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel. My regular Sunday night activities include nothing so high-brow and artistic, which makes me realize what an uncultured swine I usually am.

Movies 28 Mar 2010 03:14 pm

She’s Out of My League

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It was Saturday night. I got to pick the restaurant, and my wife got to pick the movie. The result was a delicious burger from Red Robin and She’s Out of My League.

The movie combines all the elements of raunch comedy that audiences have come to expect. You get the likable loser hero, here played by Jay Baruchel (yeah, I know — who?); the gorgeous blonde, Alice Eve (another “Who?” from me); the snarky best friends, and a plot simple enough to be explained by the film’s title.

Add in the obligatory There’s Something About Mary-inspired gross-out scene, the equally obligatory Meet the Parents-inspired scene of awkward social embarrassment, and the mandatory life-affirming lesson at the finale and you get — well, surprisingly, you get something that’s a little better than the sum total of its parts.

Maybe I was in a mood to laugh. Maybe I’m just sentimental enough to be moved by a David vs. Goliath love story. Maybe I was just happy it was Saturday and I was in good company. Maybe all those things, or none of them. But I liked this movie, which exceeded my minimum requirements for entertainment in the same way the Red Robin burger exceeded my minimum requirements for nutrition.

Books & Comic books 27 Mar 2010 03:15 pm

The Bronx Kill

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After three interesting but flawed attempts, Vertigo Crime hits a home run with The Bronx Kill by writer Peter Milligan and artist James Romberger.

Protagonist Martin Keane has eschewed the family profession of police work, but finds himself drawn into it after his wife disappears. Because her departure echoes certain plot elements in Keane’s newest book, he is a prime suspect. If you think you know where this is headed (I thought I did),  you likely don’t, as Milligan pulls all sorts of red herrings out of his writer’s bag of tricks before herding the story toward a climax that echoes Chinatown, but with an even grittier edge.

Unlike the other Vertigo Crime efforts, which filter Chandler and Hammett through Frank Miller’s Sin City, Milligan’s script plows fresher ground, reinterpreting a noir feel in graphic-novel form rather than slavishly imitating the paperback originals that inspired the line. Milligan departs from the standard Vertigo Crime mix of gratuitous sex, violence and language to create a story that is much more disturbing and memorable. Romberger’s sketchy art perfectly captures the gritty Manhattan landscape and the mental confusion of the main character.

The Bronx Kill  has me excited about this line again, and it raises the bar considerably for next month’s entry, Area 10.

 

 

Commentary & technology 26 Mar 2010 06:51 am

Strange fetish for phone

Here is this week’s Alliance Review column, dated March 25, 2010:

I love my iPhone.

This is a strange fetish for me to admit. For years I hated the very concept of cell phones, calling them electronic dog collars that humans willingly endure in the name of connectivity.

It used to be, when my wife-mandated cell phone rang, I wouldn’t answer, but would let calls go to voice mail, where they languished for weeks. When I finally got around to listening, the inanity of the messages proved my point. Pleas to bring home a gallon of milk, to call the office, or to make donations all seemed trivial from the distancing perspective of time.

But then came the iPhone, and my attitudes changed.

I wasn’t an early or easy convert. My daughter, who changes phones the way most people change underwear or the way U.S. Rep. John Boccieri changes his vote on health care bills (which is to say capriciously, at the drop of a hat), agitated for one of Apple’s devices from the very beginning. It took about a year of nagging before my wife and I gave her one for Christmas.

It took about another year for me to admit that I was having serious phone envy.
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Movies & Television 21 Mar 2010 09:00 pm

Dracula meets Dark Shadows

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Dan Curtis was the maestro behind Dark Shadows, a soap opera remembered fondly for its mix of Gothic horror and standard afternoon fare. In 1973, Curtis teamed with writer Richard Matheson of I Am Legend, Incredible Shrinking Man, and Twilight Zone fame for this version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Although Jack Palance isn’t first actor I would consider for the immortal count, he turns in a fairly good performance here, punctuated by a lot of growling and hissing and the occasional scenery chewing. This is the first version of Stoker’s story to introduce the idea of the Count traveling to London in pursuit of the reincarnation of his lost love, a plot twist picked up later by Francis Ford Coppola in the ’90s and, by extension, a forerunner of today’s sexy teen vampire craze a la Twilight. I can’t blame that on Matheson, who handles the idea fairly well here. Palance is still an irredeemable scumbag, albeit one tragically in love with a dead woman.

Nigel Davenport is a more physical Van Helsing than previous incarnations (Peter Cushing’s turn as the professorial vampire hunter in Hammer’s Horror of Dracula being a notable exception), perhaps foreshadowing Universal’s abortive attempt to launch a series around a more athletic VH a few years back. (Hey, I liked it, even if most everybody else didn’t.)

Because this was a TV movie before it was recut for theatrical release in Europe, the special effects aren’t stellar, although the locations used go a long way toward making up for the deficit. The bare-bones DVD has a decent transfer, the European theatrical trailer, and two really short clips with Palance (who rambles on and makes little sense) and Curtis (much more lucid than his star).

I can’t say I’m in a hurry to pop this one back into my DVD player, but it is a mostly reverential adaptation with a few key twists that have secured it a footnote mention in vampire lore.

Commentary 19 Mar 2010 06:35 am

Backward and loving it in Itawamba County

Here is my print column, dated March 18, 2010:

Fifty-plus years ago, intolerant Southerners would lynch those who offended their genteel sense of superiority, propriety and manners.

Today, the same kind of intolerant people simply cancel proms instead.

That’s progress, I guess.

The actions of an Itawamba County, Miss., school board to keep a female student from bringing a same-sex date and wearing a tuxedo to prom has the air of desperation, a last-gasp attempt to defend a supposed bastion of morality that has long since given way to understanding and, dare I say it, acceptance.

But of course, the board didn’t cancel the prom because of Constance McMillen, at least not on paper. It canceled “due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events.” Said recent events being McMillen’s bucking of a school policy that requires dates to be opposite sex, and the involvement of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting what it sees as discrimination.
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Books & Comic books 18 Mar 2010 06:53 pm

Asterios Polyp

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David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp is a revelation. The story of a “paper architect” and his midlife crisis, as narrated by his dead infant twin, could only be told as a graphic novel. Mazzucchelli doesn’t so much use the form as he reinvents it to suit his own purposes: Part meditative reflection, part architectural dissertation, part situation comedy — and all original.

I’d known the artist only from his work years ago on Daredevil: Born Again and Batman: Year One (both written by Frank Miller). Asterios is a stunning reinvention. You’ll find yourself returning to certain pages and sequences again and again as Mazzucchelli gets inside his character’s head and invites you along for the trip.

This book merits any awards yet undelivered for graphic novel of the year. Even more, it deserves a wide audience to marvel at what one creator can accomplish, unfettered from restrictions and allowed to follow his own muse. A must-read.

Books 17 Mar 2010 09:48 pm

Not too much of a stretch

 

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It’s been many years since I first read The Lord of the Flies, but I can distinctly remember hating it. I wrote a scathing book report in my freshman year of high school where I called it one of the dumbest books I had ever read.

Looking back, I’m not sure why I disliked it so much, unless William Golding’s depiction of the cruelty boys heap upon one another on a deserted island struck a little too close to home, or my expectations for a straightforward adventure story were frustrated by a novel that operates on a deeper level. My latest reading, done before I assigned the novel to my senior English students, shows me how rich the book is in symbolic power and how unflinching is its view of the dark side of humanity.

This time around, I am less likely to identify with Piggy, the chubby boy with “ass-mar” who insists that rules be followed, and more likely to empathize with Ralph, the boys’ leader who finds the crown heavy indeed. I was not a fat kid, nor have I grown into a person whom others follow; I’m referring here to the characters’ internal characteristics — Piggy’s maturity beyond his years, Ralph’s ruminations on his mistakes. Over and over, Golding sheds a novelist’s light on the darker corners of the human psyche.
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Comic books 16 Mar 2010 05:46 pm

‘First Wave’ and ‘Stephen King’s N.’

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Two first issues that I enjoyed recently are both the beginnings of mini-series, but while one is designed to be self-contained, the other is hopefully the gateway into a larger universe.

The self-contained offering is Stephen King’s N. The Marvel adaptation of a short story by the modern best-selling author of the macabre apparently began life as a web comic before migrating to print. Marc Guggenheim writes and Alex Maleev illustrates one of horror fiction’s standard tropes — something so horrible (in a Lovecraftian sort of way) that it makes the person who sees/hears/experiences it insane. Saying more would ruin the creepy charm of the story, one of the few by King that I haven’t read. Probably the most lavish praise I can offer is that after reading it, I wanted to skip ahead a few hundred pages in King’s Just After Sunset collection and read the entire prose piece. I’ve avoided that temptation so far, but not for much longer. A good first issue, not quite in the same league as the work Marvel’s doing on The Stand adaptation, but still well worth the cost of admission.

The gateway book is DC’s First Wave, the company’s re-imagining of various pulp (or pulp-inspired) heroes. This first issue is a vast improvement over the humdrum Doc Savage/Batman pairing from a few months ago. In this issue, Savage is newly returned to New York City, having missed his own father’s funeral, and begins to investigate the death. Although Batman is featured prominently on the cover, he’s nowhere to be found inside, although the Spirit (a hero I don’t really care for whose adventures have been chronicled by writers and artists whose work I definitely care for) and the Blackhawks are. Brian Azzarello does a good job of juggling Savage’s supporting cast of confidantes, but Rags Morales artwork looks a bit softer than I remember, blunting the pulpish vibe of the material a bit. Still, it’s a solid enough introduction to have me on board for the five remaining issues, and for the introduction of other First Wave books (starting with Doc Savage’s solo title next month).

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