Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

I wanted to love this book, I really did, I hoped that as it settled in I would come to appreciate it more, but instead I still feel like something was missing. Of course, being able to enumerate on what is missing is of course asking my brain too much, but I can't help how I feel. 
John's first book with a female narrator, The Fault in Our Stars tells the love story of Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters. Hazel has thyroid cancer that is temporarily being held in check by a fictional drug, and Gus has been cancer free since one of his legs was amputated. I'm trying to limit this to minor spoilers that John hasn't mentioned, but well, I can't know what someone might not want to hear.
I found it interesting that despite the shift in narration, the book was still about the boy in the story, it was his journey that was the focus of the book. While one could argue, and be right, that Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns would not be the same without the love interests, they are still ultimately defined by the journey of their respective narrators, and I don't feel like Hazel was the one who was most profoundly changed by the course of events. Of course, part of this is because Gus's story really could not have been told without Hazel, but it is interesting to me. Of course, it served as a blessing that it was Gus's story because he was a much more compelling character to me, from the beginning, if only because something about Hazel grated on my nerves. And by something, I mean the fact that she called V for Vendetta a "boy movie" and then proceeded to enjoy books based on violent video games "boy books" by any definition. I felt inconsistent to me - I understand the societal constraints of thinking there are such things as "boy" and "girl" things, even if I disagree, but I want consistency, or at least an acknowledgement of growth... Yes, that may be a nitpick, but it stuck in my mind as I read the book, and didn't allow me to appreciate Hazel as some might have.
But that's ok, I'm of the opinion that you don't have to love the narrator, you just have to be able to appreciate the story they have to tell. And yes, The Fault in Our Stars was at heart a compelling and powerful story. As Hazel read the aforementioned books, she had Augustus read her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, with its abrupt ending and reclusive author leading them on the journey of any life time, regardless of length. But I will let you discover that on your own, when you read it (and you should read it). On the other hand, the book didn't shy away from the hurt of cancer. The pain and exhaustion and hardship on not just the person but everyone who loved them was evident. And it didn't gloss over the flaws of the people who die to young. The dead are not memorialized by a glossed over memory, but on the acknowledgement that despite their circumstances, they are human, just like the rest of us - even if these teens did have larger vocabularies than most.
For me, however, amid the grand gestures and suffering and humanizing, there was Isaac. Isaac, another teen with cancer who was really the reason Hazel and Augustus met. Isaac who encapsulated all of those things more than anything else for me. I can't imagine the book without him. It probably would have been far less fun, in many ways, and well, many important things wouldn't have happened.
Also, there was the reference to time being a slut that screws us all, the existence of which shall make me cherish this book far longer than I would have without it.
Regardless, this reminds me its probably time to reread John Green's other books to figure out if my appreciation for them is nostalgic or not, which, I suppose, is relevant to the story I just read.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

365 Movies, Part 1

Part of my New Years Resolution post focused on seeing a different, previously unseen movie for every day of the year. In this multi-part series, I hope to explore my thoughts on the movies that I watch. This isn't going to be an in depth analysis of cinematography or editing or really anything, as I have yet to watch one of the movies while doing nothing else, but more of a rambling journey through what I saw and how it made me feel.

This first post is about the first five movies I watched this year.

True Grit (2010) was really damn good. I love Jeff Bridges to an outlandish extent, and I have really wanted to see this movie for a while. It is the story of Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old whose father is murdered by a hired hand, who proceeds to hire a US Marshall named Rooster Cogburn, who is quick to kill and even quicker to drink. They are joined by a Texas Ranger named LaBeouf, who is after the man for a previous crime, as they make their journey through the Indian Territory.
Hailee Steinfeld was perfect as Mattie, and while I thought the plot was both ridiculous and predictable at times (sometimes at the same time), I love how melancholy it all was, with only a couple violently depressing moments, interspersed with humor. As a note, the fact that I didn't realize Matt Damon was LaBeouf is either a testament to his acting or to how bad I am at just watching movies, but he was great as well. But mostly, Mattie. So good. And Jeff Bridges, because what else could you want.
Speaking of really good films that I needed to see, Billy Elliot was so adorable, as only a foul mouthed eleven-year-old protagonist can be. I laughed, I cried, and it just made me so happy. The story of a young boy who falls in love with ballet during the 1984-85 mining strikes, and the strain it puts on his and his family, is so fantastic. I loved seeing each layer of depth around the Elliots and their friends unravel, as everyone tried to do what they thought was best for their family, and no one was ever fully wrong or right. The moment of Billy and Jackie Elliots' twin epiphanies was so beautiful and heartwarming, and I can picture this as a movie that will always make me happy.
I wanted to see The Trip when it first came out. I kept reading good things about it, but then it faded as I failed to go to the movies (as usual). But then I heard a radio program, detailing the same bit I had heard before, and I finally had to see it (and it was on Netflix instant). The story of two friendscolleagues on a restaurant tour of northern England, inundated with impressions and references to literature, it was perfectly paced for me. The fictionalized versions of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are great, with Coogan full of just enough self-loathing to make everything work really well. It's not pandering funny, it's two friends trying to out do each other in front of others, and it's perfect for me. Also, I may have mentioned I like melancholy, which Steve has in full.
I expected for Ten Inch Hero to be really bad, but since I've never seen The Lost Boys, I figured a Santa Cruz based movie was in order. Fortunately, it exceeded my expectations. It wasn't great, but it was a harmless romantic comedy, even if it was obviously not actually filmed where it was set (but then, what is, these days). The movie tells the stories of the employees of a sandwich shop, as they help each other find love. It was adorable, and the soundtrack really worked to my taste - which is good, as I was listening more than watching it. The stories were diverse - even though the town was oddly white - and while they were predictable, it still worked... to some extent.
Mallrats successfully encapsulated the 90s. It was silly and over-the-top, and fun, and I enjoyed it a lot. And Stan Lee was in it, so that's cool. The story of two guys trying to win back ex-girlfriends who had recently dumped them, set in, um, a mall, it had a predictably happy ending, and some fun recurring jokes and some really bad jokes...

So, on the beginning of the 7th day of the year, I've seen five films, so I'm doing decently well. I should get ahead before school starts, though, so hopefully I'll watch a couple books in the next couple of days.

Films watched this year: 5

Friday, January 6, 2012

Comics of 2012

I've been contemplating my favorite new series of 2011, and it got me thinking about what I am looking forward to in the coming year. There were a lot of really cool sounding projects announced, and I am very excited to see where they go.

It looks like my obsession with Image is going to continue into this new year. Starting with the first issue of Fatale, by the always amazing team Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, which comes out tomorrow, series of great sounding books starting this year is amazing. If you haven't read Brubaker and Phillips' previous collaborations on Criminal and Incognito, go do it, now, and pick up Fatale regardless. The first issue came out this week, and was gorgeous and mysterious - as always.
Jonathan Hickman is joined by Nick Pitarra for The Manhattan Projects, and Ryan Bodenheim for Secret, both at Image, both which look like they will continue my obsession with his creator-owned work. The delayed solo Feel Better Now one-shot/original graphic novel, also looks amazing, harking back to the amazing The Nightly News. Last year's Red Wing was also great, and I can't wait to see these projects.
Jim McCann and Janet Lee's The Return of the Dapper Men is one of my favorite books, and it's sequel Time of the Dapper Men might come out this year. More certain, McCann's Image project Mind the Gap has a completely different tone, and I'm excited to see where he goes with the premise of someone waking up outside of their body with no idea of how they got there.
Like Hickman, Brian Wood has a lot of new projects in the coming year. Set in the aftermath ofmajor global warming, The Massive starts with a 3-part story in Dark Horse Presents. It's probably the most exciting of his projects to me, but Conan the Barbarian and Wolverine & the X-Men: Alpha & Omega look really good as well. It seems like Conan will continue in the vein of the amazing Northlanders, which (along with Becky Cloonan's art) is why I'm giving it a chance. Alpha & Omega just began, and I'm really enjoying the focus on the antagonistic relationship between Kid Omega and Wolverine. In addition, it looks like he'll have a digital project of some sort later in the year.
One of my favorite new comics of 2011, Gladstone's School for World Conquerors, is back next year with its second volume. A delightful story about the children of super-villains, I'm excited to see where the next arc takes the students as they learn more about their parents' past. 
One of my favorite pairings in comics is Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. Their run on Daredevil cemented my love of comics, and I've been loving their creator owned Scarlet, which has been on a bit of hiatus. It seems like it will return this year, and I can't wait to see where they take the story in the next arc in the coming months.
Speaking of long awaited returns... Brian K. Vaughan is back to creator owned comics with Saga, with art by Fiona Staples. Kind of a Romeo and Juliet of alien species - but where they don't commit suicide, and live to have a baby as they abandon their warring armies to become a family. Sounds really good, and looks gorgeous, and I can't wait to see if it fulfills its potential.
Another potentially interesting alien story is Saucer Country, where a presidential candidate is abducted by aliens, and has to deal with the aftermath of the events. I've been loving Paul Cornell's Demon Knights, and Ryan Kelly's art is always fantastic, so I can't wait to see where this goes.
To be honest I have no idea what Dark Matter is going to be like, other than sci-fi, and pretty. I'm excited though, because I like trying new series and being surprised I hope it lives up to my expectations.
I never thought I would be excited for anything with Rob Liefeld's name attached, but the return of Prophet, by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, and Marian Churchland, actually looks really good, and anything that gets recommended by Warren Ellis is hard to ignore. 
I'm sure there are plenty of things yet to be announced, and I'm sure they'll be awesome, but these are the things I'm looking forward to starting in 2012 as of now.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

I'm not really a big fan of New Year's Resolutions, on the whole... mostly because I've failed at them so often. So this year, I didn't make any, but ideas have still been popping up in my head over the last few days.
So here are some things that I want to at least try this year:
  1. Start swimming again. I played water polo for most of my adolescence, but after I hurt myself, I just stopped, and swimming pretty much stopped with it. I don't want to do it competitively again or anything, but I just miss the water... So I need to plan out time and make myself start, hoping I'll get hooked enough to keep doing it.
  2. Watch a movie for every day of the year. I saw a post about this on tumblr, and as someone who doesn't really watch a lot of movies, I want to try it. There are so many great movies out there that people talk about... and I haven't seen a lot of them, and I want to. I just never allocate time for them, and end up not caring enough to do it. I have Netflix, why not use it more. I'm obviously starting late, but I want to try to watch a lot of the awesome movies that are out there. I probably won't actually watch this many, but hopefully the goal will remind me that they are an option when I am bored.
  3. Temper my obsessions.  I tend to pick up obsessions for short periods of time, only to have them fade out and die because I go overboard. There have been a lot of things that I enjoyed that I stopped because I got burnt out, and while I sometimes come back to them, they often fizzle out again. This includes, blogging (the first time around), knitting, video games (which come and go), baking, and biking. I don't want it to happen to things like comics, board games, and blogging (this time around), so I want to try to give my hobbies some space when necessary, which I guess includes the two resolutions above - I want to do them, but not the the extent that I burn out 3 months in. 
  4. Figure out what I'm doing with my life. I graduate in June, and I need to figure out what I want to do for the next couple of years... I'm figuring out what my employment situation is going to look like, where I am going to live, and so much more. It's kind of overwhelming, but I have to do it.
  5. Be more outgoing. 2011 was the year I decided to be more social, and I kind of succeeded. I went and tried new things, and made new friends, and I really enjoyed a lot of it, but I still pretty shy in most social situations - I tend to only talk when I don't give a shit about the people around me (other than the people who are already my friends and don't care). It's really hard for me to start a conversation with someone new, and I want to keep pushing that boundary and become less awkward (ok, that last part is never happening...).
  6. Actually engage in online communities. I tend to lurk around, or just kind of sit in my own world, and I want to stop doing that. This is kind of related to #5, but on the internet instead of in person. I see all of these people making good friends online, and while I've done that to some extent, it took a lot of time, and it was a couple of years ago. I have so much investment of time in the internet, I want to have more with other people with whom I share interests.
  7. Try new things. There are so many things I talk about wanting to do - learn to shoot a gun, play paintball, learn to ride a motorcycle, go on an epic road trip, etc., but I don't go out and do them. This year, I want to try and do as many as I can.
  8. Keep being happy. More than anything else, 2011 was the first full year where I was happy with myself and my life. I had friends that I love, and I loved myself and started to care less about my insecurities. I'm not saying they aren't there, but they are secondary to the great things happening in my life, be it an awesome TV show, talking comics with friends, or baking ridiculous amounts of chocolate things. I want to keep this up in 2012, and keep not stressing the things that don't matter.
So that's what I want out of this year...
I'll eventually finish my "Best of" comics posts, as well as one talking about my anticipated comics of this year (that one might be today).  

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Comics of 2011, A Summary - pt. 1

One of my biggest undertakings of the year involved becoming addicted to comics. Which I suppose isn't so much an accomplishment as a new expense. But still, over the last 12 months I've read over 300 graphic novels/trade paperbacks/collections - whatever you want to call them, I've read a lot of them, not even counting single issues or webcomics. Regardless, this isn't a post to recount my reading accomplishments, but more to recount my favorite books of the year past. So, onwards:

My favorite 10 books released before 2011 that I read in 2011
When I think of The Nightly News, I think about how much I loved the design, and the pure oozing of style that it exuded. Then I think of the kind of disturbing (but awesome), story Jonathan Hickman told. That story depicts a man whose life was ruined by sensationalist news  as he joins an organization determined to bring violence back to the people who caused their pain. It reminds you both that newscasters are people, and their mistakes can truly damage innocent lives, albeit in an over-the-top way. But while I love and appreciate the story, the presentation is what really hooked me.
Keeping in line with books about the news, Channel Zero seems to be a very fitting book for this year. Brian Wood tells a story set in a near future New York City, where the news media is completely controlled and limited by the government. The book is rough and gritty (I hate using that word), and just really damn cool.  It's about complacency and rebellion and our expectations of how the world is and should be, and it feels so fitting for the world we're living in, even though it was released more than a decade ago. It doesn't matter that the situation and the details are different, the struggle seems the same.
I read many, many, (seriously) many Warren Ellis books this year, and while I love basically all of them, it's Global Frequency that takes the cake. The story of an independent intelligence agency run by a Miranda Zero and coordinated by a woman called Aleph, each of the 12 issues tells a standalone story of an emergency that some of the 1001 members of the Global Frequency are called on to help fix. I love the nature of the issues - connected by a common thread, but involving different characters across the globe, each time done by different artists. Even with the group of people changing each issue, Ellis makes them deep enough that you care about whether they succeed or fail - and there obviously are consequences to every mission - and the changing nature of the book means that everyone is vulnerable.
Also taking on the idea of standalone stories, but in a much different way, is Daytripper by Gabriel Bá and Fabio Moon. The ten issues jump around the life of Brás de Oliva Domingos, an obituary writer, showing important moments in his life that helped shape him as a person. Both the story and the art are poignant and beautiful, and even thinking about it makes me want to read it again.
Jeff Lemire's Essex County has poignancy in excess. Three standalone but interlocking stories set in rural Essex County, centered around the Toronto Maple Leafs and the importance of hockey to the characters. While I am a blooming hockey fan, I feel like I would have loved this regardless, as it is more of a setting than anything else. Each piece is remarkable for its simplicity, and the connections really bring it all to life. (I'm cheating a bit, as it was collected for the first time this year, but too bad)
Return of the Dapper Men is another beautiful book, with Janet Lee's style, and the complex nature of her art process for each page, really bringing it alive. Jim McCann's story is set in Anorev, a place where the clocks have stopped and time does not progress. An unorthodox friendship between a human boy, Ayden, and a robot girl, Zoe, is essential to starting time again, something neither the other robots, nor the other children, really seem to support. While plenty of books make me think and calculate, this really evoked that sense of wonder about the world of these people. The art was so adorable, and the friendship was so apparent that while parts were bittersweet, I can't help but feel full of joy when thinking about it. 
The Arrival by Shaun Tan has no words, but it tells a complete story without them: a story of hope and charity, despite some haunting and ominous art. The book shows a new immigrant being helped by people in the wondrous new place he moved, and eventually able to bring his wife and daughter over from their dangerous homeland. Despite the familiar journey, the world is fantastical, as is many of its populous. There are many odd creatures and buildings and foods, and the realistic nature of the art serves as a way of grounding it all in a really amazing way. It's a completely different experience to have a story told just with pictures, and one that I haven't experienced in a long time.
The Finder Library Volumes 1 & 2 collect previously released stories by Carla Speed McNeil. They all share a common world and related characters, but the main protagonist, Jaeger, isn't featured in all of the stories. The joy and depth of the stories is in the world, which is filled with richly described and shown cultures and societies. The writer describes it as "aboriginal science fiction", with the reader standing in for an observing anthropologist, seeing the inner workings of vastly different groups of people. I love the complexity of it all, and how everything, no matter how wild it seems, is grounded in the rules of the universe.
Another book with a rich mythology is Promethea, by Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III, and Mick Gray. Based in mysticism, and drawing on the Tree of Life and tarot, it tells the story of Sophie Bangs, a young woman who is the next host of Promethea, a being that is able to live forever by manifesting Immateria, the home of imagination, for the people she embodies. While the back story and world are fantastic, it's really the art that elevates this book. The layouts are continually creative and unique, and just plain beautiful, something that is always true with J.H. Williams' art. I love how the book mixes magic and super-heroics, and I could just look at the book for ages.
And finally, while I haven't technically read all of Gotham Central, by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, with art (mostly) by Michael Lark, I'm completely enamored with what I have read (#1-31 of 40). The stories focus on the detectives of the Gotham City Police Department, with arcs alternating between the day and night shifts. It's a different take on the world of superheroes and both Brubaker and Rucka are very good at making you care about the characters and their cases. Unfortunately, the book suffers when Michael Lark leaves after issue 25, mostly due to the jarring impact of different artists, rather than poor art, but that doesn't prevent me from obsessing over the book.

I also loved Grant Morrison's Animal Man, which was deliciously meta, and weird and fun, and Sandman, especially Endless Nights, by Neil Gaiman, because all of the Endless were so well characterized and so gorgeously realized.

Since this is already more than long enough, I'll extoll the virtues of continuing and new series in other posts (which might actually feature superheroes). Also, the books I am looking forward to and webcomics that I love.

So those are some of the books I read this year that I love. What are books from the past that you only just read, or re-read and still love?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Goliath - Scott Westerfeld

Goliath is the third and final book of the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, which follows the adventures of Deryn Sharp and Prince Aleksander of Hohenburg (Alek). Deryn is a midshipman on the British airbeast Leviathan, a girl who has disguised herself as a man, calling herself 'Dylan.' Alek is the son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to Austria, whose murder helped start the first World War. In this world, rather than technology progressing as it does today, there are two camps of different technology. On one hand, the Darwinists have taken to genetically engineering species into a vast variety of uses, and on the other, the Clankers use steam powered machines.
Spoiler-free introduction out of the way, this book continues to tell the story of Deryn and Alek's journey on the Leviathan. Having just left the Ottoman Empire, they continue East into Russia to find Nikola Tesla, who claims he has a solution to the war. Also, Alek learns Deryn's biggest secret. Neither of which are spoilers if you read the jacket summary. But anyways. I love Alek and Deryn, and I think this may have been my favorite book of the series, as they come to really understand each other. All of the storylines planted in the earlier books come together, and while I think the ending went unnecessarily far, you always kind of knew there would be a happily ever after. And yeah, I'm a sucker for those when they are deserved, and both Deryn and Alek went through a lot through the course of the books for the sake of their people, their secrets, and each other.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Ship Who Sang - Anne McCaffrey

The first time I read a book by Anne McCaffrey, I was ten. After devouring it, I proceeded to read almost every book of hers that I could get my hands on, but I never read The Ship Who Sang, or any of the other books in its series. When she died last month, and articles mentioned how important the book was to her, I knew I had to finally read it, to see what I had missed out on.
I've come to both regret and am thankful that I didn't read the book sooner. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, and uplifting, so I am saddened that I did not experience it sooner, but I wonder if I had read it when I in the full thrall of my obsession (when I was 14) I would have appreciated the complex emotions that the story made me feel.
The Ship Who Sang centers around Helva, born with extreme physical disabilities, whose parents have the option of euthanizing her or giving her the opportunity to live a life inside a metal shell, controlling a ship with her brain after years of conditioning and training. As a shell-child, she develops a hobby for singing, a habit and talent unprecedented among the Brain Ships she is training to become. As a Brain ship, she becomes acclaimed for her skills and famous for her singing, and the book tells five stories of Helva's journeys through space partnered with normal human Brawns working to help planets in emergencies.
The stories are very much about pain, and about having your heart broken and suffering through it, and learning to be happy again, and maybe, eventually, finding someone who you want to share your life with again. So, uh, spoiler? I guess. The last story is my favorite, because it completes a relationship that had been building for a while, and shows what some people are willing to go through for the one they love. Like its precursors, it's painful in parts, but in ways that leave you faithfulhopeful that everything will work out, because you almost need for it to. You need for all of the past suffering to be worth it. Or at least I did.
Over the course of the book I became so attuned with Helva's voice that I felt with her. I got mad when people assumed she wasn't intelligent, wasn't as good as other humans even human, just because she was a ship. I rationalized their behavior to myself, thinking they must be idiots, because I knew, how caring and personable, as well as intelligent, she was. And I shouldn't be surprised that Anne McCaffrey could do this. She so skillfully portrayed the connection between dragonriders and their dragons, the telepathic communication of Linyaari. And I don't know that I was surprise. But looking back, I didn't expect this book to be so powerful and emotional for me. But it was, and it was a perfect read as a send-off for a sci-fi great who was so important to my childhood.

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Welcome to my blog. I like to talk about books. And comics. And other nerdy things. Also, chocolate, cheese, and bread. I am a fan of all of those things. Hopefully you are too.