Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review of Billion Dollar Batman

Book #19. Billion Dollar Batman, by Bruce Scivally.Paperback.

Following up on similar books on James Bond and Superman, Bruce Scivally produced an in-depth look at almost all of Batman's non-comic-book appearances over the first 70+ years of his existence. He starts with the radio show and the original movie serials from the early days of Batman.

Of course, a large section of the book covers the 1966 Adam West TV show. Scivally does a good job defining and describing the nature of "camp," and discussing the sensation that was the first year of that show. The fast fade of popularity is also covered, and this section is one of the most fascinating in the history of the Caped Crusader, and Scivally does a good job presenting this era.

The wonderful DC animation of the 1990s and 2000s does not get the coverage that I think it deserves, as I sense Scivally wanted to devote more pages to the recent big screen versions. The Burton and Schumacher era is covered in depth, and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans about the rotating cast of Batmans in that era is an interesting read. The book was released after The Dark Knight, so the last film in the Nolan trilogy is not covered.

There is a very brief discussion of the disastrous Catwoman movie and the attempts to bring Batman o television in the early 2000s, which were also interesting. The book is thorough and detailed, and Scivally has definitely done his research in putting this book together.

This is an "unofficial" work, which has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, Scivally is able to be more objective, not telling DC's or Warners' "side" of the story. On the other hand, there are only a few illustrations and photos in the book, and it does suffer from that. But on the whole, having the depth and detail outweighs Scivally's inability to include more pictures in the book.

Source: public library

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Podcast marathon

Memorial Day Weekend + visiting my in-laws = lots of time to listen to podcasts. Here is what I listened to yesterday:

Just One of the Guys #114 -- Shawn Engel's terrific Green Lantern podcast. In this episode, Michael Bradley joined Shawn for the discussion.

Back to the Bins #151 -- Another X-Men themed special episode, for "X-Men Month." Chris Tyler joined Paul & Dr. Bill for this episode, which focused on X-themed mini-series.

More Than One Lesson, minisode #40 -- Continuing their "Best Picture" miniseries, Tyler Smith and Josh Long discussed Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, the 2004 winner of Best Picture. 

Alton Browncast -- I learned bunches listening to this "mail bag grab bag" episode.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

New 52 Review: Wonder Woman, volume 3

Book #18: Wonder Woman Volume 3: Iron, hardcover collection, containing issues 0 and 13-18, by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, and other artists. 

Continuing the story of the prior volumes (Blood, reviewed here, and Guts, reviewed here), we continue to explore the mystery of Zola’s baby. Fathered by Zeus, the innocent child is potentially incredibly powerful. And for Olympians, potential power is a threat.

But the old gods of Olympus are not the only powerful beings interested in the baby’s fate. Orion of the New Gods is sent into the fray, but his job is actually to destroy the child. And another powerful being is rising from the icy north, and he has some old scores to settle with his contemporaries. Azzarello continues to tell a sprawling epic that is just as much political thriller as it is superhero tale.  And for me, that’s a good thing.

This volume also includes the excellent “issue 0” origin story. Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang provide us a story in the style (writing and art) of the Golden Age of comics. And it works so well that I'm willing to give the writer the benefit of the doubt that some of the cheesier moments were in fact "homage" to the 1940's way of telling a comic book story. In the story, a young Diana battles the Minotaur in a coming-of-age tale that does a great job of explaining how this iteration of this character developed.

Chiang’s art continues to be strong, bringing a unique form of dynamism to the stories. He continues to be unable to pencil all of the issues, but the “fill in” art of Tony Akins is nearly as strong. In those few cases another artist has to step in, I was less pleased with the results. Chaing and Akins both do a good job of presenting us an “otherworldly” vision of the Amazons, even when they are in “our world.” I generally don’t notice art when reading comics, unless the art is distractingly bad. But Chaing’s work here (and Akins, to a lesser extent) specifically adds to my overall enjoyment of these stories.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Review of The Innocent

Book #17. The Innocent, by David Baldacci. Unabridged audio.

Will Robie is the American government’s top assassin – they want someone killed, and he does it without question. Until one night they task him with killing a young mother and her child. He refuses, and is immediately on the run. Fleeing his employers, Robie crosses paths with teenage runaway Julie Getty, a fourteen-year-old girl who Robie needs to help.

As he learns about the girl, Robie becomes more and more convinced that she is at the center of a vast cover-up. He ends up working with an FBI agent to solve a string of related murders, and Robie has to determine exactly who he can trust.

There is a lot good about this series: the characters of Robie and Getty were well-drawn and their motivations clear, the plot is reasonable, and the ending is satisfactory. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

This is the first book in a new series from Baldacci, and I like this cast of characters. I see that there is potential for this series to grow into another Camel Club or King & Maxwell. I appreciate that Baldacci seems to be interested in creating new characters and scenarios, as opposed to relying on a single set of characters or a single “world” to write in.

As with all the King & Maxwell audio series, the audio is split between Ron McLarty (all male characters) and Orlagh Cassidy (all female characters). Both actors are able to bring distinct voices to the wide range of characters that each must portray.

source: public library

Friday, May 16, 2014

Book Guys Updates

At the Book Guys Show, we recently celebrated an important milestone, and continued to interview interesting people!

In episode  100, we celebrated our centennial with return visits from some of our favorite guests, including Pat Flewwelling, Lian Dolan, Scott Brick, Tom Merritt, and many, many others. It was over two hours of fun!

I missed episode 101, but Craig Damlo joined Paul and Sir Jimmy to talk with "Johnny Walker," an Iraqi man who risked everything to fight with the Navy SEALS. His co-writer Jim DeFelice also appeared on the show.

In episode 102, we talked to the greatest Canadian boxer in history, heavyweight contender George Chuvalo. His new book,"A Fighter's Life," chronicles his amazing life and career, which included two memorable fights with Muhammad Ali.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Walking Dead, 73-84

The Walking Dead, issues 73-84. Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard.

As was suspected in my review of the previous hardcovercollection, things in the new community have turned bad, and then gotten worse. This seems to happen whenever Rick takes over leadership in the community from someone else. 

Rick becomes the sheriff of the new community, with Michonne as his deputy. I like this step in her character growth, showing that she is more than just a warrior. Rick’s first major act in this position is to take on an abusive husband, which eventually leads to the man’s death. As a prize, Rick seems to have claimed the widow for his own. By the end of the arc, Douglas has all but abdicated leadership to Rick.

In this volume, Andrea moves from sharpshooter to legitimate hero at one point, although at the end of the arc, I think she may still be in the watchtower. I hope someone comes for her soon, it must be getting lonely up there.

Carl calls out his dad on his “talking” to Lorie on the phone, and it seems to have shocked Rick out of his delusion. I have heard a long-term theory that The Walking Dead will eventually turn into Carl’s story, and may not be Rick’s story much longer. I can understand how readers get to that conclusion. There was a specific scene involving Carl and Morgan that leads me to believe that Kirkman may be planting that type of seed. 

Except that in the last issue in the arc, Carl is shot, and appears to have lost an eye. And in this series, it may end up worse for him than that. Again, Robert Kirkman has successfully brought our expectations to one point, only to deliver us something very unexpected.

This series appeared on a recent Buzzfeed list of “sixty comicsthat everyone should read.” And rightly so. It is a legitimate modern classic.

That Buzzfeed list was, by the way, discussed on 3 episodesof Shortbox Showcase, a podcast I co-host with my daughter, on our RelativelyGeeky podcast network.

Source: public library.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Review of Song of the Quarkbeast

Book #16. The Song of the Quarkbeast, by Jasper Fforde. Unabridged audio.

Continuing where the first novel in the series (The Last Dragonslayer, reviewed here), this novel pushes forward the story of the young foundling Jennifer Strange. The sixteen year-old has been left in charge of Kazam Mystical Arts Management, one of the two larger (and the more noble of the pair) magic-performing companies. Magic has been in decline for years, but since last episode, that may be changing.

Kazam’s main competitor, the newly-rebranded iMagic is up to no good, manipulating the easily manipulable King Snodd into ordering a contest between company’s wizards, with the future of the two companies at stake.  Jennifer rightly expects to win, but when her team begins losing sorcerers to Runix powered spells and trumped up petty magical crimes, she begins to doubt. And in her search for new wizards to join her team, Jennifer learns that nefarious plans are indeed afoot in the Ununited Kingdoms.

I have read many of Fforde’s prior novels, form both the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, and he certainly has a disctinctive style. I can certainly understand a reader being put off by the light-hearted tone and wordplay, put it is a style I personally enjoy.

But the light-hearted tone does not take away from the plot or character beats. The story builds on the events of the first novel, and continues threads in both the world-building and overall arc. The story is not silly, the stakes are not small, and the character development is not inconsequential. Fforde manages to balance a “serious” story and a light tone in a very enjoyable way.

Source: public library

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:
Grab your current read.
Open to a random page.
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From Chapter 2 of The Innocent, by David Baldacci.

"It was time. He turned. A deep knife strike took out the pint man. He dropped to the floor, trying to hold in his severed organ. Robie show the second man in the face. The sound of the suppressed round was like a hard slap. It echoed off the rock walls and mingled with the screams of the dying men.”

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Comic Review of Uncle Scrooge: Only A Poor Old Man

Book 15: Uncle Scrooge: Only A Poor Old Man, by Carl Barks. Hardcover collection of six comic books, from 1952-1954.

This is actually the second Scrooge collection released by Fantagraphics, but the first that I’ve seen on the shelves, and I didn’t think the continuity conundrum was such that that would be an issue for understanding the characters and plot arcs. This collects 6 comics from 1952 to 1954, three from the “Four Color” title and three from the “Uncle Scrooge” title.

A few things surprised me about the collection and the stories. I confess that Carl Banks’ contributions to the field of comics is a bit of a “blind spot” for me, and biographies and analysis articles in the back matter of this collection helped round out my knowledge of Banks, Scrooge, and the rest of the cast. When the Comic Awards Hall of Fame inducted its first 3 members back in 1987, Carl Banks was in that first class, joining Jack Kirby and Will Eisner.

The art was surprisingly good, very crisp and clean. A few shots particular of Donald running straight at the camera were better than the vast majority of superhero flying shots I’ve seen. The perspective is perfect, and that is a difficult angle to portray. Banks’ ability to both script and draw these stories is an impressive feat. 

The variety of story length helped these stories be a fun read. There are a number of one-page gags, a few five- or ten- page stories, and couple of 22-pagers, and four 32-page stories. The variety of lengths gave Banks a chance to tell different types of stories. The single-page strips tend to be sight-gags or word play, while the longer stories all have an epic sweep to them. Scrooge and his family Donald, Huey, Dewey, & Louie, travel to the Klondike, and to Hawaii, to Jamaica, and to the bottom of the ocean.

A single-trait character can be a struggle to portray, but there are nuances to Scrooge’s miserly nature that Barks exploits to good effect. The Beagle Boys are the most common antagonist to Uncle Scrooge, although Donald and his three nephews are sometimes on that side, as well. More often than not, of course, they are helping Scrooge, earning every penny of the thirty cent hourly rate he offered.