Category Archives: Books

The new 52 – DC Comics Reboot

The background – Burgandy and I decided to get pulled in by a publicity stunt and pick up some of the DC reboot. See, we used to read comics back in the day, mostly stopping after the mid 2000s when DC finished one Infinite Crisis whilst raring up for another one. We did, actually, miss them and were not entirely happy with only seeing comics through the prism of movies and cartoons, so when we heard DC was cutting some of the crud and aiming for a more newbie friendly event we signed up!

Due to the huge number of comics released (52, plus some #2s by now, some of which we have read and some of which have not) I will probably be posting impressions over a few different posts. So, here are some quick takes.

Good–

Stormwatch. I mostly missed this title the first time through and so I enjoyed the reboot, especially with a meaner-than-before Martian Manhunter grounding things a bit. Fair disclaimer – I know almost nothing about this title, save a vague familiarity with the main characters left over from reading one of their trade paperbacks ages ago, so as far as I know this whole issue was a complete rehash. Still, liked the art and the story seemed super-epic without being too confusing.

Action Comics. This was great! Grant Morrison brings it – we have a Superman who is younger, a bit weaker, but still super fun to read. Unlike some of the other comics, I genuinely got the feeling that something new and exciting was being created – it didn’t seem at all like a rehash. The first meeting of Superman and Lex was especially fun. The character was contemporized a bit but nothing too jarring – plus a more populist / less law and order friendly Superman is both a new idea and a return to the character’s roots. Lois and Jimmy seemed fun, too.

Demon Knights – This was pretty much the comic book of the ultimate DND game – Conan mixed with Superheroes! I didn’t expect anything at all of this but ended up totally loving it. I am a bit of an Etrigan fan, but it was actually the little things that I liked – a part where a bunch of marauders invade the city thinking they’re going to overthrow it only to run into five very annoyed superhero / warriors who just wanted a drink was one of my favorite comic moments of the whole set.

Eh–

Green Lantern. For all that this issue has a #1 stamped on it, it seemed to just be another Green Lantern story, no hint of a reboot whatsoever. (Internet research shows that they did not, actually, reboot this comic… why the new #1, then?). I actually enjoyed it, given the premise – Hal losing the Ring, the Guardians deciding to reinstate Sinestro for some reason – but Burgandy, who is less familiar with the Green Lantern Mythos, was completely checked out.

JLA / Justice League – Uh. This seemed like the first third or maybe even fourth of what would actually be a pretty good comic. But as it is, two characters meeting, and debating a bit, then running into a third character, who is only in a splash and has one line of dialogue, isn’t too exciting. Especially with no particular overarching threat or villain – it’s literally one guy visiting another guy and then the two of them deciding to take a road trip and see a third guy. Not too epic so far – nothing was bad about it, but nothing really happened, either.

Bad –

Red Lantern Corps. I think this probably made sense to someone, but to me (who is not familiar with Red Lanterns beyond an understanding that they are the embodiment of rage) it carried basically no information whatsoever. Just a lot of weird looking creatures and critters foaming at the mouth and sometimes punching each other. Considering the implied promise of slapping a #1 on a cover to make a story a new person could actually read, I was super disappointed.

Batman – Detective Comics #1. Think it would be fun to see a new take on Batman? What about if it was his first fight with the Joker? Great, right? Well… unless Joker is basically a sideline to some weirdo family take on Texas Chainsaw Massacre who likes to cut people’s faces off (probably for some fiendish reason or another). Oh, and Joker gets his face cut off. Which of course is obviously some sort of weird stunt and also bizarrely out of place in one of the theoretically non-dark books.

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DC Comics reboot

It says here that DC Comics is planning on rebooting their franchise. The author is in favor of a real reboot, but I am a bit torn. It has been quite a few years since I regularly read comics. I love them to death, but the cycle of comics all leading up into Big Events that cross over pretty much all other titles and add a layer of extra comics on top to read tends to burn me out, especially since every Big Event promises Big Changes, most of which are completely nonexistent or undone within a few months or years.

Comics tend to be cyclical, with waves of authors coming in and wanting to change everything  you liked about a character, followed by others who want to want to ‘fix’ the changes by making a whole new version of the character without all of the ‘baggage’ (the stuff you liked before), usually followed by the original character dying, then some starry-eyed fan of the original version bringin it back, usually with a great feeling of relief by basically everyone.

For instance, in my comic-book reading times I have seen Superman powered down the a more manageable level by the Crisis, adopt whole new weird powers with an emphasis on mind powers and invisibility in the 90s-ish times, get steadily powered up more and more until he was officially announced to be on the way to be as powerful as he was in the first place… and then I lost track of the character, so no idea if he is on the upside or the downside.

A bigger example is poor old Aquaman – he lost his hand and got a gritty attitude, then was replaced by some normal guy (with heavy hints he was turning into a Cthulu monster type), and then he died, and then… well, again, I lost track. Batman / Bruce Wayne was dead for a while, though I think he got better, but I believe I understand Dick Grayson is still the Batman. These examples are maybe a bit confusing, but this is my point – it’s all just strange. It gets worse, too – I have seen at least three events trying to Fix Everything for DC, and none of them managed to stick.

I like comics a lot. I think that superheroes are the closest things we have these days to a proper heroic myth, and I always wistfully look at Comiccon and say I want to go and by that  I mean that not only do I hope to somehow get tickets before they sell out but I also have this wish that I belonged at Comiccon, i.e. that I would actually read a comic once in a while. This reboot idea has prompted me to seriously consider at least picking up a few of the issues and seeing how it goes.

Though, on the other hand, there have been some suggestions of 52 new issues. There is no way in hell that I am bothering with 52 comics on one month, both due to the cost (those things are a few bucks each) or just wanting to bring that much paper in my house. So that part needs some work and hopefully DC figures that out ASAP.

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A FLGS with some class (levels)

I wanted to give a shout out to our favorite Friendly Local Game Store, DiceHouse Games in Fullerton.

We have not devoted much space to our gaming hobby here on OKOS, but once a month I run a White Wolf game under the banner of the local Dead Gamers Society of Orange County. At least that’s what I do now. Honestly, I’ve been gaming since junior high, when I received one of the infamous “red box” sets of D&D from my equally geeky older brother.

But being a female gamer has it’s challenges – one of the biggest being to find a game store where one can review books, talk shop with the owners, and sling dice with what is still a vastly male clientele, without feeling marginalized or like she’s digging around a garage sale in her dorky little brothers basement. I’ve been to way too many shops that cover both.

As a college project, I imagined a game store with comfortable furniture, tastefully decorated and neatly stocked. A store with decent lighting. A store with clerks that didn’t think that possessing a pair of breasts automatically made you unworthy of learning the finer points of putting together a killer Magic the Gathering deck, or who didn’t just assume you must be shopping for your boyfriend.

Apparently someone else also had this vision, because not long after Dice House opened and it’s been everything I’ve wanted in a game store since. Yes, I can get many books cheaper or sometimes even faster on the internet, but I like buying my gaming gear from people who know what good customer service means. I like store owners who take the time to get to know their regulars and will take it upon themselves to not only let us know when something we’d be interested in is available, but will set it aside for us. I like store owners that offer a safe, comfortable environment to play the games they sell, give you space to play games with other hobbyists without having to give out your home address (or making them deal with your cat/dog/crazy roommate), and who might even take the time to show you the ropes of a game your interested in learning.

There’s something both very forward thinking and old fashioned about Dice House that should be encouraged, and I happily recommend them to any fellow gamers I run into that haven’t already given their shop a go. Even if they don’t have exactly what you’re looking for, they are usually great about ordering it for you, or helping you find something else to tide you over until the next book release. Because that’s how they roll.

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Game of Thrones – A Warning

So, with the new series coming, Burgandy bought me a spontaneous birthday gift of  “A Game of Thrones“, which I had not realized was actually the first book of the rather famous novel series “A Song of Fire and Ice”. ASOFAI is a very ambitious effort – a fantasy epic that actually has realistic consequences and a hard-edged realism. Actions have consequences in this series, and when people set off for vengeance for insults, you really see how the ordinary people (“smallfolk”) pay the price.

These books are huge, but they are also page-turners: I have found myself reading them well into the night at times. Turnarounds and changes constantly happen, and bad things can happen to main characters up to and including death. This has kept me feeling addicted to the series, and reading and reading. The first three books are all tremendous and very, very enjoyable, though Martin is a bit too true to the realism part and has killed enough of the most likeable characters that the book is, I think, largely hampered – this is added to by the fact that the story was originally about a war for vengeance and is now winding down to the ‘the story after that war where the side you liked lost but, hey, another war might start soon, so at least you have that’.

 There are, however, a couple of major issues.

The first issue is the fourth book – A Feast for Crows. Crows would be a very enjoyable book if I had not read the other three. However, as the afterword after the book states, the book got too long and so had to be split in half. Instead of just writing a two-parter in a normal way, the decision was made to divide the books by perspective and geography. This plus the attrition rate of main characters and bloat of brand new ones (four books in to the series? Strange, I thought) resulted in a book where basically all of the characters I enjoyed in the series were not actually in the book. I have to call foul on this.

 The second, and the reason this post is called ‘A Warning’ is that even though the fifth book is coming out this year, it has apparently been five years since the afterword to this book stated it would be out the next  year. Though I can not truly appreciate the angst of waiting, having not lived through it, I know that the next book is not the last,the huge delay between it and Crows makes it seem unlikely I will ever see it. Thus if you are like me and want to see an ending to things, you may want to hold off a bit before picking these up, though on the other hand the first three books are excellent.

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Vanity Fair – what are they up to?

Vanity Fair is far and away my favorite magazine. Unlike a lot of the fluff in other magazines these days, it tends to be chock full of long, well researched, interesting essays and long, in-depth interviews about subjects that are more interesting than yet another list of how to get your stuff organized, or tips for better skin care. (Or one of biggest peeves – a super short interview with an interesting star that only tells me stuff I could have learned just by reading their website.) Instead of yet another article of the same relationship advice they gave last month, there is instead an intriguing article on the economic woes of Ireland. Instead of some starlet answering absurd questions that anyone with Google and a few minutes to spare could get the answers to, there is an incredible in-depth interview of the amazing Johnny Depp written by Patti Smith that actually gives some insight into what goes down in that brilliantly off kilter mind of his.

But they’re up to something. I can tell. It took me awhile to notice, but after I was done being mesmerized not only by the fact that Rob Lowe seems to have discovered the fountain of youth, and also written what seems to be both a humorous and fascinating look at young Hollywood circa the 1980s (and also includes some insight into the childhood of everyone’s favorite Vatican Assassin), it occurred to me – there is a trend going on here, isn’t there?

Let’s go back the last few months in covers:

May 2011 – Rob Lowe, former teen heartthrob

April 2011 – Rob Pattinson, current teen hearthrob

March 2011 – It’s the Hollywood issue, so it’s not entirely fair to include it, but Jake Gyllenhaal is on the cover, so that counts for something.

February 2011 – Justin Bieber, current teen heartthrob

January 2011 – Johnny Depp, former teen hearthrob

Looking back through the archives, it occurs to me why this seems so odd. Up until this year, Vanity Fair covers have overwhelmingly been dominated by women. Last years theme even seemed to be the year of the iconic woman – Cher, Lady Gaga, Angelina Jolie, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Liz Taylor, Meryl Streep – even the Hollywood issue was all about the young up and coming actresses that may some day join their ranks of fame and infamy.

Maybe the editors felt they needed to balance out all that red lipstick with some shirtless lads? Maybe there was a dip in female readership? Is this a clever ploy to entice teen girls to read about something more deep and enlightening than how to wear the latest trends? (If so, I completely approve of this tactic.) And yes, this still works with Depp and Lowe. I mean, just look at them! Talk about aging like a fine wine. But I digress.

I’m on to you and your little game Vanity Fair. Who’s up next? Given a certain event that’s set to take place later this month involving a certain couple VF has been following pretty closely lately, I”m guessing it’s Prince William, who was…. a teen hearthrob! Ta dah! Theme intact! But if that’s followed by an in-depth look at, say, the Jonas Brothers, I won’t be surprised.

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American On Purpose: Review

I’m not generally a big autobiography reader, but I am a big fan of Craig Ferguson, so for Christmas David had picked me up a copy of American On Purpose. Although lacking in funny facial expressions, jazz hands, and hand puppets, I found the book a really enjoyable read. So much so that I plowed through the second half on a Saturday morning without really meaning to. I like how each chapter is crafted on a theme – each of which represent some key section or turning point in Craig’s life, and as such as more the feel of a really long well written essay, than a biography per se. This is Craig explaining why and how he went from being a rough and tumble Scottish lad to becoming an American of such old school patriotism that he’s got a “Don’t Tread on Me” style tattoo on one arm. Being a fan of “Trainspotting”, I found his more first hand account of what it’s like to grow up in Scotland and end up falling in with the druggie crowd in the 70s to 80s fascinating. Being a fan of 80s era British comedians (“The Young Ones” is my favorite TV Show of all time), I was in awe of the company he kept during that same time frame (he dated that one gal from “Black Adder?! No way!). But mostly, I found myself drawn into the book for the same reason I find his late night show entertaining – because even though our lives are obviously very very different, I relate to Craig and where he’s coming from. He’s done a lot of things I’ve thought of doing, but never had the guts to throw myself into it the way he apparently did – be in a band professionally, become an actor, publish a book, be a stand up comedian, be in the thick of things during that strange point in history where punk somehow gave birth to the goth movement… ok, that last one is chronologically impossible, but if I hadn’t been 8 at the time, I would have been all over this one. It’s also the first time I got to see how all those odd little stories or bits of history that come out in various Craig monologues all fit together. Also, the book is really funny, written with that same self depreciating wit that I’ve come to love on the Late Late Show. So, I’d highly recommend it. Just like the Late Late Show isn’t your typical talk show, this isn’t your typical autobiography. (As a side note, there’s apparently an interview with Craig on the Amazon page for the book! Squee!)

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NOT our kind of stuff – pedophilia

It is hard to think of pedophiles as much more than monsters. The common perception (and, more and more, the legal reality) is that pedophile is an incurable condition. Once you act out, you go to treatment for life. In California, you end up on the registry. It is weird because part of me just instinctually reacts badly to that (punishment with no hope of parole) and thinks it’s unfair…

Or at least sort of deceptive. It’s weird to have a status where you can finish your term but still be punished basically forever. Seems like you ought to just change the sentence to life instead of having the current ambience. As is, seems like the judge and jury rule one thing and then the state does another. Of course, the people being punished include the absolute worst of the worst. I think of the ‘things that might make me snap’, something like this (or something much worse, not in the mood to troll for nastiness on the web) happening to my daughter is probably the absolute top.

So where is all this going? Well, a man who wrote a guide for pedophiles was just arrested for ‘obscenity’. I’m not much of a fan of people being arrested for obscenity, it seems a bit anti-free speech, as the arresting officer seemed to admit… but then again what else can you do in situations like this? Part of me hates the idea of someone being arrested for writing basically any book. But then again the rest of me is just glad something like this can be stopped.

It is a ‘principle of the thing’ argument to say that pedophiles should get nicer treatment by the justice system or that people should be able to publicize guides to pedophilia. It isn’t practical at all. Still though, I do feel like we as a country have leaned too far towards the practical and not enough towards the principle in the last ten years.

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Everything that’s old is new again

Well, thanks to the folks over at Google Labs, doing book research just got a million times easier. Or maybe even a GOOGLE times easier. Ha! I kill me!

Anyways, there’s some super cool Google Books site up now where you can search through an electronic library of over 5 million books (so far) based on keywords, phrases, etc. The intended use appears to be for you to flip through their library and read reviews on a Kindle or other eBook reading device, then download something that appeals to you, and I’m already pretty excited about this function because the public domain books are free in the electronic universe, which they aren’t when you buy them at the bookstore. (In fact, given that the content is free, their prices are sometimes pretty outrageous, but “what the market will bear” is what you get, so what can you do? (Well, you can download a good classic novel like “A Christmas Carol” for free and read it before next week for one.)

But there is a more academic and entertaining use of their system. Google Labs has set up a little side project that allows you to look at word trends from their mighty library, which is useful if you want to look at when a particular slang term was in highest use, or when topics of interest came in or out of style, as shown in the literary forum. Given that the internet didn’t come into widespread use for the discussion of topics until the last 20 years, that’s probably going to give a pretty accurate idea of word trends over the last century or so. There’s an interesting article over on the New York Times website about the research implications of the project.

Personally, I could see a lot of uses already. Imagine your writing a book or paper about our new electronically connected age and you wanted to know when the word “internet” starting being popular. Instant feedback that the word didn’t really take off until about 1988, and then it REALLY took off. But what I thought was kind of cool is that you can play with it. Change the date parameters from 1998 to 1980 and see that weird spike between 1948 to 1956? What’s that about? Oh Google, there you go again, creating more questions than you answer, prompting me to stay up late researching nonsense that may or may not be useful at some point…

Anyways, it’s neat. This is your heads up. I’m off to download classic novels so I can make my daughter read some adventure books not written by Rick Riordan (not that I don’t find his books enjoyable, but he’s got nothing on Kipling.)

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