Secret Origins – Various Authors

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Now that I’ve taken a really good hard look of this cover, it’s hard to say what words form the title. The ‘of’ and the ‘presents’ confuses me. Still the words Secret Origins are the biggest here, so I’ll go with those.

This anthology collects a lot of classic DC material, from the forties to the sixties. There’s a few predictably zany Superman/Batman startups, and Green Lantern fails to impress me as usual. I liked this version of the Flash was inspired by a comic book, and I appreciate how calm Martian Manhunter was about being stranded on Earth, even being so altruistic as to become a police detective. Alien characters are great that way, you can write them however you want and their eccentricities can be excused by their extraterrestrial origins.

By far my favourite story detailed the origins of Eclipso, an astronomy-themed Dr. Hyde villain who shares a body and a brain with his greatest nemesis, the brilliant scientist Bruce Gordon. The ruins of Gordon’s solar-powered city was an evocative setting. I want to read more about this guy.

There’s also a tale on the origins of Bizarro’s planet, a cubical world where everyday is opposite day. This is a simple concept, but it’s amazing how much cool stuff the writer can milk out of the concept.

Despite all my praise, I’d only recommend this one to people who are already fans of DC Comics. These story’s lack of context could frustrate newcomers.

 

 

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Justice League: Konstriction – Dustin Nguyan and Derek Fridolfs

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This wasn’t a very good book.

The art swung between generic and awkward, and too often the characters would speak in expository lectures. Which was a pity because towards the middle there was a really interesting scenario where Apokolips and New Genesis allied against a common threat, complete with Orion being made the leader of Apokolips and his father rendered blind. This was a scenario that deserved much better writing.

Not recommended.

Godzilla: Awakening – M. Borenstein and G. Borenstein

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Another book I forgot to review immediately after reading, Godzilla: Awakening was far better than any reboot movie tie-in has the right to be. The plot was about a guy whose dad was involved a government agency dealing with monster security, I think, and there were lots of cool fantastic beasts. I’m definitely open to learning more about this world.

Monsters: Gorgo – Steve Ditko

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This is a bunch of comic stories about a Godzilla knock-off, drawn by famed Spiderman artist Steve Ditko. Gorgo’s points of differentiation are that he’s slightly more amphibious than his inspiration, and his close relationship with his even larger mother. My favourite story involved a Hollywood production crew getting tangled up with the monster. I was surprised by how often romance formed a counterpoint to Gorgo’s titanic struggles. Still, this collection didn’t do all that much for me.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J K Rowling

 

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If you’re reading this review it’s likely that you’ve already finished this book, or that you intend to read it in the near future. For those of you in the second category, the only question that remains is whether you should buy or borrow Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

I bet you know that Cursed Child is a play script. Because the thing was originally intended to be a play performed in London’s West End, where most Harry Potter fans can’t see the show. So they had to make the story available in some form, although I’d have preferred a prose adaption even if everything besides the dialogue was ghostwritten. The play itself is written by some dude called Jack Thorne based on a story by JK Rowling and John Tiffany. I’m guessing that Rowling drafted up some super special top secret story that’s going to live in a vault until she dies, and Thorne spruced it up into a play. While the whole ‘reading a playscript’ thing is odd at first, it soon worked for me. It’s more economical, really. My only quibble was that I’d have liked a full colour insert with photos from the stage play inserted roughly halfway through the text.

If you were really anxious about spoilers I doubt you’d be reading this, so I feel no hesitation in telling you that the plot of Cursed Child is very similar to Back To the Future. Harry Potter’s son, Albus, and Draco Malfoy’s boy, Scorpius, steal a dodgy time-twister to save Cedric Diggory, that guy who died in the fourth book. You know time travel plots, they’re dramatic and always slightly inconsistent with their rules. But the heart of this story are Albus and Scorpius, two sarcastic friends with an outsider’s perspective of Hogwarts. Both are overshadowed by their fathers’ legacies, despite actually being more interesting characters. That’s not giving the now middle-aged Draco his due, though. Although he’s gotten over his Voldemort sympathies, there’s something about Harry Potter that just pisses him off. And I like that, it’s perfectly reasonable to be envious of a character as lucky and bland as Harry.

Plenty of cool things happened in this play, but by far the coolest was the revelation that the trolley witch from the Hogwarts Express is charged with keeping the students on the train, and that she can transform her hands into spikes and walk on the roof to do so. I bet Rowling’s head is full of bonkers Harry Potter facts like this.

One thing made me cringe, and that was the return of the infamous Sorting Hat. Since it’s meant to be a play the hat is played by some dude wearing a hat. And it still sings.

If Harry Potter ever meant anything to you then you’ll need to read Cursed Child eventually. But I’d only recommend that the really ardent fans buy it.

V – Thomas Pynchon

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Thomas Pynchon’s debut novel V is a brilliantly eccentric mindscrew.

Benny Profane is a former navy sailor searching for work and meaning in New York, while his eccentric acquaintance Herbert Stencil obsessively hunts for anything he can find on V, an enigmatic woman mentioned only once in his father’s journal. The stories these characters are implicated in stretch from the high seas to South Africa, from Venice to Malta, from the British Egypt to the island of Malta. And that’s not even mentioning the mythical kingdom found at the South Pole. Chapters are often narrated by a member of Profane and Stencil’s nebulous web of friends, such as Profane’s girlfriend Rachel Owlglass and the plastic surgeon Shale Shoenmaker. The two protagonists are occasionally drowned in this diversity of viewpoint characters and settings, although it’s likely that Pynchon was going for this effect, and besides, the things that happen in this novel are fun.

Like the job Profane gets hunting crocodiles in New York’s sewers. Or the Catholic priest who preached to the rats in those sewers during the Depression. Or that Antarctic civilization I mentioned in the above paragraph, reminiscent of that prehistoric city from The Mountain of Madness. Or the scheme to steal Botticelli’s Venus painting in a hollowed tree. Or Profane’s conversations with a radioactive dummy during his job as a nightwatchman, where the inanimate objects replies are written without quotation marks. Or Yoyodyne, the weapons developer that originated as a toy company. Or the revelation that dentistry replaced psychoanalysis just as psychanalysis replaced the confessional, or that tourists live in their own world, or that inanimate objects have a sinister antagonism against organic beings. The Stencil plot and Profane’s friends provide Pynchon with a framework to throw together as many ideas as he could in a coherent order. Book people talk about Pynchon as though he were a human zen koan, but after reading V I’m convinced that he’s the sort of person who’d read Cracked, or at least Mad Magazine.

In this book Pynchon achieves what I once believed was impossible, he manages to have his characters burst into song without it being awful. Think about it, when you’re reading some nice prose fiction and all of a sudden those nice block paragraphs devolve into italicised lines, your eyes glaze over and you internally debate skipping to the next proper part of the story or risk wasting your time scanning dodgy poetry. Whether it’s Oompa Loompas crooning about how much some grotesquely injured child sucks, Frodo Baggins climbing onto a table to babble about the man in the moon, or the Sorting Hat reminding you why he’s only ever taken out of storage once a year, no character in fiction should ever be allowed to sing. Except in Thomas Pynchon. I guess the reason he gets away with it is that his lyrics are actually good. The first song is sung by a busker and the second by drunken sailors as they rush to suck beer out of taps shaped like women’s breasts – if the reader’s disbelief can handle that it can handle everything. My favourite song is Winsome’s musical autobiography, set to the tune of Davy Crocket, which is honestly unsuitable to be reproduced on the internet.

This book will overwhelm you, no matter how old you are, so anyone could read this book, but on the other hand it does contain sex and violence, so maybe only people over eighteen should read V. The rapid setting changes may appeal to fans of Italo Calvino

sIf on a Winter’s Night. Amateur detectives and conspiracy nuts will enjoy the tangled net of associations Stencil weaves around a single letter, and desolate youth stranded on the job market will identify with Profane’s listlessness. Anyone who wants to sound smart by boasting that they’ve read an intimidating book would be well advised to pick this one up, and anyone who has read the fourth Harry Potter will be able to complete it.

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus: Volume Four – Jack Kirby

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Of all the self-proclaimed villains in fiction, Darkseid is the one that scares me the most. Take a look at the above picture, I bet he’s creeping you out right now.

This stony-faced monster is the megalomaniac ruler of Apokalips, a planet famous mainly for being an awful armpit of a place to live and its war against the nearby paradise New Genesis. The story is that after the old gods died during Ragnorak, their world split into these two planets. Darkseid himself is a monstrous genius, and while he has a host of terrifying abilities his most notable is his most mundane – he is a an incredibly intimidating man.

Part of what makes Darkseid such a memorable character is that at times he feels like an authentic human being. While the Joker cartoonishly prances around in make-up, Darkseid argues with his best friend Desaad, is unnerved by new technology and worries about his treacherous son. He’s more Stalin than Darth Vader, although with his exotic headgear you could argue that he combines the worst of both.

The reason I’m talking about Darkseid is that I just finished reading the last volume of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus. I’ve had a patchy history with this franchise, reading the second volume, then the third, the first a year later, and this one six years after that. Add that to the fact this Kirby weaves a fantastic world through four different series that are only marginally collected, and you get one confused reviewer. In this particular volume those only three series are represented, eventually whittled down to only one.

That was Mr. Miracle, which tells the story of the titular escape artist and his Amazonian love interest Big Barda as they are confronted with a parade of bizarre villains. My favourite was the head of a criminal organisation, who was literally a head on wheels, a joke also used in the CS Lewis novel That Hideous Strength. There’s an element of romance to Mr. Miracle, made interesting by the fact that the two lovers genuinely enjoy eachother’s company throughout the whole thing.

Another series present in the book, New Gods, chronicles the adventures of Orion and his close friend Lightray as they struggle against Darkseid’s minion. Orion clearly has inherited his father’s anger. Such a berserker he is that I worry Orion is liable to kill an innocent member of the public in a fit of rage. He needs therapy. Lightray, on the other hand, is a ray of sunshine.

I don’t like the Forever People, the last series included in this volume. They’re essentially five bohemians who, like the planeteers, can summon an over-powered superhero to bail them out of whatever trouble they’re in. One of them is a space cowboy, so I guess you could say they’re Jack Kirby’s version of the Village People.

Volume Four wraps up with Jack Kirby’s hasty conclusion to the Fourth World saga. You can feel his frustration at having to present such a truncated ending to his grand vision. The art is gorgeous, though.

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga will be inaccessible to many casual readers due to the frequent changes between narrative streams. I would recommend it to Marvel fans, especially devotees of seventies Thor or Silver Surfer.