book reviews

Osamu Tezuka Story – Toshio Ban

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This is the largest manga volume I’ve ever read, and happily it’s one self-contained narrative about Osamu Tezuka, who is both the Walt Disney and Will Eisner of Japanese culture. And an unrepetant workoholic – he always seemed to be working on at least five different manga at the one time. The Osamu Tekuza Story is both a fascinating look at a hard-working artist and at how Japan has changed since the thirties. I recommend it.

Injustice: Gods Among Us Volume 1 – 2 Tom Holland

Imagine you’re an ordinary person in the DC Universe. Your world is a scary place, buffeted by bizarre forces you barely comprehend and constantly threatened by extraterrestrial megalomaniacs. The only thing that stops your emotional landscape from becoming a whirlpool of existential terror is the knowledge that you’re ultimately being protected by the moral paragons over at the Justice League. Sure, Superman sometimes goes a bit evil but that’s probably just Kryptonite poisoning, and if things get really bad maybe the Sandman can organise a massive sleepover to bend reality back into the right shape. There’s a MLK saying Superman scribe Elliot S. Maggin seemed very fond of, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”, which applies particularly well to the DCU.

Anyone who believes that in the world of Injustice: Gods Among Us is headed for a breakdown. This prequel comic to some fighting game I’ve never played applies Murphy’s Law to the Justice League in the most heartbreaking way possible, by showing how Superman becomes determined to enforce world peace after the Joker tricks him into killing his wife and their unborn child, and the dire lengths Batman goes to to oppose his reign. It’s brutal stuff.

Yet somehow the well-written characterisation makes it feel that this dark scenario is possible for these classic characters. I feel that too many modern Superman adaptions darken the character to make him more appealing to the audiences who loved The Dark Knight trilogy, and by that I’m referring to the more recent Zack Snyder films. Going dark misses the point of Superman. While his stories aren’t necessarily childish, they do generally have an optimistic view on humanity. And they’re silly, especially Jimmy Olsen’s bizarre transformations and anything involving bizarro, and that’s really an essential part of what makes Superman fun. Tom Holland understands this, and instead of writing his heartbroken Superman as a Frank Milleresque angstlord, his Superman takes his simplistic and intuitive approach to morality in a horrifically different, tyrannical direction. It’s a believable evolution from his classic persona.

Batman is the same as he ever was. Really, someone as grim as him hardly needs any adaption to the new status quo. Although his butler Alfred really steps up to the plate in this book, beating up evil Superman thanks to the strength he got from a reverse-engineered Kryptonian medical technology. But we didn’t know that at the time, so it was awesome.

You can tell by the way I’m raving on about these books that they had a profound effect on me. Maybe they’ll do something similar to you.

Kiss Me Satan: New Orleans is a Werewolf Town – Victor Gischler and Joan Ferreya

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So this one’s about a demon attempting redemption by acting as heaven’s dogsbody, in one of those eschatological conflicts where predictably enough, each side is as bad as the other. He makes it to New Orleans, where he has to defend a trio of witches from the werewolf mafia. Didn’t work for me.

Flash: Rogues Revolution, Gorilla Warfare and Reverse – Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

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I read more of Francis Manapul’s and Brian Buccellato’s Flash run, and it’s still very good. If I read anymore I might become a Flash fan. While I appreciate The Spirit-style titles, they do make the layout a bit confusing at times.

Hawkeye: Little Hits and L. A. Woman – Matt Fraction

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Hawkeye is some Robin Hood wannabe dude who hangs out with The Avengers. In his private life, it turns out that he owns an apartment complex which he’s constantly defending against a tracksuit-clad sunglass-wearing gang of middle-aged men. They say bro a lot.

I enjoyed it. I’d enjoy it more if I’d managed to catch the first one in the series, but maybe that’s what I deserve for sourcing my comics exclusively from public libraries.

Smaller-scale conflicts work great for a fairly un-superhero like Hawkeye. I’m thinking that if the MCU want to make another film on the cheap, they ought to consider adapting this storyline to film.

Shada – Gareth Roberts

Based on a Douglas Adams script that never made it to air, Gareth Robert’s novel sees the Doctor and Romana reunite with a retired timelord posing as a professor at an Oxbridge university.  The professor inadvertently lends an ancient Gallifreyan tome to a student looking for something to impress his intimidating love interest, and it finds itself in the hands of the tacky time-travelling villain Shada.

The weird thing about this book was that the narration often felt at odds with the dialogue. Roberts was adapting Adam’s screenplay, but his description of events often guessed at the character’s motivations and their emotional reactions. Honestly it felt a bit disjointed at times.

Shada isn’t the best Doctor Who novel I’ve read, but if nothing like this existed I’d always be wondering what the lost Adams was all about, so it’s worth reading on that level.

The Fifth Beatle: Brian Epstein – Vivek J. Tiwary

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I dunno about this one. The true story is interesting but I had doubts about the script. It turns out that Brian Epstein was a gay man who was conflicted about his sexuality, which was especially tough for him given how homosexuality was basically illegal in sixties Britain. The backword said the author wants to develop this into a screenplay, and I think movie version of this book would be worthwhile with some more revision.