A rather excellent Nightwing

Nightwing: Renegade by Devin Grayson, Phil Hester and Ande Parks

Obviously, I’m hugely nerdy, love comics and will firmly advocate for them.  I mean, yes some of them are ridiculous and involve Batman wearing a different colour of the rainbow every night or Superboy punching reality so hard it breaks or Superman spinning the earth backwards. Whatever. And they can be very messy and complicated with so much reconning that you feel like your in a low budget, Canadian sci fiction film  with some incredibly non-medicinal amnesia (X-men, I’m looking at you). And they’re very often made into truly terrible movies. Everyone can pick their own example for that one.

And yes, people used to blame comics for turning our children into violent delinquents but we’ve moved on from that (now we can blame video games!) and my parents still think I need to stop reading this trash (if only they knew) but I’m still pretty sure I never will because sometimes there are stories in comics that aren’t motivated by the main character getting turned into a mythical beast by a goofy villain or people getting punched by aliens. Sometimes they are mostly about people.

I like stories about people.

Which brings me to the end of my “in defense of my laughable Batman obsession” section and onto Renegade.

Renegade follows Mobbed Up, which was mostly devoted to Dick Grayson joining the Bludhaven mafia. There was supposed to be some implication that he might actually have gone kind of dark side, but it didn’t really stick. After the big players are all arrested at the end of the last book Dick apparently needs a new plan, which seems to involve working for Deathstroke who is, as his name suggests, pretty evil. He gets a new costume, calls himself Renegade and starts teaching Ravager, Deathstroke’s daughter, everything he knows, including how to me a good guy. I feel like that was the tactical error the writers made when trying to convince me that Dick wasn’t just playing them and had actually joined team not-so-nice.

Anyway, as predicted Dick was never really evil, just manipulating them all in a very elaborate plot to gridlock crime as much as possible in his city, but it all backfires horribly when something really, really bad happens.

And as all these things are happening Dick’s tying to fix them, not because he thinks it’s right so much as out of habit. His whole life has been about fighting bad guys, so he does it even when he feels too guilty and hopeless and alone and miserable to really care if he survives the fight. At this point he’s barely on speaking terms with Bruce, has recently broken up with Barbara and just found out that Bruce will officially adopt Tim. He’s no longer working as a police officer, recovering from a pretty serious injury and shaken by his role in the death of some bad guy (yup, let me vague that up for you – actually I have no idea what happened, I haven’t stumble upon that comic yet). All of these things make him, among other things, suicidally reckless and kind of hopeless.

Of course at the end , after he has an epiphany, nearly dies, is rescued and yelled at by Bruce, he starts to realize that all the “bad” things he’s done haven’t really been the best way to deal with his issues and tries to return to the perfect hero he was before, make things right with Barbara and try to correct some of his mistakes.

So, comic book yes. Some goofy bad guys who dress in orange and blue phantom of the opera costumes yes. Superman, yup. But, mostly a story about someone feeling like they can’t escape their mistakes, making bad decisions and realizing what they have to do to make it right. Who hasn’t had that day happen to them?

Last movie I watched: Superman/Batman Public Enemies. I just had to check and make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

Last TV show I watched. Grimm! Hank knows!

Closets and cannons

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

After Smile, I pretty much knew I had to read Drama too. It is totally wonderful, although I did like Smile more. It’s the story of a middle school musical, told by Callie, a member of the back stage crew as she tries to find a way to make an exploding cannon on stage while navigating through the trickiness of dating, cheating, heart break and sexuality.

So, all in all I enthusiastically recommend this book. It handles the middle school dating really well, most importantly giving the gay characters character. You know, not just making them gay people, but people who happen to be gay, which I think is super important and quite often doesn’t happen. Callie’s confusion about her feelings towards several of her friends are sweet and well documented, but don’t marginalize her relationships with her best friend either, so that also made me happy.

And the background of the play really made me miss my years running badly plays with children in summer camps.

I feel like this book deserves a longer post, I’m really tired so it’s not going to get that. Which is a shame. I guess everyone should just go out and read it.

Last movie I watched: The Hangover.

Last TV episode I watched: Teen Titans. Which I’m running out of. That’ll be sad.

A very solid Batman

Batman Night of Owls by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

Continuity in comics can be way, way, way complicated. This book fits in shortly after Nigthwing’s Traps and Trapezes and Batman’s Court of Owls and with a few others somehow. I’m still working on the details and will report back later. If I ever figure it out.

Night of Owls all takes place in one night when the Court of Owls decides to move against all the public figures in Gotham. They mistakenly attack Bruce Wayne early in the night, which means the entire, extended Batfamily (except Tim. Where’s Tim?) gets called in to protect the city.

So this book is really neat because it’s got everybody fighting together, or at least at the same time, to protect the city. Bruce is everywhere, obviously, Dick faces off against his ancestor, Damian gets to be in charge of a large military unit, Jason and his gang (Starfire!? How did you end up there? Also Roy) save Mr. Freeze whose … damn, I wanted to an Arnie sized pun about his ice powers but I’ve got nothing…. powers are key to stopping the Owls, Barbara spends most of her stories trying to protect her father and then the Birds of Prey (Katana, Black Canary, Starling and Poison Ivy… clearly I’m missing something huge in there somewhere) Batwing saves Lucius Fox and even Catwoman ends up fighting off a Talon who’s after the Penguin.

A lot of the narration is from the perspective of the Talon too, kind of explaining how they got to be suck broken people, how they were turned into weapons by the Court. Some of them are vaguely sympathetic, because this is Batman and no one’s ever without a sad back story. There’s a lot of the history of the Court, which is a creepily wonderful idea.

Also, they have scary masks.

Anyway, yeah so kind of awesome. A little confusing based on my understanding of the overall Batman-ness but hey! That’s what’s fun about comics. Picking your own canon.

Last movie I watched: The Hangover. I didn’t think I’d like it, but it was kind of funny actually.

Last TV episode I watched: Downton Abbey! Mary and Matthew!! Wheee!!!

The most depressing post I have ever written. Sorry.

Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon

Seriously, I’d skip this one entirely if I were you. I knew I couldn’t really read a book about the Holocaust without getting bummed out and soul search-y.

While I appreciate the idea behind turning Anne Franks’s life into a graphic novel to make it more accessible to kids, I’m not really sure it was a good idea at the end of it all. First of all, biographies don’t really make good picture stories. There’s a lot of who married who and what they do at work and where they grew up but those aren’t really great for illustrations. I know that I don’t read much nonfiction, and if it’s all like this, I see why. Facts and dates, even quotes kind of sterilize the story, taking away the narrative drive and lacking real emotion. I suppose you don’t need to write in real emotion when you’re writing the story of a girl who was brutally murdered, along with millions of others, but still.

One thing I really did like about the pictures though is that they didn’t PG it up. I was probably more upset by the images of the camps than most kids would be, but they are horrifying. Which I think is brave of the authors, since we seem to have this weird feeling that kids can hear about terrible things, but not see them.

But I guess what made me most sad was the way we teach history. We desperately want things to make sense, we want to understand our past and so, when something as earth shattering as the Holocaust happens, we try to find meaning. We want to teach ourselves that this kind of atrocity couldn’t ever happen again. This book supports this narrative. It has a clear agenda. It’s a lesson in humanity.

My grade five teacher read us Anne Frank. I remember swearing very genuinely to the ghost of this girl I’d never know that we would never let anything like this happen again. Even though it was a heart breaking story, at the end of it there was some hope. Now I’m an adult and I don’t want to make promises like that. I’ve come to wonder if morality, compassion and empathy aren’t, as we fervently wish, at the core of human experience. Instead I’m afraid that they are luxuries and privileges and therefore the first things to be scarified when things get harder. Now I think teaching history to kids like that is simplistic, unrealistic and probably not very effective.

We do need to remember the horrible things that happen, but if that’s all we do, try to preserve those horrors to remind us of our mistakes, we’re not looking at what caused them, not really. So I guess I’d rather we find a new way to show our past to our kids.  I think we need to acknowledge that sometimes history doesn’t make sense, that good people do bad things and bad people do good things and holding up one tragic life as a reminder of our own destructive power probably won’t change anything.

No matter how much we want it to.

See.  Really depressing.

But for the record, it does explain why superheroes are so appealing.

Last movie I watched: Justice League: Doom. My favourite part is that Batman’s hobbies include planning to take out all his friends.

Last TV episode I watched: One of the most beautiful Doctor Who episodes ever.

God I’m such a snob

The Elite by Kiera Cass

Okay, so just in case I get bogged down in my feelings that something was missing from the book I want to emphasis that I did actually like it. It was very good. A little chick-flicky for my usual taste, but lovely and light and fun and as pleasant a way to spend a long bus ride as possible. Other than 50 Shades of Grey which the lady next to me was reading.

This charming little book is the sequel to the Selection, evidently to be the middle in (what I hope will be) a trilogy. It picks up where the Selection left off. In a post apocalyptic future where everyone is born into a cast which dictates their entire lives, America is among the last six girls to be eliminated from the list of potential brides for Prince Maxon and struggling with her feelings for both the Prince and her childhood sweetheart Aspen, who works as a palace guard.

There’s some really interesting stuff in there too. Maxon is a genuinely wonderful character with loads of dimensions and real characteristics and motivations and strengths and weakness and all those other things real people have. There’s a lot about the writing or rewriting of history which is pretty challenging and definitely worth talking about.  Some of the secondary characters are adorable, in their secondary character capacity. Questions of duty, family, obligation, privilege and change are all thrown around.

But something wasn’t quite there for me. And I’m not even sure I can identify it. This is as close as I can get – I feel is lacking from this book is urgency and danger.  Which is a hard thing to get, I know that. I mean, everyone knows that the first person narrator isn’t going to die in the middle of their series, nor is either side of the love triangle, at least not until a pivotal moment. But some books do a really good job of making you worried about that happening anyway, even though you know it probably won’t. This book just doesn’t. At no point was I legitimately concerned for the safety of any characters, even the sacrificial secondary ones (there are a lot, I’m anticipating a blood bath in the third one). I wasn’t even mildly concerned that America would get kicked out of the selection because hey, then there’s no story. The mysterious rebels who spring up, mostly to motivate the plot and who should be seen as a real risk just aren’t. They mostly around to throw America into situations when she can a) show her worth, b) bond with Maxon or c) worry about Aspen.

I feel it’s obvious what Kiera Cass wants to write about. Love triangles and being rich and nice clothes and the media. Also some issues too of course, but she’s not that interested in fights or trauma or physical danger or stuff like that. Or at least, that’s what came through for me.

Again, did like it, read it quickly and enjoyed exclaiming “why is she still with that guy?” out loud with a friend who’d also read it. I’m just a snob I guess. I want real, well written plot with my romance and dresses and love triangles. There’s nothing I can do about it. Nothing at all.

Last movie I watched: Wreck-It Ralph. Awesome, although I found Jane Lynch’s voice distracting since all I could think about was Sue Sylvester.

Last TV show I watched: Downton Abbey. Oh Mr Bates, please don’t have murdered your wife.

That time I got so excited that Batman was on the cover that I forgot to read the title

Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond by Adam Beechen, Ryan Benjamin and John Stanisci

Seriously. When the first or third or whichever big red herring reveal was that the villain might be Hush I was like “NO WAY!” Then a few minutes later I shut the book and looked at the title. Freakin’ genius.

So it’s hard for me to tell if this was just the best Batman Beyond graphic novel I’ve ever read because it was awesome or if I just got really excited about Dick Grayson being in it. I suspect the answer is somewhere in the middle.

It begins with a breakout in Cadmus labs. Shortly after that someone starts killing off elderly, senile and infirm Batman villains, leaving clues that point to other Batman villains. Bruce and Terry investigate of course, and determine that the most likely suspect is Hush aka Thomas Elliot, Bruce’s (insane) childhood friend. Either way, whoever it is, they know about Bruce and all his Batmany secrets, leading Terry to Dick Grayson, who’s all retired and one eyed and gruff. After a while though they realize that this new villain isn’t an old bad guy after all but someone much closer to home.

Hey, that sounds like the back of a book doesn’t it? Vague and goofy. I should work in a few good “…”s and we’d be set.

Anyway points for awesome. 1) Terry and Bruce’s trust issues and how they resolve. Sort of. 2) Dick Grayson! 3) Dick and Bruce’s trust  issues. Those don’t resolve at all. 4) The Dick and Terry bonding. Super cute.

If I could pick one thing about comic book reality to bring to this one, it would be awesome healing powers. Terry gets stabbed and is better within twenty pages.  Everyone wakes up from blows to the head. People walk home with gut wounds. Think of how handy that would be in real life.

Last movie I watched: Superman/Batman Public Enemies.

Last TV episode I watched: Downton Abbey. WILLIAM!!! Also Matthew. Poor Matthew.

 

The best book I’ve ever read that starts with an unfortunate erection (and one of the best books I’ve ever read straight up)

Sidekicks by Jack D Ferraiolo

First of all, I feel like I have to disclaim this book a little. It’s definitely for a slightly older child. A tweenage one I imagine.

I’m also going to disclaim this post. I will try my absolute hardest not to spoil any of the fabulous plot twists in this novel but I can’t promise I won’t accidentally let something slip because I’m so outrageously excited about this book and enjoyed readying so much and laughed out loud like the whole way through and just want someone to talk to about it.

So if I accidentally let something  I’m very, very sorry. Please don’t let it stop you from reading this book.

Scott Hutchinson is a young plus/plus (plus speed, plus strength) who fights crime as Phantom Justice’s flamboyantly sidekick every night. He’s willing to put up with faking being a wimp at school to protect his secret identity. He doesn’t mind Trent’s constant training. He’s even getting by without having any real friends. But one night after catching an attractive hostage who was thrown of a roof and getting an erection on television he decides things have to change. By things, he mostly means his bright yellow spandex costume.

But in the midst of his struggle to get out of the spandex and into something that will restore his self confidence and self respect, events spiral out of control when Phantom Justice’s worst enemy Dr Chaotic breaks out of prison, his secret identity is discovered by Dr. Chaotic’s sidekick Monkey wrench, who happens to be a student at his school, and everything he thought he knew about being a sidekick is totally turned on its head.

I don’t even know where to start with this book and how great it is. First of all, it rips into the superhero genre with great enthusiasm. Maybe I’m just always thinking about Batman but I totally saw Batman and Robin in Phantom Justice and Bright Boy, but twisted sideways to  point out how laughable the whole concept of a dark, brooding hero and a brightly dressed distraction is. Jumping off of roofs and swinging on flagpoles has never been so funny, or weirdly feasible. Having a ridiculously amazing  multi-talented butler is ab-achingly hilarious when it’s Louis, who is a butler, personal trainer and pancake master. (I want one).

The writing is in first person present tense, which makes every moment more hilarious and more wonderful. It also allows lines like “Now I’m arguing with myself” to make perfect sense. It drives the story along at a really fast pace and adds to the suspense. Because there are a few chapters written in normal present tense (without the first person) the audience knows some REALLY FREAKING IMPORTANT AND UNEXPECTED INFORMATION THAT I TOTALLY DIDN’T SEE COMING but that just builds tension as Scott explains things as they happen and he can’t possibly know what we do. It’s so wonderful.

Also, the plot twists. Oh the plot twists. I can’t even count how many there were that I totally didn’t see coming, which is kind of rare. This might sound kind of obnoxious (in a nerdy way) but I’m usually pretty genre savvy and aware of conventions and I read TV tropes for fun (seriously, if you don’t, you’re missing out). Not that much surprises me. I was surprised right out of my mind a few times in this book.

Man, do I ever want to talk about those times right now.

Last, but certainly not least, I feel like I need to applaud any book that actually has a unfortunate erections in it. I’m not, and have never been, a tweenaged boy, so I can’t empathize exactly, but I can totally see how these situations are uncomfortable and feel like maybe we should talk about them a little more, so boys can be slightly less embarrassed by them (the same way we should talk about periods more, to avoid terrifying girls). So well done there. But there are more moments about growing up in it than just that one. Watching Scott struggling to be his own person, to be true to himself, to be faithful to Trent who’s been his guardian since he was a small child, to fall in love for the first time, on top of all the physical complications of growing up just felt really right.

And that doesn’t even count the superhero stuff.

In conclusion, this book is too epic and too fabulous to need a conclusion.

Last movie I watched: Still Superman/Batman Public Enemies. Not because I’ve been obsessively rewatching it just in case anyone’s wondering.

Last TV show I watched: Teen Titans.

 

Someone really needs to imprison all the women Bruce Wayne has ever slept with – it will save so much time when they turn out to be evil later

Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes by Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham and Cameron Stewart

So spoiler alert! Talia is evil and crazy and creates the Leviathan organization, as far as I can tell, for the soul purpose of irritating Bruce. Also, I think it gets her child killed (DAMIAN! WHY ARE YOU DEAD?) because she is a horrible mother.

Seriously – when Bruce Wayne looks like the responsible parent, you’re in trouble.

Also, why did Talia cut off Jezebel’s  head? Sure Bruce was in love with her but she was evil! And insane! Which… actually maybe accounts for it.

Anyway, that was fun. I feel like it was the conclusion of a comic book series I haven’t read, so I’m pretty sure I’m missing some of the details and subtleties of the story but what I lack in background knowledge I totally made up for in enthusiasm. After all, this one featured my favourite characters: Everyone! Stephanie infiltrates a school brainwashing girls. Barbara does her awesome coordinating and cyber battling coolness. Dick, Tim and Damian spend most of the time trying to back Bruce up, which is hard since he keeps doing dumb things that get him in trouble. We’ve also got Bat Wing (the African Batman… yeah I’m not sure I’m going to touch that one), a few of the other “ethnic” Batmen and even the Outsides, who are apparently important although I have no idea who they are at this point (other than Batman’s little Justice League).

If I were to pick three favourite moments, they’d all involve Damian (not because I’m struggling to cope with his death, he’s just so precious). The way he and Dick fight together is particularly wonderful and the frame where that’s exemplified is super neat. I also loved his apology to Bruce after he breaks his promise not to kill (for like the 6th millionth time) because it was the only way to save Bruce’s life. And his sweet little face looks so confused when he realizes it’s his mother who’s just about killed him and everyone he loves – its kind of heartbreaking.

Oh Talia, you are such an interesting character. I’d like you so much more if you didn’t kill Damian.

Last movie I watched: Superman/Batman Public Enemies. “Clark, what the hell are good villains?”

Last TV episode I watched: Teen Titans. Fun. Not as good as Young Justice. Ran twice as long. Disappointed.

Novels into graphic novels (and why I’m not sure they’re a good idea)

Pendragon: Book one: Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale and Carla Speed McNeil

Books that are written as graphic novels from the very start use picture differently. It’s like the difference between a really, really good picture book and a good one. In a really, really good picture book like Something From Nothing by Phoebe Gilman the pictures don’t just mirror the words, they add a whole other dimension, like the mouse story. They make it better, they bring something to the story that the words can’t.

It seems to me that when someone sits down in front of a blank piece of paper and think “Today I think I’ll write a graphic novel” in their minds they already have ways in which the pictures are going to add something to the story, or they’d probably just write a novel. I mean, I would. Sure novels are hard because there are more words you have to fit together nicely and proof reading is exhausting but I can’t draw to save my life. I can’t even imagine how to draft a graphic novel. I’d have to collaborate with someone who could draw and collaboration is hard and time consuming and what if I hate breakfast meetings but my collaborator loves them? It could be a disaster!

So I’d rather just write a novel.

Which is why graphic novels, or even novels with pictures Diary of a Wimpy Kid style are so awesome. Because the pictures aren’t just part of the story. They are the story as much as the words are.

But when you have a novel that someone carefully sat down to write and went to a lot of effort to pick out just the right words and worked painstakingly carefully at the description so it would be informative but not boring and found the exact adjective to describe the heroes eye colour by the end of it all there just isn’t a need for pictures.

Merchant of Death wasn’t a bad graphic novel and I’m sure it’s a better novel. But there’s one frame that really made all this make sense to me. Bobby, the hero, comes to his friend’s bedroom, having just saved a world, he’s exhausted and he passes out on the floor next to the bed. In that frame the picture is prefect. It shows him landing, face on the carpet and sleeping while his stunned friends watch. See! Even my describing it with words is clumsy. The picture is funny and touching and adds to the story. It gives this information perfectly and succinctly. It’s beautiful.

The rest of the book isn’t really like this. Some of the pictures add to the story, most just illustrate it. This doesn’t really make it a bad book. I enjoyed it a lot (finally, a fantasy novel that recognized the serious medical implications of  loosing consciousness due to a blow to the head!). It probably makes Merchant of Death (novel form) more accessible for struggling readers but I think you can tell. It’s not really a graphic novel. It’s a novel with pictures.

Last movie I watched: Superman/Batman Public Enemies. Don’t judge me. IT WAS AWESOME.

Last TV episode I watched: Most of a Grimm. Hoping to finish it shortly. ‘Cause the suspense is killing me.

Now I finally understand why there are superhero encyclopedias…. apparently you need them

Birds of Prey: The Death of Oracle by Gail Simone

Of all the kick-ass lady superheroes I’ve ever spent time getting to know, Barbara Gordon is my favourite. I’m fond of her as Batgirl and I adore her as Oracle. I think she’s interesting and very three dimensional (for a comic obviously) and strong and all in all way cooler than, I don’t know, Wonder Woman. At least she puts pants on.

I knew, kind of vaguely, that she headed up a team of superhero ladies as Oracle and it consisted of Huntress (who seriously has the second dumbest costume I’ve ever seen…she’s only beaten out by Starfire. I feel like Dick sleeps with both of them too… disappointing…clearly he has a thing for purple, basically non existent crime fighting suits… anyway), Black Canary, who is a superhero in her own series I think (or maybe she joins the JLA or something) and Batgirl, or at least Stephanie Brown’s Batgirl. Maybe not Cassandra’s.

Well maybe I’m right but I have a feeling that reality is much more confusing.

That’s right. If anyone managed to understand that whole last paragraph well done! Apparently it’s more complicated than that.

So because of some run in with the Calculator (one of the lamest named villains ever) Barbara has decided it’s too dangerous for Oracle to continue helping like every super hero on the plant so she, with the Birds and Batman, come up with a needlessly complicated plot to fake her death. This includes Lady Blackhawk (time travelling pilot from the second world war), Dove (overly innocent girl who turns into a blue and white spandexed, super strong person), Huntress, Black Canary and some dude called Hawk who works just like Dove only he’s tougher, gruffer and turns red instead of blue, getting drunk and watching strippers and getting kidnapped and tied up in a bus and…. Anyway, ultimately it works out and Oracle “dies”. We’re treated to several nice adventures afterwards in which Oracle still helps out her superheroes, despite going to such extremes to disappear.

I enjoyed the Batboys, all of whom made brief appearances and the kickass, lady power, sisterly bonds that the Birds shared. I’m not sure that it’s ever a good idea to bring an evil mutant Nazi back from the dead though. That might have been a low point.

Anyway, I’d just finished revising my list of the Birds of Prey when I came across another story that has like six different members. Hence my need for an encyclopedia. On the bright side, I work in a library. I could probably find one.

Last movie I watched: Brave

Last TV episode I watched: Firefly