Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Some Are Reading 4 Doctor Who Novels For Summer Reading..

Four Doctor Who novels. Three featured boilerplate storylines, though one purportedly had an original idea, only it's author wrote it on a whim, resulting in boilerplate execution. As such, I felt all four books deserved to be written up in a single review..with good quotes for your viewing pleasure, of course. Onward...

Beautiful Chaos by Gary Russell: Among Doctor Who villains, the Mandragora Helix - a malevolent, sentient constellation with mind-controlling abilities - is not unlike the Great Intelligence from "The Snowmen" and "The Bells of St. John", and his/it's scheme has the same m.o. to it. The big difference is the Doctor and companion highlighted. The Tenth Doctor  is more fun to read about than The Eleventh Doctor, but Donna Noble, in retrospect, has nothing interesting to say..I don't think she ever did; her whole "arc" consists of her becoming better-educated/worldly via her travels with the Doctor before receiving a "Flowers For Algernon"-style I.Q. boost that allowed her to save the universe and serve as deux ex machina ( by typing, very fast, nonsensical technobabble onto a random computer keyboard ), before having to give it all up and become "Uneducated Get-To-The-Toe Donna" again ( this is certainly no Clara Oswald )..Thankfully, Gary Russell has her granddad Wilfred play a larger role here. The subplot about Wilfred's girlfriend coping with Alzheimer's is clearly trying too hard to echo Russell T. Davies' faux-TV style sentimentality, and Mandragora has more in common with The Wire from " The Idiot's Lantern " in it's ineffectiveness as a compelling villain, plus I don't recall Donna's mother really regarding the Doctor with contempt onscreen, so that bit seemed phony, but the Tenth Doctor characterization is just right, so it made the book a breeze to read. The book balances between fanfic and potboiler - Average.

The Coming of The Terraphiles by Michael Moorcock: The hype/backstory behind this book is more interesting than what we got...I recall that the original plan was for Moorcock to introduce a new status quo for Captain Jack Harkness as commander of a ship that traveled through a route between alternate universes and have him meet the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond for the first time, but the launch of Torchwood: Miracle Day likely derailed that idea, so he has the Doctor & Amy meet a new incarnation of his character, Jerry Cornelius, instead, and introduce his take on the application of parallel universes in Fantasy-Adventure fiction...sounds intriguing...but what we got was a potted, rambling, shaggy dog mess. Eleven and Amy weren't really complete characters at the time Moorcock was writing this, so they read like complete ciphers, here; he would've been better off using the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, although BBC Books was still shy about relaunching a line of Past Doctor Adventures in the wake of the new series until the novelization of Shada in 2012. The strongest passage in the book has nothing to do with any high-concept stuff: it's a P.G. Wodehouse-esque pastiche with a Bertie Wooster-like character attempting (i.e., failing) to steal a ghastly hat and clumsily take credit when it disappears. Everything else feels like it was just Moorcock typing away unconsciously...lots of incoherent nonsensical descriptions of ships encountering ships and traveling through spatial matter...I do remember THIS book was hyped up just as much as it's faded away into obscurity. - Pure Drivel **

Dead of Winter by James Goss: Of the four books featured in this post, this novel had the strongest character work, featuring character development we didn't get from the show, because the writers became increasingly preoccupied/distracted with hashing out River Song's paradoxical backstory. Her absence from this book allows Goss to offer insight on the relationship between The Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory that confirms suspicions  ( that Rory and Eleven tolerate eachother's presence to keep Amy happy, while Amy sees her husband as consolation for the unattainable and forever enigmatic Doctor, who seems to be trying to recreate the relationship the Tenth Doctor had with Rose Tyler, but frustrated that Amy would have feelings for someone else* ) and plays on expectations with a brief amnesia/role-reversal subplot for the trio. The main story - about a seaside clinic ridded with doppelgangers - is given some snap by Goss's decision to used a mixed 1st-person narrative; most of the characters featured narrate several chapters in rotation. Never dull, though lacking surprise, I was disappointed that the scene depicted on the cover does not occur in the book...an attractive zombie woman wielding the Doctor's sonic screwdriver sounds epic to me. - Not bad

The Crawling Terror by Mike Tucker: The author probably noticed the nod to Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor when Peter Capaldi's initial costume for the Twelfth Doctor was revealed, so he fashioned an adventure fitting the Third for Twelve. Giant bugs are ubiquitous in two of the 3rd Doctor's best-known stories ( The Green Death, Planet of The Spiders ), along with misguided wealthy British meglomaniacs delving into mad science abundant during that era. Technically, I thought this the best-written book of the four in this post - the suspense is genuine, the atmosphere has the right mix horror and sci-fi/adventure, and the Twelfth Doctor & Clara are depicted right, so it felt authentic, and the pace is just right for an adventure about English villagers possessed by colonies of giant aliens resembling Earth insects. It risks bad taste by putting a baby in danger in one scene before coping out. Clara gets her mind swapped with the leader of the alien spider bugs, so we get more "Evil Clara", which is fun. The only drawback is a personal one: giant alien bugs aren't an appealing menace to me; I picked this up because I had already read the other two novels featuring 12, but it is a well-written adventure - I would've preferred alien foxes or mummies..if Paul Magrs can have the Eighth Doctor encounter alien dogs..plus, I liked the passage about wild foxes in the village being regarded like wild raccoons...and then Tucker drops a suggestion/hint about a possible rejected idea that he might recycle someday: UNIT soldiers fighting robots emerging from a volcano in the Canary Islands...a sequel to The Fires of Pompeii ?!! Mike Tucker! - when Moffat finally gets around to answering the question of why The Twelfth Doctor chose to look like the same man his Tenth incarnation met in Pompeii, may we PLEASE see THAT story?
- Okay

*That last bit about 11 wanting his own Rose Tyler for a companion was my pet theory; once Billie Piper left, Tennant's Doctor became increasingly angst-ridden and melancholy, which soured the acting chemistry the actor had with his later co-stars; perhaps Moffat was trying to casually recreate the same dynamic with his launch as showrunner?...

**I'm keeping this one - I'll try it again some other day...it's like they say: "Some books are just for having."

Frigates In A Star Wars Novel..

A Frigate is a type of warship. It is also an ubiquitous word applied by authors of Star Wars tie-in novels...I don't believe this word has ever been spoken by any of the characters in the Star Wars films. While it is an accurate word to use...it doesn't sound like the language of characters from the movies..Star Wars characters travel in "ships" and "shuttles" or "shuttlecraft" and "vessels" - not frigates.

...

When the books I own don't send me, I try to figure out what happened. Kevin Hearne's Star Wars: Heir To The Jedi has an interesting narrative hook - an adventure told in the first person by Luke Skywalker - but I didn't believe for a second that Luke would use the word "frigate" at all..he never used that word in the films, why the change? It's strange storytelling hiccups like that which make it feel like I'm reading something that was cranked out under a deadline, as opposed to something with more care, but sci-fi and fantasy novels are not often known for conscientious craftsmanship, they're more about concepts. This is actually the 2nd SW novel ever to try 1st-person narration  ( I, Jedi by Michael Stackpole was the other ), so there's a painful lack of innovation. What's worse is that Luke is separated from the core SW supporting cast, so Hearne has no one for Luke to play off from the films; if the "payoff" was to show how Luke learned telekinesis  ( pulling his lightsaber out of the snow as he did during The Empire Strikes Back - one of the neat tricks he accomplishes in the series, mostly overshadowed by the popularity of Han Solo's swagger ), then it's a very myopic payoff.

There are nice moments, though, so, yes, I can offer a good quote.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

"The 21st Century Superhero: Essays On Gender, Genre and Globalization In Film", Edited by Richard J. Gray II and Betty Kaklamanidou

It is possible to publish a book of essays about superhero movies without discussing the source material. That's what this book was, as well as offering an argument that the films made in the early-2000s had allusions to 9-11, the war in Iraq and American military action, all within a narrow margin...it feels like it had a limited sell-by date, with some discussions dated by their choice of films to examine  ( it's been a long time since anyone talked much about Hancock, Aeon Flux or the Kick-Ass movies ), but there are some good tidbits:

*Bruce Banner's exile in Brazil's favelas, as depicted in The Incredible Hulk, piqued the author's interest more than the remaining 2/3 of the film ( so...somebody liked at least some of that movie ).

*Jean Grey's "..limited cinematic presence" in the original X-Men film trilogy  is a reflection on "the mythos of patriarchy" in the films - in other words, she doesn't have enough screen time to develop into an interesting character..unless it's a character development that serves the mechanics of the script, i.e., everything centers around Professor X, Magneto, and  especially Wolverine.

*In his efforts at "Understanding 'Hotness' in the superhero film genre", Richard J. Gray had quite a lot to say about Ellen Page's sex appeal as Kitty Pryde. Considering how she barely had about 15-20 minutes of screen time and the essay was focused on her debut in X-Men: The Last Stand...I say he was smitten with Page...she was appealing in Super, though nobody has ever written this much about her attractiveness since - far less was written about her coming out a while back. He also has a crush on Jessica Alba, since he seems to give her shrill, vapid Sue Storm in Fantastic Four a favorable review. Even Halle Berry's Catwoman gets a light love tap of criticism, so whether he wrote the essay to talk shop about attractive female superheroes and ponder why they were sexy or critique their sexualized image is moot.

*No surprise that several essays compared Christopher Nolan's work on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight as commentaries on life post-9/11, but what caught my eye was a shout out to Batman Unmasked, a book I reffered to in my previous blog post as a possible inspiration for Grant Morrison's take on Batman, even confirming my suspicion by noting the passage I vaguely remembered..so now I don't have to hunt for that out-of-print book just to check out a hunch!

*I've never read any of Marvel's Kick-Ass or seen the movies, so I wouldn't be able to agree or disagree if the films share a correlation with the Spider-Man movies in their contrasting use of voiceover narration reflecting the masculinity of their respective effete protagonists, but I do know that nobody's rallying for more sequels to Kick-Ass.

*I'm actually bored with reading material that puts Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen on a pedestal, because I don't really think it's the greatest comic ever written and drawn - I just respect the effort that the creators made at telling this story. I do agree with the essay in this book arguing that the film adaptation succeeded in being a pastiche of film noir, but that's what the comic book did, and Snyder was simply following it. It's hampered by the fact that it features an ensemble cast of also-rans, could've-beens and never-weres, so it feels like we're watching a big-budget made-for-cable mini-series on Starz or Reelz instead of a proper superhero adventure film.

So..the book essentially covers what I would argue was the formulative stage of modern superhero movies. If Avengers is being considered the definitive maturation of this genre and Tim Burton's Batman films the embryonic, then the films covered in this book premiering between 2000 and 2011 are formulative development...but that's my hypothesis. If the authors had thought of that, they would've cranked out two sequel books of essays by now..

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"The Anatomy Of Zur-En-Arrh: Understanding Grant Morrison's Batman" by Cody Walker

It's the CliffsNotes to Grant Morrison's take on Batman, everyone...and it's a very useful book. It answers a lot of questions as to what it was all about and digs around for ingenious insights into the imagery given. Morrison's Batman tenure was ground-breaking and ambitious - every story mattered - which meant stories about Batman chasing drug dealers down alleyways and through warehouses simply wouldn't do; the Dark Knight Detective became acutely self-aware - 70+ years of incarnations were now meant to represent a single decade & a 1/2 in the crazy life of a very busy tycoon, the wealthiest man on Earth, a playboy/philanthropist/detective who beats up people dressed in a costume vaguely resembling a bat...and how he achieved godhood on the whim of the most-powerful embodiment of evil in the DC Comics Universe..

Cody Walker, to his credit, doesn't shy away from the weaknesses of Morrison's storylines. In my opinion, there were many concepts and story elements throughout that read as though Morrison was in a deadline crunch and lacked time to present his ideas with better care and organization. His plot twists also required skill at writing detective stories, which turned out to not be his strong suit. His characterization of the villain Darkseid and his Earth avatar, the "Bat-God" Barbatos/Dr. Simon Hurt might be more varied and colorful than any incarnation we've seen before or after, but this was lost by woefully underdeveloped scripting. At the time, only the main points of each issue registered, not the themes or characters, which may explain why it was so easy for fans to embrace Scott Snyder's back-to-basics approach.

And yet, this book came to the rescue. I have a newfound appreciation for what Morrison was doing and would like to go back and revisit those storylines again, particularly The Return of Bruce Wayne arc, with Batman hopping through different time periods. The section covering Batman Inc. was kind of dull, though..perhaps reflecting that Morrison's run was winding up and had fewer points to make about Batman, aside from the power of the character's totem-like symbolism as a corporate brand..which reminds me of a non-fiction book of criticism about Batman from 2000 titled Batman Unmasked, which was the first I had read argue the same points that Morrison was making throughout..It may have been a source of inspiration for what he would do...I need to look for that book..

Not all questions were answered, however. I remember searching for answers about that goblin creature looming behind Bat-Mite in Batman R.I.P. and finding it in a transcript of a Q&A, where Morrison revealed his take on the imp ( that the creature was the imp's true form, a kindly-yet-grotesque-to-us being, offering what he believed to be a pleasing avatar to appear in his stead , kind of the opposite number to Darkseid appearing by proxy as Barbatos/Dr. Hurt ), so now you know, and can thank me...but we'll never know if there was any significance in Alfred the butler reading a copy of Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code...

..maybe Walker has a Volume 2 planned...