Friday, September 7

Quick Hits

Very quick notes on some stuff I've read or watched of late that I've not blogged about for whatever reason....

Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul, by Tony Hendra (2004)

I read this about a month ago at the suggestion of one of the members of our Monday night Bible Study group. I should have written something up before now, and I really didn't take good notes, so here you've got mainly just some long term memories and impressions. The author is a former writer and editor of National Lampoon – and probably more recognizable as the band manager in Spinal Tap – an unlikely spiritual writer if there ever was one! – telling the story of how he initially found faith through the inspiration of a particularly holy if somewhat unorthodox Benedictine monk of Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight, was for several years heady with the conviction that his own vocation was to be a monk of Quarr, suddenly found his faith as mysteriously vanished as it had appeared, devoted himself to another god, that of Comedic Satire, for a couple of decades during which he continually felt a draw back to Quarr and always needed the approval of Father Joe with whom he maintained contact and who never, ever, judged him, and eventually found his way back to a more mature faith. It is a fascinating story, although frankly I do not believe I would like Hendra at all – and find aspects of Father Joe's theology a bit dodgy. (Bear in mind, however, that here we do not get a direct picture of Father Joe, but rather Father Joe filtered through the lens of Tony Hendra.) And yet the book as a whole is quite touching, especially the ending, when after Father Joe's passing Hendra discovers that there was far more to this simple monk than he ever dreamed.

There is one line I noted from the book and want to pass on.  "You only parody what you once loved, and now loathe" (unknown page number as I long since returned the book to my friend).  I think there is a tremendous amount of truth to that statement, and I think it helps me understand why I have quite seldom ever cared for parody or satire.  

Green Hornet: Year 1, Volume 2 – The Biggest of All Game by Matt Wagner and Aaron Campbell (Dynamite 2011)

I read the first volume about a year and a half ago, not long before I started this blog. I should have gone back and reread that one before picking this one up, but managed to pick up the story pretty well starting at the mid-point of the twelve-issue series as I did. I could quibble over a few details where I know the status quo here doesn't match that of the radio show – not that I've heard that many episodes, but one that I have listened to is one where Britt tells his father what he's been up to, only to have his father tell him of another such masked man in their ancestry. With the William Tell Overture fading in and out as he did so, although some kind of legal reasons kept the radio show from invoking the name of that masked man, you know who it is. Unfortunately, the website where that episode was available in mp3 is gone now – probably, again, for legal reasons. Anyway, in this comic series, the death of the elder Reid is part of the story and occurs before Britt assumes the identity of the Green Hornet. Overall, however, writer Matt Wagner evokes very well the pulp-noir world of the 1930s, complemented very effectively by the art of Aaron Campbell.

Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank (DC 2012)

I surprised myself by enjoying Superman: Earth One immensely when, after a considerable amount of time post-publication I succumbed to a Science Fiction Book Club offer and picked it up cheap. “Surprised” because – as highly as I regard Babylon 5 – I've not been much of a fan of J. M. Straczynski's comic book writing. You can see more of my thoughts on that here. Anyway, I went ahead and preordered Batman: Earth One and received it along with my July month-end comics. I figured, as it was by Johns and Frank, it would have to be good. Boy was I mistaken. If you've not bought it, don't bother. The characterization of Batman here is unrecognizable. And the story continues certain trends in Geoff Johns' writing – and the new DC Comics in general – that are becoming more and more annoying to me. One being that he seems to no longer be able to write adolescents that are not annoying snots that you want to punch in the mouth. That's Johns. You can't even explain it as young Bruce's understandably angry reaction to the murder of his parents, because it's the kid's own rude arrogance that helps to bring about their deaths. I also noticed the continuation of the trend that established characters with significant “flaws” or departures from our cultural ideal of attractiveness are being reinvented as more cardboard punchout images of “perfection.” Here it's the famously slovenly Harvey Bullock recast as one suave dude who I figured, at initial glance, must be the equally famously handsome Harvey “Apollo” Dent before getting half a face-full of acid. Alfred also, to a degree. I have some more to say about this in my “New 52 One Year Later” retrospective that is in the works, so I'm going to leave it at that for now. Think about it, though, and you'll come up with plenty of examples before I even mention them. Anyway, the story's pretty sucky too, with a stereotypical sadistic monster who preys on children for the story's shock value. Don't waste your time or money.

Alphas (2011 ff.)

Who says advertising doesn't work? I'd heard of this show but not much more, until last month's stack of DC comics with its full-page advert brought it to mind again. I did a little research, found out that the first season of eleven episodes (twelve TV-hours) is available for streaming on Netflix, and checked it out. Why have I not heard more about this show? It's great! Nothing quite matches the first season of Heroes, which the basic premise is most like, but this is easily light-years better than the second and subsequent seasons of that show. And Rachel … whoa. We were only a couple of episodes into the second season currently appearing on the used-to-be-Sci-Fi-Channel (I refuse to use that new name), so with a minimal cost to purchase those episodes from iTunes, I'm pretty much up to speed.

One interesting little fact that I've learned – Alphas occurs in the same universe as the same channel's recently wrapped up Eureka! (which a friend has been encouraging me to watch) and Warehouse 13. I caught the first couple of episodes of the latter on Netflix streaming and surprisingly liked it – I say surprising because the commercials had never piqued my interest. But when I found out there have been character cross-overs I thought, what the heck, it doesn't cost anything to check it out. And I will get around to Eureka! – eventually.

Mad Men (2007 ff.)

Actually, I watched the first season of this before I fell into Alphas. I can't blame anything except my own ennui for not picking it up before. There's a lot of well-deserved buzz about it. Several of my fellow professors are devoted viewers. Netflix, you're wonderful. I'm just old enough that the world portrayed is very much the world of my childhood … well, not the big city rat race, of course, but the early 1960s. When I run out of Alphas I'll be jumping back into it – with classes going again, I don't have nearly as much time to work my way through TV series, so it may be Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. Unless something else strikes my fancy (cough – Warehouse 13 – cough).

The Tudors (2007-2010)

Can you tell it was summer break? I had actually started this over Christmas break, I think, watching BBC America reruns that I'd DVR'd. I think I actually finished it out via Netflix as well, before I took up Mad Men. Really good, in most respects. I know just enough of that period in English history (I'm more a medievalist than a Ren-Ref/Tudor guy) that I could catch them in historical faux pas, but not quite enough that they messed it up for me. I could doubtless have written more, but it's been a couple of months since I actually finished it up, so let's just leave it as something I would recommend. I particularly liked a very believable depiction of a sweet young girl warped by the repeated emotional traumas she was subjected to through the years into what history would know as Queen "Bloody" Mary Tudor.  And Sir Thomas Boleyn is probably the single slimiest, most evil character I've ever seen – anywhere.

The Books of Magic, by Neil Gaiman and Company (DC-Vertigo 1990)

No, that's not Harry Potter.

I've had this volume for several years but never got around to reading it. Since Tim Hunter and the Books of Magic are showing up in Justice League Dark these days, I figured it might be a good time to try to get up to speed. Gaiman, of course, is most famous in comic circles as the author of the long-running title, Sandman – which I've actually only read in the first two trade volumes. Something else I keep meaning to get around to. Actually, I'm investing in the current deluxe hardcover volumes of The Annotated Sandman and may well tackle it that way. There are a lot of arcane references that annotated versions can help the reader appreciate. In fact, I found it helpful to dig up a set of annotations to get the most out of this volume here.

Briefly, The Books of Magic was originally published as four “Prestige Format” issues wherein one after another four representatives of DC Comics' supernatural genre took a young English boy – whose mother is dead, who wears glasses, and has a pet owl (although it predates Harry Potter, Gaiman himself professes no belief that J. K. Rowling was even aware of his character when she came up with her own) – on a tour of the supernatural side of the DC Universe. They are, in order, the Phantom Stranger, John Constantine, Doctor Occult, and Mister E, and Timothy is faced with a choice, to live a normal life or to live a life in constant danger – but as the most powerful magician in the universe. Although Gaiman did not continue with the character, the foundation he had lain was firm enough that it resulted in a fairly long-running and highly regarded series following Timothy's further adventures – because you know what he chose. I'm anxious now to acquire the bound volumes of the Books of Magic ongoing series.

Caprica (2009-2011)

I almost forgot about this prequel/spinoff from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica that I watched early in the summer. I actually intended from when I finished it to give it an in-depth post, but it looks like that will never happen so this will have to do. It is a show that makes you think. I think it says some interesting things about our own society, and even more so the culture of the Hollywood creators behind it. It's too simple, I think, to say that the overall spirit of the show is “anti-religion” or results from the typical liberal/atheistic predisposition to disdain religion. It's more a result of the clueless modern liberal/atheists' total misconception of religion. I think the most telling line in the series comes about half-way through, in episode 11, delivered by their archetypical evil religious person, Sister Clarice: “I offer you a religion that removes the need for faith.” Isn't this our modern world's idea of a true, pure religion … that would ultimately mean nothing?

As a prequel to Battlestar Galactica, unfortunately I think this series fails. I just don't see how you can get from here to there. There are too many discrepancies. And falling back on the shock value of killing off the kid, Willie Adama, whom we'd sort of been getting to know over the course of the series and assuming would grow up to be Admiral Adama (although I'd already suspected there was something wrong with their time-line), in the last episode and giving lip service to a younger brother being subsequently born and named in his memory is just lazy and manipulative. Didn't they do the same thing with Jimmy Olsen on Smallville?

And I think that actually catches me up, more or less, at least with regard to those things I consider “blog-worthy”....

Cheers, and Thanks for reading!

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