Tuesday, December 31

The Superman Files: The Story of Kal-El, Compiled by Brainiac 5

Translated from the Original Interlac” by Matthew K. Manning (2013)

This is an interesting coffee-table book published rather late during this just-ending 75th anniversary year of the first appearance of Superman. The simplest, most straightforward short description is that it comprises an in-DC-Universe biography of the greatest super-hero of the 21st century compiled from the perspective of his 31st-century comrade in the Legion of Super-Heroes, Brainiac 5.* Generally speaking, it combines commentary from Brainiac 5 with documentary material from the Man of Steel's own journals, news reports, and sundry other faux “sources” to form a more-or-less cohesive narrative stretching from background on his lost homeworld of Krypton to the 2013 present. It does fall short of being a comprehensive history of the character in that virtually no account is taken of materials published before ca. 1985 when the Crisis on Infinite Earths remade the DC Universe and was followed by the 1986-1987 Man of Steel mini-series reimagining the flagship character with a stripped-down, more cohesive continuity that would prevail for approximately the next 25 years. But over the last quarter-century, as far as I can tell, most everything, every major event and story-line, is reconciled into a fairly organic whole that hangs together remarkably well. There are various contradictions intrinsic to the ongoing nature of the comic-book medium, with its serialized, continuous narrative inevitably necessitating period rewritings of the internal history along the way (termed “retcons” for “retroactive continuity”**), but even these are accounted for as far as possible via Brainiac 5's acknowledgment of the various chronal discontinuities that have become virtually a staple of DC's story-telling – with the most recent Flashpoint Event that gave birth to the current “New 52” and its sometimes radically different DC Universe that began in 2011 being frankly acknowledged in the final few pages. Even if you have read Superman continuously from the mid 1980s to the present (which I have not, mainly reading a few years from the beginning as well as the last half-dozen years or so, with scattered specific story-lines in between), I can imagine fans of the character paging through this large volume with immense enjoyment, reveling in the variety of art selected from across that period, generally presented as if photographs posted into a scrapbook, with attendant commentary and textual pieces telling the overall story as if from a variety of perspectives and viewpoints. I know that I have done so, since receiving it from my wife and son for Christmas.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Directed by Peter Jackson

Well, here I am for the second Hobbit movie, as late or later seeing it than I was the first last year [link]. December is just an intrinsically busy time of year what with end-of-semester duties, holiday preparations, and so forth. Plus I had a very bad cold on top of a pile of essays to read over the opening weekend. Long and short, as much as I was looking forward to it, I seem to be the last person I know who wanted to see it who has seen it!

Also, whereas last year the delay in seeing it meant that my only option was 3D, a format I generally do not prefer, this year my only option was 2D. Frankly, I did not miss the 3D, although I may well have opted for it if I had a choice, based on the recommendation of a couple of friends. Oh well. I don't think my enjoyment of the movie suffered in the least.

Saturday, December 28

Treecat Wars (A Star Kingdom Novel, 2013)

By David Weber and Jane Lindskold

This is the third in the series ancillary and remotely prequel to David Weber's ever-expanding Honor Harrington series of interstellar war and politics. It is a more direct sequel to the second young-adult “Star Kingdom Novel,” Fire Season [link], than was the latter to the first volume, A Beautiful Friendship [link]. This will be a short post since I don't have a whole lot to say about this book that wouldn't be repeating what I said about the other two. I love virtually anything set in Weber's Honorverse, and this story continues the tale of Honor Harrington's several-centuries' great-grandmother Stephanie as she continues to grow through her 'teen years, dealing with consequences of her discovery of the treecats of her new homeworld Sphinx as well as the various issues facing any normal teen-aged girl.

The major themes introduced in the first two books continue to be worked out in this volume: 1) the continuing conflict between humans of the Manticoran Star Kingdom as well as the wider galaxy as to whether to regard the treecats simply as incredibly clever animals or as sentient beings with “human” rights – and if the latter, what should be the relationship and interaction between humans and their “more primitive” neighbors?; and 2) new conflict between treecat clans stressed to the point of crisis by the ecological catastrophe of the recent “fire season,” with autumn advancing and Sphinx's long, hard winter approaching swiftly. But this time, except for at the very beginning and the very end, the story is told in parallel narratives as Stephanie and her friend Karl are dispatched by the Sphinx Forestry Service to receive three months forestry training at the University on Manticore, a rare opportunity for interns who are not full forestry agents – but which means that Stephanie is separated by the gulf between neighboring worlds from her new boyfriend Anders … who remains on Sphinx with the group of xenoanthropologists headed by his father but finds circumstances compelling him to spend a great deal of time in the company of Stephanie's best friend Jessica with predictable (even were it not broadcast on the inside front cover text) results. Once again, it's a well-written and engaging tale that weaves another thread into the growing tapestry of Weber's fictional universe.

Cheers! – and Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 25

Shazam! (DC 2013, The New 52!)

By Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. Reprinted from Justice League #7-11, 0, 14-16, 18-21 (2012-2013)

Well, nobody's more surprised than me that I ended up buying this collection, and in hardcover to boot! From the very beginning of the New 52 version of The Hero Formerly Known As Captain Marvel, I found so many things to dislike about Geoff Johns' portrayal, mainly centering on the surly characterization he imparted to Billy Batson, which seemed very much a stereotypical obnoxious brat just like his similar and nearly simultaneous portrayal of young Bruce Wayne in Batman: Earth One. That wasn't the only aspect of the “updating” of the story that I didn't care for, to be sure. The new Dr. Sivana, bulked up and looking more like a cheap Lex Luthor knock-off, also rubbed me the wrong way. And the mess just seemed to get worse and worse as month after month of the back-up series appeared in the pages of Justice League, what with Billy and Freddy first attempting to capitalize on Billy's new powers to make money, then considering Billy's new adult appearance as a way for them to get alcohol. For someone like me, who loves the simple, almost childlike wonder and charm of the original Captain Marvel, which has, however imperfectly, informed most of DC's portrayals of the character hitherto (Dark Mary Marvel and subsequent developments being lamentable departures from that model, essentially exceptions that prove the rule), it seemed like these newest horrors were just going from bad to worse. It was heartbreaking.

And then...

The Date of Christmas Revisited

Two years ago I posted regarding what was then my new-found realization that the widely held notion that the specific day of the year upon which Our Lord was born is unknown and that the prevailing celebration of that birth on 25 December owes more to pre-Christian pagan custom is incorrect, that there is indeed solid Biblical evidence, based on the Archangel's appearance to Zachariah, that the Nativity did take place some time in what according to the current Gregorian Calendar would be late December.  As has, in my mind at least, according to good medieval thinking, become a custom ("twice makes a custom"), I re-present that post, followed by a few notes and further references.
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Tuesday, December 24

Don't Mess With Santa Claus!

It's well known that Santa Claus, "Jolly Old Saint Nick," is based on an historical figure, St. Nicholas of Myra, who lived in the early 4th century, whose Feast Day is celebrated on 6 December.  According to the most famous legend associated with this good bishop, upon learning that one of the members of his church, a poor man, had three daughters for whom he could not provide dowries and who were thus in all probability fated for spinsterhood or worse, Nicholas secretly left gifts for the girls to provide for good marriages.  Out of that story, no doubt encouraged by the timing of his feast and the easy association with the Gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child, evolved the idea of Santa Claus as the giver of Christmas gifts.

For more about St. Nicholas and how he "became" Santa Claus, I can do no better than refer you to a wonderful web site devoted to the saint both historical and fanciful, St. Nicholas Center:  Discovering the Truth About Santa Claus [link].  Included there is another somewhat lesser-known tale regarding St. Nicholas, however, that I have seen referenced more and more in recent years and which has given birth to a host of memes compiled in a humorous post by "Dan" at Rockadoodee! [link] (which I have freely mined for some of the images here), how the historical St. Nicholas "dealt with" the heretic Arius of Alexandria during the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 [link].

Thursday, December 19

Wonder Woman, vol. 3: Iron (DC, 2013 – The New 52)

By Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. Reprints issues #0, 13-18.

It's actually been several weeks since I read this volume, as part of my new luxury of reading the current month's batch of comics quicker and leaving time to pick up various collections. I think I read it early in Thanksgiving week, but the latter part of that week's family activities followed by the next two weeks finishing up the fall semester, with all the papers and final exam grading which that entails, as well as my son's soccer season kicking off (pardon the pun) and a fairly miserable head cold over the past week left little or no time for blogging. This will likely be a short entry  no worries about spoilers!

I've mentioned several times how my regard for this series has shifted radically, from high to low, and back to high with a realization that, for me at least, Azzarello's tale is much more readable and enjoyable in large chunks, which led me to drop the monthlies after the first dozen or so to wait for the collections. This is the first volume to pick up after the point I had gotten to about a year or so ago. It took a little review to get back set to proceed, but once I settled into it I really enjoyed this batch of stories. It definitely is not your standard super-hero fare, and doesn't mesh very well in terms of tone with Diana's other appearances in the new DCU even though it is during this period, especially with the re-introduction of the New Gods in the pages of this book, that it becomes clear that the events of this book are indeed contemporaneous with the rest of the DCU. But taken on its own terms, and with the possible exception of the introduction of Orion of the New Gods into the story, Azzarello is crafting a tale that is considerably more mythic – no pun intended – than your standard, run-of-the-mill super-hero fare, one that easily stands on its own. It's complemented very well by Chiang's straightforward artistic style. This series has been polarizing among Wonder Woman fans – my own reaction has run the gamut – but I think it will ultimately go down as one of the high points in the character's long history. I'm definitely looking forward to future volumes.

I liked this one so much, indeed, that I have already pulled out the previous twelve issues and prepped them for library-binding – one of the thinnest volumes I've ever had bound, but I would like to have those issues standing beside this one and future collections in this series.

Cheers! – and Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 5

Green Lantern: Rise of the Third Army (DC 2013)

By Geoff Johns et al. (reprinting various issues, see below)

Like a couple of other DC series, I like Green Lantern – and indeed much of the Lantern'verse corner of the DC nUniverse – very much … in collected format. Readers of this blog may in fact remember how I chose to drop back to collected format with the advent of the New 52 after “burning out” on monthlies and repeated Lantern'verse-wide events in the months beforehand, but when I acquired and read Green Lantern vol. 1: Sinestro, the first New 52 collection, I enjoyed it so much [link] that I jumped back into the monthlies – for just a couple months that quickly reminded me that the series indeed reads much better in collected format.

Then a few months back came the realization that with the return of Lantern'verse-wide events, DC was going to collect the four franchise titles (GL, GL Corps, New Guardians, and Red Lanterns) both in their separate titles and in “compendium” volumes centered around the event and interweaving the four titles' issues to (presumably) tell the entire multifaceted story. I initially decided to just stick with the collections for the two titles I was interested in (GL and GLC), but then accidentally neglected to pre-order the next GL volume. Finally, a few weeks ago, I was in Barnes and Noble and, seeing this “compendium” volume, I impulsively bought it.

Of course, an effect of me, relatively speaking, whizzing through my monthlies that I received early in November was that for the first time in a while I was actually able to get to a pretty vast and growing backlog of collections that I have accumulated. (I actually got through several in the past couple of weeks, what with also being off for Thanksgiving week.) Rise of the Third Army was the first.