Thursday, June 26

Son of Batman (DC Universe Original Movie, 2014)

Directed by Ethan Spaulding

Although the outer sleeve of the Blu-Ray packaging sports a sticker touting this as “Based on the Graphic Novel Batman and Son,” that is only very loosely the case and in its broadest strokes. And if Grant Morrison, who wrote that story arc at the beginning of his seven-year epic run metatextually de-/re-/a-constructing the very definition of the Dark Knight Detective (for more on which, see the just-published Anatomy of Zur-en-Arrh by Cody Walker, see below), is actually acknowledged in the credits, I missed it. There's not much Morrison here anyway.  For all intents and purposes this movie takes the basic idea of Batman unexpectedly being presented with the fact that he has a son by Talia al Ghul in the context of a struggle for power within and over the League of Assassins and leaches it of any of Morrison's quirky psychological brilliance. I would have hoped for more, given it is now credited as “a story” by James Robinson, who can himself be awesome – but who can also be pretty uninspired. We get the latter Robinson here, depending on how much of his story passes into the final script by Joe R. Lansdale.

Friday, June 13

Apocalypto (2006)

Directed by Mel Gibson

This is a movie I've long wanted to see but never got around to for whatever reason. Thanks to TiVo and a BBC-America showing a couple weeks ago, I finally sat down and watched it yesterday. I do not believe it was edited in any way except cutting away to commercials.

It has a fairly simple plot (SPOILERS AHEAD): A Mayan forest village is raided and destroyed by city-dwellers, the majority of its adults being led away to be sold into slavery or sacrificed to Kukulkan. Desperate to save his wife and son, whom he had secreted in a deep pit at the beginning of the raid, one captive escapes the bloody altar and leads his captors on a running chase, picking them off one by one, until he and the last two pursuers emerge from the jungle-line to the stunning sight of Spanish ships landing conquistadores on the beach. He does save his family from drowning as rain fills the pit, and the little family, all that's left of their tribe, retreat further into the forest, “seeking a new beginning.”

Wednesday, June 11

Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel (2010)

By David C. Downing

I found this novel, also published by Ignatius Press, via Amazon's suggestions based on the fact that I'd read Toward the Gleam [LINK]. This is not Toward the Gleam. Although I found the description enticing – American graduate students in England in 1940, interacting with the Inklings, on a quest for an Arthurian relic – and was immediately hooked by the first chapter or so in the Kindle preview so that I immediately purchased it, I ended up being disappointed by it. There are elements of this novel I really liked. It opens at one of my favorite places in the world, the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey in southwestern England, the reputed resting place of King Arthur, and much of the story takes place at other significant medieval sites that I'm familiar with or are on my list of places I would like to get familiar with (two trips are not nearly enough!) As the narrative progressed it takes an unexpected turn in that the object of the quest becomes ultimately less King Arthur than one of my subjects of historical interest, King Athelstan (r. 924-939), probably the most important of the late Anglo-Saxon kings of England, a true “Christian King and Hero” [LINK] who may well have come into possession of one of the most powerful relics of the Crucifixion.  Frankly, for all his importance, Athelstan is largely forgotten in the memory of later ages, overshadowed by his grandfather Alfred the Great, and it is cool beyond words to find his legend at the heart of a modern novel.  Looking for the King is suffused with the early medieval England that I love, and seems well researched as evidenced by a good set of historical notes and a bibliography at the end. (The mistaken identification of the foes defeated by Otto of Saxony at the Battle of the Lechfeld in 955 as “Mongols” rather than Magyars I'm willing to dismiss as a literary slip of the tongue.)

Tuesday, June 10

Green Arrow (New 52), Volume 4: The Kill Machine (DC Comics, 2014)

Reprinted from issues #17-24 and 23.1 (2013) by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino

Green Arrow has never been a character I really followed. I liked him well enough in the context of Green Lantern's “hard travellin'” partner in the classic Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams stories of ca. 1970 (which I didn't really read many of or appreciate at all until much later, but I was only eight years old), in the context of the Justice League (especially as Hawkman's political opposite – although I was always far more on Hawkman's conservative side than Green Arrow's liberal side), even occasionally in his own stories (e.g, The Longbow Hunters), but beyond that, not so much. It was mainly as a second-tier character that he worked best for me. I had no interest in the new, beardless, younger Green Arrow of the series which came in with the New 52 in 2011, and frankly found him an uninteresting character those times he did appear in titles I did get. Green Arrow can be interesting – I particularly liked him in the Smallville TV series, and when I first heard that the CW was developing a [Green] Arrow follow-up, I was quite disappointed that it would be an entirely new reimagining of the character with no connection to Smallville. I've written elsewhere of my revulsion at the debut of Arrow in 2012 [LINK], but in the same place of my giving it a second chance at the end of the first season such that it became one of my most highly anticipated shows through the second season. It's surprisingly good, with a rather broad appeal. I was surprised along the way to find that my parish priest watches it, as well as our parish liturgical director and his wife (who are avid archers themselves); my wife doesn't actually follow it, but she will watch it with me if she happens to be in the room; the show is a runaway success by CW standards.

Monday, June 9

Batman Eternal #1-4 (DC Comics, June 2014)

By Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Jason Fabok, and others

DC Comics are trying to recapture the magic they inadvertently stumbled on back in 2006 (eight years ago?!) in the year-long weekly 52. As usual these days, it seems they are blundering right in with little thought – in the next few months no less than three (is that all? – this one plus Future's End and Earth 2: World's End) new weeklies will be going. Hey! – If one is a good idea, three must be a better idea, right? – Throw 'em at the wall and see what sticks!  Whether they will “stick” and be going “strong” is another matter, but I am happy to say that this first one out the gate is a winner in my book. I'm not going to say a whole lot about it, except that this is the kind of Batman story I like – characterization and action, fast-paced, an intriguing mystery, involving both the full range of primary Bat-family characters (including the New 52 debut of Stephanie Brown!) and secondary (sometimes new, sometimes just New 52 reintroduced) characters including the Gotham City Police – all graced by dark, moody, but cleanly realistic art. Makes me wish I had a local comic shop so I could be there every Wednesday for the newest chapter rather than waiting until the end of the month for my mail-order subscription service to dump them all on me at once. Which is part of the strategy of the weekly model in the first place – to encourage that weekly compulsion to get thee to a comic shop! I'll make do, but at the moment, just four weeks into the story, Batman Eternal has catapulted to the top of my short list of titles I'm really looking forward to each month. It sets a very high bar for those to come.

Cheers, and Thanks for reading!

Reviews [LINK]

Sunday, June 8

Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy (Dark Horse, 2009)

Reprinted from three six-issue comic-book miniseries (1995, 1998, and 1999) based on the prose novels by Timothy Zahn (1991-1993), adapted by scripter Mike Baron and various artists

I was there, nigh on two and a half decades past, when Star Wars seemed a fad of the past after a dearth of several years in the late 1980s after the completion of the “trilogy” with the appearance of Return of the Jedi in 1983. Little if any merchandising was being published when suddenly there appeared in 1991 a new novel, Heir to the Empire. I was there … but I didn't actually pick it up until it appeared in paperback the next summer, and read it during that bit of a lull in my graduate studies between finishing up my M.A. thesis and beginning my doctoral studies. I thoroughly enjoyed it, of course, picked up the paperbacks of the sequels – Dark Force Rising and The Last Command – as they appeared in paperback the next two summers. Together, they told one long, fast paced, intricate story that basically created what came to be known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Characters, worlds, concepts, a history spanning millennia would be elaborated by many other creators in both prose and comics – some even being “canonized” by incorporation into the revived film series, most notably the Imperial Capital of Coruscant, which was first named and described in Heir to the Empire.

Saturday, June 7

Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism (1993)

By Scott and Kimberly Hahn

I actually read this book back during Lent, so a couple of months ago at this point. I had been saying I would read it for several months before that, ever since my wife read it late last year. Not only did things she said about it intrigue me, but I've been familiar with Dr. Scott Hahn for many years as a great Catholic convert, theologian, and apologist. I'd only read a couple of books by him, however. Then, a couple of months ago, a friend approached me for help in dealing with a barrage of half-baked attacks from her sister, a convert from Catholicism to Baptist fundamentalism. Not really having delved into apologetics that much in recent years, her questions inspired me to deeper reading on a number of matters I'd gotten a bit rusty on – and I took up this book as well.

Here we have a deeply personal story, written in alternating chapters from the perspective of Scott Hahn and his wife, Kimberly, of what began as his but ultimately became their conversion from Presbyterianism to Catholicism. Making the journey much more rocky for them was the fact that they had met and married while in Presbyterian seminary – Scott was training to become a minister, Kimberly was herself the daughter of a minister and envisioned herself as the spouse, partner, and helpmate of an ordained Presbyterian minister. Which worked out well … for a short time. Scott was ordained and they began their career and a family. But then Scott's theological and Biblical studies increasingly convinced him that just about everything he had ever known about the Catholic Church and its teachings were not true, but rather that it is the most Biblical of all churches. Objection after objection fell before his willingness to put aside his preconceived notions and to follow the Biblical evidence where it leads, especially with regard to his own specialty of study, Covenant Theology. He was at last convicted of the Truth and must become Catholic. Which he did … on Holy Saturday, 29 March 1986. My jaw dropped at that point in my reading and I exclaimed, “Wow!” – because that was the very same evening, a thousand miles away, that I was accepted into the Catholic Church!

Thursday, June 5

Orthodoxy (1908)

Not the edition I read; this book
is in the public domain and
is available in many forms,

including e-book
By G. K. Chesterton

How can I possibly epitomize this wonderful book in a short blog-entry review? Better men than I have summarized it to varying lengths and effect, none of which except where they directly quote the author capture a smidgen of the magic, wit, and – above all – wisdom that is the hallmark of this giant of early 20th -century thought. Such attempts to provide a short aide-mémoire may be useful, and I did consult them (three in particular, by A. Freddoso [LINK], J. Grabowski [LINK], and K. D. Rapinchuk [LINK]), but I can't say they really helped me process what I read. Really, I can't say I have truly processed it at all, despite what I figure at this point must be from two to four readings through – two visual, and two aural via a wonderful audio version on Podiobooks, read by David “Grizzly” Smith [LINK] (whose voice is perfectly suited to the material although he sounds nothing like Chesterton himself [LINK]); I have read and reread, listened to and relistened to parts multiple times, and “two to four” is just a wild guess. I feel like I have barely started to grasp what Chesterton has to offer. Sure, I've been charmed by his wit and audacity – and astonished at how many passages and turns of phrase sound vaguely familiar simply because they have contributed quotations and turns of phrase that I have heard in the past but never in context (I previously [LINK] cited my memory of hearing tradition described as “the democracy of the dead” without being aware it was Chesterton) – but I am absolutely inadequate to taking on the task of distilling his arguments into a short essay. In different ways, the three attempts I linked above do it much better than could I, with Rapinchuk's being the most readable prose summary; Grabowski's being the most analytical, virtually an expanded outline; and Freddoso's incorporating extensive quotations. All I can do is state baldly how life-changing I consider my belated “discovery” of Chesterton to be (I previously described [LINK] my earlier flirtations with his writings), make a couple of observations, and then offer my feeble best.