No Place to Hide

a very good, important book

Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide

Glenn Greenwald’s book is the most lucid examination of NSA surveillance in publication. It’s incredibly compelling. If you want to learn how the US government is spying on its citizens, it’s allies, and pretty much every single person in the entire world (all the time, every small bit of cyber communication) this book is a great first step. Greenwald is the perfect person to write about Edward Snowden’s massive intelligence leak–heck, he’s the one who broke the story in the first place.

The first part of the book describes exactly that: the logistics of how Snowden leaked and published the NSA documents. Greenwald explains his trip to China to meet Snowden and receive the documents. Even though you know the outcome of the story, Greenwald describes it with suspense. Greenwald defends that Snowden risked his life to publish the biggest document leak in the history of America. He was constantly being watched, and could have easily been killed at any second. It’s true to life spy drama. The former intelligence officer ended up contacting Greenwald because of his blog about Bush-era surveillance without a warrant. Snowden came into possession of such documents after a 10 year career building databases of mined data. Snowden had to help Greenwald set up a secure document exchange server, literally building a secret communication channel over encrypted instant message. The true scope of NSA surveillance is demonstrated by how covertly Snowden had to be in contacting Greenwald.

What Greenwald learns in the documents is the subject of the third and fourth chapters. A cursory summary includes the NSA’s monitoring of all electronic communication–”Collect it all” was the mantra of NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander. This phrase should be taken extremely literally. “Electronic communication” includes browser history, calls and texts, photos and documents, metadata about internet use (so, your literal second for second thought process on the net), your voice, your naughty videos, everything. If it is digital, the NSA has access to it. This is true for every US citizen, most every Chinese and Russian citizen, as well as every single government leader in the world. American allies like Germany, France and Britain, all have their government closely surveilled. “Subversives” like Muslim community leaders and civil rights activists are routinely blackmailed with collected data. The NSA hold people prisoner in places like Guantanomo Bay, and routinely bars US citizens from travel (the true terror of the “No Fly” list). This sounds like the annuls of conspiracy theory but it is not. This book presents proof that the NSA uses this data to blackmail combatants. They use data to track who you talk to, where you go, and what you buy; it’s exactly like a Philip K. Dick novel. Spycraft has evolved in the 21st century, and all of us are on the losing end of the fight.

The last two parts of the book detail the media’s reaction to these leaks and Greenwald’s commitment to fighting for digital privacy. Most media outlets covered the leaks. Some, stupidly, deemed Snowden, and even Greenwald, as traitors. Greenwald uses these instances to show, first hand, how the media lies in the hands of corporate interests, which are synonymous with military interests. The media has direct orders not to expose the government–and the government has many opportunities to soften the blow of any type of media oversight. Greenwald thus defends his commitment to releasing the stories, releasing them slowly, and ultimately releasing them in a way unlike practically any other story. Greenwald’s philosophy of journalism is an effective remedy to the white noise of the internet media landscape.

This is an important book. If you want to know what’s going on in the world around you, read it–because the NSA definitely knows what’s going on. As citizens, we probably can’t stop them right away, but learning about the digital privacy intrusion being committed by the US government is the first step toward digital freedom.

5 BEST COMICS! July, 2014

Every month, I’m gonna pick five awesome comics being currently released. On-going monthlies, graphic novels, re-releases, zines, webcomics or whatever else! Read more comix dude!

 

1. Midas Flesh

The amazing Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics and the Adventure Time comic fame) made his creator owned debut late last year with BOOM Studio’s Midas Flesh. The mini-series proved to be totally freakin’ awesome. North retells the ancient Midas myth (the dude who turns everything he touches to gold) as an inter-galactic space opera. Our crew–two punky girls and a dinosaur–discover an Earth totally frozen in gold. They quickly realize they can use the strange, scientific properties of King Midas as a super-weapon against the evil, Galactic Federation. Two things really stand out to make this story great: the characterization and the scientific speculation. Joey is a total kick-butt, get-stuff-done space captain, Fatima has one of the most developed moral compasses in all of monthly comics right now and Cooper the Utahraptor is so believably real, he could only have been written by a dude who’s written comics starring enthusiastic dinosaurs every day for the last 13 years. What really makes the book shine is the simple question–what if anything touched turned to gold? Would this affect molecules? Would the process be instantaneous? Would it be reversible? Probing deep into questions like these is what makes Midas Flesh a lot of fun. One of my favorite comics this year.

 

2. Southern Bastards

Southern Bastards is country-fried crime reminiscent of Justified and Breaking Bad. It’s my new favorite Image book because it’s violent, dark, and has unforgettable characters. An old man comes back to his tiny, hick town to remember his dead sheriff father. He quickly finds out that the town is riddled in crime, lead the football coach and his high school aged cronies. As his father was beaten to death, he managed to kill a few of the attackers himself with a big stick. So, our protagonist picks up his daddy’s stick and starts going around kickin’ ass! Noir with a country twang, this book is the real deal. I like watching good old boys get the shit kicked out of them for being terrible, so I love this noir with a country-twang.

3. Fatale #24

There’s only one issue left of Brubaker and Phillips latest masterpiece! Thankfully, it seems like the series will be even better on re-read. So much of the plot seems integrally planned from the beginning. Fatale’s had suspense, drama, and a twisted sense of humor. But most of all, it’s appropriated troupes from crime and Lovecraftian horror fiction. In some ways, it’s similar to HBO’s True Detective–but Fatale is more Cthuluian than that show. The characters in this book are all great, albeit totally fucking depressing. I still can’t make my mind up whether or not Joesphine is the ultimate evil, or a sympathetic flawed protagonist who got involved with a cult accidentally. Maybe she is evil incarnate? Regardless, casting the typical noir femme-fatale as a bloodthirsty monster that ruins everything she touches is the perfect explanation for this troupe. This is my favorite Brubaker/Phillips collaboration since Criminal.

 

4. Moon Knight

Moon Knight occupies a strange place in the Marvel U. He’s always been violent/bad-ass, but often he’s confused or underused. We know certainly he’s a dead dude imbued with the spirit of an Egyptian god. However, is he good? Is he bad? Is he a gritty anti-hero a la the Punisher? This all depends on who’s writing him. Charlie Huston’s arc of Moon Knight was a ultra-violent romp through the streets of New York, but Warren Ellis’ run takes a dramatically different approach. Instead of the traditional cloak and spandex, Moon Knight’s been seen wearing a white suit and bag mask. He’s less violent, but makes up for it in being smarter, more cunning, and somehow just as ruthless. Ellis’ characterization reminds me of the investment banker in the limo from DeLillo’s Cosmopolis. While soon to end, Ellis’ arc has experimented not only with the character, but also with visual story telling. Two issues had barely any dialogue and one was a fever dream. Right now, Moon Knight isn’t making much of an impact on the Marvel universe at large (he didn’t even commit any Original Sin [TM]). However, he is making a huge impact on how to write a superhero comic.

question hound

by KC Green

5. Gunshow

This month, I finally read every single Gunshow. I discovered KC Green through the Regular Show comic book. After looking KC up, I learned he’s the progenitor of Dickbutt! Everyone loves dickbutt! His humor ranges from bizarre, to sad, to sheer insanity/violence. A rotating cast of characters continues to make appearances, including two carrot addled bunny rabbits, a cutie fox, and even Jason from Friday the 13th. Green’s comics developed to more than a gag-strip with the two graphic novel length stories with The Anime Club and Graveyard Quest. While funny, these stories are quite emotional and show a keen eye for characterization. Green also has a new comic out called BACK that’s just started to get some steam. Perhaps more than any artist right now, each week I’m most excited to see what Green does next.

   
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End Zone

not a good book

They copy of End Zone I read

I’ve read three Don DeLillo books and liked End Zone the least. It’s the eventual-master’s second novel, so while the novel shows promise of genius, it lacks the precise control of language that DeLillo eventually develops. I became irked in noticing the characters exclaiming “I don’t know the word for…” or “If that’s what that word really means.” The DeLillo I know (and love) would never write these digressions now (or at least not so liberally!). Though it is humbling to see the future-master of words fumbling for character, meaning, and story. I can only recommend this book for one reason: as humbling encouragement that good writing takes years of practice.

In theme, Endzone is about power and control through the lens of football and nuclear warfare. However, the novel’s cumbersome execution prevents it from reaching its full potential–that is, actually saying something interesting about the convergence of football and nuclear war. There’s a few chapters about nuclear war. Mostly, there’s chapters about football. But the similarities are only referenced through juxtaposition.

Part one tries to assert a connection between war and football through a series of cutup sections of nuclear textbooks (which read ok, but felt lazy), rather on-the-nose analogies about war and football (i.e. “Football is war”), and conversations between the players about rank, respect, authority, and hierarchy. But then, right when the reader (me especially) is expecting to see the melding of the two disciplines (nuclear warfare; college football) on the field in the team’s biggest game of the season, the author comes out of the shadows and essentially says, “This is all dumb.”  At the start of part two, we get a a meta-textual digression about how

“The spectator, at this point, is [wondering] whether he must now endure a football game in print–the author’s way of adding his own neat quarter-notch to the scarred bluesteel of combat writing. The game, after all, is known for its assault-technology motif, and numerous commentators have been willing to risk death by analogy in their public discussions of the resemblance between football and war. But this sort of thing is of little interest to the exemplary spectator.”

Perhaps DeLillo wasn’t capable of writing that shows the ideology of war being refracted through football. Or maybe he just didn’t want to? Whatever the case, I went into the book expecting football and nuclear warfare’s eery connections. But by part two, you don’t get that. The novel becomes a simple farce of college football life, focusing on the feelings of our lonely boy protagonist, Gary. Gary is directionless without football. And while he notices that the strange power dynamics in place with the game, he’s unable to accept how similar these hierarchies are to real life. Part three just feels like character sketches, trying to place the characters reason for playing football. This is an interesting question, as to me, football seems painful, stressful, and dumb. But no conclusions are reached. There’s also an old, grey coach acting as a stand-in for a broken Old Testament God at the end (as revealed by the book’s back cover). The novel felt like a clunky forced metaphor. The book ends with the protagonist fainting and going to the hospital–almost becoming fully paralyzed–but this isn’t explained or elaborated on. Merely mentioned in passing of the book’s last sentence. This didn’t feel ambiguous as much as it felt half-baked.

I don’t recommend this book. Whether you like football, nuclear warfare, or Don DeLillo, you’ll likely be disappointed. Perhaps read it if you want to see the early struggles of an eventual master.

Comics Enjoyed Recently

Here’s two comics I read recently and liked.

Duffman One-shot:

 

The origin of Duffman revealed! Oh yeah! Simpsons Comics one-shots give me nostalgia for my first favorite comic. It seems Bongo puts special care into the one-offs. The book has two stories, as well as a cut-out Duffman party mask. The main story shows Duffman’s origin, which is a direct parody of Green Lantern and the Lantern Corps. Instead of power rings, Duffman has beer and a power keg. He is promised that all the universe’s problems can be solved with excessive amounts of drinking–he, and the other Duff protectors (there’s men, women, aliens) are assigned to a sector of the galaxy to promote partying. I wonder if the Duff Corps ever teams up with Slurms Macenzie. The parody fits–the elders are all chill little blue bros, Sinistro becomes Vinostro, a wine swirling dinner-party-lover, and the superhero context allows children to read a story that overtly endorses excessive binge-drinking. The backup is…

 

Manhattan Projects #20: 

Two Einsteins meet after shattering the realms of time and space! Following the events of issue #18 with the death of **Oppenheimer** it was revealed that the true Albert Einstein was the killer! In issue FIND NUMBER WAS IT 3? Albrecht Einstein came to the Manhattan Projects dimension to trade places with Albert Einstein–but the reason was never revealed. We see, however, that Albrescht was escaping the Conan-esque horror that was the magic kingdom. A leader that looks like Oppenheimer tortures Einstein by forcing him to tinker with the dimension gate, and confusing science and magic (thinking alchemy is science and physics mere wizardry!). Eventually, Albert escapes using his genius intellect and becomes a pan-dimensional traveler learning all things. I love Manhattan Projects because of strange, subversive images of Albert Einstein holding Posidon’s trident and riding a hammer-head shark.

 

 

 

 

Little Brother

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother

I read Little Brother because I read boingboing.net, which exposed me to Cory Doctorow. Doctorow is a blogger, a sci-fi writer, and a pioneer of writers writes in the world of digital publishing. He reminds me of a mix between Harlan Ellison and Issac Asimov. Like Ellison, his writing has an inherent distrust of controlling institutions, but like Asimov, his writing maintains a progress zeal in believing science fiction can change the world for the better. These sentiments seem especially true in Little Brother, a dystopian sci-fi/”electronic manifesto” for privacy rights and electronic freedom, disguised as a young adult novel. Also, despite being written in 2008, the plot shares significant similarities to the real life events of Edward Snowden intelligence leak. Coincidence?

Marcus is a high-school student from San Francisco. His parents are liberal computer science professors. He breaks computer security systems for fun, spreading his name as an internet hacker (w1n5t0n). Until one day, while ditching class, Marcus and his friends are caught in the middle of a terrorist attack. After getting injured and asking the military for help, the military inexplicably detains Marcus and his friends for being teen hackers. They’re transported to a secret island prison, much like guantanamo bay. This enrages Marcus and his weirdly libertarian ethos–valuing freedom, civil liberties, and mutual trust. Marcus becomes a digital revolutionary, creating the persona M1k3y, a symbol for a electronic frontier freedom everywhere! Marcus sets to tear down the surveillance establishment of Big Brother and restore some semblance of sense over our civil liberties. And since Little Brother is written in the form of a young adult novel, of course Marcus succeeds.

M1k3y ends up being a lot like Edward Snowden. He goes to a Glen Greedwald-esque journalist, exposes the whole thing, and tries to go into hiding. Despite some more hidden island military prison hyjinx, everything turns out alright. There was, however, constant reminders that things could have gone the way of Chelsea Manning, had all the cards not been in the right place. Notice: this book came out in 2008. Throughout the book, Marcus is even written like a patriot–of the founding father variety. He often evokes the constitution as proof that mass-survalience is wrong. It feels ham-fisted, but none the less true.

After reading this teen book, I noticed more things about my surroundings and the American governments’ violation of digital freedom. I met a man who runs a private server that protects journalists. I see flyers for crypto key exchange parties. People are “waking up” to the fact that their data is valuable and worth protecting. While marketed like a young adult novel, the book reads kind of like a blog: it’s a sundry of thoughts on a broad variety of digital things, deliberately making a point. However, a familiar narrative of spy on the run keeps the book engaging and a great introduction into the labyrinth of digital surveillance for teens and regular people too.

Annihilation

annihilation.JPG

Often, I read while I walk. One day, while reading China Meiville’s The Scar, a canvasser for Green Peace stopped me and asked if I’d heard of Jeff Vandermeer and recommended City of Madmen. Two days later, I went to City Lit books in Logan Square and they’re having a book club for Vandermeer’s newest book, Annihilation. It’s book one in the Southern Reach trilogy, and upon finishing the novel I immediately bought the second trilogy entry. This compelling weird fantasy gets my highest recommendation.

The plot is terse and well told: four explorers are sent on an expedition to explore  a strange landscaped called Area-X. Quickly, the expedition goes awry, and Area-X’s many secrets seem so weird they’re incomprehensible to the human mind! But what exactly is Area-X? In the books acknowledgements, Vandermeer thanks the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida (his state of residence) for preserving the natural world that was the basis for this strange and foreign space. On cursory reading, Area-X does certainly seem like a swamp. But the biodiversity of strangeness mashes seeming untenable boarding landscapes–ocean and bog, tundra and marshland, human civilization and the world’s densest nature. It kinda does remind one of Florida, as well as a dangerous alien planet (ed: what’s the difference!)

Both the novel’s plot and exegesis fall within the bounds of established science fiction tropes. Basically, Area-X is an exacting application of an established form (sci-fi exploration novel) stripped down to the genre’s essentials for the effect of an exhilarating minimalism. We already know how scientists go to weird places and weird things happen (one could even argue, the plot to the novel is that of Alien), so exposition is gladly kept at a minimum. The narrator is left unnamed, as are her three compatriots. Instead, everyone is referred to by their title–biologist, surveyor, psychologist, anthropologist–and each person is as replaceable as any other from previous expedition failures. What drives the plot is the characters’ ability to use hypnosis, as well as be influenced by hypnotic suggestion. This cleverly conceals and reveals character motivation, but it also plays thematically into Area-X’s mind-altering perception. The novel forgoes exposition in sake of description, attempting to pin down this ethereal landscape that seems delightfully inexpressible. Area-X to takes “root” in the reader’s mind as a beautiful and horrible imagined space.

Vandermeer molds the visual vocabulary of H.P. Lovecraft with a distinctly 21th century flavor. Interjecting nods to contemporary science (gene-manipulation, hybrid species), but starting with a post-atomic nihilism Lovecraft couldn’t have been privy to (as he died before the bomb dropped). Our hapless biologist can’t be driven mad from the unknown knowledge of beyond, as she starts the novel with the perspective that humanity is but a meaningless speck in a vast and incomprehensible landscape. Most of all, readers are given privy to the world view of the biologist–her personal history is also tersed out slowly. But, to self-admission, the biologist actively seeks to remove a personality, as do the other scientists she observes. The book reliants more on internal monologue over dialogue, but the true protagonist is Area-X. As we see by the end of the book, Area-X just happens to intersect into the biologist’s life. She can’t stop it; no one can.While reading, I felt Anihilation shows that civilization will eventually destroy itself, but it cannot take the earth along with us. The earth is all life, and all life is unkillable.

My only problem with the novel is a good one to have: it was over too quickly. Of course, it is the first book in a trilogy (by the last quarter, this feels abundantly evident). All the cool stuff is coming, as at the end of the 195 pages, Area-X just starts to take shape. But a book can’t be faulted for being fast paced fast, mysteriously, and fun to read. Plus, you can really feel Vandermeer’s expertise as there’s just enough character development and  to string along a plot about man’s meaningless quest for meaning and nature’s ungraspable vastness.

Crooked Little Vein

crooked little vein

I’m familiar with Warren Ellis’ stellar comicbooks from Transmetropolitan as well as the new Moon Knight. When I found his first novel in a bookstore bargain bin, I decided to give it a read. Mostly, it’s competent. I finished it in about 6 hours. While Ellis generally disregards the mechanics of good novel writing, he does slip in some really perverse and strange stuff that I’m still thinking about a few months after reading.

Michael McGill is a loser private eye who’s as misanthropic as he is incompetent. For the most part, I enjoy the loser detective troupe. Loser detectives rarely solves cases, and when they accidentally do solve a crime, it still brings about the most unpleasant possible outcome. This comic-noir troupe is the basis of Crooked Little Vein. The novel’s plot is a loose ripoff of National Treasure, which is great. An evil coked-out Secretary of State explains to McGill that the constitutional framers made a second constitution–and the duplicate is exactly like the necronomicon. If people witnessed the second constitution being read, first hand, they’re minds are possessed by the reader. Our hapless protagonist is offered millions of dollars to find the demon document, so he travels the United States in order to meet America’s strangest weirdos. This allows Ellis to do away with a cohesive plot and instead focus on episodic strangeness.

McGill’s companion is Trix, a sex-crazed young woman who’s totally undeveloped and might as well have been called LOVE INTEREST TO PROGRESS THE PLOT. Both characters are lacking any compelling reason to care what happens to them. Together though, they go to a bunch of gross out sex parties–and inject a saline solution in their genitals–an amateur sex change surgery party, a webcam model warehouse, and about eight other strange circumstances. All of which are quite fun to read, similar to Ellis’ column on VICE.com.

Weirdly, the novel seems to be making an explicit point (something that bothers me even if I agree with the point being made). The point is, because of the internet, perverse is the new mainstream. McGill talks to a serial killer on a plane who explains that depravity is normality in our society. We had the culture revolution, now we have the internet, but everything still sucks because of inequal resource distribution–so, we pacify ourselves by watching normal people act like renegade performance artists on webcams. The  post-GenX warehouse owner puts it this way, “This is the mainstream”  The surreal now stares us directly in the face in the form of a pop-up ads. I found the pornographer’s chapters most interest. He even goes on to explain that porn barons use capture user data, sensitive government documents and other sensitive content to global government hegemony. The baron captures videos from Iraq off soldiers cell phones and leaks them to a stand-in for Jullian Assange. I don’t know if this is rooted in truth, but it does make evident that people who control vast amounts of power in our 21st century society are pornographers, arm merchants, drug dealers and the politicians who love them.

Overall, Warren Ellis’ first novel reads half baked. The content itself is interesting and delivered in a quickly digestible manner. The book has good pacing and interesting ideas, but the plot and characters feel underdeveloped.  This is a good book for a plane ride.

 

R.I.P. H.G. Giger

HG Giger Alien

 

The legendary H.G. Giger died yesterday at 74. Giger created Xenomorph, from the Alien films; the infamous Dead Kennedy’s album cover for Frankenchrist; amazing concept art for Alejandro Jordowski’s Dune; as well as countless other industrial, erotic, and surreal works of art.

In my opinion, Giger’s style reflects the darkest recesses of the 20th century’s collective unconscious. He will be missed.

DUNE-VI

Nostalgia Comics: New Cartoon Network Comic Adaptations

At 23, I still prefer cartoons to all other media. This passion was inspired by Cartoon Network’s Cartoon Cartoons. Hopefully, you read that in Dexter’s voice. Excellent publisher of licensed media properties, IDW is remaking some of Cartoon Network’s best into comic series. I’ve read the output so far and it ranges from decent to pretty great.

Dexters Laboratory #1 (of 4) As it’s the newest release on this list, Dexter’s Lab currently has just one issue. It’s hard to make a solid judgement from 22 pages, but it appears this
series is already off to a strong start. Dexter’s newest plot involves wishing away his older sister Dee-Dee–finally answering the question, why doesn’t the little weirdo genius use his brain powers to get rid of his destructive sister. The scripting is spot on in this book, or perhaps my brain was wired in childhood to completely prevent me from reading this and thinking otherwise. By this, I mean I could clearly hear the characters’  voices as I read along with the comic, despite not watching the cartoon in well over a decade. Likewise, I
remember Dexter’s Lab the cartoon had a visual denseness that’s replicated in this comic. There’s tons of great little details to pour over, like in Dexter’s hall of failed experiments ruined by Dee-Dee. However, the show rarely made a story that was a longer than 8 minutes. Thus, this comic’s pacing was a little weird. It accomplished the experiment’s setup,  like the first two minutes of a Dexter episode–and it only took about five minutes to read. When the book costs $4, you do the math and realize it might be more cost-effective to wait for the trade of this one. I wish there was a backup for Dial M for Monkey or The Justice Friends.

Samurai Jack Samurai Jack is my favorite Gendy Tarinovsky creation. Samurai Jack is the one Cartoon Cartoon I’ve made provisions to re-experience as frequently as possible, as its visual style and minimalist drawings provide a timeless animated style–I suspect this show will be remembered longest of its peers. As a child, I loved the design of Jack–his water like movements made him the epitome of samurai. Likewise, I remember Aku as an evil representing ultimate darkness.  On rereading this comic, I realize both interpretations are lacking. While Jack is a samurai through and through, the show casts him as malleable enough to fight in any adventure story. He’s so heroic, he can be any type of hero. Aku, on the other hand, is a hyperbolic caricature of evil. He’s not so much scary as he is silly–kind of like a menacing, shape-shifting Jake the Dog (of Adventure Time). One problem with the animated series was its lack of narrative resolution, as it was canceled before a last episode was planned. The first 5 issues of this comic attempt to rectify this oversight, which alone makes the book worth reading. The first arc details Jack’s adventures collecting the threads of time, to make a magical rope that can return him to his rightful epoch. As the cartoon was a mostly-visual experience, the comic is a quick read. This is forgivable because the visuals are so dynamic. In five issues alone, Jack travels form the tundra, to a desert, to a city, to hell itself to fight Aku. The ending of issue five is honestly the coolest ending the series could have hoped for–feel free to highlight the spoiler text under this review if you’re dying to know what happens. While the series was initially set as a mini-series, its popularity warranted a continuation. And issues 6 & 7 offered a look at gender-swapped Jack, as Samurai Jacqueline! Plus, gender-swapped Scottsman! Pick it up to see the absurdity. I like this series of the IDW relaunches best, as it does things with the franchise that never would have been allowed in the series. Very recommended.

Samuari Jack Ending
Jack is able to almost beat Aku with the magic time rope, but Aku makes a final strike and kills Jack. Jack wakes up in a strange, time-verse that shows how his world is truly a multiverse–so no matter what, there will always be a universe where Jack is fighting Aku no matter what actions he takes.

 

Powerpuff Girls Powerpuff Girls features a cameo-laden story ruined by predictability. I read the first three issues of the arc, only to be certain of the book’s ending. Essentially: all the villians of Townsville decide not to be villains anymore. Even Mojo Jojo gets (what amounts to) chemically castrated to ensure he’s no longer an evil monkey mastermind. Of course, this idea is quickly revealed to be a nefarious scheme conducted by the villains themselves.  And sure, I may be acting too critical, as Powerpuffs were never revered for their power-plots, but this book was boring. Especially in comparison to Samurai Jack. That said, the page layouts in this book are the most ambitious of the three. Likewise, the way the book uses the girls’ primary colors (albeit, green isn’t a primary color)  for visually captivating pages.  Not worth the $4 per issue price tag, but probably worth a bookstore skim read.

 

Ocean at the End of Lane

mckean

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman published June, 2013 181 pgs.

Neil Gaiman’s newest novela Ocean at the End of the Lane begs for immediate re-reading upon quick completion. Its neatly circular narrative–a story about stories and memory–will draw readers back to the beginning once they get to the end. But the book’s characters, particularly the magical Hempstock family, are a lot of fun to spend time with. With risk of ultra-nerdy-specific hyperbole, The Hempstock clan might be Gaiman’s best invention since Sandman’s The Endless.

Ocean at the End of the Lane begins with a man returning to his childhood home for a funeral. After visiting a local farm to sit by its tranquil pond, the unnamed man experiences vivid memories from his childhood because the pond is magic. The book then shifts to narration from a child’s point of view, with occasional adult interjections. Our unnamed narrator describes life as a child bookworm, living a lonely indoors with occasional adventures outside his home. He’s content with his little life, until his family falls on hard times financially. Then, our narrator is forced to give up his room to an opal miner who shortly-thereafter kills himself in the family’s car–after the trauma, our narrator’s life is never the same. Through the suicide, our narrator meets the Hemstock Family, three magical witches (well…not quite witches) who live on a farm and claim to exist since before the creation of the moon. These ladies share a vast knowledge, each complementary to one another. The youngest sister, brave Lettie Hempstock is 11 years old, and our narrator’s first friend. Her mother and grandmother are two of the wisest magicians in history. These powerful women help our narrator make sense of the capriciously cruel world around him. I won’t  spoil much, as the story’s fun is found in slowly discovering out what’s really going on.

The book’s prose reads much like Gaiman’s previous young-adult fiction; our narrator shares the same plucky courage of Coraline and the spooky bad luck of The Graveyard Book’s Nobody Owens. Yet, the traumas that happen to Ocean’s protagonist are grimmer and more “real world”, compared to the fantastic conflicts of Gaiman’s aforementioned YA counterparts. Likewise, this book isn’t marketed as young adult fiction. Gaiman explains on the Acknowledgement page that the book’s first readers were his wife and children. But the prose style also seems a perfect synthesis of what’s most popular in the contemporary literature market. Since books like The Hunger Games outsell everything else, there’s certainly a want for story-driven books written with accessible language–though Gaiman still injects some, and an child’s point of view. Thus this synthesis of styles becomes one of the book’s main themes. Lettie Hempstock, the youngest of the ancient, magical woman, says,

“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”

Which is why we, as readers, always like to be “tricked” by a good story, or the “scrim of reality” as the narrator remarks. I could see a child enjoying Ocean at the End of the Lane, but the fact that it’s narrated from an adult’s memory gives it a sad contemplative nostalgia. The book would teach a child and remind an adult that real people have to deal with suicide, adultery, death, and loneliness at all stages of life.

Like most Gaiman books, Ocean is a story about stories. The first page reveals that the titular ocean of the book is really just a pond, yet as a child the pond took on magical transcendence for the narrator. It glows with an efflorescent blue-green light; it’s how the Hempstock family traveled over from the old country; it really is a portal to another world (but the world might always be inside your own head). Late in the book, the ocean (and all oceans) becomes a metaphor for the life of a human being: in a constant state of tumultuous motion, yet vastly tranquil when viewed with distance. Science says the ocean is the source of all life, as reptilian creatures emerged from the sea onto land; folklore says the ocean is a source of unspeakable magic power. Whatever the case, the ocean’s fragile magic draws readers in to the book’s story.

In many ways, Neil Gaiman’s career has been a complex meditation on the power of story. Now his style has matured to the point where he can weave a deep and impressive mythology effortlessly into truly compelling human narratives with very few pages. While Gaiman’s always been capable of accomplishing these two feats, he now seems to be able to do it for a whole variety of readers, adults and children alike.