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Film Art: An Introduction
David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson
Murphy - Samuel Beckett In this early, pre-epiphany work, Beckett's influences are clear: Schopenhauer's pessimism, Descartes's dualism, and Joyce's modernism all makeup that which is Beckett's first published novel, Murphy.

The writing can at times appear dense or seemingly incoherent, but when the text is given the required degree of attention it can also be something quite magnificent and compelling. Beckett uses this style of writing to take the reader into a confused and otherworldly mind-state similar to that of the main character's, and also uses the unique style to blend an odd mix of dark, dry, and absurdist humor, which is largely successful because of the complementing style.

And while the writing itself may at times be highly allusive and baffling, the plot is fairly straight-forward and easy to follow. The character of importance, as the title suggests, is Murphy, a "seedy solipsist ... without provenance or target, caught up in a tumult of non-Newtonian motion," who, to simplify the character's psychology, yearns for an alternative to reality and seeks just that through a variety of methods including insanity and nothingness. There are a group of other characters, all in one way or another revolving around Murphy, who receive little in the way of character development, but this is primarily the story of Murphy and the world that surrounds him and/or the world that exists inside him, and all others are little more than satellites orbiting Murphy's universe.

Surely a book that can be enjoyed a second time, and I one day hope to do just that.
Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form - Anna Anthropy The Garage bands of the 60s and the punk bands of the 70s proved that anyone and a few friends can become musicians. Disposable and instant cameras allowed anyone to become a photographer. Camcorders and camera phones turned anyone into a filmmaker. Paper and ink, and later typewriters and computers, made everyone a potential writer. Crayons and fingerpaint...well, you get the point.

Making an art form accessible and its tools widely available does a lot for the art. It demystifies the way things are made and encourages participation, which leads to more and more artists. When someone can create art independently, without needing a large amount of money or having to worry about things like marketability, demographics, and profits, it makes experimentation more possible. Experimentation can lead to innovation, innovation to evolution.

The mass availability of creative tools does something else as well: it helps us appreciate any given medium even more. When you realize just how something is made, you better appreciate its craftsmanship. It isn't until you pick up a camcorder and record a shaky Christmas morning video, or snap a blurry photo, or hear a recording or your own attempt at singing, or try to draw a cat and get something more like this, that you realize there's some actual talent going into the greater works. On the other hand, it may also help you realize a talent you would have never otherwise discovered you had. A young kid drawing his own comic book (as I'm sure we've all tried) learns either one of two things: (a) that comic writing/illustrating isn't for him, or (b) that he really enjoys writing/illustrating comics and might even be half good at it. The latter would then be prone to pursue this idea and may find a lifelong career/interest in it.

What I'm driving at, as if you haven't guessed already, is that Video Games don't quite have this demystification and accessibility yet. Everyone and their mothers know how a novel is written or a movie is made, but most people, even many gamers, know about as much about the what and how of making a game as they do the building of an atomic bomb. They may have some faint, unsure ideas about it, but they'd, unlike with writing or filming, most likely be inept at attempting or even explaining it. Programming languages seem like gibberish and coding seems like a sort of black magic. The entry barriers for Video Game creation are too high. Which is precisely why the medium has been almost exclusively controlled by major corporations for so long.

That's all changing though. It has been for awhile now. Not only are more people learning to program, but programming languages are getting simpler and simpler. The development of games is slowly being demystified and the tools becoming more available. Anyone with a computer can make a video game, even if they have little to no programming knowledge at all. And, even more importantly, they can do it for no cost at all. It's cheaper to do than any other of the mediums because it's the only one that's non-physical. Everything's done on the computer (which everyone has), even distribution. As far as materials go you need even less than you would for a film or band. The tools are there, all that's left is the know-how. I, for one, can foresee the day when people will sit down and make a Video Game just as someone might scribble a doodle, or record a home video, or write a diary entry, or snap a family photo, or hum some made-up tune. It's an exciting prospect; one that seems almost inevitable. It's certainly a thrilling time to be a gamer.

Anna Anthropy's book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form, which I of course bought because I am a freaky yet normal amateur artist who dreams of dropping-out and becoming a queer housewife, attempts to serve as a sort of manifesto to this thought. The philosophy it supports is no doubt a good one, unfortunately its execution is anything but.

I should start by saying that I am a bit of an Anna Anthropy fan--I think her game "dys4ia" is one of the most expressive and compelling things ever created--which only makes this book all the more a letdown.

Don't expect elaboration or serious analysis from this book. It never really explores the main idea it subscribes to. In fact, in the first few paragraphs of this review I discuss the idea of accessibility to art as much as this book does, if not more. I'm not kidding. There's even some things I touched on that the book failed to even mention. All Anna really does in this book is repeat the doctrine of taking the art form away from the rich companies and putting it into the hands of everyday people. You'll hear roughly the same sentence proclaiming this idea numerous times throughout the book. Really the only follow-up to this thought is that Video Games currently have very narrow-minded perspectives (i.e. rich company perspectives) and that Video Games generally fail to offer any worthwhile perspectives; something that of course could be corrected by giving more people the opportunity to express their own view. She's obviously correct in her observation, I just wish the word "observation" could have been plural.

Again, reading this book will make you little more wiser than reading this review will (and having read a few of my reviews, that's not much). The book says essentially all it needs to say in its first chapter. It could have easily been essay length or even published as an internet article. There's no sense of escalation as the book progresses, there's no building upon ideas or any sense of build-up at all. In fact, the title of the book is really all you need to read. It says about as much as the text: Rise--okay so something new is happening--of the Videogame--it has to do with video games--Zinesters--and it implies an independent, D.I.Y. approach--How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You--to how everybody can--Are Taking Back an Art Form--make games now.

It doesn't go much deeper than that. What it does offer are some great recommendations to some games you've probably never heard of. Most of which are available for free online, so you'll definitely end up playing some new games after reading this. Unfortunately Anna's descriptions of gameplay are largely boring (unlike the descriptions in Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter), so you really are better off just playing the games. She also offers some suggestions in programs to use for people who lack programming knowledge. Some of them you've probably heard of (Game Maker, Games Factory), others probably not (Knytt Stories, ZZT). Unsurprisingly, the two Appendixes, one dealing with software to use to make games and the other dealing with recommended games made using such software, are the most useful parts of the book.

So the book isn't completely worthless. There's some good suggestions and you'll probably find a helpful word of advice here or there. The problem is that, despite it's length, it doesn't really tell me more than a Google search of "free video game making software" or "the best flash games" could have. Its ideas are too few and its execution too boring to get anyone really excited about making games who wasn't already excited. Video Games as a more personal expression, a more individual vision, a more zine-like mentality is something that should happen, something that will happen. But you don't need this book to tell you. Fails as an academic work, fails as a guide, and fails as an account of pop culture. Not worthless, but hardly worthwhile.
Lady Gaga - Terry Richardson, Lady Gaga There are two primary facets to Lady Gaga's image: sex and art. She, like every pop star since Madonna since Elvis Presley, has utilized sex appeal to project an image and garner attention. She also plays up the image of the artist, the avant-gardist. (Whether or not she's beautiful or creative is besides the point entirely.)

Terry Richardson works primarily in one facet: sex. If there's any art to Terry it comes only through sex appeal, whether it be sexy photographs or provocative fashion. His celebrity portraits, often taken with cheap consumer instant cameras, are simple and to the point (Augusto De Luca he is not) and, when it comes down to it, he's a largely exploitative photographer. He brings a celebrity's sex appeal to an extreme. He exploits it, captures it, glamorizes it, exaggerates it, whatever. He works within it, but his subject has to meet him half way, they have to already exploit sexuality themselves before he can paint its details and intricacies. ("I view what I do as a real collaboration between myself and the people in front of the camera.") If anything earns sharp focus in a Richardson portraiture it's not the eyes and face, it's the flesh. His photos aren't pornographic though (okay, maybe some of them are, especially his older work), but that's because sex appeal hardly ever is explicitly pornographic (the Andersons, Hiltons, and Kardashians notwithstanding). Celebrity sex appeal is a tease above all else and Terry goes a bit further with the tease but never beyond. All he's doing is capturing its essence.

Gaga supplements art with sex, Richardson supplements sex with art, Gaga has an elaborate grandiose style, Richardson has an amateur punk style. What the two share is a sense of raw unrestraint and candor. Lady Gaga x Terry Richardson is very much similar to Richardson's collaborations with people like Lindsay Lohan, Sky Ferreira, or Miley Cyrus. Richardson brings out the sexuality in Lady Gaga, but this collection also proves an intimate look at the pop star; with environmental behind-the-scenes portraits it is of course biographical (hundreds of pictures of a person can't be expected to not be). This makes the book ideal for Lady Gaga fans. For Terry Richardson fans it's what you've likely come to expect from him: style through subject, not form.

The comparisons to Madonna's [b:Sex|302236|Sex|Madonna|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1250752862s/302236.jpg|293297] are inevitable. Sex though still remains more potent, creative, and, frankly, interesting. (It really is like comparing Madonna's Justify My Love to the Terry Richardson directed Wrecking Ball. They both adopt sex as the subject, but they each approach it differently.) Lady Gaga x Terry Richardson remains really only worthwhile for fans of the two and proves to be of little value otherwise. Those who will like this probably know who they are, everyone else (photography lovers included, fashion enthusiasts possibly excluded) would most likely do good to avoid.
Marvel Masterworks: The Uncanny X-Men, Vol. 2 - Chris Claremont Much of what I said in my review of the first volume applies to this one as well. Although I'd say that this volume, as a whole, is better.

Claremont's writing gets even better, the quality of the stories gets much better, the characters get heaps of development. The comics show the X-Men in and out of action, and really allows you to get to know them--whether in seeing them play baseball, go on picnics, etc.--without ever feeling forced. A lot of back-story going on as well. We learn Storm's origin (and her one weakness), while the mystery of Wolverine's past deepens.

Of course, also in these issues, we see Jean Grey turn into the Phoenix. To take such an average character like Marvel Girl a.k.a. Jean Grey and turn her into the series' most captivating and involved character is a stroke of writing genius. This volume contains the first Phoenix Saga; the second, more popular Phoenix Saga being the Dark Phoenix Saga, which these issues are preluding.

We also see the debut of The Starjammers, who are pretty awesome, and we learn their leader Corsair's little secret that he's really the father of Cyclops.

There's plenty of great baddies in here, too, both new and old. The return of Juggernaut and Magneto are definitely highlights.

Cockrum's art only gets better as well. I especially love his close-up facial designs. (I'm of the opinion that Cockrum's art works best with Sam Grainger as inker.) Two of the issues feature guest artists, and towards the end of this volume we see Cockrum leave the series and John Byrne take over. His work is easily as good as Cockrum's, if not better. Issue #108 hosts some of the greatest comic book art of the 70s; Byrne not only handles the outer space scenery and action well but also has panels that are very expressionistic in style. He does a good job in not straying too far from Cockrum's style (something that's important in a series, especially when, like Byrne, you're taking over on the second part of a two-part story) while also giving it a bit of his own freshness.

The two-parter that runs across issues #107 and #108 is easily one of the greatest (if not the greatest) X-Men stories hitherto its publication. The story had a lot of build up, the action is great, we meet new heroes and villains, there's a real sense of world and consequence, and it takes place in freakin' space! The artwork and writing are at all time highs.

This volume would get 4 stars from me if it weren't for some disappointing issues. Notably #106 and #110, both of which are guest artist issues, i.e. fill-in issues, which are not only lackluster stories in and of themselves, but they also upset the flow of the larger narrative arc and often feel inherently unnatural (as they usually are told in the form of flashback or some other unfavorable device).

A very good volume with some amazing issues, and some unfortunate passable issues as well.

Favorite issues: "Where No X-Man Has Gone Before!" (#107), "Armageddon Now!" (#108)
Best Cover Art: "Enter the Phoenix" (#101)
Rating: 3.65 out of 5
Is Sex Necessary?, or Why You Feel the Way You Do - James Thurber, E.B. White, John Updike "An imagined kiss is more easily controlled, more thoroughly enjoyed, and less cluttery than an actual kiss. To kiss in dream is wholly pleasant. First, the woman is one of your selection, not just anyone who happens to be in your arms at the moment. Second, the deed is garnished with a little spring of glamour which the mind, in exquisite taste, contributes. Third, the lips, imaginatively, are placed just so, the right hand is placed just so, the concurrent thoughts arrive, just so." -E.B. White, Is Sex Necessary? (Ch. 8)

And so with that my masturbation addiction is fully justified.
Marvel Masterworks: The Uncanny X-Men, Vol. 1 - Chris Claremont, Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Dave Cockrum, Stan Lee In 1963 the original X-Men comic, by the now legendary [a:Stan Lee|10303|Stan Lee|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1206594565p2/10303.jpg] and [a:Jack Kirby|10299|Jack Kirby|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1206594751p2/10299.jpg], was released to mild success, not bringing in sales as big as some of Marvel's other titles, but nonetheless profiting and forming a considerable fanbase. That didn't last very long, however, and by 1969, despite numerous attempts at rejuvenation, sales plummeted drastically and X-Men was cancelled and continued only in reprints. It wasn't necessarily that the quality of the comics fell--indeed [a:Roy Thomas|10180|Roy Thomas|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1317242199p2/10180.jpg] wrote some very memorable issues--but it was, more than anything I think, that X-Men had failed to show readers anything new; it became stale.

In 1975 that all changed. Writer [a:Len Wein|10295|Len Wein|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1266561441p2/10295.jpg] and artist [a:Dave Cockrum|15084|Dave Cockrum|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1298866421p2/15084.jpg] released the first new X-Men story in years: Giant-Size X-Men #1, and with it a whole new team of mutants, bringing interest, and money, back into the series. [a:Chris Claremont|15091|Chris Claremont|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1206644417p2/15091.jpg] continued the new series as writer, with Dave Cockrum as artist, and made X-Men a bestseller for Marvel and saved what is now one of Marvel's most popular titles from near extinction. Many fans today consider the Claremont-Cockrum duo even more important than the Lee-Kirby duo which created the team, for it was Claremont and Cockrum that really made the series what it is today.

The premise of the "All New, All Different" X-Men is an interesting one. A new team of mutants is formed by Professor Xavier and Cyclops, the only returning members, in order to save the old X-Men, who have been captured. In the 60s, with Angel, Iceman, Jean Grey, and Beast, the X-Men were an ensemble of inexperienced teenagers, whereas the "All New, All Different" X-Men are older and much more experienced.

The backgrounds of the characters are also much more varied. Thunderbird is a Native American, Colossus is from the Soviet Union, Night Crawler from Germany, Storm from Kenya, Banshee from Ireland, Sunfire from Japan, and Wolverine from Canada. This not only gives the team a more worldly feel (rather than just being an American team), but it also allows for the inherent allegorical nature of the team, which is of course racism and prejudice, to be touched on in new ways. In some ways the team itself almost represents a microcosm of the world's prejudices, or at the very least the world's differences.

Jean Grey as a character was immensely improved as well. In the 60s she was a very flat, unimportant character, arguably the weakest of the team. Here she becomes a very powerful and developed character and, as any X-Men fan knows, one of the most important and critical characters in the comic's history. All the characters are, to say the least, incredibly memorable. This series created some classic characters of the Marvel Universe.

Claremont makes an obvious attempt at better, more serious writing here compared to the earlier X-Men issues (instead of every sentence ending in an exclamation mark there's actually a few periods being used here!), and for the most part he succeeds impressively. There's some excellent dialogue and some well-handled dramatic moments. All the characters more or less find their own voice and personality. There's more of a sense of arc in the story, as if each issue is serving a greater narrative. Perhaps the greatest fault of 60s comic books was that each issue was essentially a contained story (with the exception of the occassional two- or three-parters), existing separate from all the other issues. Claremont corrects this, and likely changed the way comic book stories were told from then on. In these early issues we can see glimpses of future events, mysteries to be solved, and the very first seeds of what would eventually, nearly 30 issues later, become the renowned Dark Phoenix Saga.

Cockrum's art deserves praise as well. Though I tend to prefer Jack Kirby over most anyone, some big improvements were made here. For one, Cyclops looks fantastic; I love the detail given to his visor and how rather than being all red, you can see the glow of each of his eyes: burning and screaming to be released. The action is handled well and the facial work interprets the emotion of the writing well. The scenes in outer space are also conveyed very well.

In the issues collected here the heroes tend to be far more memorable than the villains (there's an unfortunate lack of Magneto), and really the only foe of note here is the return of the Sentinels, whom star in a three-parter just as good as the Sentinel trilogy of the 60s. Subsequent issues fix this problem, and I look forward to reading the next volume, which features some very memorable baddies indeed.

These first issues of the new X-Men are classics to the series and a must read for any fan. Incredibly important to not only the history of the series but to the history of all comic books as well, and still plenty enjoyable to this day. It's not the greatest comic story ever told, but it's one of the first greats.

Favorite issues: The Sentinel Trilogy (#98, 99, 100)
Best Cover Art: Deathstar Rising (#99), Greater Love Hath No X-Man (#100)
Rating: 3.25 out of 5
Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter - Tom Bissell I was pretty surprised with this one. I honestly didn't think I'd like it. I thought it'd be just another cash in on "nerd culture" and "gamers," pandering to 12 year old kids with an Xbox LIVE subscription. And to be perfectly honest, at times it does feel slightly like that. Only slightly though, and fortunately there's a lot more good here than there is bad.

The first thing you must understand is that Extra Lives is by no means a strictly academic or ludological work. There's far more books about video games that are more thorough and explore games as a medium in much more depth. What Extra Lives is, and what it does mostly well, is a mix of accessible video game analysis, accounts of video game experiences, and autobiography.

Why do video games matter? It's not an easy question, and this book gives no easy answers. But what it does is show the potential, ambition, and excitement that games hold. The video game as a separate art form is becoming more and more accepted and will only get more and more impressive. And if that doesn't make video games "matter," then I don't know what does.

A lot of the stuff Bissell discusses in here is stuff I'm already very familiar with, like the inherent unnaturalness of cutscenes, or the conflict between challenge and story, or the difficulties in "writing" a game. Bissell isn't exactly breaking new ground here, and a lot of what he says is little more than parroting other people, Jonathan Blow especially. But I still found it worthwhile to see my thoughts articulated by someone else, and it helped me better understand a lot of the beliefs I hold about games.

There is, of course, some things I disagreed with in here, but every bit of it was still interesting. The main games of focus in this book are almost all popular, blockbuster games, like Fallout 3, Mass Effect, Far Cry 2, Grand Theft Auto IV, etc. But the analyses of each game are consistently insightful. I've a completely new perspective on Left 4 Dead after reading this.

Bissell provides good descriptions of gameplay. He conveys the feel of a what it's like to play certain games better than most trailers do. So it's certainly not necessary to have played all the games that are discussed. Indeed one doesn't even have to be much a gamer at all to enjoy this.

Finally we come to the autobiographical elements of the book. Bissell often gives brief insights into his life; you'll discover he was in the Peace Corps for a very short time, he's a casual marijuana user, and when he was a kid he and his friends used to play an awesome game called "Who Can Die the Best?" in which "one boy would announce the type of weapon he was holding... and then use it to kill the other boys around him. Whoever dies 'the best' (that is, with the most convincingly spasmodic grace) was declared the winner by his executioner and allowed to pick his own weapon, whereupon a new round commenced." Pretty fucking awesome, huh?

The autobiographical elements are fine; they give the book a personal feel rather than an academic one. I mostly ignored them. However, the last chapter, which deals with the Grand Theft Auto series, overdoes it a bit. He talks in great length about his frequent problems with cocaine. I understand the parallel he was trying to make between games and drugs (albeit it wasn't a very good parallel), but it ended up just being him talking about cocaine for far too many pages, turning from casual ludology to drug memoir. The last chapter was by far the worst, and hurt the book significantly. (For comparison, in every chapter I highlighted something on nearly every other page. In the last chapter I think I highlighted only one thing.)

All in all though I'm very pleased with Extra Lives and I'm glad to have read it. If anything it serves as a nice primer to more serious and academic game studies, which will surely be my next venture.

If you're looking for (very) entry-level ludology, look no further.
Kick-Ass 2 - Mark Millar Maybe it was because I listened to Magma's Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh while reading this, but I was far too entertained by such an awful book. Unfortunately the music has ended and I now see the book in all its awfulness. Some spoilers to follow.

This sequel sees Kick-Ass join a superhero team, called Justice Forever, and we also see the formation of a supervillain team led by Red Mist, called Toxic Mega Cunts.

There's a lot more violence in this one, and not so much the fun kind, but more of a dark nature. Supervillains murder a superhero and his dog, cut off both their heads, and place the dog's head where his used to be. Kids likely still in Pull-Ups are brutally massacred en masse. A girl watches both her parents get killed right before she is raped by three different men. So on and so forth. The violence is definitely upped in here and given a bit of a darker tone. But it's not without good reason, you see it serves a purpose...well sort of. The book's not realistic, that's for sure, it's not as if its events are believable--they're really not--the comic just adds a lot of blood, violence, and curse words in there to make it seem like something new.

But it's clear that Millar was aiming for something a bit more serious here in way of writing. As I mentioned in my review of the first Kick-Ass, Millar often flirted with potential but never got quite close enough to even smell its perfume. The same flirtation is true for this sequel. We see Kick-Ass's world destroyed: his "girlfriend" is raped and has her parents killed by supervillains in search of him; his dad is murdered in prison after taking the blame for what he should have been arrested for; he gets little kids murdered; dozens of supervillains are rampaging the city, etc., etc.

Kick-Ass caused all this by simply putting on a mask. In attempting to create an ultimate good he also created an ultimate evil, for one cannot exist without the other. As you could imagine, Kick-Ass must bear a tremendous amount of guilt. After his dad dies he can barely even function--he doesn't want revenge, he just wants it all to be over. He wants the surreal nightmare of murderous costumed heroes and villains to be over. But does Millar ever explore this guilt? Nope. He implies it and even mentions it but only a page or so later abandons it with Hit-Girl calling Kick-Ass a "pussy" and throwing him back into costume to defeat evil, once again. Thus destroying all potential and removing any possible justification or purpose for such graphic violence.

A whole 15 issues later and ole' Dave Lizewski still has yet to evolve or come to any sort of revelation. All these things that happen to him seem to only affect him for a few panels before he's back doing the same exact thing he did beforehand.

Kick-Ass doesn't deal with the concept of superheroes applied to reality. That's just the excuse it uses to have page after page of graphic violence, profanity, and acts of tastelessness. It doesn't deal with "deep" topics or themes. We never see a commentary or any sort of character psychology. It doesn't know whether to condemn its delusional characters or to praise them, so it does neither well. It's a meaningless and mindless book.

In ignoring the potential to say something worthwhile or use its violence for serious reflection it becomes mindless. In becoming mindless it seizes to be realistic and instead becomes tasteless. In becoming tasteless it stops being fun. Simple as that. Mindless tastelessness without any fun. Oh, what a bore.
Hit-Girl - Mark Millar, John Romita Jr. There's really not much to say about this at all. It's one of the most boring, uneventful, and unnecessary things I've ever read.

A prelude to Kick-Ass 2, bridging the gap between Kick-Ass and its sequel, it follows fan-favorite Hit-Girl, the 12 year-old assassin. While I don't dislike Hit-Girl, I'm not the super-fan many seem to be, though I can admit that in a story with poorly crafted characters, Hit-Girl is one of the more enjoyable of the lot. Deserving enough of her own comic? Perhaps. Though this certainly wasn't the way to go about it.

The first Kick-Ass tried to be deep and failed, but it was still fairly enjoyable. Hit-Girl doesn't even make an attempt at deeper meaning, which would be completely fine if it was enjoyable. Which it isn't. There's less action than there was in Kick-Ass, the art isn't nearly as operatic, and a good majority of the comic deals with Hit-Girl trying to fit in at school and talking to her parents. It lacks the over-the-top action and gore that Kick-Ass had going for it, and for some reason, in a book about the franchise's most over-the-top and violent character, Mark Millar decided to leave out much of the over-the-top violence.

This book, like Kick-Ass, is a reference-fest and nearly all the humor stems from references to other comic books. As a comic nerd I can't help but take some enjoyment in noticing certain references and allusions, but there's a limit, especially when the humor is so dependent on such easy writing.

This comic is just so goddamn dull. I guarantee I will not remember a single thing about these five issues within a couple of days. Why? Because nothing happened. Hit-Girl as a character barely even gets developed at all. Red Mist has his mind set on killing Kick-Ass, which we already knew from the end of the original comic. Kick-Ass only appears for a few panels, but we do learn that Hit-Girl will begin training him. You know who this comic's really about? Marcus, Hit-Girl's stepfather. He's a new character and we get to know him a lot in here, and he even directly effects Hit-Girl's actions. But I really don't give a shit about Marcus.

I was hoping that this spin-off would give up on trying to hold any deeper meaning (which it did), and increase the fun, over-the-top features (which it did the opposite of). And without any meaning or mindless fun, what is left?

Face it, this comic was unnecessary and likely an afterthought. It can hardly even be considered a bridge between Kick-Ass 1 and 2, and it was published after Kick-Ass 2 was released anyway. I suspect this mini-series is just a cash-in on Hit-Girl's, and the two Kick-Ass books', popularity.
Fantastic Planet (Oms en série) - Stefan Wul Most will be familiar with Stefan Wul's Oms en série through the animated film adaptation released in 1973, La planète sauvage to French speakers, Fantastic Planet to English speakers. It's certainly how I discovered this book. And while I thought the film was fine for what it was: a beautifully animated and drawn film with some truly fantastic designs and an interesting premise, I felt it was lacking in almost every other regard. I was hoping the book it was based on could provide me with something a bit more substantial.

Written in 1951, it wasn't until a few years ago that it was finally translated to English. The writing feels very mediocre, but that could be more the fault of the translator than the author. Same goes for the sloppy and inconsistent grammar. If the writing ever held any eloquence it has since been lost. The translation gets the job done in telling the story, and I suppose we should be grateful that this even got an English translation, but I definitely suspect it to be the work of an amateur.

The story itself is simple and straight-forward. If you're familiar with the film then you know the basic story. There's some differences but for the most part it's essentially the same tale: On an alien planet humans (Oms) are ruled by giants (Traags), who treat them as mere animals, until the humans (Oms) get tired of the oppression and rise up. It's an interesting, even if simple, premise. I like the idea that if we seemed as small as ants to someone we would be treated as such. I liked how the Oms used their shorter lifetimes to their advantage, being able to work faster and develop quicker than the Traags. I liked the way evolution was handled, which I'll let the book's own "Spraw's theory" explain:

"Spraw was a scholar from the last lustrum. He claimed the Oms once enjoyed a brilliant degree of civilization similar to ours, but that its perfection was the very reason of a gradual sclerosis. Strictly imprisoned within their rules and regulations, the Oms did not have the need to think. Spraw thought instinct took over their intelligence. Why think when one leads a perfect life where everyone knows in advance what they must do? The Oms' intelligence, how can I say, wasted away gradually, like a useless organ. Their lifestyle regressed and stagnated. Their civilization's progress thus stopped."

That's about as deep as the book ever gets, but it's still interesting. The fact that in a truly perfect world instinct would be more useful than intelligence is certainly a plausible one. The book later goes on to explain how the Traags, in ruling the Oms, gave them back their individuality, their taste for freedom, and put them back on the road to progress. Cool stuff, wish there was more like it in the book. Also perhaps worth mentioning is the likely Cold War influence that was present in this book, as with many sci-fi books of the time.

Like I said, it's a light read. There's not much here. The sloppy translation doesn't help matters. The short novel has its moments but certainly not enough of them to make it anything truly worthwhile. I'd say stick with the film, not because it does anything better (aside from the visuals, of course), it'll just waste less of your time (73 mins.).
The Martian Chronicles - Ray Bradbury More than just a short story collection, though different from a conventional novel, The Martian Chronicles is what some may call a fix-up novel (or, as Bradbury himself called it, the "half-cousin to a novel"), telling one big story with numerous, loosely connected smaller ones. The Martian Chronicles is certainly a masterpiece of its kind. Utilizing the unique approach of the fix-up novel, The Martian Chronicles spans more time than most stories (1999-2026), hosts more characters and events than most stories, and, through a series of wonderful vignettes, paints a much more detailed and atmospheric portrait of its setting, Mars, and the culture and events surrounding it, complete with multiple perspectives and varied locales. As a whole The Martian Chronicles tells the story not of a single character or a single plot, but instead of an entire planet, a whole population. The main character is Mars, and indeed Earth as well, along with their respective inhabitants. Each story starts not with a word but with a date, chronicling the rise and eventual fall of Mars (paralleled with Earth), and also of humanity (paralleled with the Martians), feeling almost as if you're reading an actual historical account or timeline of a planet and its populace, all supported by the book's detached, non-involving, past-tense, third person omniscient narration. This makes the story all the more impactful, and terrifying, with Bradbury maintaining the perfect balance of the fantastic and the believable.

The beautiful thing about it is that, though perhaps at its best as a whole, each story can still stand on its own. Even the short world-building vignettes read like poetry by themselves. There's no blatant framing stories that so many other fix-up novels employ, but rather every story flows into the next while still being readable on its own. And of course, as with nearly every short story collection, some stories are better than others, but the very nature of the fix-up novel almost serves as a solution to this common problem; even though not every story is necessarily as good as the last, each and every story still adds to the overall quality of the book as a whole nonetheless. And not only does Bradbury provide great ideas, with tales comparable to the best episodes of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, but he also provides beautiful, poetic prose to boot.

Bradbury says a lot of things about a lot of things in such a slim story. Colonization, War, Society, Alienation, Racism, and more are all topics covered in The Martian Chronicles. And those are some pretty huge topics considering the time in which this was written. But it's never preachy or heavy-handed. Bradbury presents it in such a way that he isn't so much telling you what to think or even what he thinks, but rather he's merely showing you something and letting you decide for yourself what to think. The book is marvelously thought-provoking, nostalgic, tragic, scary, somber, hopeful, beautiful, and enjoyable all at the same time. Not exactly ambiguous in story but certainly in moral.

The Martian Chronicles is unlike anything I've ever read. It's not your typical pulp golden age sci-fi collection. It simultaneously feels like an epic and a small story, both personal and distanced, achieving a large scale through the repetition of small ones. A widely praised work, though probably still under-appreciated. Bradbury achieved near perfection with this one, crafting a great story in a stunningly painted world and writing what I think is one of the greatest science-fiction and/or speculative-fiction stories of all-time. Definitely a 4.5 out of 5 stars, perhaps even 5 on a re-read.

Click for my ratings/reviews for each story:
1. Rocket Summer (4.5/5) - A brief vignette to start things off. Describes the climate changes a rocketship brings to an Ohio winter, and in turn the lifestyle changes to the land's residents. Interesting story; wonderfully descriptive. Doesn't deal with where the rocketship is going or alien races or anything like that, but instead it's like a preface to all that; it shows how just the presence of the rocketship has already affected people on Earth before even leaving the planet, perhaps suggesting a future parallel of even more changes the rocketship will bring to Earth in the future. Perhaps in many more ways than just the climate. Mind you this was all achieved in about half a page, which is great because I can keep reading it again and again.
2. Ylla (3/5) - Even Martians got marital problems. A husband, jealous of his wife's romantic feelings about the coming astronauts coming from Earth which she sees in her visions, kills the the astronauts upon arrival. It seems that emotions really are the enemy of progress.
3. The Summer Night (2.5/5) - It seems that Martians are very quick to adapt human culture. So much so that they begin speaking Earthly languages and songs before astronauts from Earth even arrive. Through their telepathy they can sense them approaching. I can only wonder how much Earth culture the Martians would adapt when the Earthlings actually land on the planet.
4. The Earth Men (4/5) - Grim as hell. Nice little story about astronauts coming from Earth to Mars and, upon arriving, being treated as psychopaths by the Martians. The more sense you make, and the more believable you are only means that you're all the more insane. Makes references to the earlier story Ylla. My favorite of the longer stories in this collection so far.
5. The Taxpayer (3.5/5) - Another really short one. Again referencing events from previous stories in the collection. Seems like this is serving as a sort of prelude to the next story, and perhaps in the next story it will be discovered whether this poor taxpaying man was better off staying on Earth or not.
6. The Third Expedition (3.5/5) - And so the third expedition, just as the two before it, is another failure and another mystery. Shows just how blinding and dangerous nostalgia can be. A tale worthy of The Twilight Zone, though perhaps, like the worst of The Twilight Zone episodes, a bit too predictable, especially by today's standards.
7. —And the Moon Be Still as Bright (5/5) - I can very well say that this is the finest Bradbury story I have read thus far. It questions morals, nature, civilization, murder, and really just so many countless things. Such a fantastic story populated by some of the best developed and relatable characters I've seen in a short story.
8. The Settlers (4.5/5) - Apparently in some editions the previous story
Kick-Ass - Mark Millar, John Romita Jr., Rob Liefeld "Why do people want to be Paris Hilton and nobody wants to be Spider-Man?"

This is a question that a young, comic-loving Dave not only asks but acts on, eventually taking up the guise of the crime-fighting Kick-Ass. But he's no Spider-Man. No, no, no, far from it. In fact he's more Paris Hilton than he is Peter Parker. Sure, he shares similarities with Spidey, mostly youth and immaturity, but he's lacking what fundamentally makes Spider-Man the hero that he is: responsibility. It comes free of charge with power, ya know. But, alas, little Dave lacks powers as well. Granted, at first Spider-Man used his power for personal gain and eventually vengeance, but eventually ole' Spidey found his inner altruism. Dave hasn't, and perhaps never will. Perhaps there was a better question Dave could have asked; perhaps he should have wondered what being Spider-Man, or any sort of hero, really entails.

Kick-Ass makes a point to show that it takes place in the real world. Not the world of comic books, but the world of people influenced by comic books. We quickly learn that, unlike in Spidey's world, when you walk up to a criminal he will stab you and when you get stabbed blood indeed will come out. The real world is filled with more blood and violence and less justice and heroism. Which is precisely why there are more Paris Hiltons than there are Spider-Mans. Dave, too, wants to be Paris Hilton, he just goes about it by grabbing a mask and pretending he's doing something different. He's delusional. If Paris Hilton represents popularity, adoration, iconism, and self-indulgence, then Dave fits the bill perfectly. His motivation is the amount of friends he can get on Myspace, building his reputation and ego, and winning girls. He even gets jealous when a new "superhero" becomes more popular than him on TV. He wants to be a celebrity, not a hero, he just happens to think that a mask makes him look cooler than a chihuahua in a handbag does.

Dave has not a shred of good intentions in him. He barely even hints at doing what he does to help people or better society or anything like that. He's a loser in a world that values popularity over righteousness and instead of trying to change such a world he merely tries to fit in. No one in this graphic novel is a likable character, and Dave is no exception. He's relatable, sure--if I was sent a picture of the girl I loved sucking someone else's dick I might cry about it, but I'll probably jerk off to it as well. Dave represents the dark, ugly parts of ourselves, and no one likes the dark and ugly parts of themselves, else they wouldn't be so ill-lighted and unappealing.

Here's where the comic runs into some issues (no pun intended). Mark Millar's writing just isn't strong enough to flesh out such ideas. There's some shining moments of hope that bring promise to the story and reveal its potential, but on the whole it mostly fails. [b:Watchmen|472331|Watchmen|Alan Moore|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327866860s/472331.jpg|4358649] already showed us in the 80s that when the concept of superheroes is applied to reality you don't get the black-and-white heroes-and-villains, but instead you get a big gray area with confused, delusional people in costumes. Kick-Ass has those same delusional characters (I don't think shoving a katana through someone for prank-calling their ex-girlfriend is a defensible vision of justice) but in Kick-Ass the comic itself seems to hold the same delusions as its main character. The concept had the potential to be powerful, but Millar fails to connect, especially in the ending. Kick-Ass is still alive and his superhero career will go on and in the sequel he will have a blatant costumed villain to fight. Kick-Ass didn't learn anything, he didn't have his Uncle Ben moment. He's still in it for the fame and adoration--he's still not a hero. But yet he's still pretending to be and the writing still treats him as if he is. Well, what a shitty fucking ending. The concepts, ideas, and characters never go anywhere, the potential is never met, and the whole book is mindless rather than impactful. It's a book that decides to ignore the opportunity for thought-provoking themes or deep character psychology and instead gives us page after page of kids bloodying people with their weapons, never having to suffer important consequences or face any sort of revelation or ever even question their actions. The main character faces struggles and hardships but rather than serving to develop and transform the character the hardships only act as interruptions to the vigilante violence. When his bones heal he does the same thing he did before they were broken--so why did his bones need to break in the story? for realism? Phooey! That'd be confusing blood and curse words for maturity. Realism is not shown through a character getting stabbed, realism is shown through a character reacting to getting stabbed.

It's not a bad graphic novel, it really isn't, I'd even call it better than most. I'm glad I read it and I enjoyed the time I spent doing so. It's just nothing too special in my eyes and is disappointing in that it missed so much potential and even what it did well ended up seeming convoluted in purpose. There's no depth to this story. It's mindless fun, which would be fine if it didn't pretend to be realistic or gritty. It shoves potential aside for the sake of cliches. This isn't a reworking of the superhero tale. It's an amoral Spider-Man with gore, a dumbed-down Watchmen, a young adult story pretending to be grown-up. Mildly enjoyable, but utterly disappointing.

[I intend to add some comments on the book's sequel along with its film adaptation as soon as I get around to reading/watching them. Also I haven't proof-read this yet due to tiredness/laziness, so please bare with any errors and/or idiotic remarks until I revise it]

Breaking Bad: All Bad Things

Breaking Bad: All Bad Things - Gordon Smith,  Jean Carroll,  Steve Ellis An abridging of Breaking Bad, recapping the first five and a half seasons, in comic book form. The art work is good and captures the characters (perhaps with the exception of Tuco) and scenes very well. It's a decent enough recap to refresh your mind for the second half of season five, but it doesn't really do anything that a short video recap can't do just as well, if not better.

Isn't useful for those who haven't watched Breaking Bad--this certainly doesn't serve as an alternative to watching the show--and provides nothing new or of interest for those who know the series inside out. Only useful as a refresher, but even then a video can serve the same purpose and do so in less time and more efficiently (after all, what's a better reminder: clips from the actual show or illustrated renditions of the show?)
Islands in the Net - Bruce Sterling Holy crap, coolest cover of all time.
The Playboy Interviews: The Directors - Stephen Randall "I read it for the articles" has long been the excuse of countless Playboy 'readers'. Some of them very well could have been telling the truth. If these interviews are any indication then Playboy truly does offer some worthwhile reading material. And don't expect to find any pin-up girls in here--this is 300 pages of nothing but text, but damn is it sexy.

Interviews range from the 1960s to the early 2000s, with directors such as Robert Altman, Ingmar Bergman, the Coen Bros., Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Federico Fellini, John Huston, Stanley Kubrick, Spike Lee, David Mamet, Roman Polanski (in, I believe, his first interview after the Manson murders), Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino, Orson Welles, and Billy Wilder. A fine selection of directors indeed and some of the best interviews with them you can find. A must-read for fans of any of these directors.

I might just pick up a copy of Playboy the next time I'm in the mood (in the mood for in-depth, informative, interesting, and personal interviews that is).
A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking Thanks, but I think I'll stick with Doctor Who and Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman.