June 17, 2007

At Joey's request

I'm hooked into the PLCH's weekly emails telling me what's new at the library in various categories (I've signed up for general, music, and teen new stuff), and I tend to request an item or two every couple of weeks. This, then, is how I stumbled upon The Wild Trees by Richard Preston, a story of the first (according to Preston, at least) scientists to explore the canpoies of the redwood forests in California and Oregon.

Preston's book - and abridged version of which I listened to (didn't know it was gonna be abridged, another lesson for me to pay close attention before grabbing an audio book) - follows the stories of three or four different scientists as they meander their way to lives of Redwood study, eventually climbing their way together into the canopy in search of - depending on the scientist - the tallest redwood in the world, a thorough understanding of the redwood forest, or understandings of how lichens and redwoods interact.

The book held my interest, coming together as the climbers/scientists finally came together about 3/4 of the way through the book and head into the trees together. The early parts of the book were a bit disjointed, however, as Preseton was telling tales of three separate individuals, not - and this could have been a fault of the abridgement - weaving them together or even suggesting whether they would eventually be woven together. And the final part of the book - Preston's own tale of climbing into the redwoods with Steve Sillett and his climbing crew - didn't fit with the rest of the book's third-person narrator tone.

But I find myself almost desperate to go see the redwoods for myself. I know, however, that I would never be able to see the redoowd groves that are described in the books because if I - a fairly unfit, utterly inexperienced person - were able to get to those hidden groves, then the groves would be on the verge of destruction.

It's an interesting connundrum - wanting to see unspoiled, virgin forest but knowing that the moment I can see such sights, that they're already headed for destruction.

I recommend reading the unabridged tale of Preston and Sillett's journeys into the redwood forest. The abridged version left me wanting more...

Two more reviews here: #1 & #2...and the New Yorker article from which the book grew...

Roger Federer got pasted in the final of Roland Garros, and after a couple of sets and a return to lifelessness from the best tennis player on the planet, my attention span began to wander a bit. Flipping around through my nine channels (gotta love my no-cable, no-dish household, eh?) I stumbled across Small Soldiers, an action/aci-fi film from 1998 that passed by my radar quick as a blink, never catching my interest long enough to actually merit.

Turns out the the movie's not all that bad.

Sure, it never quite knows whether it's going to aim high - making tons of pop culture references that the adults watching will probably get but that will head over the tops of the little kids who might be drawn in by the "kid befriends talking/living toy" storyline - or low - centering the plot on a ninth-grade main character whose parents don't trust him and whose crush on the female lead (Kirstin Dunst, looking much cuter here than she has since) is unrequited because she only dates older guys and giving the main character an innocent friend in the peace-loving toy come to life. The movie is too violent for small kids but never quite old enough for the older kids.

But I enjoyed it. The film never takes itself too seriously, peppering itself with loads of entertaining actors in smaller parts (Jay Mohr, David Cross, Dennis Leary, Phil Hartman, Kevin Dunn, Christina Ricci's voice, Sarah Michelle Geller's voice), having the bad guy toys (far more interesting, by the by, than the good guy toys) voiced by a reunited cast of The Dirty Dozen and the good guys by the cast of This is Spinal Tap, and throwing reason to the wind as they begin talking about EMPs to kill the toys in the long run.

Most of the reviews that I've found seem to look at this not for adults, not for kids, light-weight tone as a negative, but I liked it, especially since I skimmed through the trivia section on imbd.com.

It's an enjoyable bit of fluff...certainly worth catching if it's on tv on a Saturday afternoon.

I groove to the Cassandra Cain version of Batgirl, and Kicking Assassins continues with the character's development from just another Bat-sidekick into a young woman capable of doing a bit of detective work on her own, someboyd who deserves to be given Bludhaven (in ye old days when that town existed, anyway) as her town to protect. She buys into the town by steering a bit of Bruce's cash into a deserving coffee shop just around the corner from her new Batcave, makes friends with the locals, scams into a new informant, racks off the Penguin, and earns a contract on her life from the Terminator.

It's a fun read and one that continues to let Cassandra develop, showing us further glimpses into her childhood and a past that she both embraces and refutes. Her fighting prowess is not diminished, and we see her both studious side (in defeating the Brotherhood of Evil) and her instinctive side (during the fight with the Terminator and the Ravager).

She's a great character, and I've been sorry to see her head into the darkness - apparently, at least - post One Year Later. I'm hoping that DC hasn't sold her down the river just yet.

If this is truly Superman in the Eighties, then it was an era of change as well as boredom.


This collection grabs some of the - supposedly - best single-issue Superman stories of the decade and lumps them together with some commentary from Super-editor NAME!!!!! between the tales. We get to see Lois as a more modern woman, living for her career but shattered when she finds the news story that Superman and Wonder Woman were a romantic item (something that happened for about a second in the eighties - I remember, I had the comic). We get to see a few old timey imaginary tales like "What if Superman Had Never Existed?" and a then dead Pa Kent coming back to life via the intervention of time-travelling space aliens.

Then we get some new, post-Crisis stories that show Superman in his mullet phase. It wasn't exactly a highlight of the era. The '80's Superman - if this volume is the only indication - wasn't much to pay attention to.

I'm surprised at how tough it is for me to read single-issue stories at this point. I've been trained by more recent graphic novels to expect story arcs that span at least a half-dozen issues. It's the rare single-issue story that can hold my attention at this point. I need a little bit of development. Here, instead, everything is neatly tied up in thirty or so pages.

And that's the same problem I had with Batman: Detective by Paul Dini. In an online interview, Dini discusses his wish to return to the simplicity of single-issue detective stories that he remembers from years gone by.

In this volume, and under Dini's helm, we get stories that begina nd are wrapped up within the scope of a single issue. For the most part, the stories just don't have enough substance to hold my interest for the full issue. The first one - introducing a new villian, Facade - isn't bad, and the impressionistic artwork gives it point for style, but I knew going in that everything was going to be tied up neatly before the issue was done, and I felt the impending tidy resolution up ahead throughout the whole issue.

That feeling - of impending resolution - weakens the entirety of the volume as Dini's story-telling doesn't hold up in this short format. It's a little odd, really, since he's one of the major architects of the outstanding run of DC cartoons - most of which were single-episode stories.

The re-introduction of the Riddler here as a private investigator trading on his fame and costume is an interesting development, and the final issue in the trade - Robin kidnapped by the Joker and taken for a joy ride - works amazingly well, but on the whole, the trade is a forgettable one. These aren't going to be the stories to inspire the next generation of Batman readers or writers.

Just because a series passes over single-issue stories doesn't mean it's full of classic literature, though, as proven by Green Lantern Corps: To Be a Lantern. The revived Green Lantern Corps series is taking its charge - to tell the stories of the entire frickin' GL Corps - seriously. This series must have a twenty or so characters, each with their own problems and motivations, all of which the writers are trying to explain and give us reason to care about.

It's too much.

I don't care that one lantern needs to explore her need to save people...another wants to procreate...another is abandoning his partner...another is a huge planet who's being pretty much used some sort of psycho-analyst for all the other GLs...aanother who's a big, dumb bruiser...another who's an administrative jerk...another who's...I forget...

It's too much.

And it's boring...

Plus the artwork's nothing special, either.

Gimme an interesting main character and a supporting cast. Don't give me an ensemble of characters, none of whom is fully-realized, all of whom are one-dimensional characters.

I finally got around to reading Marvel's Civil War TPB, collecting the seven main issues from their super-, mega-crossover event of the century. I haven't, of course, worked through the hundreds of tie-in issues, but I doubt I ever will. There are seemingly a hundred thousand comics that have something to do with Civil War, and I think therein lies the problem.

The seven-issue main series of Civil War plays off very much as disjointed episodes that are tired together by tales told in other series, series that I haven't read. Without knowing whatever's going on over there, I felt like I was missing major blocks of the story.

For example, there's some sort of prison in another dimension where the captured heroes are thrown, but that concept - even with the final, inevitable prison break-out - is barely touched upon in their main series. There are dozens of such moments, events on which the entire story seems to turn but that take up a half a page here, events that probably took full issues (or more) to tell when told in the regular ongoing series. With a super-mega-duper-crossover like this, the story has to be so huge, so monumental, so important that there's no way that it can be fully told in a half dozen (or a dozen, by which point it's dragged on too long) issues. But to get the whole story would require a reader to invest hundreds of hours, thousands of dollars, and countless synapses to the tale.

It's the rare crossover that works as a story and makes substantive changes in the universe of the characters. DC and Marvel have both been rolling out a crossover a year for decades now (at least as far back as Crisis on Infinite Earths - possibly the best of the event stories), and few enough of them have lived up to the hype.

This one comes close, however, until the ending. The set-up works - inexperienced heroes bight off more than they can chew when one of the bad guys they're trying to catch blows up and kills hundreds of civilians, including children. The government responds to citizenry outcry and pushes legislation to require all heroes to register with the government in order to operate. Heroes split sides in favor or against the required registration.

The logic behind the whole thing - Reed Richards sees the current state of affairs leading to chaos and sees the registration act as a way to ensure peace for decades; Tony Stark works with Richards, Namor, Black Blot, Dr Strange, & Prof X to plan how to deal with the uncertainty of the world; the aliance falls apart; a number of heroes decide to fight registration.

The middle even holds as things escalate and build to an inevitable throw down, made even larger by the large cocnentration of anti-registration forces.

And then comes the final throw down and the crap-out ending that isn't really and ending. It's a stop. The whole thing builds to a conclusion and then doesn't offer that conclusion. Neither side wins. One of the sides just quits.


It's not an ending; it's a lead in to a different crossover event.

Crap...total crap...

And the entire premise is better done in Kingdom Come

And here's one of the hundreds of crossovers to Civil War: Fantastic Four.

This volume begins to put together some of the missing pieces in terms of how Reed Richards's actions affected the members of Marvel's First Family. The relationship between Reed & Sue has been a pretty rock solid one in the Marvel history, and this distrust, this mystery, this dishonesty by Reed makes for an effective emotional schism between the two characters and in the faith that the other two members hold in the parental figures of the family. The issue where Reed lays out his entire calculations as to the social calculus of Civil War - to a former foe of his, the Thinker, rather than to his wife - is an excellent summation of this distrust.

The trials of Ben Gimm in hoping to avoid choosing sides makes for an excellent entry into Civil War and provides an effective everyman option of simply leaving the country rather than choosing sides to fight against - no matter which side he would choose - friends. Plus it gives us a chance to see some hilarious heroes from France - parodies like les Heroes de Paris.

If I could read every part of Civil War, it might be an excellent crossover story. I don't know that I have that kind of effort in me, though.

Then there's DC's various ongoing crossovers (that've been going for like three years it seems). It started with Infinite Crisis which I still haven't read through and has lead into 52 - fifty-two weekly comics to, according to the official website, tell the story of a year without Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman but not a year without heroes.

The series weaves together four storylines - the Question/Montoya, Ralph Digby, Booster Gold, and Steel - back and forth, rarely letting them connect yet. Surprisingly, the mysteriously slow revelations actually works for me. While things do move along at a fairly slow pace, there are enough steps forward that the slow pace didn't bother me.

The artwork is a bit of hit or miss, admittedly, as the series uses four rotating artists to draw the series. This works decently well, though, as the anthology series doesn't seem to require a consistent art style.

This volume collects issues one through thirteen, and it has me hooked enough to at least follow along when the other collections come to my local B&N.

Talk about hit or miss, we get Cassadaga the newest album from Bright Eyes.
Bright Eyes or Connor Oberst has been putting out hit or miss albums for a few years now, the sorts of products that would be better served with a solid editing than with the laissez faire, g'hed and put forth whatever you want publishing that he's been given. Each album has marvelous songs but include a number of other songs that play into Oberst's penchanct for indulgance.

On this album, the highlights are a little more numerous - "Four Winds", "If the Brakeman Turns My Way", "Soul Singer in a Session Band", in particular are reminescent of the best of Ryan Adams, a modern country rock auteur, but the album isn't a purely country rock one as many tracks drift more toward the downer territory bordering almost on emo.

Cassadaga does have its high points, and it is more focused than many of Bright Eyes' previous releases, suggesting that Oberst may yet put out the marvelous album that he's been threatening.

I feel a little out of my depth in reviewing From the Plantation to the Penitentiary by Wynton Marsalis. I'm so inexperienced in the jazz genre that I don't feel qualified to thoroughly critique the disc.

I came to this album via an NPR story about the disc, telling of Marsalis's attempts every decade or so to put his thoughts about the state of the nation in musical format. It's clear from the lyrics on a number of these tracks that Marsalis has some serious issues with where we're going as a nation. On songs like "Supercapitalism", "Where Y'All At?", and "Doin' Our Thing", Marsalis takes serious issue with not just the black community but the increasing focus on commerce and disjunction toward charity and serious issues among all of American people.

Marsalis's own website details a number of these themes as well as his use of such dissonant music and atonal lyrics. In all honesty, he does a better job of discussing the album's music than could I.


Joey said...

paethe small soldiers video game on PS1 took up much of my childhood

looking back, i have no idea how a 3D shooter game on a console prior to the dual-analog sticks worked at all... then again, how was pong fun either?

PHSChemGuy said...

Pong rocked...

PHSChemGuy said...

Pong absolutely rocked...

M. D. Vaden of Oregon said...

Near the beginning, you mentioned Preston's book The Wild Trees ...

And said you find yourself almost desperate to see the redwoods. It's a great visit whether you find those groves or not.

Realize, Preston stretches the truth in much of the book - I know ... having been to a bunch of the trees myself.

Atlas Tree, Lost Monarch, Adventure Tree

Check out the page sometime. I added several albums that have much bigger photos of those California redwoods for people who want to see pictures of Lost Monarch, Grove of Titans or Atlas Grove.


M. D. Vaden