Thursday, April 17, 2014

"Hoping is what kept most men from living"

Considering this is a Richard Matheson book, an author who is probably best known for his horror stories, I have initial expectations that this was going to be a scary venture in the same manner as Hell House was when I saw the movie as a child and later on read the book. But in the first fifty pages or so of this novel, my expectations were met in a different way yet it was also something more satisfying which could be what Matheson has intended when he wrote it.

The Shrinking Man tells the story of Scott Carey who was one day sprayed with a radioactive chemical by accident, and found himself physically shrinking since. The novel perfectly opens with a very terrifying description of Scott being chased down by a spider. At first glance, this book seems to be a very simplistic survivalist story about one man's struggle to endure a hopeless circumstance--but the existential horror that is the overall thematic scope of the plot is definitely its most intriguing aspect. This could almost be an episode in Twilight Zone and that's probably the strength of Matheson's work as a horror writer.

In The Shrinking Man, he gives us a chilling glimpse at the visceral terror of physical helplessness. Scott Carey's anxiety is not just about being erased from existence entirely but it's also about the gradual loss of his relevance as a person of flesh and blood. A man who used to be six-foot tall, he now has to deal with the emasculation of his role both as a husband and father. Scott may be shrinking into a size that's even below his kid daughter, but he still has the same needs and entitlement as any grown man does--and the harrowing and pitiful ways he tries to hold onto these things but fail are almost hard to read for me.

Matheson needs to be commended for his clear-cut prowess as he delicately approached the writing of this story with such an earnest tone even though it has an absurd premise. What Matheson and the readers end up with is a massively heartfelt tale about the importance of spiritual optimism and the ways that a man can still see a point in living despite the uncertainty and despair he faces. The book can also be seen as a deconstruction of masculine roles in society and what happens when those very rigid notions are inspected and essentially stripped away which is the case with Scott Carey's character as we put ourselves in his position of estrangement from the tangible reality including his family.

The Shrinking Man ended with a sincere resolution that is bittersweet and unexpected; Scott Carey has feared about non-existence because he had only defined it in terms of the human context, neglecting the reality that the nature of the universe is not as black-and-white as our own limited perspectives as mortals. Scott Carey, now in his microscopic size, is fortunate enough to witness the everyday miracles of life especially now that he's removed from human bias and that for me is by far the most uplifting kind of pay-off in a science fiction novel that explored such an existential journey. This is a great book filled with engrossing psychological reflections about primal survival instincts and resignation to an inevitable outcome.

* A tedious build-up that was able to find its perfect prose rhythm once the protagonist continues to grow and thrive himself in spite of his physical shrinkage.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"To fallen heroes who fight for another day"

In every list of the greatest Batman stories ever written, this is always on top of the pile (rivaled once in a while by his other work, Year One, if not followed closely by Alan Moore's The Killing Joke). Naturally, I was excited to start reading this although I cheated on myself a little because I did watch its animation adaptation last year. But having the chance to read the source material myself, I started to understand why this was such an important work when it was released about the same time Watchmen was in the late eighties. I was unfortunate enough to be born in the nineties so I wasn't there to see firsthand how Batman's narrative evolved in the comics and I was quite envious of those who were there to witness what Frank Miller accomplished when he wrote The Dark Knight Returns; considering how much of its impact still echoes in the modern interpretations of Batman and his villains to this very day.

Still, that also means that I can view this piece of literature objectively without being swept away by its legacy. I can honestly say that this was a challenging work visually. Klaus Janson's art is at times incomprehensible to look at. In the course of the story, that could either be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how it was utilized by Miller's narrative. At its best, the art manages to haunt the pages, giving it a fragmented yet lingering imagery, all the while capturing both the dissonance and melancholy of the plot quite effectively. At its average, the art tends to confuse readers because it doesn't have the refinement most mainstream comics now possess. Some pages may come off as draft sketches of what the actual scene is supposed to look like in a more finished template.

I suppose that is Janson's artistic style and it mostly appealed to me in the course of my reading, but there were a few moments that I don't know what I'm looking at and I had to pay extra attention to the scenery in case I overlook or miss something very vital.

As for the writing, Miller has clearly created something meant to last even when you're only at the first ten pages or so. This may have been groundbreaking at its first publication, yes, but I believe that for someone in my era, this could still be appreciated casually even if you are not familiar of its historical importance. This is not the kind of Batman story where it's just another action-oriented adventure featuring theatrical villainy and clear-cut resolutions. The Dark Knight Returns stands out because it tried to break down what Batman is supposed to represent in our own fragile psyches and build up the suspense and drama from there. Miller's Batman is an old man who retired from vigilantism to give way for Gotham to thrive as a society; only to watch it fall apart to chaos when a new breed of juvenile delinquents pollute the streets. Probably the most interesting piece of narrative device Miller used in TDKR is the media coverage panels. It certainly feels like you are a part of the ordinary citizens of Gotham tuning in to your television screens and watching the violence and mayhem escalate right outside the comfort of your homes. I certainly felt like that.

Additionally, Batman is not a noble, sympathetic hero in this book--nor does he need to be. I believe that only the truest Batman loyalist understands that the Dark Knight earned his place in comics not because he is always a good little soldier but because Batman is the kind of warrior who is resilient and resourceful and always at his best when cornered by the worst; and who ultimately makes the right choices even if the results are not always going to be in his favor. That is the overall message I got from The Dark Knight Returns as someone who considered him as a childhood hero. I related strongly to the female Robin of this book, Carrie, who I believed recognized that the man she idolizes is not someone who always deserves such tenacious admiration but is still someone worthy of the good fight when push comes to shove. There are a couple of instances in TDKR that Batman truly repulsed me but Miller never forgets to make sure that readers can at least understand why he had committed such actions and that they may be the only course of action left to do in the grand scheme of things. Batman never hesitates to always walk into that abyss; to dare go where no sane, self-respective 'hero' would.

Another thing to discuss in this review is that significant moment that further made The Dark Knight Returns memorable; and that is the all-out battle between Batman and Superman which would make any fan of either or both heroes who have yet to read this pick it up if only for those scenes alone. It is certainly an intriguing take on the strained relationship between Superman and Batman who couldn't be more different and at odds with each other than in this book.

* Deftly written with a candor and appreciation that does not patronize nor belittle what Batman is all about, Miller and Janson incorporated some of the darkest yet still optimistic themes in this arguably the greatest Batman story ever written.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"Twelve Singular Mindscapes"

This thick deluxe edition caught my attention for the sole reason that it featured Adam West' wacky Batman in his most iconic pose. I was definitely more than intrigued and I knew even before I ever found out about its contents that I must possess it, sooner rather than later. When I did get to purchase it, I was stunned by the range and depth of this collection which featured a promising roster composed of talented men who are said to be 'twelve of the greatest artists in comics'.

The body of work that is featured and scrumptiously presented in SOLO: The Deluxe Edition does not disappoint at all. If the aim of this anthology is to provide even the most novice of readers an array of self-contained stories featuring their own original characters and some DC icons, then I think it had exceeded such expectations in more ways than one. Furthermore, the noble intention to help any curious newb to appreciate what the comics medium has to offer has really impressed me. I only recently started consuming comics about five years ago myself, but my life has never been enriched the same way ever again because this medium is not just kid stuff, no matter what mainstream media tells you.

The twelve artists, accompanied by well-known writers like Jeph Loeb, Neil Gaiman, Brian Azzarello and many others, have been given 48 pages of their own canvass--and anything can happen. A few sets are hard to get into upon initial reading, but most of them are accessible and completely riveting to read. These twelve singular mindscapes have a lot to offer and gain from, and it would be a shame not to travel them.

The best thing about SOLO is that it's a banquet and you are welcome to try all samples and decide which one satiated your tastes. With its impressive range, you can get engrossed with whatever floats your boat; that could either be Western, romance, horror, psychedelic surrealism or superhero parodies. They're all kinds of ridiculous, heartfelt, exciting and baffling. And if the stories don't do it much for you, the breadth of tantalizing artwork that encompassed this large container of creative endeavors might just do the trick. Each page of SOLO is rife with a stylish variety of color palettes, artistic techniques and unforgettable landscapes.

I came for Batman foremost (and he is featured in at least eleven stories) but what I got in the long run was something more than a stroke of luck or easily attainable pastime reading, and I was left with a newfound appreciation for the comic medium once again. I enjoyed the servings by Darwyn Cooke, Paul Pope, Damion Scott and Sergio Aragones the most, but all twelve distinct voices have made SOLO such a special enterprise and I'm really pleased that DC pursued such an invigorating project. Granted, the bulk of this anthology can be slightly intimidating, but therein lies the most promising challenge. Unfortunately the deluxe edition is quite pricey but there are hopefully online copies by now that you can download.

* A unique and visually intoxicating experience that certainly expands the limits of imaginative writing for a sadly overlooked medium

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Deliriously twisted tales of sci-fi horror"

Alan Moore is probably my favorite comic book writer EVER solely because Watchmen remains a personally influential work for me (and, to a lesser extent, his erotica Lost Girls). I didn't know what I was going to get when I bought this, but my faith in anything Moore has written had allowed me to risk purchasing this almost obscure work of his, at least as far as I know.

The Complete Future Shocks is an anthology of comic strips, ranging from one-spread stories to at least four to six pages of narrative. Originally, it was also "a long-running series of short strips in the weekly comic 2000 AD in 1977. The name originates in a book titled Future Shock, written by Alvin Toffler, published in 1970 (source)." There has been a handful of successful writers who wrote for this series and one of them is Alan Moore and this collected edition proves just that. Collaborating with a roster of some of comics' great artists, Moore has created dimensional and self-contained stories exploring the many hilarious and disturbing possibilities of alien invasion, entanglements of theoretical time travel, and the campy adventures of a man with a two-storey brain.

The anthology is divided into three collected series: (1) Tharg's Future Shocks that mainly covers extraterrestrial contact sprinkled with literary allusions to the tropes of horror and sci-fi genres while dressed as cautionary tales; (2) My personal favorite Time Twisters which is composed of the often distressing if not nearly tragic complications about time travel; and (3) Abelard Snazz, a series of convoluted adventures concerning a genius with a literal two-storey brain. Moore's sardonic dark humor is ever-present in this installment, perfectly depicting the absolutely absurd hero who ends up damaging anything he encounters even if his intentions all along is to fix problems.

Some of my favorites are the ones which have a tinge of sadness to them despite their comedic tone like the The Wages of Sin, One Christmas During Eternity, The Reversible Man, and Chrono Cops. Others are just plain disturbing like Eureka, Ring Road, The Startling Success of Sideways Scuttleton, Dad, The Lethal Laziness of Lobella Loom and The Last Rumble of the Platinum Horde. Still, the rest of the strips are always engaging and funny which only show the caliber of Moore's writing depicted by the wonderful artwork of artists like John Higgins, Dave Gibbons, Steve Dillon and Eric Bradbury.

* The Complete Future Shocks has been a thrill to read. It's the perfect reading choice if you merely want to unwind and relax, but all the while it's still very much capable of baffling and impressing you.