Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Review, Graphic Novel: BATMAN, VOL. 1: THE COURT OF OWLS

I really enjoy Scott Snyder's AMERICAN VAMPIRE comics. Those stories are fresh and original. I was first introduced to Snyder's non-AMERICAN VAMPIRE writing in BATMAN: THE BLACK MIRROR. That pre-new-52 story has been heralded by many as the best Batman story in the past five years. Unfortunately, I don't agree. I thought that the initial premise of the story was promising, but then it went to places it wasn't necessary to go (for instance, was it really necessary to make Jim Gordon's son a psychopath?) It reminds me of some of the extremes DC went to in the 1990s to increase readership, but that almost led to the complete destruction of the company. Despite not enjoying, THE BLACK MIRROR, I decided to give Snyder's Batman another chance and read BATMAN, VOL. 1: THE COURT OF OWLS.

The basic storyline is that Batman discovers that an old rhyme that mothers in Gotham City used to tell their children to scare them into obedience, is actually true. For over a century, Gotham has been "watched over" by a secret group of individuals (like the Illuminati) that call themselves the Court of Owls. Nothing happens without the approval of the Court and if the Court doesn't like what you're doing, they send their assassin, named Talon, to kill you. Batman is the Court's next target and he finds himself racing against a clock as he struggles against enemies who seem to know his every move before he even makes them.

I realize with the New 52, the entire DC universe has received a reboot. I don't agree with it, but I understand and accept it. But even with a reboot, with all the villains in Batman's rogues gallery, was it really necessary to create another evil group to pit against Batman? Aren't the League of Assassins, the Club of Villains, the Masters of Disaster, the Misfits, the Network, the New Olympians, Strike Force Kobra, and the more recent introduction of Dollmaker and his family enough?

There's also the level of graphic violence. BATMAN, VOL. 1: THE COURT OF OWLS is the third most violent non-horror comic I've read in the past seven years. Batman comics always were a bit more violent and darker in nature than the rest of the DC universe, but until the late 1980s they weren't all that violent. When DC shifted to more graphically violent themed stories in the late 1980s, it turned me completely off of comics for nearly two decades. It seemed that DC had learned their lesson, but over the past year-and-a-half, the company seems to have forgetten the lessons they were taught and have returned to the type of stories that almost destroyed the company in the 1990s.

The other criticism I have with BATMAN, VOL. 1: THE COURT OF OWLS is the artwork. At one point in the book, you have to rotate the book around in a circle to follow from panel to panel what is happening. This itself isn't new and is more of an annoyance than anything else. However, there are other times where the images are so dark and the lines so blurry that it's difficult to follow exactly what is happening in the story. It's as though the artists decided to copy the shaky-cam techniques from filmmaking and put them into comic form. Shaky-cam usually doesn't work well in movies and is worse when viewed in comic book form.

Therefore, because of the lack of originality, ultra violence, and poor artistry, BATMAN, VOL: 1: THE COURT OF OWLS is hereby, found guilty of being ho-hum.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Madness Calling: On the Death of Ray Bradbury

When people ask me where I get by imagination, I simply lament, "God, here and there, makes madness a calling."

--Ray Bradbury

I first became acquainted with Ray Bradbury when I was probably in the first grade and watched the Disney television special Something Wicked This Way Comes. I loved that movie, but it also gave me nightmares: Mr. Dark was so evil. Bradbury was a prolific author and it wouldn't be until I was in the 8th grade that I actually was introduced to one of his stories ("The Sound of Thunder"). I was fascinated by the tale and wanted to read whatever I could find of is. Sadly, at the time the only Bradbury book my school carried was Fahrenheit 451 (I wasn't sorry they had that book, just sorry it was the only Bradbury book I could find). Years later I would go on to read other Bradbury stories.

I believe when I was in high school there was a tv show called The Ray Bradbury Chronicles that aired on Saturday afternoons. I tried to watch as many of those episodes that I could, but since it was on Saturday mornings on Channel 11, I often wasn't around.

The thing I was most impressed about Bradbury was his passion. His views on topics would change over time, but he was always passionate about whatever it was he was talking or writing about. I read a book of essays he wrote where he tried to predict inventions that would be created in the future. He was really off on many of them, but even the ones that were completely outlandish, he was passionate about.

Personally, I liked Bradbury's nonfiction writing the best. He's known for sci-fi, horror, and fantasy, but I think he really shined in nonfiction. Take for instance the narrative voice in Something Wicked This Way Comes. That's a novel, but the narrative voice is dripped in the historical and biographical details of Bradbury's youth. If you read a lot of his nonfiction writing, this becomes clear. The narrative voice in that story is voice of Bradbury.

He lived a good life and I look forward to reading some of the posthumous stuff of his that will be published. However, in a few years there will be no more original and new Ray Bradbury stories and the world will be a less joyful and passionate place because of that. Here's to the stars, madness, and the future. Thank you, Mr. Bradbury.

A Passing and a Birthday

Besides the historical significance of this date (June 6), I'm having bitter-sweet feelings about the day. I received a phone call this morning that my Great Aunt Lora passed away. She was 94. I visited her just a week ago and she looked better than she's looked in a long time. However, I saw her on Saturday with my Grandma and she looked worse than she ever has. My Grandma and I picked her up and took her to a family reunion on Sunday. She didn't look better. We received a telephone call last night saying she was in the hospital. I was planning on visiting her today. This morning we received another call saying she had pneumonia and wasn't doing well. I was planning on stopping by during lunch or after work, but about thirty minutes later when I talked to my cousin she informed me she had just died. Lora would have been 95 in August.

In May 2008, she had a stroke and I was at the hospital and was there when the doctors said at most she would have 2 weeks to live. That was over 4 years ago. In that time, she lived with my Grandma for a couple of years and I got to know her much better than I ever did. I know she's in a much better place now and is going for that ride in the sky that another one of my aunts always kidded her about, but I will still miss her.

On a different note, today is my sister's birthday. She can be a major pain sometimes, but I do love her. Happy birthday, sis.

The Wednesday, June 6, 2012 Google Doodle

The Google Doodle for today, Wednesday, June 6, 2012 honors the first drive-in which opened in the United States on June 6, 1933 in Pennsauken, New Jersey by Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. I love drive-ins and still attend one during the summer in Litchfield, IL. Here's to the resurgence of the drive-ins!


In remembrance and honor of one of the most important battles in history.

--photo taken by Charles Turner

Monday, June 04, 2012

The Day That Freedom Died in China

Twenty-three years-ago today, June 4, the Tianamen Square Massacre took place. On this day, thousands of protestors were murdered by the Communist Party that controled the Chinese government. The people of China wanted democracy, but instead they got a hardline crackdown and now nearly a quarter-century of continued Communist rule. I remember. Do you? And for those of you too young to remember, what do you know of the Tianamen Square Massacre? The events still have a major impact upon the world and our culture and society today. Never forget.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Feeling Ill

I haven't been feeling well the past couple days. I've only slept about 13 hours in the past 3 days. Yesterday I had a fever and I had stomach issues. If there was a full moon, I'd say it was that, but there's not another full moon until June 4th. Maybe I have a brain cloud.