An Exception To Every Rule – Ultimate Spider-Man

I’ve made it fairy clear around here that I typically don’t enjoy superhero comics.

That’s not to say there haven’t been exceptions to this, but even those are few and far between.  Watchmen, Batman Year One, The Killing Joke, All-Star Superman… the number of superhero trades I own is fairly small… and I’ve never actually followed a superhero book as it is released.

But I’m thinking about picking up Ultimate Spider-Man (now called Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man) because… well, I really like Brian Michael Bendis’ take on the character.  As of issue 160, this is by far my favorite superhero comic, ongoing or otherwise.

It all began for me about a year ago, when I started really thinking about the new Amazing Spider-Man movie that was coming out…

I told myself, “Self… you should really get around to reading some Spiderman.  Or Spider-Man.  Whatever it is.”

I responded thusly: “Yes, Other Self, I rather would like to… but where to begin?”

Fortunately, my brain immediately remembered that Marvel had started a new imprint specifically to bring in new readers about a decade ago.  Why not try that?

Why not indeed!
So it was with much trepidation, I picked up the first volume of Ultimate Spider-Man, entitled (what else?) Power and Responsibility.  Even for someone who has specifically avoided pretty much every other version of Spider-Man from the last fifty years (with the exception of the Sam Raimi films), I knew it was going to be different (hell, that’s the entire point of the Ultimate universe), but I had high hopes.
And damn was it good!  Bendis has spent the last twelve years telling the story of Peter Parker and he’s done a damn fine job of it.  To me, his dialogue is second only to Brian K Vaughan as far as how true and honest it feels.  Bendis really seems to get how teenagers talk and interact.
In addition to the dialogue… the pacing on the story and the character development is fantastic.  Every six issues (approximately) introduces a new villain, or gives time for either a cross-over, or major story arc (typically centered around a villain… or two).  Bendis paces the series smoothly.  Just enough action and drama to keep reading, without drawing it out over a long period of time so the audience gets sick of it.
There’s some down points… Ultimate Deadpool is pretty lame.  The whole Ultimatum story-arc (written not by Bendis, but by part-time comic-writer and only-recently-full-time shitty-writer Jeph Loeb) is atrocious… but Bendis must have pulled some serious strings to get Spider-man almost entirely clear of that abomination…  
Seriously, if your character spends most of five issues buried under rubble and is still the best character in a whole arc… you know something’s royally fucked up…
Now despite my admitted ignorance to most of Spider-Man’s continuity… Somehow I still have a pretty decent knowledge of villains and main story-lines from the original Marvel Universe (I blame Atop The Fourth Wall and a couple of comic obsessed co-workers) and that worked to my advantage while reading the series.  And despite this knowledge, I ended up getting completely blindsided by situations that I thought I knew about.
For instance, there’s a character named Ben Reilly who exists both in the regular Marvel universe and the Ultimate one, but there’s no connection.  In traditional Marvel continuity (designated Marvel 616), Ben Reilly is the Scarlet Spider and a clone of Peter Parker (twenty year old spoiler alert).  In the Ultimate universe (designated Marvel 1610), he’s just a lab assistant to Curt Connors (whom you may also know as The Lizard).  So I was expecting something that never happened and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the story.
The other thing I came to enjoy was the consistent team of Bendis and illustrator Mark Bagely.  They worked together as a team for 110 straight issues, or just over nine years of the comic.  In addition to being pretty darn insane, it also never happens in superhero books.  Hell, even in long-running series like Sandman there will always be artist changes.  The pairing really helped keep me reading even when there was an occasional down issue.
 Now… In case you’ve managed to avoid all the hullabaloo last year… At the end of issue 160, the Peter Parker of the Ultimate universe is killed.  So… Yeah, there’s that.  Series over, right?
Well… comic book characters never die.  At least not completely, not forever.  For instance:
Batman died in January 2009, comics time, and was brought back to life in February 2010.  Superman erm… well, died (at least, close enough, I guess) in January 1993, only to come back in September of that year.  And don’t forget Wonder Woman, Jason Todd, Bart Allen, Sinestro, Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, two different Green Lanterns (Hal Jordan and Guy Gardener), and dozens more… and that’s just from the DC Universe!
In the Marvel universe, death is just as easily traversed and overcome.  Captain America was dead for just over two years (which in Marvel time is like… probably about half that), Bucky Barnes was dead for over forty.  Doctor Octopus, Green Goblin\Norman Osborn, Harry Osborn, Jean Grey, Johnny Storm, and so many others… at least Gwen Stacy had the common courtesy to stay dead.  
Oh shit… spoiler alert there, if the next Spider-man film has the Green Goblin and a bridge, well… bring your tissues.
Anyhow… comic deaths simply do not matter.  At all.  There’s always a hero, villain, or some ridiculous deus ex machina to bring a character back.  So far, it’s a bit too early to tell which way Ultimate Peter Parker is going to go.  
Currently, Ultimate Comics: Spider-man follows the story of Miles Morales, a mixed-race (black and Latino) teenager, also in New York City.  I have tons of faith in Brian Michael Bendis to make it work.  Not so much faith in Marvel editorial… but I’m willing to give it a shot.
And you should too!  If you watched Amazing Spider-man, realized how much better it was than the Raimi films (and it was, no opinion necessary), but didn’t really know where to start reading a character like Spider-man… Go with Ultimate Spider-man.  One writer, 160 issues, rarely a dull moment.
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A Twenty-First Century Holden Caulfield – Dora: A Headcase

I’m going to preface this by saying that I have an absolute minimum of knowledge in regards to Freudian psychology.  Similarly, all I know about Freud’s own “Dora” case is the very, very brief piece that Wikipedia has on it.

That said, there’s plenty to be enjoyed in Lidia Yuknavitch’s latest novel Dora: A Headcase even without knowledge of the subtle (and not so subtle) Freudian slips. In fact, I’m going to come right out and say it… best book I’ve read all year!  Big apologies to Alif The Unseen, A Hologram For The Kingand Redshirts!

Dora: A Headcase
Lidia Yuknavitch
Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts
234 Pages
August 7, 2012

I’ll be honest… a lot of what drew me to this book was the introduction by Chuck Palahniuk.  Though I haven’t enjoyed every book of his, I’ve found his writing to be consistently interesting even if I can’t get into the plots themselves.  Plus Fight Club and Survivor were a blast!

But I actually haven’t read it yet, even though I’ve finished the novel.  I skipped it because introductions are excellent ways to spoil a novel’s plot.  For instance, I know everything about Anna Karenina and War & Peace thanks to overzealous introductions.

I feel a bit disingenuous playing the Holden Caulfield card in the title.  It almost feels too easy. And it also seems a bit unfair to Yuknavitch to compare her creation to Holden Caulfield, mostly because Ida is only similar in how both novels resonate with me.

I simultaneously love and loathe Holden (and by extension Catcher In The Rye), and I feel the same about Ida in Dora.  The book is very well written, with an electric wit and an  originality of voice that I haven’t felt since I read Broken Glass Park a couple of years ago.  And the main character, Ida\Dora, is endearing… to a point.

For the first few chapters, I wanted to choke Ida with a spoon.  I think a lot of it comes from seeing too much of teen-aged myself in the character (which is why Holden irritates me so much too).

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Dora tells the story of Ida, a 17-year old filmmaker living in Seattle who is on the receiving end of some truly questionable therapy (the name of her therapist, of course, is Sigmund Freud).  Like his namesake “Siggy” (as Ida refers to him) sees dicks everywhere.  Everything is sexual in some manner, or another.

While dealing with an overbearing therapist, Ida also has to endure her father’s affair (with a woman she finds strangely attractive), her very eclectic friends (general hoodlums constantly in pursuit of art… or at least “art”), and a constantly unpredictable mind which seems to want to rebel against anything life throws at her.

Ida’s “posse” includes Ave Maria (a rich teen getting high and drunk on her parents’ dime), Little Teena (a cross-dresser who is also a trained concert pianist), and Obsidian (a Native American who has gone off reservation after being attacked and raped by her step-dad).

Oh and another of Ida’s best friends is another pre-op transsexual named Marlene (formerly Hakizamana Ojo of Rwanda) who gives Ida explicit sex books written in foreign languages.  Marlene is by far my favorite character in the book.

Through the first few chapters Ida is somewhat insufferable, what with her constant need to rebel against everything (coughing over her father’s attempts to communicate seriously with her, flashing her bits to her therapist, drunkenly stripping naked in a Nordstrom’s), but eventually… she starts to become endearing.  Her love and respect for her friends shines through and what once was annoying comes across as oddly refreshing.

There’s a certain point in the novel when tragedy strikes Ida and she transitions from an angry, angsty teenager, to a near-adult enduring a great deal of suffering and sorrow… deep-laid pain that is only beginning to bubble to the surface.

This sadness and pain transitions to the second half of the novel, whereupon we learn that Ida has lost the ability to speak.  I can’t get into much plot after this without delving too deeply into spoilers, but there’s a Viagra overdose, emergency surgery, pushy and violent reality TV producers, and a massive breakout from a juvie detention facility.

The only real flaw in the second half of the novel is the epilogue.  It takes a strong, emotional ending… and ties up all the loose ends in a very frustrating way.  In fact, I’m going to tell you right now just to skip it.

You know those movies that end with a song and a text box for each member of the cast, telling what happened after the movie’s story ends?  That’s this epilogue.  The whole thing is clunky, unnecessary, and rather annoying.

But definitely, definitely read this book.  Lidia Yuknavitch is now one of my favorite authors and I can’t wait to recommend her at every opportunity at work.

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Surfing Mind Waves – Rio Youers’ Westlake Soul

I love going to a book repository of any kind -a library, a book shop, a friend’s house- and just exploring the shelves.  I’ve often found new books just by sniffing around in areas I wouldn’t expect to find things.

This is how I came across Westlake Soul, a surreal, wonderful novel by Rio Youers.

Westlake Soul
Rio Youers
ChiZine Publications
250 Pages
April 10, 2012

I had checked out a bunch of books from the library already (including Dora: A Headcase by local author Lidia Yuknavitch, which I’m eagerly anticipating) and was browsing the new release\recent returns shelves when I saw bright red title above the Science Fiction category sticker on the spine.

Westlake Soul.  Interesting, I thought to myself.  I may have actually thought more than just that, but I unfortunately haven’t compartmentalized my brain enough to remember.  But I picked it up and was intrigued by the plot description.

A surfer with a brain injury, whose brilliant mind is engaged in an epic battle against an evil madman known as Doctor Quietus? And he does this from within a permanent vegetative state?  Am I dreaming? Does this truly exist?  If so, how quickly can I read this.

I was pawing at Rowling’s new one, A Casual Vacancy, drowning in the characters, plot explication, and the use of “cunt” on every other page (an exaggeration, to be sure) and thought… this is a good book to read in-between chapters\lines\words.  Still haven’t finished A Casual Vacancy

But yes, the book tells the story of Westlake Soul, surfing champion and child of flower-children parents who never met an odd or unpronounceable name they didn’t like (seriously, his sister’s name is Niki, short of Phereniki).  One day, Westlake gets cocky and is tossed by a large wave.  He nearly drowns, but is saved by a random beach-goer.

He sits in a coma for days and days, only to reawaken as a genius… but his body and conscious brain are atrophied and he remains a vegetable, unable to fully take advantage of his newly minted SuperBrain™.

All is not lost though.  Wes’ genius mind allows him to astral project himself anywhere in the world (and he’s certainly more honest and less perverse than I would be given the same situation).  He’s also able to penetrate the minds of most people.  It isn’t mind-reading, per se… more like mind-interpretation.  Westlake receives the information almost like binary data and is able to translate it into a more understandable form.

The crux of the novel deals with Westlake’s ongoing battle with Doctor Quietus.  At first, Wes plays it off like a typical superhero\supervillain battle, but it becomes evident just a few chapters in that Quietus is the way Wes sees his battle against death.

Youers does a great job of balancing the humor with the serious and he’s especially adept at funny similes.  The prose overall carries a certain seriousness (which isn’t shocking given the subject matter), but Youers makes sure to give Westlake’s internal monologue just the right amount of snark and cleverness to stop the tone from getting too somber.

The emotional core of the novel comes about half-way through, when we discover that Westlake’s new caregiver, Yvette, is in an abuse relationship.  Though he’s incorporeal, Wes determines that he has to help her fight back.

I can already see those gears turning, but the story doesn’t devolve into sappy prose, or cliched plotting.  Youers imbues Wes’ struggles to help Yvette with the same humor and charm he shows in the rest of the story.

And the ending!  This is how all writers need to write their endings, especially within the confines of a non-series title.  All I’m going to say is that interesting ambiguity will always trump a straight-forward boring answer.

In my Odd Apocalypse review I complained about the pop culture references Koontz put into his character’s mouth that felt forced.  Westlake Soul has its own share of these that felt less forced, but only because Westlake is more in tune with the pop culture world, given he’s lived in it (unlike Odd Thomas who routinely reminds you of how outside of the real world he tends to be).  A minor flaw in what is an otherwise fantastic novel.

If this sounds like your cuppa, you could even buy the novel directly from the publisher (and I think you should!).

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10 Books I Wish I Could Read For The First Time… Again!

Inspired by an older post on one of my favorite blog reviewers (seriously, Greg Zimmerman over at The New Dork Review Of Books does fantastic work! And he has great literary taste too!), I’ve decided to do a pair of lazy posts in a row.

Sorry.

I expect to be back in 3-5 days with a new post about… something a little more thoughtful than a Top Whatever list. But I make no promises.

So… Inspired by this post, I’m going to briefly discuss the top books I wish I could re-read again… for the first time.

10. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Midnight’s Children is one of my favorite novels… and I’m fairly certain I’ll never read it again.  I had to read it for a multicultural lit class in college and loved it… But I think I only loved it because the class went over every nuance in the novel, every metaphor… just exhaustive.

And every time I’ve tried to re-read it… I’ve failed.  Maybe next year?

9. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Much like The NDRoB, I’ve found that I don’t enjoy reading this book whenever I try to revisit it.  After being frightened to the point of quitting several times through college, when I finally finished House of Leaves… I felt accomplished.

It was scary, mind-bending, and almost indescribable.  And I highly recommend it for everyone.  Just be warned that you may not want to reread it.

8. Song Of Solomon by Toni Morrison

I distinctly remember this novel being one of the ones that convinced me that I had made the right choice in being an English Lit major.  Despite the Oprah Book Club designation… this book excited me.

I was laid out, sick as a dog at a girlfriend’s house and I didn’t feel like doing anything but finishing up this novel, even though the class I was in had only been assigned the first six chapters.  I finished it in a single sitting and took another drive at finishing it.

7. Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

I made the almost unforgivable mistake of watching the movie first.  It wasn’t an intentional decision, but it happened.  I’m not proud of it, but there you are.  For awhile, I preferred the film, until I really dug in and got more of the subtext of the novel.

The infection is so bad that any time I read anything by HST, I usually end up with Johnny Depp’s voice in my head instead.

6. Post Office by Charles Bukowski

Simply put, I was too young when I read this.  I was 20, thought I knew everything, and didn’t fully appreciate the novel for its humor, or its brilliance.

The strong, short sentences.  The heartbreaking story.  The man, the myth… Chinaski.

Boy I sound like a tool…

5. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

This was one of the first comics I read when I was trying to get more into the medium, and I was completely blown away.  I’ve read it nearly half a dozen times in just a few years, but I always get more out of it.  I especially love rereading the fourth issue, when Doctor Manhattan contemplates his past, present, and future from Mars.

Just the same, the shocking reveal of the unlikely villain, the moment you find out who Rorschach really is… the giant squid… all of that.  I’d love to experience all over again, especially with my now greater appreciation for comic books.

4. Catch-22 by Joseph Hellar

If you were to ask me, I’d tell you that I love Catch-22, that Hellar’s novel is one of my favorites.  And that is true.  Mostly.

But I’ve also never successfully re-read the novel since I first read it about a decade ago.  For some reason, every time I sit down to try to read it again, I just can’t do it.  And I don’t know why.  Maybe the timeline confuses, maybe I don’t like the characters as much as I used to, maybe I just plain don’t enjoy the novel any more… but I’d love to read it fresh and unspoiled again, to try to recapture that magic.

3. The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various artists

There’s little I can say about this except that it was hard to choose between Sandman and Neverwhere.  I (obviously) love Neil Gaiman’s work, but I don’t think I fully appreciated Sandman when I first read it.  I sort of liked the first volume (and loved loved LOVED “The Sound of Her Wings”), but I found it difficult to keep up with the interlacing stories.

I know, I know.  I think I made it harder than it was because it was a comic book.

Just the same, I’d love to experience the story all over again.  One of the finest fantasy tales in literature, graphic or otherwise.

2. The Instructions by Adam Levin

This behemoth of a novel was a serious project.  I got a copy from the library and had three weeks to finish it.  No renewals because the queue behind me was rather long. So I told myself: no video games, no TV, no dicking around with my phone, nothing.

And I did it.  I rocked it out in two solid weeks of reading and loved pretty much every moment.  A re-read would be great (maybe some day…), but to be reintroduced to all the characters… and to get a chance to experience the climactic and violent final third of the book for the first time… that would be simply divine.

1. Ask The Dust by John Fante

This is the book, for me.  Seriously, the book.  If I could read one, and only one, book for the rest of my life, it would be Ask The Dust.  After picking it up as a completely random recommendation from someone I met in an AOL chat room late one night in college, I fell in love with John Fante’s sparse, beautiful prose.

I wanted to live in that Los Angeles, with smoky hotel rooms, drunken-yet-lovable neighbors, wild Mexican women.  I wanted to be a starving artist with a threadbare suit, a typewriter, and a dream.

Most of all, I wanted to write like John Fante.  I wanted to infuse settings with character and depth, like he did for Los Angeles.  I still haven’t reached any level of success toward this goal in my fiction writing, but whenever I need inspiration, I just flip to a random page and read.  My breath still catches, my eyes well up, and I’m captured again.

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The Better Side of 8-Bit – Five Favorites From The Past

I make fewer posts about video games here than I would like.  And because I often get angry at these older games that I used to love, I feel like I’m overly negative about them. And rightfully so. Adventure Island sucks (even though I love it).

Really, really sucks.

To me, it is the epitome of lazy developing.  Couple the cookie cutter gameplay with an unmemorable hero, lame enemies, and full-frontal nudity… you’ve got real crap.

And the NES has plenty of stinkers.  Just check out The Angry Nintendo Nerd to figure that out.  Many of the games he rages against, I was given as a gift.  Friday the 13th. Dick Tracy. Top Gun. The list goes on.

But if I’m only going to talk about the shit games… what does that make me?

That’s right.  A negative asshole.

Well, bask in my negativity no longer!  Here are my top 5 favorite games released on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Please note, these are my personal favorites.  And before you tell me… yes I know I’m missing classics like The Legend of Zelda, Contra, Punch-Out, the original Super Mario Bros., and etc. They’re great games, but these five are the ones that spent the most time inside my NES.

5. Dick Tracy (1990)

I know what you’re saying.  Didn’t he just say that Dick Tracy is a terrible game?  Well, it is.  Taken as a whole, the game has the worst driving controls in any game that I’ve played, terrible hit detection, and some of the most impossibly vague mission objectives…

But the game has a special place in my heart.  And there has to be extra room in my heart for it because I’ll have to stuff the Game Genie in there too.

Yes, this game is incredibly playable when you’re an invincible super-cop with infinite ammunition and a super jump.  The Game Genie, the unlicensed cheating device that Nintendo tried to ban from store shelves, allowed me to focus on the clue hunting and hunt I did.

Does the game suck on its own merits?  Yeah, the whole thing is a confusing mess that has almost certainly driven many a gamer to suicide… But add in the ability to super-punch criminals so hard that they actually bounce off the walls…  That’s a quality game right there.

4. Super Mario Bros 3 (1990)

One of the few gifts that didn’t suck, Super Mario Bros 3 is one of the most perfect games ever created.  It has a variety of level and enemy design that has yet to be equaled by any other 2D platformer (the lone exception being, maybe, Super Mario World).

On top of the design was the secrets.  Tons and tons of secret areas.  Hidden blocks, pipes to bonus levels, vines to coin-stravaganzas in the clouds, and warp whistles.  And when I discovered you could blow a tune on the first warp whistle, and then immediately blow the second to access World 8?  I was over the moon!

I was also killed to death in a very quick manner, especially because I hadn’t played enough of the more difficult levels to get the experience necessary to defeat Bowser’s warships… But beating the game and defeating Bowser is one of my earliest victories against the evil baddies on the 8-bit world.

3. RBI Baseball

A sports game?  Oh James, everyone knows you hate sports!

But RBI Baseball is excellent!

A slower paced title in comparison to games like Bases Loaded and Base Wars (another awful, personal favorite), RBI Baseball is a game I’ll gladly play today. But the rules are: no three-sinker-strikeouts, you asshole.

The graphics are bright, every player looks the same… like a bald, faceless Fisher Price Little Person.  For some reason, many of the teams dress in neon colors (I remember when the Angels dressed in really bright blue and purple!) and the stats never update, but damn if it isn’t fun.

Plus where else can you laugh as Roger Clemens comes down off the mound and attempts to make a base-hit?  There’s just nothing funnier than a hitter with a batting average below .100…

2. Little Nemo: The Dream Master

This will probably get a lot of crap for rating so high, but… this is my list and this is my blog.  So fuck right off if you don’t like it.

This game is another one of those games (much like Dick Tracy) that is about half-decent… but Little Nemo is a major nostalgia trip for me.  I loved the (considerably more awful) Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland film, but the game was something else entirely.

I obsessed over it (even sometimes wished I could feed a mole candy and wear him like Buffalo Bill wears people’s skin) and even spent time sketching ideas for other creatures that Nemo could jump into.

Even to these days, I’ll boot up the game just to listen to the music and enjoy the floaty, breezy first level (before shit gets real and gets REALLY difficult).  Seriously, if you have a functioning NES and can find a copy… well worth your time.

1. Crystalis

This game is by far one of my favorite games of all time.

Seriously, love it.

Crystalis was the closest I came to enjoying a traditional RPG.  This was by far my favorite adventure game on the NES and would still show up in my Top 3 (or maybe 5) games ever.

And why?  I really can’t say, other than it was one of the first games I played that not only told a story (seriously, tons of dialogue for an NES game), but got me emotionally invested in the characters. I still get sad when I think of Stom’s death (seriously, SPOILER ALERT!), or the eerie moment when I returned to Leaf to find the entire populace gone.

My obsession went so deep that I wrote letters to Nintendo Power to get tips on beating bosses (these were pre-Internet days, people… it was either writing a letter, or calling the Nintendo Power 900 number and getting yelled at my parents again).  Ah, the good old days.

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So that’s that.  There are a TON of really great games that I didn’t mention here. Both Zelda games on the NES, Metroid, Shadowgate, Deja Vu, Punch-Out, Final Fantasy (which I love and hate all at once), RC Pro AM, Super Sprint, Ice Hockey, Ninja Gaiden… the list goes on.  I could probably do a Top 50, or Top 100 list if I had to.  But I won’t make you suffer through that… yet.

My next post will be another lazy man’s Top X List of X, then we’ll be back to book talk.

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Rock Bottom With Odd Thomas – Dean Koontz’s Odd Apocalypse

Normally, I avoid most popular fiction.  I’ve outgrown a lot of it as a reader, but I will enjoy a good thriller from time to time.  There was a time where I waited impatiently for a new Dean Koontz novel to come out.  Every year from 1996 through 2007…

We’ve been friends for so long.  I’ve been reading you longer than pretty much any other author.  But… I think we’re done.

And it isn’t me.  It’s you.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice the sad decline years ago.  For me, it all began with The Taking in 2004.  I was really excited to see the book begin with a quote from T.S. Eliot, as I had earlier that year done a very in-depth read of The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” and “The Waste Land” and was interested to see your take on it.

And… it was pretty bad.  The plot was basically a major rehash of Phantoms, with a little bit of extra boring on top.  The Eliot quotes never amounted to much.  It felt like someone was trying to use his English degree a bit too much.  And I know about that! I try to do it too!

But then came Life Expectancy and Velocity!  Oh what wondrous thrillers they were!  Fast-paced action! Unreliable narrators! Good guys who were good! Bad guys who were bad!  Hammy dialogue and prose!  Everything I loved about a Dean Koontz novel!

Our relationship continued to spiral downward with The Husband, which many of my friends and co-workers loved.  I… didn’t.  I found it to be rather boring and recursive.  It just didn’t do it for me.  I assumed it was the lack of supernatural, but… I soon found out that wasn’t the case.

After much hemming and hawing, I decided to try reading My Heart Belongs To You.  In a disappointing twist, all the supernatural stuff is explained away with ninjas and black market organ harvesting.  Oh, spoilers on that one, I suppose.  Just save yourself the three hours the book would take you to read and skip it.

Surely, the same guy who wrote Lightning, Sole Survivor, TickTock, and Intensity wasn’t the same one who churned out the dreadful Darkest Evening Of The Year.  I mean, wasn’t From The Corner Of His Eye especially thought-provoking?  Didn’t Dark Rivers of the Heart chill me like few other books have?

Well… I still think Koontz has a lot of great work over the years (even as recently as Odd Thomas and Velocity).  But there’ve been a whole lot more hits than misses.  And the most recent novel in the Odd Thomas Odd Thomas and The Overstayed Welcome Odd Apocalypse is only the latest in a long string of disappointments for me.
Odd Apocalypse
Dean Koontz

Bantam
July 31, 2012
368 Pages
What I really appreciate about going back and watching old Family Guy episodes is how well some of the pop-culture references have aged.  Peter just made a joke about Dharma and Greg?  Oh, how marvelously droll! How comically poignant!
Similarly, I imagine I’ll really enjoy the Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga references Dean Koontz places in Odd Apocalypse.
And the pages and pages of boring internal monologue, where Odd recaps his previous adventures (for those of us who haven’t been following the previous four, I assume?).  Not to mention when Odd goes into drawn out pseudo-philosophical musings about how much of assholes human beings are, how short our time really is on this earth, and how we should really just love each other.
But worst of all are the strange intrusions in Odd’s already bizarre monologuing, wherein he muses upon the evils of an oppressive government.  If you’re going to be one of those authors who decides to insert his increasingly crazed political opinions into a novel, please, please, please at least make it fit the character.  This… doesn’t fit, feels awkward, and slows an already relatively slow pace to a complete standstill.
All of these issues are rather minor if the story is good.  And… the book falls flat there too.  The entirety of the plot takes place over just a couple of days and Koontz is sure to give you a minute by minute breakdown of every. single. solitary. moment in the whole story.
The good guy is too good, the bad guys are too bad, and there’s just no subtlety to any of the characterization.  Not that I show up to the Dean Koontz party for the musical dialogue, or the elegant prose… but I at least expect consistency and readability. Give me a reason to care about all this and I will.  
But I can’t care about a long-winded blowhard of a character who continually moons over his dead girlfriend, his terrible lot in life, and drops clumsy references to popular singers. It smacks of lazy writing to be dragging this series on when Odd doesn’t seem to have anything new to say.
Odd Hours (the previous book in the series) suffered from some of the same issues, but I felt that it better constructed Odd’s persona as both a reluctant hero and a reluctant killer. I actually felt bad for him in previous books when he had to kill.  Here?  I kinda wish he’d get caught up in-between a monster and a shot-gun wielding maniac, just to get the novel to a tedious conclusion.  Especially if it freed me from having to read any more about his dead girlfriend with painfully flowery prose.
Dean Koontz will never be a Pulitzer Prize winner.  I’ve accepted this and I’m fairly certain he has too.  But he can write well if he wants to.  
His introduction to David Robinson’s book of photographs Beautiful Death is a touching and horrifying essay on growing up in a house of addiction.  Occasionally, he’ll pop up and do other non-fiction pieces (mostly as afterwords to one of his own re-issued novels) that are both thoughtful, and hilarious.
But lately, he’s been writing-by-numbers and churning out crap every second book (sometimes more) and Odd Apocalypse is really the bottom of the barrel.  Where’s the witty and erudite Odd Thomas from Odd Thomas or Brother Odd?  Heck, I’d even take the mopey, oh-woe-is-me Odd from Forever Odd over this current incarnation.
Do yourself a favor: buy Fear Nothing and Seize the Night and enjoy the weird.  Those two books (and the inevitable third book that will probably suck if it’s been written in the last decade…) are Koontz writing a great balance of action, sci-fi, and humor.
And they’re certainly more entertaining than this slop.
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