Thinking About Reading: Whys and Wherefores

I was happy to receive my (semi-) weekly update from The New Dork Review of Books this morning.  I’m always happy to get them because the guy who writes them, Greg Zimmerman is a reader who is pretty close to my own tastes… and much smarter about writing his posts than I am.

I always enjoy his posts, but this post from last week is particularly moving.

For me, I hardly remember not having a book in my hand.  I started with The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes, but I don’t remember really loving a novel until I read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by AVI in fifth grade.

After that, I finally understood what it meant to be taken out of myself and transported to another place by reading.  I wanted to live in an exciting world of exploration, mutiny, and travel on the high-seas!

From there, I discovered Dean Koontz’s time-travel novel Lightning in the bottom of a box of books my mom found at a garage sale.  There were some other books in there… King, Crichton, maybe even a Patterson (which I sincerely hope I burned).  But the Koontz was the only one that stuck with me.  I had read his entire library by the end of that summer, and had graduated to the epic fantasy worlds of Raymond Feist and The Hobbit.

From there… I somehow stumbled onto poetry.  The tightly structured works of Emily Dickinson, John Donne, and Paul Laurence Dunbar spoke to me.  I could rhyme, so I began writing poetry.  Most of it, in retrospect, terrible.  But I still have a few pieces I’m proud of from high school.

After high school, I floated around for a few months at college, depressed.  For the first time in my life, not really reading, or writing.  But I solicited opinions from friends and started reading new things: Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Ray Bradbury, and others.  Vonnegut was an especially big influence, not only on my reading choices, but also in how I came to view the world as a whole.

John Fante came to me as a random recommendation in an AOL Chat Room.  I’m forever grateful to that young Italian woman (?) who told me to read Ask The Dust.

College also brought me to a full understanding and appreciation for less structured poets like TS Eliot, Charles Bukowski, and William Carlos Williams.

Several courses also introduced me to multicultural authors I would never have read on my own: Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, and Salman Rushdie.

I, of course, read the Beats and other experimental writers.  I made my first attempt to read Ulysses and Gravity’s Rainbow.  I may yet finish those books.  I also read Hubert Selby Jr, who still writes better dialogue than just about anyone I’ve read.

Post-college has found me being a bit more open with what I read.  Though I have caught up on some classics (Lolita, Jane Eyre) and even re-read books I hated in high school (To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher In The Rye), I’ve also become a big fan of comics.

I’ve even had a child and try to read with him often.  I hope he’ll some day be able to debate the finer points of TS Eliot’s The Love Story of J Alfred Prufrock with me… but even if we only connect over whatever villain Batman’s locked up recently… I’ll be happy.

That’s all for now.  In the coming days… more comic books!  Sorry, but this time of year sucks for trying to get any novels read… so there’s Batman: Odyssey, Spider-Men, and Matt Fraction’s fantastic Invincible Iron Man to talk about.

Anything you think I should read? Drop me a line.  I’m always looking for new stuff to check out!

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I Lied – More Comics – Avengers VS X-Men

Yup, so I totally lied.  Baldfaced, even.  Which makes sense, as I am very pale.

But I’m bringing you one more comic discussion before I (eventually, probably, hopefully) zero back in on entirely text-based books for a bit.  Will I go with the epic-ly titled The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared?  The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and ClayMaybe something else entirely that I’ve completely forgotten about?

You’ll just have to tune in to find out.  For now, allow me to present Avengers VS X-Men.

Avengers VS X-Men
Writers: Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Jeph Loeb, Jonathan Hickman
Illustrators: Oliver Coipel, Adam Kubert, John Romita Jr.
Marvel Comics
568 Pages
November 21, 2012

I’m going to (hopefully) come back to fully credit everyone who worked on the book up above in the BOLD text box up there, but… there are a TON of people so… it may mean I come back with an edit a bit later.

Note: I didn’t.  Seriously, a ton of really talented people (plus Jeph Loeb!) worked on the book, so if you’re interested in knowing everyone involved, you can check out the individual issue information over on Marvel’s website! Also, watch for spoilers if you haven’t read the series yet!

I’ve said before I don’t do superhero books.  The more I say it, apparently, the less true it is.  I’ve been taken in lately by Brian Michael Bendis’ take on the Marvel Universe.  Ultimate Spider-Man.  Avengers: Disassembled, House of M, Secret Wars, Secret Invasion, Dark Avengers.

I could go on.

Seriously, the guy’s written at least fifteen-thousand issues for Marvel in the last eight or so years.  I’m not even exaggerating.

I’ve liked most of them, despite my near-complete lack of familiarity with Marvel continuity… so with this recent interest, I decided to go balls to the wall and take on Avengers VS X-Men.

I tried to read it with an open mind… as well as an open web-browser to make sense of things I was unfamiliar with.  For instance:
Q: Why is Colossus also The Juggernaut? A: Who cares! It looks cool!
Q: Why is Charles Xavier walking? A: House of M… I think!
 Why is Magneto a good guy? A: I dunno… just roll with it!
DA FUQ are they bringing back the Phoenix? A: May as well milk it for all you can get!

So… yeah.  There’s a story to the comic… Sorta.  The Phoenix Force is returning for Hope Summers… well, let’s not get too much into continuity, backstory, or confusing parentage here… But in House of M, all but about 200 mutants in the Marvel Universe lost their powers… Hope was the first mutant born after that catastrophe and she has the ability to channel and mimic other mutants’ abilities.

This makes her extraordinarily powerful.

Of course, the X-Men, led by Scott Summers\Cyclops, can’t let the Phoenix Force take control of Hope because then Cyclops would have another person in his life to cry about losing… so the X-Men prepare to defend Hope from the Phoenix.

On the other side of the coin, the Avengers find that Phoenix is coming to Earth and determine Hope to be the target.  They want to place Hope in a place with MAXIMUM SECURITY to keep her safe from the Phoenix.  Cyclops tells them to stuff it, Captain America gets pissed, and the fights begin.

That’s pretty much the whole story.

The rest of the story is basically built around shots like this:

Seriously.  The trade collection has more than 500 pages and at least 400 of them are two-page spreads.  OK, I exaggerate.  300.  Most of the art is… decent overall, but it shows that they were punching out two issues a month since April.  A lot of crowd scenes where the only people with detail are in the front row (and even then, some of it looks pretty weak).

But I think a lot of that comes down to the sheer amount of work to be done for the series.  Overall, the work is satisfying… especially in the splash pages.

I will say that if you only read the twelve issues of the main story arc, you’re really missing out.  The trade also collects a few issues of the AvX: Infinite series, the zero issue for the core series, and (most importantly) the VS series that was an off-shoot of the main series.

AvX VS was by far my favorite part of the whole run.  Easily.  The issues are filled with little “fun facts” throughout that make for a much lighter, funnier story.  The battles are definitely in-line with the What If…? series Marvel’s been doing on and off since the late ’70s.

Some of the battles in these pages include Iron Man VS Magneto, Cyclops VS Captain America, Storm VS Black Panther, and Thor VS Emma Frost.  They’re stupid, over-the-top, and a whole lot of fun.

And #6?  Well, a spoiler free review of that issue: Awesome in about six-thousand different ways.  Maybe seven.

The series also introduced Marvel’s new tech thing called Marvel AR.  You know… those codes that you’re supposed to scan with an app + your smartphone’s camera?  No?  Well… you and just about everyone else who owns a smartphone…

That said, they’re kinda cool.  If you scan a page with the app, you’ll get different things… in some cases a video, in others the app will animate the page from pencils, to inks, to full-colors.  Pretty cool, if a bit useless.  Still, I applaud Marvel for trying to make an integration between the paper books and technology.

But… One of the AR codes near the end of the book (in the middle of a climactic scene no less!) links the viewer to a Robot Chicken-styled comedy video of “how it really began.”  Prank phone calls, sugar in the gas tank… all that.  Funny… but it really should have been placed near the start of the series, not the end.

Overall, I recommend this trade.  As someone who has only been a fan of most of these characters for about five years, I had a lot of fun. I know some people who have been fans longer (and who no doubt know the characters better) didn’t enjoy it as much as I did…

But fuck them!  I enjoyed it and since this is my blog, I’m gonna run with it and give it two big thumbs up!  Seriously, you should see these behemoths…

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