January 13, 2005

Soon to come

CATWOMAN: Crooked Little Town
SHE-HULK: Single Green Female

Posted by Sarah T. at 12:09 AM | Comments (2)

January 10, 2005

GLOBAL FREQUENCY: Planet Ablaze

GLOBAL FREQUENCY: Planet Ablaze. (Writer: Warren Ellis. Art: Various.) I admit it; Warren Ellis's choices sometimes baffle me. The idea underlying this series--an organization run by a mysterious figure named Miranda Zero which employs 1,001 experts in all sorts of arcane fields to respond to scientific and military emergencies that the regular Earth authorities can't or won't handle--is perfectly sound, providing a great set-up for cool puzzle-stories in which a team races to overcome high-concept science-fiction problems with clever solutions. Yet far too often in Planet Ablaze these advantages are tossed away; the story frequently tries to get us invested in sketchily-characterized team members we've only seen once and never will again, and the problems are often solved with a burst of simple violence at the end.

This doesn't mean the stories are terrible. There is at least one nifty thing to think about or look at per issue, and that's running an average higher than eighty percent of comic books. For example, the second issue features a shot of an "enhancile" (cyborg) both truly disgusting and plausibly realized, as well as a final killer image of the team member who took out the enhancile at the cost of irradiating the entire area--thereby guaranteeing himself a slow, painful, and utterly lonely death--leaning next to its corpse, smoking a cigarette. Miranda Zero herself is intriguing, and the politics are, if not deep, neither conventional for the genre nor insulting in presentation. The diversity of the characters is also welcome (even if one does occasionally get the impression that Ellis is showing off his edginess more than anything else). Each issue has a different artist, but they're all at least competent.

Still, the urge to go for the quick fix of sentiment or violence baffles me and limits the book. Ultimately, Planet Ablaze feels like sci-fi lite. I'll be checking out the next trade (just released), but not buying it.

Posted by Sarah T. at 07:09 AM | Comments (0)

NIGHTWING: A Darker Shade of Justice

NIGHTWING: A Darker Shade of Justice. (Writer: Chuck Dixon. Art: Scott McDaniel & Karl Story.) This, the fourth of the NIGHTWING trades, is its most appealing so far, as Dixon visibly relaxes with the material. Despite the continuing grim realities of Nightwing's superhero life, there's a more playful air here which suits the character well. Dick is starting to find his footing in Bludhaven and make some headway on his issues--which gives the reader a much-needed breather. In addition, there's an improvement in Dick's fortunes in love, a development handled with real charm and a surprisingly light touch. The trade also introduces two of Dick's more amusing opponents, two girl acrobats from a Cirque du Soleil knockoff. McDaniel's art continues to be cartoony, but it's slowly grown more sleek and more clearly suited to the character--though it can still be very difficult to follow the action in any fight scene. The cover featuring Dick grappling with the acrobats is a knockout, managing to be fanservice to male and female readers alike without any unnecessary explicitness. Worth buying if you're a fan.

Posted by Sarah T. at 06:52 AM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2005

BATGIRL: YEAR ONE

BATGIRL: YEAR ONE. (Writers: Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty. Pencils (?): Marcos Martin.) This book examines the first year of Barbara Gordon's career in crime-fighting, as she struggles to gain acceptance from Batman and others. It's charming, intriguing, and playful by turns, a pleasant hour's entertainment (even if it does hit the FORESHADOWING: YOUR KEY TO QUALITY LITERATURE button a few too many times), and a comic I would gladly hand to a girl to read. It is one of the far-too-rare mainstream stories that deal sympathetically and intelligently with the difficulties faced by a young woman breaking into a heavily-male-dominated profession; Clarice Starling and Barbara are cousins. The art is suitably bright and full of the joy that Barbara takes in motion.

Still, in the end, it is hard to escape the feeling that this book merits its "young adult" label. Because it's more explicit, but not terribly sophisticated in what it does say, this book actually feels a little younger than the all-ages BATMAN ADVENTURES, which keep more beneath the surface, do. You rarely get the impression that you are meant to think much further than Barbara does (and it's more than a little disconcerting that her age is not clear--her voice seems rather young for someone who has a master's and begins the process of applying to the FBI, which has a minimum age for special agents of 23--especially when she starts flirting with a Robin who seems to be only 15 or 16). When I was finished, I didn't feel I'd come away with any startling insights into Barbara's character, comics themselves, or the world. This isn't a requirement for an enjoyable comic book, but from the hype I'd expected a bit more.

Posted by Sarah T. at 05:33 AM | Comments (0)

Henry James, The Princess Casamassima

The Princess Casamassima

I have long thought the complaint that James is a snob one of the most tedious and inaccurate critiques one could level against him. My sole comfort now is knowing that most people making that complaint never actually read The Princess Casamassima, so did not actually have the basis for the complaint he offers up here. Not many people read Casamassima anymore, even a hard-core fan like me, and for good reason; as a work of social realism it is hopeless and as a novel of consciousness it is thoroughly unattractive.

Like Portrait of a Lady, this book is the story of a sensitive hero making a staggering error of perception and having to find a way to cope with the consequences. Unfortunately, Hyacinth Brown lacks the radiant good faith and charm that offset Isabel Archer's naivete; he is instead an insufferable prig, whether he is thinking of himself as a revolutionary with a romantic dark secret or as the devotee of culture and the old order he slowly becomes. Furthermore, most of his ideological development, like Isabel's marriage to Gilbert Osmond, occurs off-stage--problematic enough in the latter case, where the choice to marry itself is not so important as its consequence, but here practically fatal. If watching his mind develop is to be our reward for our investment in such an unpleasant hero, then we are badly cheated to have such a serious transformation palmed off on us sight unseen. Indeed, by the end of the novel, Hyacinth is quite distant from the reader, and we are made to feel less and less that he is even of interest as a protagonist. His fate is perhaps somewhat logical, but emotionally abrupt.

It is not perhaps so difficult to understand why James felt impelled to try to merge his more typical celebration of a single subjectivity with a novel of social realism, but the attempt does not play to his strong suits. He is not a keen observer out of his own social sphere, and although he at least had the sense to make his characters largely at least one degree above true poverty, one winces to read his description of aristocrat and petty craftsman alike (indeed, they intensify each other's ridiculousness in contrast). Neither is he a master of physical description in itself: in his books, his houses and landscapes and cities are generally transmuted into impression and reaction before they even reach the reader. This is usually serviceable or better when a novel is intensely focused on the individual sensations of the protagonist, but it lends a dreamy and abstract air to this novel, which has additional aspirations and should be sharp and precise and detail-rich. His politics are laughable, and as for his aesthetics...His concerns are somewhat outdated, in the way that many of his works revolve around concerns and dichotomies that no longer compel the modern mind, but if he had taken seriously many of the questions raised in this book, it would have been fatal to his own artistic endeavors. Since he continued to write after this, and indeed retreated even further up the socioeconomic and subjective scale, the novel gives the overall impression that he is simply playing with poverty for aesthetic effect or trying to work off some vague sense of guilt. Neither of them cover him with credit.

I would not go so far as to say that this is for James completists (i.e., twenty-five grad students) only. James's prose style always gives one something to play with, and some of the minor characters are effective. However, this book is hard to take, and perhaps even more so for the admirer than for the indifferent. It's painful to see an old friend blunder about so.

Posted by Sarah T. at 05:13 AM | Comments (0)

January 04, 2005

Final placeholders

James, The Awkward Age

ASTRO CITY: Confession

Posted by Sarah T. at 05:14 AM | Comments (0)