Friday, June 8, 2007

Book Review: Darwyn Cooke's The New Frontier - The Absolute Edition

October 2006 saw the re-release of Darwyn Cooke's six issue comic book series, The New Frontier, in one giant, gorgeous hardbound volume. Cooke, a former storyboard artist on 'Batman The Animated Series,' had long been lauded for the unique blend of elegance and dynamo that he achieved in his artwork. What folks rarely seemed to mention, though, was how damn good of a writer he also was. Cooke's film noir-inspired Catwoman series and his one-shot fill-in issues on Spiderman's Tangled Web and X-Statix remain some of my favorite comics from the past ten years. Still, even these did not prepare me for the scope and skill he would show in his first limited series, The New Frontier.
Essentially a re-telling of the Justice League's formation, The New Frontier also manages to blend 1950's race politics, the Red Scare, and a dinosaur-populated monster island into one awe inspiring, epic superstory. Where most comics today tend to try to deconstruct the medium, Cooke seems more interested in re-constructing many of the 'silver age' elements that had been discarded over the years -- space age science, pulp heroics, sweeping romance and an overall sense of wonder. Costume clad heroes both familiar and obscure pop up throughout. Some only appear briefly, in 10-20 page solo stories. Others weave in and out of the main mystery in an almost Altman-esque manner, finally converging en masse at the end of the book for a 'We Are The World'-of-superfriends battle to save the planet. A few of the standout story lines are the Martian Manhunter's arrival on Earth and his awkward assimilation of its culture, Hal Jordan's transformation into the Green Lantern, and the Challengers of the Unknown's beginning and (spoiler alert!) end.
Oh, and then there's the art. Ignore the word bubbles, and the book feels like a collection of long-lost pre-production art to some never-made superhero extravaganza from the glory days of the Hollywood studio system. Cooke's biggest artistic influence is clearly Bruce Timm (the mastermind behind the aforementioned Batman cartoon), but also evident in his work are the stylistic touches of Jack Kirby, Gil Kane and Carmine Infantino. In The New Frontier, Cooke uses bits of all these classic cartoonists' styles, blended with a bit of streamline moderne design and googie architecture, to perfectly capture the 'anything is possible' essence of the post-WWII United States. The over-sized, prestige format that DC has re-released the series in only adds to one's appreciation of the drawings. Instead of the awkward-looking inking that sometimes ruins the enlargement of comic book pages, the simple grace of Cooke's lines is actually enhanced by the blow up. Not only an engaging yarn, it also makes for a great coffee table conversation piece...if you trust your friends not to spill their drinks on it.

Included below are a couple of links to interviews with Darwyn Cooke from the around the time of The New Frontier's initial release. In them, Cooke details the inspirations for the series, as well as some of the hidden 'Easter eggs' readers might not have caught during their first read through.

Silver Bullet Comic Books

Comic News Insider - Podcast

Lit Fic Took Him, SF Wants Him Back: A Tribute To Jonathan Lethem's Science Fiction Roots

This weekend, let's remember Jonathan as he once was; a rising wunderkind in the world of science fiction, ignored by the mainstream media and not my aunt's favorite author. Listed below are links to a few vintage interviews.

1995 Beatrice interview from the release of Amnesia Moon

1996 Hourwolf radio interview transcript from the release of The Wall of the Sky, The Wall of the Eye

1997 Locus Magazine interview from the release of As She Climbed Across The Table

Will the prodigal son please return? Transporters are standing by.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Yesterday's News, Today!

via the Associated Press:
"A Canadian author has sued NBC Universal and director Judd Apatow claiming they ripped off the premise of the hit movie 'Knocked Up' from her book of the same name. In an article for Maclean's magazine this month, Calgary-based author Rebecca Eckler details similarities between her book and the film, in which an up-and-coming TV reporter gets drunk at a party and then gets pregnant from a one-night stand."
I'm totally on Eckler's stretch-marked side on this one. Hollywood screwed me over with their uncredited, loose retelling of my life in 'Boogie Nights.'

via Rolling Stone:
This is not a Fugazi, picture book. For a sneak peak at Glen E. Friedman's upcoming Fugazi photo book, Keep Your Eyes Open, click dis hurr.


Matt Damon has decided to leave the Bourne franchise after this summer's 'Bourne Ultimatum' film. The Jason Bourne character, considered by many to be the modern-day successor to James Bond, was originally featured in the political thrillers of Robert Ludlum (who is considered by no one to be a successor of any kind to Ian Fleming). If the spy vs. spy comparisons prove true, might this generation's Roger Moore, Hugh Laurie, be called in to take over the part?

The face of Jack Chick, author and artist of the world's creepiest little Christian comic books, has until now, remained a mystery. But today, thanks to a brief slip into the sin of pride (and perhaps lust, depending on how he was paid for posing), a photograph of the man is finally available! Now if we could only track down the zealots sneaking around, slipping his comics under the windshield wipers of stripclub patrons everywhere, Satan's work would at last be complete.

Author/unlicensed physician Mark Underwood is about to release a new book, The Candy Diet - Taming the Hunger Monster, that details a controversial diet which uses candy as a tool for losing weight. Kate Moss, Lindsay Lohan and the Rolling Stones have been using a similar technique for years now. Only, they called it 'nose candy.'

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Summer Reading For Students: What's The Point?

NPR's John Kelly tries to find A Cure for Kids' Summer Reading Doldrums in an archived piece from 2005. He addresses what seems like an obvious question, but one that most parents and kids would be hard pressed to answer themselves: Why are specific, mandatory books a good idea?

"A summer book is a way to engender solidarity among students, to create a shared experience. Too often the media that kids talk about -- deconstruct, analyze, argue over -- aren't books, but TV shows, movies or video games. A required book is one way to focus the spotlight on something more positive, more -- dare we say it? -- educational.

"You've got a frame of reference that's universal within that classroom," says Judy Fickes Shapiro, a children’s author and bookstore owner in Ventura, Calif. "When you're creating community in the classroom, you've got to start with something common."

*One question for the author, though: Did you really think that your seventh grade daughter was actually going to enjoy Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation?!

The Arguments For And Against Summer Reading Lists (Given At The Same Time, By The Same Person)

In the New York Times, Joe Queenan rants about the ridiculousness of some of the books that schools pick for their summer reading lists, while begrudgingly admitting that as boring and outdated as many of the choices may be, in the long run, the system works. An excerpt:
"For as long as anyone can remember, well-meaning pedagogues have been sabotaging summer vacations by forcing high schoolers to read Lord of the Flies, All the King’s Men and A Separate Peace. These books may be the cornerstones of our civilization, but they’re certainly no fun. One reason the average American male reads only one book a year may be the emotional trauma suffered in trying to hack his way through Wuthering Heights at the age of 14.
I’m not saying it is necessarily a bad thing that schools require students to read books during the summer: culture, like vitamins, works best when imposed rather than selected. I am simply recording my amazement that in an age when urban high schools use weapons detectors to check for handguns, educators still make kids read The Red Badge of Courage."

Summer Reading Related: A Look-At-Me Blog That Won't Cause You To Look Away

Everyone is supposed to remember the song that was playing when they lost their virginity, but how many of us can claim to recall the book that we were reading the week it happened? David Elzey probably does. Over on his blog, The Excelsior File, he has posted a series of articles detailing the summers of his youth using only the books that he was reading at the time. Fun in both a nostalgic and voyeuristic way, the posts are also a remarkable testament to how literature of all types -- humor, non-fiction, trash, short stories -- reflects and reshapes our lives.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Hollywood Wants The Literary World's Respect, But The Literary World Wants Hollywood's Access To 'Petite Blondes'

New York City's BookExpo took a cue from Hollywood this past week, offering writers a generous three minutes to 'pitch' their work. The publishing world traded in the comfy, leather, Masterpiece Theatre reading chair of old for something closer to the figurative casting couch, turning what was once a thoughtful meeting of literary minds into what one editor described as "a bit like speed dating." So what sort of writer/writing rises to the top in such a scenario?

From the Reuters article:
"One of those attracting the most interest from the agents was (Kiki Freebery), a petite 15-year-old blond schoolgirl pitching what she called 'a survival kit for kids turning into teenagers.' Kiki came along with her mother, a criminal defense attorney who was pitching her own legal thrillers. Kiki hasn't written the book yet, or even a full-length proposal, but she said, 'I met four people, all of them said they want to see my proposal.'"

Totally rad!

Do Novelists Make Good Critics?

Yesterday we posted a link to the NYTimes' article, Read Any Good Books Lately?, which featured a bunch of well-known writers talking about the...well, good books that they'd read lately. In the accompanying post, I poked a bit of fun at the idea that a celebrity's recommendation should be taken any more seriously than a friend's or family member's. The Guardian UK took such teasing one step further, blogging an entire piece questioning the literary criticism of Martin Amis and Ian McEwan, while praising the 'playful analysis of all novels' by Milan Kundera in his recently translated, seven-part essay, The Curtain. The barrage of comments that follow are as biting and illuminating as the piece itself, if not more so.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Charles Darwin in the Age of Paris Hilton: Celebrities' Opinons Trump Normal People's Every Time

You've got friends, family and bookstore employees, but when you want a really reliable reading recommendation, isn't always best to ask a famous person? The New York Times asks Stephen King, Dave Eggers, Ursula K. Le Guin, Jonathan Safran Foer and a handful of other literary luminaries, Read Any Good Books Lately?

Want To Know Why Most Kids Hate Mythology? Goya's Painting Of Saturn Provides Somes Clues

The Los Angeles Times recommends Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series to folks hoping to interest their children in Greek mythology. The series, which takes place in the modern day USA, features a 'half-blood' son of Poseidon slowly learning of his heritage and struggling with the ensuing problems that come along with it. It also takes a unique approach in the audience it hopes to reach. Apparently, Riordan's not targeting the typical 'pointy-headed super-students,' but instead, those who have trouble reading. "Percy himself is dyslexic and has ADHD. It turns out that many half-bloods have trouble in school, the explanation being that their brains are hard-wired for ancient Greek skills." The Times then goes on to liken the series to something called 'Harry Potter,' which is apparently a good thing.

(Moms and dads having a tough time turning their young ones onto the gods and goddesses of yore can take some solace in the fact that disobedience to one's parents is a recurring theme in every culture's mythology. That's right, your rebellious little brats truly are gifts from the gods!)