[At the end of each month, Aaron surveys the comics he read, celebrates the best, considers the rest, and takes stock of what it means to be a contemporary comic fan. Follow "The State of My Pull List" here.]
Note: this month’s Pull List is mondo-big, so it’ll be broken up into three pieces. Here’s the first part.
Back in March when I first wrote about Xombi, I noted that the title’s future was uncertain at best, given the state of the market and the limited readership for an oddball sci-fi/adventure title. Six months later, it turns out my suspicions were correct—Xombi #6 marks the end of the series. I’ll always want more, but if Xombi has to end, I’m glad it ended like this.
Writer John Rozum gives all of the major characters their spotlight moment in the final battle against Finch; Catholic Girl fights off a squad of flying monocular robots, Nun the Less sabotages the Ninth Stronghold’s defenses, Julian fights off a trio of blood mummies. Naturally, David and Annie get the most glory as they outsmart Finch (thanks in part to a literal pearl of wisdom – Rozum clearly enjoys working wordplay into the fabric of his story’s world) and restore the stronghold to its original state. Rozum brings the various plot threads together neatly, which wouldn’t be much of an accomplishment for a six-issue series, except that every one has been packed with characters and concepts. Rozum can’t help himself even in the final issue, introducing monstrous adversaries like the Blood Mummies (female mummies with both internal and external circulatory systems who are covered in silk bandages created by the spiders that constantly patrol their bodies and wield weapons that change based on the phase of the moon) and Dental Phantoms. As much as I’ll miss the characters, I’ll miss Rozum’s wit and inventiveness even more.
That said, the real strength of this issue is not the humor or the resolution of the invasion plot, but rather the completion of David’s emotional arc. When the series began David was struggling with his place in the world, having recently become the Xombi. In issue six, presented with an opportunity to live with a beautiful girl in a perfect world among other people who will age just as slowly as he will, David opts instead to stay on Earth with his friends, to cope with his difference rather than hide from his fate. The sequence is rendered beautifully—artist Frazer Irving again makes use of floating heads for extended dialogue, relying on facial expressions alone to sell Annie’s disappointment and David’s brief moment of doubt before saying goodbye.
Thanks to Irving, Xombi is easily one of the best looking books of the year. His frames glow with otherworldly color, and his framing frequently breaks out of the standard grid approach, appropriate for the rich, unusual world the characters live in. Irving strikes a delicate balance between a kind of cartoonish expressionism and realistic detail, making the wildest of Rozum’s ideas seem plausible. I don’t always need, or even want, my comics to look real, but I enjoy the playful tension in Irving’s possible/impossible approach.
As far as we know, there’s no future for Xombi in the DC relaunch. But given the company’s new interest in non-superhero titles, there’s at least a chance that the publisher will bring Rozum and Irving together again. If not, then at least we have six issues worth of storytelling that was never once missed its mark.
This book’s been on my radar for a while (and, in fact, Nico included it in his most recent Book Radar post). But after this review I’m not so gung-ho. I’ll readily admit that I often choose books based solely on their covers. So it’s especially disheartening that Laing addresses people like me, who saw pictures of Night Circus and were intrigued, in the open of her piece. This is a story about a circus, in a world imbued with real magic. Laing found a lot to like in the world and aesthetic, but a lot lacking in the story itself. I’ll still read this, but it just got knocked back a few pegs in my anticipation list.
Right off the bat, this book (and review) gets bonus points for mentioning the hoopoe–my favorite bird that I’ve never seen. That has nothing to do with anything though, since Kluger’s book explores the relationship between (human) siblings through a lens of his own past. Although his sounds like a good, if emotionally difficult, story, I’m a little more interested in the science Kluger has to share. Unfortunately, as Herbert describes it, I’ll be left wanting. Oh well. Pop-science fans and people who want to dig deeper into the love/hate of their siblings, give it a go.
Part Glee, part Camus’ The Stranger? I don’t know if I want to gag or read this immediately. This is a story about that cool teacher we all had in high school who was just chummy enough with the teenage girls to be creepy. Maksik’s teacher (at an American school in France) steps over that line, however, and gets into a sexual relationship with a student. I like that this is a review of such a book that doesn’t draw a direct line to Lolita (as now I have just done…), but the Camus stuff sounds a little weird:
Early on Mr. Maksik’s echoes of Camus are faint, but later, when he paraphrases and quotes directly from “The Stranger,” the parallels between Will and Meursault become nearly impossible to ignore. The novelist is not only modernizing “The Stranger” but demonstrating its enduring relevance, which has made it an influential text for everybody from George W. Bush…to the Cure.
Quick Highlights (super-dark, bad joke edition): Some people would rather jump in front of a van than read a biography of Socrates–I’ll read the book. I’d personally pick the van over reading this book of dog essays, though. The guy who got rich making John Travolta baby voiceover movies in Hollywood actually did get creamed by a van, but it wasn’t on purpose.
Bonus Book Trailer: So much flannel and slo-mo jogging… I’ll send a paperback copy of the C4 Anthology to anyone who can make up a description for Ladybird, Ladybird that doesn’t sound like the steaming pile this promises to be.
[In this new series (idea copped from High Fidelity), our contributors put together a "top 5" list of books on a theme of their choosing. Read other entries in Top 5 Books here, and catch up on other fun series like this on our Special Features page.]
Like Eric, I try to read before I go to sleep most nights. Most books are good sleep aids, because they let you focus mind on something concrete but unabsorbing, and because a lot of them are quite boring.
But a precious few run the opposite way, they grab you immediately and are so relentlessly riveting that they don’t let you sleep. Often these are not thrillers or even traditional “page-turners,” and neither are they necessarily literary masterpieces. Instead, they are simply ripping good stories. These are the kinds of books I think of when I think of “classics.”
So, without further ado, here are the
Top Five Books That Kept Me Up All Night
5. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
I read this book for the first time just a few weeks ago, convinced by coworkers who were shocked that I hadn’t read it in grade school. I started it at midnight, and didn’t stop until I’d finished the last page. Granted, it’s not a long book (it took me about two hours to read cover to cover), but it’s a classic tale that inspired a whole host of knockoffs and imitators, the worst and most notable being M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. The Giver tells of a “perfect” society in which everyone is assigned a job and nobody ever leaves by choice. When Jonas turns 13, he’s assigned the job of Receiver, a supposedly illustrious job through which Jonas learns the dark secrets of the society’s supposedly utopian existence. It’s a simply, powerfully told story, an elegant execution of a familiar archetype. … Continue reading »
Jazz, the latest release from 8-time Pushcart Prize nominee Jéanpaul Ferro, is a jolting collection of poetry full of exuberance and vulnerability. Recently nominated for both the 2012 Griffin Award in Poetry and the 2012 Kingsley Tufts Award in Poetry, Jazz is one of those rare collections that captures the true essence of 21st Century life.
There is an underlining disquiet within the lines of Jazz that seems to mirror the horrific headlines of each day. The characters of Ferro’s world inhabit a cold and heart-breaking reality that often breaks apart into tragedy. One of the truly remarkable accomplishments of this book is Ferro’s ability to remain neutral while still capturing the vitality that truly great poetry is readily able to capture. … Continue reading »
The experience of readingWildflower Hill was similar to watching a Lifetime movie: it has a weak plot and bland characters, but I found myself staying up late to finish it anyway.The novel tells the story of three generations of a Scottish family, the Blaxland-Hunters, as related through alternating narratives by both the matriarchal grandmother, Beattie, and her granddaughter, Emma. There’s plenty of romance (and with it heartbreak), ballet, fashion design–but it does manage to dodge being either your typical romance novel or, worse, chick lit. … Continue reading »
[This feature is a brief monthly summary of interesting books coming out this month. Follow it here. Click the pictures or the title links to find these books at Powell's.]
Reamde, by Neal Stephenson (out 9/20)
The title of Stephenson’s new novel makes zero sense until you see the cover, and then it becomes slyly intriguing. Reamde centers around an online game called T’Rain, and a contagious virus that gets released through the game. As a longtime fan of Stephenson’s other information-disease epic, Snow Crash, I’m really looking forward to this one, even though I recused myself from the entirety of Stephenson’s massive Baroque Cycle. Comparisons to Ready Player One, a virtual-reality novel that was fun but entirely hollow, have me slightly worried, but at the very least Reamde, weighing in at over a thousand pages, will be significantly longer than Player.
The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern (out 9/13)
In the black and white striped tents of Le Cirque de Rêves, or“the Circus of Dreams,” waits a menagerie of “breathtaking amazements,” along with a pair of magicians who’ve been dueling for years, and will continue to do so until one of them wins. How? They do not know. This is the kind of book that can’t be fairly summarized, it seems, and it’s probably one that will live or die on the quality of its writing, which is too subjective to fairly predict. But it could be entertaining, or even great, and I’m willing to give it a sizable chance.
The Revisionists, by Thomas Mullen (out 9/28)
“A fast-paced literary thriller” … I should know better than to trust words like these, but I can’t help myself. Mullen’s premise seems to fall neatly into a modern archetype: a time-traveling agent from a future society comes back to the present day in order to ensure that history turns out properly. It’s not an original idea, but the promise of a ripping good story from a writer whose prose won’t make me wince is enough to draw me in, even if I know it’s probably a ruse.
The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach (out 9/7)
The Art of Fielding follows five people loosely involved with Westish College, especially the baseball team’s star shortstop. The pre-publication summaries I’ve read all mention “a routine throw that goes awry” but each fails to explain exactly how it happens, or what effect it has. So it seems this is a high-literary novel, whose pleasures don’t lie in plot encapsulations. That can be excellent, or it can be maddening. All the lock-step raving reviews make me nervous—usually the hive-mind is woefully wrong—but The Art of Fielding is definitely a title to keep an eye on.
Life Itself, by Roger Ebert (out 9/13)
Roger Ebert is a critic after my own heart. Just read the back cover of a collection of his most scathing reviews, Your Movie Sucks, and you’ll see his unique blend of fearless criticism and mannered civility. He also has a lot to write about, including a recent bout with cancer that left him without a jawbone. So: a memoir of an epic life, written with rare insight and intelligence? Yes, please. … Continue reading »
This is the only book I’ve ever read that contains woman-on-chimpanzee fellatio. And that’s not even close to the weirdest part of this gonzo, nearly impossible to categorize book. It’s a very confusing work, so pardon me if I don’t convey it as well as you’d want.
The hero, Victory Chimp, is a genetically engineered, talking chimpanzee–who is also an accomplished chemist and interstellar hero. This makes sense because this book often reads like an acidhead drew up a comic book, then dictated it back to himself.
Victory Chimp found himself sitting inside, as the red ash burned his fur. He sat in the smoke, riding a goat, while an epileptic eye dropped a tear on his head.
Victory Chimp and his friend/lover/something Occula are in an epic time-traveling struggle to save the world from the evil Chon. Most of the time. There is no plot to speak of–a few episodes fit together, like the final segment where the characters are suddenly professional wrestlers–it’s a wandering affair. Not meandering though, this is rapid-fire, REM-dream kind of stuff. I had a hard time caring enough to keep up. But, to be fair, Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs (I wonder if Hagerty’s middle name begins with S?) elicit the same reaction from me. … Continue reading »
Errol Morris is right up there with Werner Herzog in the pantheon of filmmakers whose obvious genius seems to want more than a single medium. Morris’s new book takes six pairs of photographs and investigates the stories behind them. One such pair shows a roadway during the Crimean War with, and subsequently without, cannonballs strewn about next to it. The story to investigate: did the photographer place those cannonballs in order to make his picture more dramatic, and if so, how does that change the truth of the photograph? Schulz’s review is thorough and even-handed, despite the fact that much of Morris’s material originated on the NYT’s own Opinionator blog. She calls the book “so subtle, elliptical and exhaustive that it lies just to the pleasurable side of tedium.” (Bonus: Errol Morris’s favorite commercial.) [Get this book]
Diane Arbus said that she took pictures of freaks because they had already experienced the great trauma of their lives, and so they lived with unusual freedom. The rest of us normals, she contended, are each awaiting our own trauma, and so we live under the blurry shadow of an immense fear. Schultz’s biography attempts to examine Arbus’s photographs to better understand exactly what she was trying to do. According to Ciuraru, the project is a complete failure, but it’s interesting to watch Ciuraru dissect it. [Get this book]
Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson, reviewed by Stefan Beck (BN Review)
Johnson’s latest seems to rehash an old premise. Beck sees this, analyzes it and explains it (he actually gives the outline in Madlibs form, spliced from a description of a past novel), and then he falls for Johnson’s charms anyway. An excellent review. [Get this book]
If, like me, your attention drifts as soon as fashion is brought before it, then you might be as surprised as I was to discover that Coco Chanel, the genesis of a thousand oblique perfume commercials, was also “a wretched human being. Anti-Semitic, homophobic, social climbing, opportunistic, ridiculously snobbish…” Indeed, the question isn’t whether Chanel sympathized with Nazis, but only the extent of her involvement with them. Warner soon makes it clear that Vaughan’s isn’t the best examination of Chanel’s bizarre life, but this review is an excellent encapsulation of it. [Get this book]
In 2044 America, the civilized world has crumbled after the end of oil. People live in squalor, in stacks of mobile homes, fighting to survive. Their only relief is an online virtual world called the OASIS. When the founder of the OASIS dies, he leaves behind a mysterious quest: find three keys hidden throughout the game and win the OASIS fortune, more than a hundred billion dollars. The keys are buried in obscure, byzantine clues from the culture of the founder’s childhood, the 1980s.
As you might expect, millions of citizens devote their lives to unraveling the answers that will lead them to unfathomable wealth, but after years of searching, nobody has found even a single key, and the world has largely forgotten about the contest. Until, that is, a broke kid named Wade Watts finally finds the first key, and the game is back on.
It’s hard to imagine a novel featuring more layers of nerdity than Ready Player One. A nerdy kid plays a nerdy videogame in which he solves a nerdy quest by knowing and doing the most excruciatingly nerdy things.
Even the prose exudes nerdity, with its careful attention to meaningless details (like how many experience points Wade’s avatar gets each time he solves a puzzle).
Unfortunately, unlike other popular nerds (Patton Oswalt, Simon Pegg, the xkcd guy), Ernest Cline is not funny, and so following the personality-free Wade can be quite dull at times. He exhaustively relates each and every tiny detail, like a LARPer describing the minutiae of a puzzle quest.
I closed the IM window and checked the time. I still had about half an hour until class started. I grinned and tapped a small door icon at the edge of my display, then selected Aech’s chat room from my list of favorites.
In this way, Wade’s narration often reads like someone describing the process of web-surfing to a blind man. Not the content, even, but the “I’m clicking on this button, now I’m scrolling through a list” steps of procedure. … Continue reading »