Archive for February, 2008

BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

February 27, 2008

 

Welcome back, everyone! 

February’s Book of the Month was Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods,” which we will now look at in a no-holds-barred, spoilerific form right here.  As such, remember, we will be SPOILING the book left and right.  If you haven’t read the book and want to be surprised, then don’t read this blog.  If you have read the book feel free to chime in with the conversation via the comments section.  If everyone is ready, lets grab our seats and get started, okay? 

THE SYNOPSIS:

  

In “American Gods,” we follow the bizarre events surrounding an ex-con that goes by the name of Shadow.  Shadow, in prison for a crime that is never really detailed, is about to be released from prison when we first meet him.  Shortly before his scheduled release his wife dies in a car accident, prompting an early release. Just out of prison, jobless, and rudderless, Shadow encounters a mysterious man that goes by the name Wednesday, who hires him to become a bodyguard and escort.  In due time, we learn that Wednesday is not merely an eccentric old man, but in fact, Odin, the chief god of the Norse myths. 

In the book it is explained that the gods of various lands are carried from the homelands of the people who have moved to America but, over generations, the belief in these gods faded, weakening the gods.  The gods still exist, depowered to a great extent, but they can be killed. Wednesday decides that it is time for the older gods to face the new gods of America (which derive from the “worship” of media, the internet, even cars), to keep from losing all of their power. 

What follows is the visitation to various gods by Wednesday and Shadow, to convince them to join this battle.  The older gods are, for the most part, less than excited at the prospect of this war. 

That is, until the gods murder Wednesday, broadcasting it for all the older gods to see. The older gods reclaim the body of Wednesday and prepare for battle. 

In the meantime, Shadow fulfills his duty to Wednesday by holding vigil over his body.  Essentially, the vigil recreated how Odin gained his power – by being hung from a tree for nine days. After a time, Shadow died and was judged, then brought back to life by the goddess Easter.  During the time he was dead, Shadow learned that he was actually Wednesday’s son, and came to realize that his birth was actually all part of a plan by Wednesday. Wednesday was working with the leader of the new gods, who went by the name Mr. World.  In actuality, Mr. World was Loki, the trickster god of Norse mythology.  The two came up with the plan for the battle.  The battle of the gods, dedicated to Odin, would empower Wednesday, while the chaos that resulted from the battle would empower Loki. 

After reviving, Shadow travels to the battle, and basically explains the plan to all of the gods, how they were to be merely pawns in the power-grab.  The gods, realizing they had been duped, end the battle and go their separate ways. 

THE DISCUSSION: 

EG:  Phew!  Glad I’m through with that.  I tell you, OG, trying to sum up a 600+ page book in a few paragraphs isn’t easy.  And, you’ll notice I left out a huge amount of peripheral story as well. 

OG:  Yeah, there’s so much that happens between each of the lines of the above synopsis, but you’ve given the structure of the overall story here.  As with all epic novels there are a multitude of digressions, flashbacks, episodes there only for fleshing out character, and all manner of minor asides.  The only main thing I’d add, since it’s significant in what I took away from the book, is that between Shadow and Wednesday’s many trips around the country visiting various gods prior to the war, Shadow spends significant downtime in the idyllic town of “Lakeside, Wisconsin” under an assumed name.  His cover is eventually blown as are many of the relationships he develops there.  But, I have a feeling we’ll discuss that more below so I’ll leave it there for now.  Overall, a heroic effort with the synopsis my brother.  I didn’t envy you that. 

EG:  Thanks.  And, yeah, Lakeside…well, we’ll get to that.  So, I suppose I should start with some initial thoughts on the book.

Well…it was a book and I read it.  I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t anything spectacular either.  I found that the book desperately needed some editing.  The story that filled 600+ pages could likely have been put into a much tighter, arguably better 350 to 400 page book.  The book seemed “patchy” at times to me because of the various other aspects thrown in beyond the main story.  I didn’t even mention these in the synopsis, but there were several diversionary “short stories” within the novel that merely focused on single gods that were barely mentioned (if mentioned at all) in the main story.  Sometimes these just took me completely out of the book.  Removing those would have helped the flow of the story. 

OG:  Well, let me take your last point first.  The asides were certainly diversionary and for at least half of the book seemed completely unnecessary to me.  At one point I even emailed you in a panic over one particular vignette that threw me right out of the book but you assured me that that particular section would not be revisited.  (Thank you for that.) 

But, I have to say, as the story progressed and built I began to appreciate the overall structure of the book and how those asides didn’t just serve to populate this universe with other gods that just didn’t make the main story but each actually commented on the story as a whole and forced me, at least, to read things more metaphorically than I had been.   

Which brings me to your main reaction which was ultimately different than mine.  I gotta be honest.  I hated this book for the first half.  Couldn’t get into it and thought it was sort of a mess.  But, it really started to come together for me as I slogged through and I suddenly found myself quite surprised to be flipping the pages at a faster clip.  In that way it reminded me of another epically metaphorical novel, “Moby Dick.” Although it is in no way that level of masterpiece, it’s similar in how it takes a really long time to build the world and the characters in that world before kicking off the plot proper.  For me, it began as really frustrating and ended up being pretty satisfying. 

EG:  Oooh, our first major disagreement.  That’s okay, I still love you OG, even if you are completely wrong.  Just kidding!  I just found that the aside stories broke momentum for me, in a book that was already sauntering along at a slow pace.  And, since we are talking about aside stories, it seems a good time to bring up the issue of Lakeside.   I could have done completely without the obvious and transparent “mystery” of Lakeside.  I don’t know about you, but the second a child disappeared in that quaint little town I knew exactly what happened. 

OG:  Okay, not it’s time for true confessions.  As much as it pains me to admit it, I am dumb.  With movies, TV, comics, and especially books, I am really the best possible audience member – easily misled and completely gullible.  Unlike you, I haven’t read a whole lot of mysteries in my day and wouldn’t know the first thing to do with a Rubik’s Cube.  When I read a story or watch a movie I plunge right in and remain pretty passive.  For whatever reason, I don’t turn things over in my mind and don’t catch the most obvious clues until their “Well, duh!” revelations.  I can certainly see how this fundamental difference between us as readers colored the way we felt about the book.  Also, it’s about expectation.  I had no idea this was a mystery novel.  Part of that is because it danced around a lot of different genres throughout it’s massive page count I think. All that to say, I didn’t see it coming.  And, looking back at it, it’s a pretty rudimentary mystery and one I should have easily figured out.  I have seen a handful of episodes of “Law & Order” after all. 

EG:  Now, see, you mentioned that part of the reason you didn’t suspect anything was that the novel took in a lot of different genres.  That is exactly why my mind went directly to the mystery.  The various genres made me open to thinking there could, in fact, be a mystery.  And, when it was presented, especially as simplistic as it was, with what I thought were glaringly obvious clues, I immediately went there.  You were probably better off, though, being open and not presuming.  Likely made the whole thing more enjoyable. 

OG:  But, I have to say, I kind of think that’s all beside the point.  The whole Lakeside portion of the book is not a Maguffin I don’t think.  It’s meant, I believe, to portray the falsehood of the American dream.  It’s meant as a Norman Rockwell trap to keep our hero from the truth and from realizing his true power and potential.  The revelation of what has been happening there and how the townsfolk have been keeping things the way they are is there mainly to illustrate that main myth and ultimately the need to explode that myth.  Of course, I know that even that seems pretty rudimentary and hit-you-over-the-head didactic, but as I said, I’m dumb.  I’m sure that if the mystery had been more expertly weaved and revealed that you would have had an easier time accepting the Lakeside episodes as part of the greater story.   

EG:  Wow…you read a lot more into the Lakeside story than I did.  I can go along with it being the portrayal of the falsehood of the American dream, how this one town can flourish independently of all the areas around it, and what the townspeople are willing to let happen to keep it that way, and the need to overcome that.  But, in regards to Shadow, I don’t believe that the trap is there for him – I would say it is for the gods.  The town doesn’t keep Shadow from the truth.  I think it is part of the con.  Wednesday puts Shadow in this little town, protecting him from the new gods.  The new gods suddenly “buy” into the idea that Shadow is somehow more important than he really is.  Their focus for a lot of the book is to get Shadow.  It is like the coin tricks – Wednesday diverts attention from himself and his plan to fool ALL the gods by making everyone look at Shadow.  Resources are diverted by the newer gods to get Shadow, and diverted by the older gods to help Shadow.  All the while, the gods are distracted from the real plan.  If the game was chess, Shadow was a pawn that Wednesday treated like a King, just to convince everyone else that Shadow was that important. 

OG:  Point taken.  I guess it’s not really a trap in terms of the plot mechanics, but perhaps more of a trap for his character keeping him from pulling the wool off of his eyes, seeing things for what they really are, and choosing at great cost and the loss of this paradise to really, truly live for once.  But, yeah, that really is more a trap for Shadow’s growth as a character and not really a trap for him in Wednesday’s grand plan. 

EG:  I also had a big problem with the number of gods in the book.  Or, rather, how so many were touched on, but not really elaborated on at all.  Which, in my mind, made them unnecessary to the story.  Plus, some of the clues as to what gods they were just weren’t enough.  I used to read about all sorts of mythology, so I picked up some pretty easily.  Wednesday as Odin was easy.  I know the origin of Wednesday to be Woden’s Day, or Odin’s Day.  And, the blatant prison mate by the nickname of “Low Key” – that was kind of insulting.  The rest though…I’m not familiar with them, and would have liked a little more blatant “This is this god.” 

A lot of times, I would want to know more about a particular god mentioned, but I wasn’t at a computer to look it up, and by the time I got to a computer, I had forgotten about it.  I don’t know about your copy of the book, OG, but mine came with a “Discussion Question” section in it.  I would have gladly and happily exchanged that for a nice little appendix telling me about the major gods that were brought up in the book. 

OG:  Yeah, I had the “Discussion Question” section too.  Pretty useless.  I would have much preferred annotation or footnotes.  Perhaps that would have made this too academic for readers, but I genuinely wanted to know the back-story on a bunch of these gods  At least you had the mythology background to help you out a little bit.  I felt at a real disadvantage here.  And, I’d say that can’t really be all my fault.  I think you’re right.  Gaiman really missed the opportunity to give the reader a more enriching experience.   

But, I would like to take issue with your point about there being too many gods.  I didn’t mind that at all.  I went on this journey with Shadow and was as clueless to the world of the gods as he was.  That was part of the fun.  In a lot of ways it’s like Mark Millar’s “Wanted” when the lead (I hesitate to call him the hero) is shown the true world of forgotten superheroes and all-controlling super-villains it is all a bit overwhelming and there’s no way to fill in all of those back stories without grinding the narrative to a halt.  It’s just world-building and making the universe more diverse and full.  Also, you really get the sense that Gaiman is planning to flesh this out more in other books and that some of the minor figures may become major figures in other stories. 

As for the Low-Key/Loki revelation, this is probably the height of my stupidity as a passive reader.  I just didn’t catch it.  It couldn’t be more obvious and I would think that having caught on to that from the very beginning you were probably suspicious of certain things a heckuva lot sooner than I. 

Yeah, I really am dumb. 

EG:  Beyond all of that, though, I found that the biggest shortcoming of the book was the lack of elaboration on the Native American concept of the “Land.”  I mean, the whole idea in the book was that America wasn’t a good growing place for gods, and by the end of the book, it looked, to me, like the “Land” was supposed to be a key player, that, in fact, Shadow was the unknowing agent of the Land, given the increase in the amount of Native American symbolism toward the end.  Yet, this idea wasn’t really brought across clearly.  I was especially confused, near the end of the book, when Shadow fell through the ice.  The Native American “presence” within the book seemed to turn their backs on him and leave him at that point…for no apparent reason that I can figure out. 

OG:  I hadn’t really thought about it, but you’re dead right.  (Geez, how many times am I gonna tell you you’re right?  This has got to be inflating your ego)  That stuff just suddenly blows up in importance at the end with no real warning.  The sequence with Whiskey Jack and the others earlier on is done in such a way that you can’t distinguish it from the other visits to the other gods.  It doesn’t seem to have any more or less dramatic weight than any other aside.  I think if Gaiman had put more into the import of that section and that mythos he would have earned a lot more of the “Land” stuff at the end.  That’s a shame and a missed opportunity. 

EG:  I’m also left wondering about the unresolved questions of who Shadow is. We learn he is the son of Odin (or, at least, the American version of Odin).  Given that we learn that Thor committed suicide in the book, and how Shadow brought peace to the gods, I’m guessing that he is actually Balder.  As such, does Shadow now live like the gods, as an immortal of sorts?  We know he had some ability to affect things with his mind…but the end of the book, when he “removes” part of the sheriff’s memory, seemed to suggest that was a power he no longer had.  I guess my biggest problem is with the fact that, though the center of the entire book, at the end, I’m left without having any real knowledge of Shadow.  He changed throughout the book, I suppose…or, at least, we are told he changes that he moves from not caring about his own life to caring a lot…but I don’t feel that he changed.  I think of him as the same, relatively passive, static character from beginning to end.  His wife dies, but comes back to life, but he isn’t really fazed.  He hangs naked from a tree, but it doesn’t really faze him.  He even learns he’s the son of a god, but that doesn’t even faze him.  I don’t know.  Maybe I missed something. 

OG:  Again, your insights are starting to turn me against this book, man.  As I read your comments about the character of Shadow it became more clear to me why the first half of this book was originally so frustrating for me.  Perhaps it wasn’t the slow, deliberate world-building so much as it was how static a character the lead was.  After all, it is Shadow’s story and he is our entree into this world.  The fact that he’s borderline stupid and sort of a blunt instrument of a character makes it really hard to access the story from anything but the most surface of levels.  But, it’s a corner that Gaiman has painted himself into. 

The point of Shadow’s journey is him coming to life for the first time; really living after 30-odd years.  And, while that’s a compelling concept and, for me, ended the novel on a high note, it does mean that you have to spend the majority of the time with someone that is sort of a dullard. But, my understanding is that there’s a follow-up novella called “Monarch of the Glen” that takes off from where this one ends up and follows Shadow on his travels abroad.  I don’t know about you but I’d feel a little cheated to find that a lot of salient details about Shadow’s godhood and past life were included there and not in “American Gods.” 

EG:  Darn tootin’.  I have also heard there is more that is explored in “Monarch of the Glen,” but I wasn’t reading THAT book.  I was reading “American Gods” and if the author wants me to search out future works with the same character, then he really needs to give me that desire to know the character on a deeper level in the first outing.  Otherwise, why would I make that effort? 

Anyway, the book was the literary equivalent of Chinese food for me.  I read it, and I came away still “hungry.”  I’ll give it 2 ½ Running Steves. 

Photobucket
OG:  If we’re ending on food metaphors I’d say that for me it was more the equivalent of “Kentucky Fried Chicken.”  An enjoyable and satisfying meal that ultimately ends badly once someone smarter comes along and explains to you what you’ve actually been eating.  Okay, my metaphor’s not as good, but it’ll have to do.  3 out of 5 Running Steves for me. 

Photobucket
(NEXT MONTH:  We’ll be reading the classic sci-fi novel “ENDER’S GAME” by Orson Scott Card in the month of March.  Please feel free to join in the journey and meet us again at month’s end to discuss the book!) 

Advertisements

Post-Id Notes, Ep. #2

February 22, 2008

And, back by absolutely no demand whatsoever, here is the second episode in the “Post-Id Notes” saga.  You just wait people.  In a couple of years they’ll be talking about this in hushed and reverential tones.  You’ll see. 

 Once again, the Steve Austin Book Club would like to sincerely apologize to any and all actual cartoonists and webcomic authors who might be passing by (including the one member of the book club who actually is a cartoonist). 

 Here ya go…

POST-ID #2

(Click me and I expand…your mind.)

PREVIOUS EPISODE

Steve Austin has a stone cold…

February 20, 2008

This blog is SICK folks. 

I’m serious.  I’ve been hacking up my entire immune system in small chunks the past few days and I understand that EG has caught a bug as well.  Not sure how we managed to transmit anything to each other from our cyber perches 3,000 miles apart, but this is a sci-fi loving site and I’m sure someone out there has a good theory about that. 

Anyway, I’m going back to my dismal blanket cave to doze off in a TheraFlu haze while working my way blearily through “American Gods” or watching the remaining meager strips of flesh that hang off the bones of my pilfired Tivo “Now Playing” list. 

Speaking of disgusting, unnecessary imagery.  Let me leave you with this.

Every once in a while one of the big two comic companies makes a long-term deal with an advertiser and we, the comic reader, is inundated with the same imagery over and over again in every single issue that that company puts out every month. 

Of course, if that image is of Hostesses delightful “Fruit Pie the Magician,” then that’s a winning piece of nostalgia that lasts a lifetime for the 30-something fan like myself. 

   

But, then again, that was long ago; a gilded age of comic ads where Sea Monkey’s frolicked and Big League Chew promised children everywhere all of the glories of a serious tobacco habit minus the lip cancer!   

Not now.  Now we have to deal with DC Comics and the Faustian bargain they made with those once-beloved manufacturers of mouth-watering meat missiles – Ballpark Franks.  Look at this ad and tell me that the folks at Ballpark (a subsidiary of Sara Lee) aren’t daring us to avoid their product at all costs… 

 

What exactly is happening here?  I mean, seriously?!?  Is this image supposed to be at all appetizing?  Does the hunger center of your brain light up like a Christmas tree when you think of a muscular, hairy arm bursting from your abdomen and force feeding you a hot dog which will presumably become digested with stomach acid only to reform into a new, equally muscled lifeform within you that will once again emerge from your midsection in search of yet another hot dog, thus repeating a vicious, creepy cycle until your body eventually succumbs to a nitrate overdose? 

I’m not sure what the conspiracy is or why they’ve done this.  But I know for a fact that these people aren’t trying to sell me a hotdog.  Something far more insidious is at work here. 

Of course, it is possible that the Ballpark Franks people have hired the same genius ad firm that created these impossibly unappetizing ads from Quizno’s a couple years back where deformed mutant hamsters tried to frighten you into eating overpriced sub sandwiches…  

 

Yeah, I don’t get it.  My only plea is that DC Comics buys out whatever remains of Ballpark’s ad contract and gets this horror show off the pages of my comics forthwith!   

Okay, now I’ve managed to make myself even sicker and perhaps you too.  I’m going to go back to my coma and try not to look at the back of the latest issue of “Booster Gold” anymore.   

Thanks for ruining one of the best comics of the week Ballpark Frank!

EG’s Movie Review – Knight Rider (2008 TV Movie)

February 18, 2008

WARNING:  SPOILERS FOR THE RECENTLY AIRED KNIGHT RIDER TV MOVIE ARE AHEAD.  IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW, THEN DON’T READ THIS.  SERIOUSLY.  I MEAN IT.  I TALK ABOUT ALL THE INTERESTING THINGS, INCLUDING THE SECRET APPEARANCE OF HERBIE, THE LOVE BUG, AS K.I.T.T.’S NEW LOVE INTEREST.  WELL, NO, NOT THAT, REALLY, BECAUSE IT DIDN’T HAPPEN, BUT THOSE ARE THE KINDS OF SURPRISES I COULD POSSIBLY RUIN IN THIS LITTLE REVIEW.  SO, IF YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT THE ZOMBIE BATTLE IN KNIGHT RIDER, DON’T READ THIS.  SORRY.  AGAIN, NO ZOMBIE BATTLE TAKES PLACE.  JUST AN EXAMPLE OF ME SPOILING.  GET IT?  GOT IT?  GOOD.

To the NBC executives:

Just… just stop, okay?

Please?

I beseech you.  Seriously.

Stop raping my childhood.

Okay, now that I got that out of the way, let us talk about the recently aired Knight Rider TV movie. 

Photobucket
A day that will live… in infamy…

Here is what I came away with:  2008 Ford Shelby GT 500 KR Mustang.

Buy it.

Buy it now.

It is too cool not to buy.

Why aren’t you buying it?

If you were cool, you’d buy it.

Ah, yes, I sat through this 2 hour commercial.  Actually, I taped it so I could skip through the commercials.  Shockingly, I was able to watch the entire movie in about 8 minutes.

Just kidding. 

I subjected myself to the entire debacle, though, with so many of the actual commercials starring K.I.T.T. and the new guy driving the car, it was hard to figure out where to stop sometimes.

Oh, where do I begin with this?  How about an overview?

It is 2008, and Charles Graiman, the developer of the original K.I.T.T. has developed a computer program, called Prometheus, that basically controls every military computer for the United States.  And the bad guys come looking for it.

(Please note – in an effort not to offend anyone, the bad guys are the current standard, which include a British guy, an Asian guy, an African American guy, and a guy that is probably German, but not really focused on.  You looking for diversity on TV?  Look to the bad guys.  They may be evil, but they are openly welcoming of all races.)

They break into Graiman’s home and steal all his hard drives, but can’t access the information because it is encrypted.  Unfortunately, Graiman died of a heart attack when they broke in and threatened him.  Whoops.  They decide to go after his daughter to help them access the hard drives.

While rummaging through Graiman’s house, the bad guys “wake up” the new K.I.T.T., who goes speeding off to save Graiman’s daughter, Sarah.

Photobucket
What do you mean?  I am acting!

Sarah teaches at Stanford, so K.I.T.T. goes there to pick her up.  Unfortunately, so do the bad guys.  K.I.T.T. saves her, and they go to find someone to help them – Mike Traceur, teenage sweetheart of Sarah, former Army Ranger, current sleazebag.  Why?  Because Graiman programmed K.I.T.T. to do that… for reasons that really don’t make much sense, but become obvious later.  They don’t make any more sense later, either, but you can see why the writers decided to go that direction.

Photobucket
I’m a dork!

Meanwhile, we find Graiman wandering in the woods.  Turns out it wasn’t him in the house, but his body double.  Yep.  His body double.  He goes and finds Mike’s mom for help… for some reason.

Sarah and K.I.T.T. go pick up Mike in Las Vegas, and then get a message to meet her father.  And they drive… and drive.  Occassionally, the bad guys catch up to them, but they get away.

Finally, they all meet up at this dumpy little hotel.  Here is where Mike learns from his mother that his father is actually Michael Knight, who drove the previous K.I.T.T. 

Meanwhile, the bad guys start hacking into K.I.T.T., because, even though this Graiman guy could encrypt all of his computers to prevent the bad guys from getting access to Prometheus, he obviously couldn’t do that with K.I.T.T., because that would make sense, and we can’t have this movie making sense.

Then the bad guys come.  And, they kill Mike’s mother.  Because they are bad guys.

The leader of the bad guys leaves, telling his men to kill Mike and Sarah.  That’s right – he leaves, and just assumes they will be killed.  He doesn’t just shoot them right then and there.  He drives away while his men are just standing there, with the guns aimed at the good guys.

Guess what?  That’s right – Mike and Sarah manage to escape!

Shocking, huh?

Mike and Sarah take K.I.T.T., and, via defying any sense of realistic physics, save her father.

Next, we go to Mike’s mother’s funeral, where Graiman, master of tact that he is, offers Mike the chance to drive K.I.T.T. for the Foundation for Law and Government (just like his dad did).  Mike, to upset over all of this, declines.

But (you knew there would be a “but”), at the funeral, Michael Knight (the Hoff himself) shows up to lend the words of wisdom, “One man can make a difference.” 

Photobucket
The things I will do for a paycheck…

(Of course, Mike seems all too accepting of his long lost father just appearing out of nowhere, let alone trying to give him advice at his mother’s funeral… but maybe its just me.)

Of course, Mike decides to accept the position of driving K.I.T.T., and things are all set for an ongoing series.

(By the way, there were about a dozen extra characters we met along the way, including a lesbian FBI agent and Mike’s comic relief buddy, shoehorned in for no real reason, but I didn’t really feel the need to highlight them.  You’re welcome.)

First off, I’m a huge fan of the original Knight Rider.  I also concede that the show doesn’t hold up that well, but it is still fun to watch.

I think that was the big problem with the new incarnation – it wasn’t fun to watch.

The movie just tried way too hard to be be taken seriously.  It wanted to be innovative and edgy.  It wanted to be dramatic.

Oh, man, did it want to be dramatic!

I am of the opinion that, generally speaking, action movies and new TV shows need to be plot-driven and not character-driven.  With action movies, I’m not really looking for character development, and with TV, there will be time enough for character development after an audience is hooked.  Trying to completely flesh out characters right at the start comes off laughible at best (forcing situations to become a microcosm of the character’s beliefs), and terribly tedious at worst.

With this movie, it went for the worst.  It seemed like entire chunks of this movie were just K.I.T.T., driving along, so that Mike and Sarah could “talk.”  As in “we need to talk,” not just shooting the breeze.

The dialogue was just atrocious.  Bad, bad writing.

The exchanges would’ve been horrible even with good actors, but, trust me, we didn’t have to worry about that.  The cardboard stand-ups they cast in this movie managed to amplify the terrible, forced characterization.

You wanna know how bad the acting was in this movie?  When David Hasselhoff came on the screen for his little cameo at the end, he comes off like Lawrence Olivier compared to what we saw up to that point.

Seriously.

Photobucket
A spoiler?  Really?  Like this blocky car is going to lift off the ground?!?

Besides the writing and acting, everything else is just nit-picking for me.  I don’t like that K.I.T.T. is a boxy Mustang, I miss the low “woo-woo” sound from the red scanner on the front of K.I.T.T., there was no sign of the famous “Turbo Boost,” and, while Val Kilmer was fine, he was no William Daniels.

Overall, I wouldn’t sit through this movie again, and I doubt I’ll be checking out any future series based on it.  If I want to watch Knight Rider, there are DVD’s out there of the real thing; I don’t have to depend on this pale imitation. 

Photobucket
Ooh, stylin’!

Besides, there is always the big budget Hollywood film that is supposed to be coming to theaters in 2010.  It certainly couldn’t be any worse.

Post-Id Notes, Ep. #1

February 15, 2008

And, since no one asked for it, here is the debut of our brand new life-altering webcomic – “Post-Id Notes.”  We regret to inform you that this cosmic tale (with albeit humble beginnings) will appear in this space every Friday.  The Steve Austin Book Club would like to sincerely apologize to any and all actual cartoonists and webcomic authors who might be passing by (including the one member of the book club who actually is a cartoonist). 

So, without further a-doo-doo, here it is… 

Post-Id #1

(If you click it, it will grow.)

NEXT EPISODE

Did this really exist?

February 14, 2008

I’ve gone eighteen years without knowing that this happened…

Frankly, stumbling onto this little sixty second A-bomb of cinematic genius has shaken me to my core.  We can’t know how the smallest things will change our lives; the chance encounters, the random occurrences, the missed opportunities. 

What would have happened had I seen this cartoon when it originally debuted?   Is there an alternate universe where a 14-year-old version of me watched all five of the episodes that aired of this cartoon, had his mind so thoroughly and irreparably blown, and then decided to leave behind the world of technology to become a militant vegan environmentalist or, dare I say it, a Troggs groupie?    

We can never know. 

What if the book depository had been shut down for fumigation that cold November day back in ’63?  What if the recipe for New Coke was made with 95% fructose in its corn syrup instead of 90?  What if DJ Jazzy Jeff had been cast in “Independence Day” instead? 

These are all impossible questions to answer but ones that keep philosophers and J. Michael Straczynksi in business and send me into long, dark nights of soul-searching on You Tube.  

I don’t know what would have happened then.  I can only tell you what has happened now that I’ve seen this today at nearly 32 years of age with a family, a mortgage and a stalled career… 

I’m going to try to get more fiber in my diet.

Old dogs…

February 13, 2008

I stopped reading comics sometime in the early ‘90’s like many guys my age.  My reading at and prior to that point was limited to a few sporadic superhero books only; “Daredevil,” “Iron Man,” “Spiderman,” “Batman.”  Basically, it was whatever my older brother was into.  He stopped reading them around the time he was entering high school and since I basically worshipped him (ask me sometime about the leather Africa medallion I wore for a year straight when he was militantly against Apartheid and had the t-shirts and rap albums to prove it) and since I really didn’t have any money of my own it was the end of comics for me.  It would be over a decade before I was reading anything regularly again leading up to this moment when my pull list is almost as long as my arm.

So, when I was reading comics I was a mainstream kid all the way.  Marvel and DC was it.  Since then I’ve become a much more adventurous comic reader but that has come too late and I missed any of the major comic book touchstones of the 80’s and 90’s that weren’t dressed in spandex or capes.  As far as the ever ebbing and flowing independent comics scene, oh, sorry, comix scene goes, I was oblivious. 

As a result, I lost out on all three of the biggies; the Mount Rushmore of the creator-owned universe, as it were.  They are, in order, Dave Sim’s epic “Cerebus,” Jeff Smith’s “Bone,” and Terry Moore’s “Strangers in Paradise.” 

Now, “Cerebus” I can mostly be forgiven for since Sim started building that universe in the year I started learning to walk.  As for “Bone” and “Strangers in Paradise,” each of those kicked off after I dropped out of the world of comics altogether. Interestingly, all three series have ended within the past three years and folks have been waiting for each of these singular creators to debut something new.  As if 10, 15, or 30 years of the good stuff just wasn’t enough.  I suppose you’re only as good as your latest solicitation. 

But, indeed, these three indie icons are all coming back with new creator-owned series over these next couple of months and I’ve decided that it’s never too late to jump on a bandwagon, or three.  Maybe you’re like this too, but I find that as a comic fan I often am measuring myself against other fans and how long or short they’ve been reading in comparison to myself.  Not only that, but I always feel a little pang of guilt or envy at anyone who’s been around for a while and got in on the first issue of some landmark series or run that I completely missed out on.  It’s a stupid thing to obsess over and a stupid thing to feel envious of, but there it is.   (I’ve felt that way most recently as I listen to the throng of devotees to the world of the Sinestro Corp.)

In the past I’ve considered picking up collections of Cerebus, Bone, and Strangers but each time I have just gotten downright intimidated by the sheer history and breadth of issues that stood before me. 

Rest assured, I will get to them all at some point, but in the ever-burning crucible that is the monthly war I wage against my wallet and my disposable income I continue to lose ground again and again to the capes and the spandex.  They’re too strong, people.  Don’t you understand!?!?  Look at the muscles!!! 

Regardless of my inescapable nostalgia and arrested development, I’m getting in on the ground floor for all three of these new independent creations.  I may not last on any of them, but I’m intruiged by what little I’ve read about them and am especially drawn in by the scant artwork I’ve seen.  It hasn’t taken much preview art for me to see that these are three artists working at the top of their craft.  

Take a look at some upcoming covers, some tantalizing solicitation text (But, isn’t it always tantalizing, people?  I happen to remember some great solicitation text for “World War Hulk.”  Ouch.), and links to their official sites…

Echo by Terry Moore

“Echo is the story of Julie Martin, a photographer taking pictures in the desert when she finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s all I’m going to tell you about the plot at the moment. The Diamond solicitation coming out in January will reveal a bit more. Echo #1 will be in stores March 5th. It will be 24 pages, B&W like SiP. The first printing of issue one, and only the first printing, will feature a silver foil cover. Why? Because that’s not rain, or hail.” (source:  Terry Moore)

Official Site:  http://terrymooreart.com/blog/

Glamourpuss by Dave Sim

 

“Master graphic novelist Dave Sim – the creator of Cerebus – returns! Glamourpuss is three comic books in one: a parody of fashion magazines, a history of photorealism in comics (starting with Alex Raymond’s Rip Kirby in 1946), and the strangest super-heroine comic book of all time! Featuring the first appearance of Glamourpuss, her evil twin sister Skanko, and the heroine’s long-time therapist Dr. Norm. Available with two covers – a ‘Comics Edition’ with a classic EC-style cover, and a ‘Fashion Edition’ that parodies fashion magazines.” (source: Previews)

Official Site:  http://www.glamourpusscomic.com/

RASL by Jeff Smith

“Titled RASL, which Smith pronounces “rassle,” the new series is being self-published in black and white by Smith through his company, Cartoon Books. Focusing on a character who hops across parallel dimensions to steal art, the series is tentatively planned to run for approximately two years and, like Bone, will be solely created by Smith.” (source:  Newsarama)

Official Site:  www.boneville.com

I’ve pre-ordered the first issues for all 3 of these books and I’m hoping that I’ve got years worth of great comics from auteur creators with wholly unique voices and stories to tell waiting for me.     

If not, then I guess I’ll go back to plan A and get caught up on some Cerebus, Bone, and Strangers in Paradise instead. 

Naturally, reviews will come for these new series as I read them!

Preview Review – Amazing Spider-Man #552

February 12, 2008

Howdy, folks!  Yes, ’tis I, the long lost EG, posting yet another infrequent post!

Today, I’m going to introduce a new feature – the Preview Review! 

And what is the Preview Review?

No, really…

I’m asking, ‘cuz I don’t have a clue.

Oh, wait… now I remember.  It is where I find the preview pages offered online for an upcoming comic, and write a review of the issue based entirely on that.

(Hey, I’m giving these comics more of a chance than the average fanboy!  They don’t even wait for preview pages, they just pass judgment on a comic based on announcements and rumors!)

Today, we look at Amazing Spider-Man #552, the kick off of a new storyline from Bob Gale (writer) and Phil Jimenez.

First off, let’s take a look at the pretty variant cover:

Photobucket

Ooh, snazzy, huh?  Yeah.  The only thing is, Spidey is taking a picture, pointing the camera at the reader.  Yet, in the reflection, we see some sort of scarred, wide-eyed lunatic.  A Marvel commentary on its readers, perhaps?  Oh, and to get this variant cover, you are actually going to have to pay extra to get insulted.  But, then again, I’ve been to the Comic Con International in San Diego… the crazed look may not be that far off.

On to the first page of the preview!

Photobucket

Hey, look, this issue guest stars Steven Tyler from Aerosmith!  And he’s carrying some sort of gold box.  Perhaps a Grammy is inside?

Evidently, Spidey is a HUGE fan.  I had heard a rumor that I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing was his and M.J.’s song, but I thought that was wished into the cornfield by Mephisto. Guess not. Look at that rain of webbing, just to get his attention!  Even all of those little faceless people are shocked by his fandom.  And then poor Spidey rips the back out of his pants!  Aw, man, and isn’t that always the way?  You get to meet a major recording artist that you idolize, and you end up embarrassing yourself in front of them like that.  It is the Parker luck.

Luckily, in that last huge image of Spidey, his arm is pretty much cover the rip from our point of view.  If we were behind him, boy, would we get an eyeful. Actually… if anyone were behind him, they’d get an eyeful.  But nobody is behind him.  Nothing is behind him!  Egads, the world has disappeared behind Spidey!  Swing faster, Spidey!  Don’t let the nothingness catch you!

Quick, the next page of the preview, so we can find out how Spidey stops the nothingness from consuming New York!

Photobucket

Wait… what happened to the nothingness?  How did we get on top of a roof?  And did a bird poop on Spidey?  What is that stuff on his mask and chest? 

Spidey better be careful sitting like that.  I heard it (along with sitting on cold cement) will give you hemorrhoids.  Regardless, man, look at what nice hair Steven Tyler has.  He must buy that expensive conditioner.

Uh oh, a green box of money just fell.  Since it isn’t the same color as Steven Tyler’s box, I have to assume it belonged to Spidey.  But… I didn’t see him carrying a box.  Hmm… where did it come from… Spidey swinging, tears open the back of his pants, Spidey squats on a ventilation unit, we see box fall… oh… oh my.  Wow.  I always thought Spidey had a hidden pocket or something for his cash.  I never dreamed he kept it in a box shoved up his… *ahem*  Moving on.

Well, of course Spidey is concerned about losing his cash.  Probably been saving up for some botox for his Aunt May.  But, he doesn’t want Steven Tyler getting away before he can get an autograph.  I gues its logical to web him up real good.  Looks like Steven Tyler is breaking into one of those familiar screams that he demonstrates in many of his songs, too.

Spidey leaps down to get his money.  Everyone is looking up, amazed that his costume somehow repaired itself.  Too bad it didn’t do it before his green box fell out.Ooh, and look, Spidey staring that kid down, just daring him to go for his money!  With everyone reasonably intimidated, Spidey starts gathering the money.  What is that stuff on his mask and chest?!?Maybe the answer is on the next page.

Photobucket

Holy cow!  Its Venom!  Shoot to kill!  Shoot to kill!!!

Oh, wait… it is Spidey.  Phew!  That was a close one.  Still no answer about what that stuff on his mask is, though.I do think it is a shame that those police officers are robbing Spidey, though.  Looks like Aunt May isn’t going to be getting that botox after all. 

Thankfully, Spidey escapes the crooked cops without being shot.  Although, it looks like one really wanted to shoot him, but the other stopped him.  No need to go shooting him.  They got his money.In the bottom three panels, it looks like they are debating which one of them is going to have to pick up that green box… knowing where it had been and all.  Ew.

Moving on to the final page of the preview.

Photobucket

Huh?  Oh.  I guess we move to that evening.  Okay.  It is a party.  And there’s a creepy woman.  Oh, and I think that is Peter Parker, at the bottom, in the center.  Standing next to what looks like a mannequin of Harry Osborn.  Why does Harry’s head look detachable?

Anyway, Pete is chatting up that girl, probably talking about how he met Steven Tyler.

I can only assume that the next page is a big splash of Peter smacking himself in the head, remembering that Steven Tyler is still webbed-up on a rooftop somewhere.  D’oh!

Oh, Spidey!  You absent-minded superhero, you!

Well, I certainly enjoyed this issue.  It told the good about living in New York (running into Steven Tyler) and the bad (the NYPD will steal your stuff).  I don’t like all the loose ends, though.  What happened to the nothingness that was coming after Spidey?  How did his costume repair itself?  And, seriously, what was that stuff on his mask and chest? 

I give the issue 378 stars out of 753.

See ya next time!

All I ever learned about writing came from a slightly above average 1980’s Billy Crystal comedy.

February 11, 2008

Okay, so I hope you didn’t think that when I said I was going to “blog every day” that I meant I was going to blog every day! Come on, people. 

Obviously I meant every WEEK day.   

Seriously, though, I realize that I just am not even near a computer enough over the weekend to put out anything worthwhile so I’m going to stick to a 5-day a week schedule, if that’s all right with you? 

Hearing no objections.  Let’s move on. 

I have a few items on the agenda I want to get to but I thought I’d go off on a bit of a non-Steve Austiny tangent today.   

You see, I’m a writer.  Okay, maybe you don’t see.  From the handful of entries on this site that may not be readily apparent.  But, regardless, a writer is how I identify myself.  My boss doesn’t pay me to write and neither does anyone else but I think that if I’m going to reach my goals it really doesn’t pay to say “I want to be a writer.”  That and $4.50 only really gets me an Americano at Starbucks (or one and a half issues of “New Avengers”). 

I AM a writer.  I’ve always been one.  I’m just easily sidetracked and that’s why you haven’t heard of me yet. 

And as a writer I find a lot of ways to waste time and not write.  Much of this time-wasting is, I tell myself, research.  I think any writer reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about here.  You convince yourself you’re gonna start that screenplay just as soon as you finish reading these five books on Quantum Mechanics and re-watch every episode of “The Prisoner” in the correct order this time but you know you’re just treading water, trying not to drown in the sea of your own wicked procrastination. 

The other thing we writers do to avoid writing is we read books about writing and read interviews with writers.  There’s no end to the advice available out there.  A lot of it is great.  (I’d point to Stephen King’s memoir “On Writing” if you’re only going to allow yourself one)  All of it is completely unnecessary. 

But, so what, right?   

I know that it’s just getting in the way but I still persist on taking in a steady stream of writing advice every day.  I listen to a host of podcasts where screenwriters and comic book writers are interviewed, have subscriptions to writing magazines, check out every hot how-to from the local library, and read an endless stream of websites on the subject.  There is just no end to it.   

So, I’m going cold turkey.  Less thinking about writing, more writing about writing! (Okay, well, it’s a start.) 

Now, as a way to clear house I was going to list my twenty rules of writing that I keep taped up near my computer.  It’s just something I’ve culled together over the years from all of the “fantastic” writing tips I’ve gotten.  But, then I realized that that was sort of a waste of time in and of itself and obviously that’s just what I’m trying to avoid here. 

Really, what it all boils down to, I think, is just one important rule.  It’s a rule that comes from (but didn’t originate with) Billy Crystal’s character Larry Donner in the modern American masterpiece “Throw Momma From the Train” and it’s a line that’s repeated often throughout that film… 

“Owen loves his momma.” 

No, that’s not it.  This is it… 

“A writer writes, always.” 

And that really is it, right?  That’s the whole kit and kaboodle.  You can’t really learn to write until you’ve written.  All of the interviews and books and helpful hints and bromides are completely useless unless you’re putting finger to keypad every single day and just doing the work.  Getting through it.  Writing up a forest of pages full of drivel and crap until that one magical day when you write a sentence or even a phrase that at least one other person can read without wincing. 

A writer writes.  Always.  

 This is something my buddy EG and I keep coming back to when we discuss the subject.  It’s the principle reason we’ve both been blogging.  Get in the writing every day whether you like it or not.  Of course, you don’t have to go any farther than the beginning of this blog entry to find me breaking this cardinal rule but, still, I think it’s the only way.    

The only other thing, and there’s always another thing, is probably this… 

“A writer reads, always.” 

This happens to be the second reason that this site came to be.  I’m obviously not talking about reading about writing here.  I’m talking about reading honest to goodness books and such.  Ones with pictures and ones without.  Anything that tells a good story or even a bad story.  You can probably learn from them all.  Heck, I venture to say that I’ve learned more about writing from the contents of my pull list the past couple of years than all the mountains of “How To’s” I’ve ingested.   

So, there you have it – more writing advice.  And from a writer who doesn’t write enough and who has so far been unsuccessful in his writing career.  

Okay, I’ve got more writing to do.  See you tomorrow.

This sure ain’t Garfield!

February 8, 2008

 

Okay, okay, okay.  So here’s what I’m thinking now… 

I’m pretty much convinced that the island exists at a nexus or cross-roads where parallel universes and timelines intersect; this new theory is due in part to the bones of a DHARMA polar bear appearing in the Tunisian desert, Desmond’s cognizant flashes into the past, Charlie’s appearance to Hurley in the future, Christian Shepherd in Jacob’s cabin, and a host of other prevalent anomalies that have been cropping up.  And this nexus is highly unstable especially since the hatch imploded.  Because now there are places, I think, where the island is bleeding out to the rest of the world (remember that healing spot Rose and Bernard went to in Australia) as well as places where the rest of the world is seeping onto the island.  This is why it’s so hard to find or conversely leave the island and also what makes it so valuable to those who seek it.   

Oh, wait; I just alienated exactly 50% of my readership (that’s one person by the way).  

Plus, I wasn’t planning to blog about “Lost” anyway.  (Although I probably will get to that at some point) 

I actually wanted to talk about a whole other mystery-soaked obsession (albeit much more recent) of mine – Cameron Stewart’s addictively good noir webcomic, “Sin Titulo.”   

To confess, I’ve not dug very deep into the world of webcomics.  The peripheral places I’ve skimmed past that subculture have only been the strips of a humorous nature.  (PvP, Perry Bible Fellowship, etc.)   In fact, I actually owe finding “Sin Titulo” to the PvP website.  There was a posting there about a month or so ago about “The Abominable Charles Christopher” by Karl Kerschl at www.transmission-x.com and I went, enjoyed it thoroughly, and have been reading it for weeks since. 

Well, this Wednesday after reading the latest beautifully rendered “Abominable” strip I starting looking at the Transmission-X site and all the other strips that they have there.  I had some time to kill (aka the time I clocked in at work until the time I clocked out) and clicked on the next strip there that looked interesting to me. 

And down the rabbit hole I went. 

I hadn’t realized this, but David Lynch has been writing/drawing a webcomic for the past few months and it’s freakin’ brilliant!  But, in fact, it’s not really David Lynch.  It’s this guy named Cameron Stewart who has clearly consumed his weight in Lynch and is regurgitating it in a far more accessible way.   

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I don’t want or need my Lynch to be accessible.  I’m not saying that.  But, it is nice to read a piece of work that carries over that Lynchian vibe but does so through the auspices of a fairly linear (I assume, but I suppose I need to read more before I say for sure) narrative. 

The story is about Alex Mackay who just found out his grandfather passed away after a month of not knowing.  His trip to collect the old man’s things at the nursing home kicks off a spiral of intrigue, mysterious encounters and dark memories that start bringing down Alex’s world around him. 

I don’t really want to say much more than that because it’s such an engrossing and twisty tail and the kind of journey you should go on yourself. Let me just give a few of the finer points that have me squirming in anticipation for this every Sunday. (That’s the day the strip updates weekly, by the way) 

          The art:  Like I said, I hadn’t heard of Cameron Stewart before this even though I apparently own some of the stuff he’s done (work on Morrison’s “Seven Soldier’s of Victory” project specifically).  I’m kind of stupid that way and don’t remember artist’s too well.  Anyway, that said, I won’t be forgetting this guys name now and I’ll be scanning Previews for his name in the months to come.  I love what he’s doing here.  The dark doorways.  The seedy characters populating the shadows.  The creepy, Lost-esque Room #3.  It’s definitely shown me the true potential of the webcomic medium. 

          The writing:  So, I know comicbookdb.com is far from definitive, but near as I can tell, this guy hasn’t written any major comics.  He seems to be working exclusively as an artist professionally and not as a writer.  If that’s true – someone needs to rectify this situation immediately.  This guy is a great storyteller.  Dialogue and pacing is stellar in this strip and I feel like I’m in the hands of an old pro while reading the story.   

          Alex Mackay:  At first, I was a little put off by the seemingly bland character design of the strips protagonist.  But, as I started to get the Lynch vibe and really began to let myself hear Alex’s voice, I could see the similarities to the kind of characters Kyle MacLachlan played in “Blue Velvet” and what I’ve seen of “Twin Peaks” and how he had to be an everyman type.  What really got me invested in him as a character though was his recollection of a particularly traumatic childhood memory that spanned a handful of strips.  Now I can pick this guy out of a line up easily (the band-aid on his forehead helps too!) and I’m desperate for him to get at the truth.  Also, his job is as a fact-checker at a local newspaper and is a brilliant surrogate for the traditional noir PI character archetype and reminiscent of the insurance adjuster in “Double Indemnity.”  That’s so great that I kind of can’t believe that someone hasn’t thought of it before. 

Anyway, I’ve gone this far and haven’t given you the link to the strip.  So, get yourself a cup of coffee, clear an hour on your schedule, and click here:  http://www.transmission-x.com/_sin_titulo/2007/06/17/page-01/ 

You’ll only be sorry once and that’s when you get to the end of the most recent strip and realize that you now have to wait for the next piece of the puzzle.