Lightsabers and Surfboards

Stefan A. Slater's blog about whatever's on Stefan A. Slater's mind (e.g., Ewoks, Pipeline and speaking in the third person).

Category: comics and reviews

My Essay for LMU Magazine: Why Word Balloons Matter Today

When Joe Wakelee-Lynch, the editor of LMU Magazine (the utterly awesome mag of my alma mater, Loyola Marymount University), asked me to write a piece on why comic books matter as an art, I said, “Abso-fricken-lutely!” or something equally professional like that. The average reader, in my opinion, should look upon comics not only as a vital visual medium, but also as an important literary medium, as well. So whenever I’m asked to defend them, I’m always eager to accept the challenge and toss out a few words. Check out my essay below:

I’m a writer, so I read. And I read quite a bit.

I guess that’s kind of a given for a writer. But I also read because, honestly, I like to, and because reading helps me become a better writer. The key is reading: exciting tales, engrossing yarns, great stories — the kinds that keep you up at night. And when it comes to fresh, original and moving stories, comic books and graphic novels have them in spades.

Artwork by Ward Sutton

Artwork by Ward Sutton

For most people — including writers — if a story is told via cartoon panels and speech bubbles, it’s branded as childish, immature. If an author wants to tell a serious story of the literary variety, it’s best to keep the print tiny, the paragraphs long and the setting mundane. Admittedly, there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s important to remember that the medium used to tell a story doesn’t denote the quality of a story.

Take “Maus,” for example, by Art Spiegelman. In his graphic novel, Spiegelman interviews his father, a Polish Jew, about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. But the twist is that all of the people are depicted as cartoonish animals: Jews are mice and Germans are cats. It’s serious subject matter, but by juxtaposing grim events and illustrations associated with children, the content becomes all the more unsettling and visceral.

Graphic novels — and their smaller-page-count brethren, comic books — deal with weighty, but ultimately human, stories.

“Saga,” by Brian K. Vaughan, tells the story of two soldiers, each from different warring factions in an interstellar conflict, who marry, have a child and spend the entire series trying to outrun the war. The sci-fi setting serves as framework for a story about a couple raising their first child and dealing with the frustrations, arguments, scares and wonders that newlyweds and new parents experience day in and day out.

Then there’s “DMZ” by Brian Wood: A young photojournalist documents the Second American Civil War from New York City, which has been declared a demilitarized zone and where suicide bombings, civilian massacres and shoddy journalism run rampant. Wood takes our nation’s post-9/11 fears and the conflict in Iraq, mixes everything together, and drops the concoction right in a battle-scarred Times Square.

“Sandman,” by Neil Gaiman, revolves around an immortal character named Dream, who rules his realm, the world of dreams, nightmares and waking fantasies, and thereby shapes reality. “Fables,” by Bill Willingham, depicts classic fable characters as living in a New York City apartment complex, trying to blend in with us “mundys.” Each character is modernly human: Snow White and Prince Charming are divorced (infidelity on Charming’s part), Cinderella runs a failing small business (a shoe store), and Pinocchio copes (poorly) with never actually hitting puberty.

Classic comic book heroes are human, too. In Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns,” a retired Batman is forced to confront aging and an addiction to vigilantism. In the recent renditions of two DC Comics’ standbys, main characters are gay: Alan Scott, whose alter ego is the Green Lantern, and Kate Kane, Batwoman. Comic book heroes are strong and independent, and represent all walks of life — these are characters that we can not only relate to, but look up to as well.

Great comics and graphic novels deal with approachable stories. Simply because
a story is told using illustrated panels doesn’t mean the subject is any less serious or relatable. From “The Dark Knight” to “Maus,” these are moving, emotional stories that help explain who we are as people. And isn’t that the point of literature to begin with?

If you missed his link above, check out Ward Sutton’s site to see more of his stellar artwork.

I Was Late to the Comic Book Party

Confession time: I wasn’t into comic books when I was younger. Yeah, I said it.

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As a writer, I feel guilty for admitting something like that—deep down it honestly feels like I just announced to the world that I enjoy hurling verbal insults at puppies (e.g. “Your paws are disproportionately too large compared to the rest of your body”) or that I’m a diehard Nickelback fan (I’m not… seriously. Don’t even try to spread that rumor).

But back to comics—yes, it’s the truth. My friends in middle and high school weren’t into them all that much. Neither were my friends in college. No one in my family, even my extended family, collected or read them. It wasn’t until graduation—in those early, tumultuous, drifting-in-between-jobs-as-I-try-to-figure-out-how-I-will-make-the-Monies years right after LMU—that I started getting into comic books. Part of the credit is due to my girlfriend, who encouraged me to break out of my words-shouldn’t-be-in-panel-form snobbery and try reading a few illustrated classics, namely The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. But that was also a time in my life when I was looking to understand how to tell a good story, and the best way to discover that answer, as I eventually found out, was to read everything… and I mean everything.

So, now I read all sorts of comics, ranging from urban fantasy yarns like Fables to gritty odes to terribly realistic urban warfare like DMZ, just so I can digest as many different kinds of stories as possible through a medium that’s unlike my usual everyday fare. I want to grow as a writer and a reader, and that’s the best way to do that.

It’s also doesn’t hurt that comics are a blast to read too.

Case in point: I’m reading two newish comics by Jonathan Hickman that are pretty unique, extremely clever and more fun than a barrel of monkeys gorging themselves on banana splits laced with volatile corn whiskey.

Nightly News is a limited-series comic about a cult that attacks journalists who are responsible for shoddy reporting that inevitably ruined the lives and careers of innocent men and women.

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It’s thoroughly provocative, and touches on the believable concept that mainstream media (e.g. CNN, Fox, etc.) might have an agenda in mind that benefits their budgets more than their viewers. As someone who dabbles in journalism, the premise is definitely interesting and engaging for me, and I’m looking forward to finishing it up.

I just finished East of West, and if you’re a fan of weird westerns, then it’s a must for you. The plot and setting are a little complicated: Basically, the Civil War never ended, it’s sometime in the mid-21st century, and the Four Horsemen have arisen to put a bloody end to the President of the United States. In all honesty, this is a story that might be too complicated for traditional novel-form, but since Hickman can dedicate an entire page-sized panel to exposition, it helps the story flow a bit more.

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So, in short, if you’re a writer, read comics. Read everything, of course (history textbooks, non-fiction bios, newspapers, take-out menus, you name it), but pay a little extra attention to comics. Some of the most original and thought-provoking stories and characters are coming out of comics these days, so it’s important to keep a steady flow of comics on your to-read bookshelf.

Book Recommendation: The Stars My Recommendation… er, Destination

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I like the idea of being marooned in space. Well, maybe I should rephrase that: I like the idea of being marooned in space as an idea for a story… I don’t personally want to be marooned out in space. That sounds kind of cold, and if George Clooney isn’t there to save me… well, then I don’t know what I would do.

Anyway, Hunter Patterson recommended a book for me to read back in the summer, and I’ve only recently gotten around to reading it (sorry, Hunter!). It’s called The Stars My Destination, and it’s by Alfred Bester. Published in the mid 1950s (originally as Tiger! Tiger! in the UK) the book tells the tale of Gully Foyle, a Mechanic’s Mate 3rd Class with minimal intelligence, zero skills, merits and recommendations (except from me, of course). A sneak attack on his vessel, the Nomad, leaves him alone and adrift in space in the torn-apart wreckage for 170 days, and just when he’s ready to give up, a rescue ship appears in the distance. But, despite Gully’s desperate signaling attempts, the rescue ship ends up leaving him behind. Gully then undergoes a stark transformation: He devotes his entire life and existence to tracking down that ship–the Vorga–to exact his brutal revenge for being abandoned.

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A real grabber, right? I completely agree. The book isn’t perfect (the writing and language can feel a bit clunky at times, and the settings rarely get much in terms of overall descriptions), but the storyline and characters are extremely well done–think of it as a sci-fi version of Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo… but in space.

It’s also one of the first examples of true cyberpunk, and its an energizing and very original read, despite being over half a century old. His views on technology, telepathy and teleporting (named “jaunting” in the book) and its effects on mankind are astounding: many authors rarely take the time to discuss how teleporting would influence our economies, livelihoods and way of thinking, but Alfred completely knocks it out of the park. The ability to jaunt, for instance, makes phones obsolete, creates havoc on interstellar commerce, and encourages a return to a collective Victorian mindset (because women can be ravaged at any moment by strange men who can teleport anywhere at anytime, and thus need to be protected at all costs).

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Also, Bester is sort of an unsung hero in the world of sci-fi and comic books: He’s in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and worked on Superman and the Green Lantern comics (it’s rumored that he created Green Lantern’s oath, but apparently he denied it).

So yes, if you like the idea of being marooned, and you’re in the mood for a good sci-fi story, do yourself a favor and pick this one up. Thanks, Hunter!

The Last Policeman (a review)

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It’s book review time!

However, just a quick aside, but I also finished a few other books lately that are worth a quick please-go-ahead-and-pick-this-up mention: “Desperation” by Stephen King, “Y: The Last Man” Volume III and “Private Eye”, both of which are by Brian K. Vaughan. Actually, the latter one is available in a pretty cool way. If you visit panelsyndicate.com you can download a PDF version of the comic for whatever you think is reasonable. $15? $10? .01? Yep, whatever you think is reasonable totally flies, and you can download it as many times as you want. (Although, because the quality of the comic is pretty high, and the storyline is an original noir-ish yarn, I’d recommend that you throw a little something Vaughan’s way).

Ok, but on to “The Last Policeman” by Ben H. Winter.

The book focuses on the question that, if it’s the end of the world, what’s the point in having a policeman solve murders? In “The Last” an asteroid is on a collision course with Earth, and unfortunately both Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton don’t exist in this universe (or at least aren’t mentioned), so humanity is only less than a year away from clocking out for good. As far as the reader knows, the asteroid is going to hit Earth for sure, and there’s absolutely nothing anyone can do about it.

And that’s where Detective Hank Palace comes in. He’s a no-nonsense detective with minimal personal flair or a sense of humor, and he’s considerably more straight edge than a Mormon holding a dozen rulers. However, what he lacks in funny bone development, he makes up for in commitment. He’s dedicated to carrying out his duty as a detective, and he’s absolutely convinced that his first case, a suicide, is actually a murder. At the end of the world, when most people are offing themselves left, right and center, his fellow detectives right off the case as just another suicide, but Captain Commitment has a gut-feeling (which all good cops have, of course) that something just isn’t right.

And there you go–It’s a police procedural story set just before the end of the world. Now there are a couple of weaknesses with this story: For one thing, Hank is all kinds of white bread, vanilla, cookie-cutter cop with minimal feelings or emotions. It’s very hard to appreciate his character, or to really find him relatable. Two, the writing, while clean and well-thought out, lacks any real punch. Everything, from setting description to the character dialogue, feels rather standard and drab. And lastly, this is part of a trilogy, so while Hank solves the case at the end, there isn’t all that much closure concerning the fate of civilization, which felt like a letdown.

However, with that said, there are two things that the book does well, which is why I’m going to recommend it: One, the investigation is actually pretty intriguing. While I felt disconnected from Hank, I felt very involved with the murder-mystery–the idea of killing someone and making it look like a suicide, especially during an end-of-the-world scenario, is a diabolical scheme at its finest. I also didn’t see the end coming either, which made the ride a bit more enjoyable (I’m not much of a mystery guy, so if you are, you might catch on to the ending much sooner, but it caught me by surprise).

And two, the whole premise of trying to live in a world that’s going to end soon is decidedly fresh. It seems like almost every story these days focuses on either the end of the world, or living after the fall. Rarely are we every prompted to ask ourselves, “I have 6 months before the world ends, what am I going to do with my life?” Authors and readers alike are often so engrossed in the idea of survival against all odds, stockpiling supplies and all out “Mad Max”-style apocalyptic battles, that we often forget to look at what life would be like before everything went to hell. What would people do before the fall? How would they act? Would there be riots? Death in the streets? Or would people come together? With that said, what would I do? Would I keep working? Or would I go “find myself”? The novel addresses most of these questions in clever ways, and because of that, it makes it worthwhile to pick up.

“Countdown City,” the sequel, comes out this month, and I should have a review for you sometime soon. Until then, start stockpiling, and I’ll see ya soon.

A Single Shot: A Review

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It’s been a slow week for my freelance writing, and that’s both a good and bad thing—good because I get to work on my fiction and catch up on my reading (and, admittedly, catch up on some Bioshock Infinite too), and bad because, well, none of the aforementioned good things pay very well yet. But anyway, with that said, I just finished Matthew F. Jones’ A Single Shot, and I’m feeling rather mixed about it, so I thought I’d share my review here.

Now, I have to confess, I was drawn to this book because of the trailer for the movie version, starring Sam Rockwell (paw? paw? no paw!) and William H. Macy. As you can see here, the trailer is simple, raw and utterly gorgeous—the accompanying violin-driven “Frates” by Arvo Pärt really drives home those themes too. So, to keep it simple, I was hooked, and I was hell-bent on reading the book before seeing the movie.

The plot revolves around the deeply troubled former-farmer John Moon: He lost his family farm, lives in a depressingly shoddy trailer, and to make matters worse, his wife divorced him and took full custody of their adolescent son. John’s a man of few modern skills, and without his farm, he’s lost. So he relies on his ability to poach deer (both in and out of season) to keep himself fed and functioning. One day, he trespasses onto the wrong land while chasing a deer he’s wounded. He finally tracks it down to a rock quarry, and fires blindly into a grove of trees. When he goes to check his kill, he finds that he’s shot and killed a teenage girl.

Not to flatter Jones, but the moment when John finds the body is perfectly heart-wrenching—the reader is subtly reminded that a person’s life can turn on a dime with only one, simple mistake. John, of course, is devastated. His life, for all intents and purposes, is over. But things get a bit complicated once he finds a box full of cash in the girl’s sleeping bag. What follows over the course of several hundred pages is an answer to the question that’s bothered many a writer: What happens when a good person does a terrible thing, and then tries to get away with it?

The answer’s delivered plainly once Jones takes the reader into John’s life, which he does masterfully. John is a simple, uneducated, backwoods farmer and hunter, and everything he does in the book (both good and bad) fit flawlessly with his character. Jones also seems to be a Cormac McCarthy fan, as his stark, and rugged descriptions of John’s nature and the surrounding countryside evoke all the best parts of The Border Trilogy and McCarthy’s other fine and famous works.

All in all, Matthew F. Jones is a fine writer. And by fine, I mean he’s a gifted S.O.B who knows his craft through and through.

Now, I did have one issue with this book, and it’s something that really detracted away from the whole experience: the length. The story tops out at 240 pages, and I honestly don’t feel like he needed that much room to write. John is an interesting and well-rounded character, and the premise is thoroughly engaging, but there just wasn’t enough going on to keep me fully engaged for the entire read. There were descriptions and interactions with minor characters that felt distracting, and at times, came across as blatant page fillers. I know (trust me, I do!) that novellas aren’t all that profitable in the publishing world, but I whole-heartedly believe that I would’ve enjoyed this book more if he’d cut out 40 or 50 pages and kept things a little more bare-boned.

However, let me reiterate that Jones is a talented writer, so most people will enjoy this book, or any of his other books for that matter. But I’d love to hear your thoughts if you give this one read. So, yes, please give this one a read, and do make sure to go see A Single Shot in theaters, which Jones also wrote the screenplay for too. Enjoy.

Horns: A Review

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When it comes to scares, I’m not one of those slasherman-jumps-out-of-the-dark-and-makes-me-jump types. If you’re going to scare me, you have to use something with a bit more oomph.

Startling is not scaring. Quick startles get your adrenaline pumping, sure, but that’s not true terror or lingering, haunting fear. It’s like getting a quick jolt from one of those hand buzzer toys versus jumping into the bathtub while carrying your favorite toaster—one of those is obviously going to have a little more impact on your life, right?

One of the characters in Bill Willingham’s Fables comic has the power to know everyone’s sins. If I remember correctly, Kay had a piece of a magic mirror in his eye (painful, right?), and when he looked at someone, he instantly knew every God-awful thing they’d ever done. He was so tormented by his unwanted powers that he cut out his own eyes on a regular basis, only to have them slowly grow back over time.

Now that’s unsettling.

I had the option to review V for Vendetta (here’s the gist: love Alan Moore? Pick it up) or the first volume of Unwritten (also good, but second and third volume really slow down), but instead I’m choosing to review Horns by Joe Hill, mainly because I haven’t been so deeply troubled by a story like this in a long, long time.

The plot revolves around 26-year-old Ignatius “Ig” Perrish, who wakes up one morning after an extended evening of torturous imbibing to find that he’s grown a set of horns.

These horns grant him the kind of powers that only the Devil himself would have (hint): everyone he meets confesses their deepest, most sinister desires and thoughts to him.

Every. Single. Person.

That’s including his parents. His brother. A waitress. His roommate. A doctor. Everyone.

And all those people hate him.

Ig, a mild-mannered kid with a strong case of asthma, was suspected of murdering and raping his girlfriend, Merrin—the perfect girl-next-door type that he’d been dating since high school. No was caught, and case is still open. But the catch is that everyone in town firmly believes he actually did it… and that someone should punish him.

I wont go into the particulars, but Ig begins to tumble down those precarious stairs that lead to Hell’s flaming front lawn. He’s often tempted to condemn his fellow-man and God (Ig blames Him for Merrin’s death and his current horned status), and he’s consistently caught between ending it all and saving what’s left of his soul. Ultimately, the horns help him track down the real killer—which is settled early on—but the real issue is whether or not Ig can hang on to his own humanity.

The writing is superb (he’s Stephen King’s son, so come on), and the characters are all so relatable that it’s hard not to draw immediate comparisons to your own life.

And I know I did.

Which is why even thinking about waking up and only hearing evil, malicious thoughts everywhere you go is so utterly terrifying. The monster in this narrative is humanity, because without that thin, all-important veil of self-sacrifice and pure goodness that most people have, all we’re left with is spite and loathing. We become hollow creatures, empty voids that thrive on ill will and corruption. We become hopeless. We become monsters. We become Devils.

So, with that said, I had to stop reading this before I went to bed at night.

This is not a fun book and this is not an easy one to read. You will doubt, struggle and question. You will look at the people in your life, your parents, girlfriend or boyfriend, and you will wonder. And that might keep you up at night.

But this is an excellent book, and while it is something you should prepare yourself for, I’d be doing you a disfavor if I told you not to go out and give this one a read.

Just don’t read it before you go to bed. Trust me.

The Resurrectionist: A Review

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When it comes to playing God in the proverbial cobweb-infested laboratory, the one question that science fiction writers tend to focus on is not asking how, but why.

Why should we alter the path laid before us? Can His work be improved, and if so, why should we alter it?

Will He be ticked off if some poor, lowly scientist decides to jolt a corpse back into the realm of the living?

Will there be any consequences (i.e. smiting and/or sizeable lightning bolts hurled from the sky and such) if we decide to tinker with his Divine Plan?

Yep. There will always be consequences galore.

In sci-fi and horror literature, scientists are always overstepping the bounds of morality, civility and, of course, common sense to make the world a better place. That’s what Victor Frankenstein tried to do when he reanimated a grotesque corpse back to life. And, you can now add Dr. Spencer Black to that list of well-intentioned scientists with a knack for delving into the macabre.

In E.B. Hudspeth’s The Resurrectionist, the aforementioned Dr. Black, the gifted scientist who took a wrong turn and ended up at the corner of Grave Robbery Drive and Playing God Boulevard, focuses his entire career on trying to understand why human beings suffer from physical deformities.

The book, the first part of which is written as a sort of grisly biography, includes many first-account passages “lifted” from Dr. Black’s personal correspondence. Here’s one that highlights what’s bugging the good doctor:

     The questions regarding nature’s ability to malfunction disturb me greatly. I never believed in the delineation of God or nature, only that certain laws maintain—one of which is function. I’ve wrestled with the fallibility of this perfect organism—our body.

Eventually, the doctor develops the theory that, when a person suffers from a deformity (such as Ectrodactyly, also known as claw hand) it’s really nature’s way of tapping into the previous evolutionary steps that man experienced long ago.

Case in point, the doctor—who’s repeatedly labeled as “brilliantly gifted” to drive the whole madness theme home—finds a woman with Phocomelia, or disproportionally sized limbs, and theorizes that her body is trying to jump back down the evolutionary ladder. Since she has tiny arms, an extremely arched back and over-extended neck, her ancestor must’ve flown at some point. So, ipso facto, the doctor believes she must be descended from a harpy, a half-bird, half-man creature from Greek mythology.

The biography lists all the ways that the doctor tried to prove that mythological creatures once existed and that we are descended from them: He finds mummified remains throughout the world, publishes papers and books, and even opens a carnival-style freak show to showcase taxidermy mythological creatures such as minotaurs and mermaids—all made by himself, using very fresh parts.

The book hints that the doctor finally takes the plunge into madness by creating living mythological creatures—terrible patchwork monsters made from jumbled and mismatched parts, assembled solely because one fallible man believes that all “imaginary” creatures, from centaurs to satyrs, were once quite real.

This is Hudspeth’s first book, and it’s a great first effort. The biography-style writing makes for an entertaining read, and the mad scientist tale is spelled out simply and succinctly, which is never an easy thing to do. However, if there’s one big flaw with the book, it’s that it raises more questions that it answers. You never understand how Dr. Black creates his creatures, or which creatures he successfully gave life to or which ones were only taxidermy toys. Also, little information is given about The Sleepless Man (no spoilers here) which is a big letdown, and the storyline gaps (why did the brother rarely intervene?) and the lack of setting detail left me feeling detached at the end. Though the premise is very interesting and promising, the illustrations throughout the biography seemed to outshine the story—which leads us to the second portion of the book.

The second part of the novel is a Gray’s Anatomy-style codex of all the creatures Dr. Black believe once existed. The level of detail with these illustrations is enthralling—describing the maddening amount of medical minutiae that the author (who did all the illustrations) included in every illustration is frustrating and doesn’t do the work any justice.

The story is a bit barebone, and needs some more narrative flesh. But the drawings are beautifully rendered, and the codex is a fine work of art. If you’re looking for a collection of delightfully deviant drawings with a hint of the macabre, then The Resurrectionist is for you. But if you need a bit more story, a horror classic like Frankenstein might be more up your grim and corpse-filled alley.

The Stand: Book Review

200px-The_Stand_coverFor the record, I’m kind of nursing a particularly dreadful hangover today, but since I recently finished Stephen King’s The Stand, I thought I’d power through and write my review of this epic work of post-apocalyptic fiction—though I personally feel like I’m wallowing in my own apocalyptic hell right now (you can’t attend a wedding and not imbibe a bit, but I me thinks this lad imbibed way too much for his own good).

Despite the novel spanning 1,439 pages—I picked up the extended edition—the plot’s relatively simple: A manmade flu virus, nicknamed Captain Trips, is accidentally released from a government facility in the California desert. The virus has a 99.4% fatality rate, and most of the nation is wiped over the course of several hundred pages. The U.S. Government (always a thinking bunch) then decides to release the virus elsewhere throughout the world to cover up the disaster’s American origins.

Guided by haunting nightmares, the few U.S. survivors who were immune to the Superflu start congregating around two individuals: The bad folk with an affinity for technology and firepower flock around the malicious and possibly demonic Randall Flagg, setting up shop in the one true home of American debauchery, Las Vegas, Nevada; The good folk make the trek out to Boulder, Colorado to form the Boulder Free Zone community around their 108-year-old spiritual leader, Mother Abigail. As you can probably guess, the ending culminates with the final showdown between good and evil, faith and technology, and there is, of course, a sizeable A-bomb involved.

Though I’m an avid Constant Reader, and I happen to think that King’s Dark Tower books are some of the finest works of fantasy/post-apocalyptic lit currently out there, there are a couple of faults to be found in this end of the world tale.

Stephen King is not one for simplicity; his stories are known to spiral into thoroughly complicated narratives with endings that challenge readers’ perceptions of right and wrong, but The Stand is unfortunately a little too clear-cut. The story basically boils down to Technology=Bad, Faith=Good, and that’s about it. The Hand of God also makes a casual appearance at the ending—really only popping in for a brief sentence—and the role He plays in determining the outcome feels a little off and weighs heavily on the idea of faith being all-important, beyond any other aspect of human society.

However, plot issues are to be expected in a novel that can literally be used as a weapon to brain someone to death—this is a massive tome, and it feels pretty good to finally finish it. And, once again, those plot issues can be set aside when compared with the entrée that King ultimately (as always) excels in: Characterization.

His characters, from Larry the aspiring rocker to Stu the simple East Texan, may feel rather generic at the beginning, but over the course of 1,400 pages, you begin to understand their complexities, struggles and deepest desires. King is absolutely gifted with giving his characters true life, but beyond that, he’s truly a master at creating American characters: the people in The Stand are relatable in every way, and despite the novel being several decades old, all of these folks can still be found in any city throughout the U.S.

So, by taking those everyday individuals that people can all relate to, and then delving into their hopes, dreams and fears within an epic apocalyptic vision of a post-plague America, King is able to create a harrowing, exciting and truly engaging novel that works on nearly every level. In the hands of a lesser writer, a story of this magnitude would’ve never worked.

But that’s why he’s the King. (Bad one, I know, but it’s the truth). Make sure to pick this one up.

Review: The Couriers

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Two words: Johnny Funwrecker.

It’s one of the best names I’ve ever come across for a villain (or any character, for that matter). Part of me wishes I could use it as my nom de plume. I’m not sure if my editor would like that very much.

Anyway, let’s get back on track:

Brian Wood’s The Couriers is a NYC-based tale about street couriers who do whatever it takes to deliver the goods, even if it requires outright murder, stealing semen samples (I guess it’s stealing when the owner of said semen isn’t keen on sharing) or blowing up a Chinese attack helicopter with an RPG in the middle of Brooklyn.

(Word of warning: This comic’s gritty, but in no way realistic. The everyday laws that govern our lives only play a role when Wood deems it necessary, which is pretty much never.)

The book pays homage to John Woo and NYC street culture, and it shows: most of the panels focus on the two main characters, Moustafa and Special, barreling down the graffiti-tagged streets of the Big Apple on their roller blades at blistering speeds, all while blasting away at fez-wearing Mafia soldiers (who usually ride Vespas, not sure why) with an entire arsenal of military-grade pistols, sub-machine guns, shotguns, etc.

Reality is unabashedly absent in this comic, so it’s important that you don’t approach it with the immediate response of, “Well, why haven’t the cops shown up yet?” or “Why haven’t any of the bad guys shot them yet?” or “Can you really shoot a rocket launcher in NYC and not get arrested?” Brian Wood mentions in the foreward that he wanted to create a comic that combined his love for over-the-top action flicks and the NYC street culture that he experienced daily as a bike courier during his college years.

So in other words, this is a study in shoot ’em up and street cool, and that’s pretty much it.

The Couriers is fun in a late-night B-movie sort of way, with a hint of attitude and humor that’s genuinely entertaining. The plot of the four stories in this collection aren’t overly complicated, and don’t do much to challenge your intellect, but I was glad to see that Wood took the time to create characters who have some element of depth: Moustafa, who’s Egyptian, comes from a privileged background while his partner, Special, was raised on the streets and is far wiser in the street-smarts department (it’s a bit refreshing to have a female character act as the brains and brawn of a story.) The final story, Couscous Express, is a bit heavier than the other three, which are practically devoid of any emotional weight. But each one is fun, and worth the time to read.

For me, though, this collection serves as a nice introduction to Wood’s earlier work. I’m sincerely fond of DMZ, and it’s interesting to see how NYC culture has influenced his comics right from the beginning of his career.

If you’re a fan of Brian Wood, and you’re looking for a quick, action-packed read, make sure to pick up The Couriers.

WonderCon, Bioshock Infinite and The Walking Dead

This past weekend was one for nerdy indulgences: My girlfriend and I went to WonderCon for the first time (no, we didn’t get dressed up… though we were thinking of doing Rogue and Gambit — her idea, believe it or not), I played way too much Bioshock Infinite and I watched the season finale of the Walking Dead — which, unfortunately, was a rather disappointing way to end the weekend. Here’s a quick breakdown:

WonderCon

We had a blast at the convention in Anaheim. JB bought a signed addition of Saga, and I picked up a super cheap copy of Couriers and a subscription to Geek Magazine. Oh and JB bought me a Death Star T-Shirt that says, “Visit the Death Star! It’s no moon!” I might be wearing it right now.

The event was a lot of fun, and it was quite the crash-course in geek culture — I’ll never understand the appeal of wearing rotating Ewok ears or getting into a heated debate over Magic: The Gathering, but it’s entertaining to see how people have flocked to the fantasy and sic-fi genre and made it a part of their day-to-day lives. Plus, JB and I got a quick introduction to cosplay. Case in point: WOLVERINE (See below).

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Talk about commitment: Those mutton chops, ladies and gentlemen, are absolutely real. When we saw him on Friday morning — and, yep, he’s as ripped as J.C. himself — I couldn’t shake the thought that he must start his day by repeating this lil’ mantra: “Be Hugh Jackman, Be Hugh Jackman, Be Hugh Jackman.”

On that note, who doesn’t want to be Hugh Jackman, at least for a day?

Bioshock Infinite

Instead of reworking two short stories and finishing up some research for a new freelance project, I played Bioshock Infinite. I kept using the same excuse too: “It’s like research for new story ideas!” Did I develop any new story ideas? Nope. Did I end up losing sleep that I really couldn’t afford to lose? Yep. Do I want to abandon my entire workday just so I can go back to fighting an unrelenting wave of robot George Washingtons? You bet your steampunk buns I do!

All jokes aside, this game gives me a lot of hope when looking towards the future of video games: Successful shooters don’t have have to be seizure-inducing clones of every single Michael Bay movie ever made. Successful shooters don’t have to be jingoistic military training games. A good, popular shooter can actually be sophisticated (shocking, right?).

Video games can be used to tell a story — one that causes you to feel emotions, root for a strong, well-rounded character and immerse yourself into a highly detailed and extremely clever world. And Bioshock is a prime example of this kind of storytelling potential.

If you can’t already tell, I’m in love with this game.

But moving on…

The Walking Dead

G.O.T series première aside (it was a good one, too), the real let down on Sunday was The Walking Dead.

Quick warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!

OK, back on board? All right, well, the episode was a bit of an underwhelming letdown. The whole third season kept building us up for some kinda of climatic clash between Woodbury and the Prison folk, but in the end, the whole fight just fizzled out.

But that’s not what got my zombies gears all ground up and disappointed: My issue was with the final, and in my opinion, untimely, departure of Andrea.

Right off the bat, I have to admit that she was one of the weakest characters in the show. (Do you know anyone that actually liked her?) My girlfriend described Andrea as being inept — and annoying, if I remember correctly — and I won’t challenger her on that.

But take a quick look at this:

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That’s Andrea from the Walking Dead comic. She’s a strong, independent character, who becomes Rick’s top deadeye and eventual second in command. So why Walking Dead writers, did you choose to make the TV Andrea so absolutely whiny and desperately clingy? Why couldn’t you place a strong female character front and center? It’s so utterly strange that these writers would take a comic with so many assertive female characters, only to give most of them the backseat in favor of putting the boys in the TV spotlight. No bueno, AMC. You can do better.

Anyway, here’s a link to the season four preview. I need to head back to my freelance writing so I can save up enough cash to make my own robotic George Washington. Wishful thinking, probably, but it’s best to aim high.