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Prof. Jenn comes to us from Bonzuko.com Bonzuko is Jenn Zuko and Jason Boughn. Daily Cross-Swords is a hub for all your latest infotainment on Stage Combat, stunts, martial arts, yoga, dance, fitness, and other movement arts, as well as our other intellectual pursuits such as Jenn’s literature and arts professorship stuff and Jason’s culinary artistry.
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Posts by Prof. Jenn
Comic Review: The Star Wars by Rinzler, Mayhew, et. al
Review by Prof. Jenn
So this is a comic trade that is based off of George Lucas’ original-original rough draft of the screenplay for The Star Wars. That is, Star Wars before it got edited for quality and way before it got re-purposed for less quality and more busy unnecessary additions.
I have my opinions, more as a literature expert than an old-school Star Wars nerd, though I must confess I am equally both. It’s important that Han shot first, but I can actually explain to you literarily why. The scene at the Millennium Falcon added in w/Jabba? Completely unnecessary. But I’ve got the literary chops to explain why, beyond my nerd rage.
Now, it seems that several geek-culture favorites these days tend to fall into the trap of the fan-service. The fan-service is the thing that happens in the story of a new episode of a thing that does nothing for the actual plot except show a thing that will make fans squee. See: the entire movie Phantom Menace. See also: the ending of Doctor Who episode “Deep Breath.” (We can talk about this later if you like.)
This comic story is based on Star Wars before it was Star Wars: we’ve got snippets of images of all three of the older movies (Tatooine, betrayed youg’uns, snippets of Yavin and the Wookiees very similar to the Ewok uprising in RotJ, a Leia and, well, Annikin romance but he’s really the Luke character in this story), some themes and dreary plot points from the newer movies (politics, trade embargoes, wily and lying politicians, overly ornate headgear for the Princess/Queen), and all the art smacks of the concept art all us Star Wars nerds know and love from the pen of Ralph McQuarrie. The oddly androgynous C-3PO, the Luke Starkiller with the buzzcut mullet, the green-skinned amphibious Han Solo, and the oddly bug-eyed Chewbacca all come from McQuarrie’s illustrations we all know and love.
Thing is, when you read this, you can really appreciate the changes made to Episodes 4-6. You really can. You can appreciate the available charm of its characters, its streamlined Hero’s Journey of an action-based plot, and its iconic tropes buffered to a new sheen. The story of this comic is tired, too complex, too wordy in ways no one speaks (okay well all the movies are like this too) and, well, basically, nothing really…happens.
What this is is fan service: for those of us who were obsessed with this epic series and who wanted more from the prequels, those of us who appreciated the streamlined storytelling before Lucas got the tech and was allowed to add in extraneous whatever-he-wanted, this is a window into the writing process and indeed the creative process itself.
It’s not a great comic.
Bottom line: I don’t recommend this to anyone but the most completionist collector or the most die-hard Star Wars fan. It’s a dreary, plodding, clunkily-drawn peek into an early draft of a movie series we’re glad got edited from it. It’s fun to see McQuarrie’s creations in a sort of action, though.
Book review: Jackrabbit by Ian Healy
Review by Prof. Jenn
Ian Healy has delivered again in this next installment of superhero novels in the Just Cause universe. As I have written before, I have and continue to enjoy Healy’s ability to embody the coming-of-age voice, as well as the voice of the “regular Joe,” whether they are superpowered or not. (Sorry, “parahuman” is the correct term in his universe.) In Jackrabbit, though, we run into a new kind of parahuman–that of the Herald. The cheeky rabbit god and his buddy the frog god run into a new, insectile god in God’s Land–and it is revealed that this new god isn’t one invented by humans. This is a big deal, and not a good thing, at all. So (as it so often is) it’s up to our trickster god Leporidus to save the day. He begins his rescue plan by choosing a Herald–that is, a human who will embody the god on Earth. He selects hapless nerdy teenager Jay and, as it turns out, he has made an excellent choice.
Since I know Ian personally (we grew up together through Talented and Gifted programs in junior and senior high school as well as the theatre programs in said schools), I can slap him a virtual yet hearty high five in glorifying the nerd in this world. Even with today’s “geek chic,” nerds are still the victims of bullying today, and actually the nasty insect takeover of Earth event in this novel is connected directly to the theme of bullying. What Healy does very well is illustrate real human beings, whether it’s the coming of age type of Jay/Jackrabbit here or Mustang Sally in his earlier works, or “normal” folks trying to deal with the extraordinary, as in yet other novels in the Just Cause universe. And I love that the female hero is adorably annoying–it’s so great that she’s not flawless, but we still love her. Thanks for the realism and the joy amid the tense action. Also, thank Heaven for an African-American protagonist hero.
Usually I adore Healy’s Just Cause books without question, but I had a couple minor reservations about this one: a) why does Jay have to get all buff and huge when he transforms? Isn’t he a better Rabbit god herald by staying slight and quick? b) Bunny, Jay’s best friend, smacks of the stereotypical Gay Best Friend. In fact, he reminds me of the gay dancer friend in the 1984 movie Breakin’. maybe it’s the dance studio thing. Anyway… c) Jay turns real cheeky once he becomes Jackrabbit. he was pretty meek before. I’m not quite buying his snarky transformation. Maybe if he were already getting in trouble because of his wit and cheek, before he transformed? That way we can see exactly why Leporidus chose him, and his personality later would fit, etc. d) I hate to say it, as I love the ending, but I think it was a little too easily achieved. All of you, go out and read it and come back and tell me what you think.
Bottom Line: Jackrabbit is a fantastic novel and I recommend it wholeheartedly.
Book Review: Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann
Review by: Prof. Jenn
How good a combination is a ninja-detective, seriously? What a perfect set of skills to be able to solve a murder in 16th-century Japan. Blade of the Samurai is a sequel to Claws of the Cat, which are historical thrillers starring Hiro, our shinobi protagonist, and his partner in solving crime, Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit priest. With these two intellects at the helm of any investigation, no murderer will stay safe for long. Admittedly I haven’t read the first in this series, so I can’t tell you how the characters have evolved in this sequel, but I can tell you if this is your first foray into the investigations of these two, you will have no problem getting to know our characters, their situations, and setting immediately.
An official in the shogunate has been murdered, and a whiff of a plot to assassinate the shogun himself is in the air as Hiro and Mateo are conscripted to investigate the murder before Oda comes to invade Kyoto. The inclusion of real historical figures (Nobunaga Oda, Hattori Hanzo, etc.) and detailed descriptions of the 16th century Japanese setting plunges us right into the setting as good historical fiction does. However, the quick, clipped pace, the tension begun right as the story begins, and the short chapters make this also a well-crafted whodunit. This book is difficult to put down, and is a quick, exciting read. It’s also a fun addition to have the cultural differences pop up between Father Mateo and his Japanese surroundings (especially noble and samurai encounters, normal Western gestures and thoughts being offensive to the Japanese characters). The outcome of the mystery is complex and not cookie-cutter easy, and the end leaves us with many open ends ready for another sequel (Flask of the Drunken Master, out in 2015).
Bottom Line: Blade of the Samurai is highly recommended.
Comic Review: Steed and Mrs. Peel: We Are Needed #1 by Edginton, Cosentino, et al Review by Prof. Jenn
Imagine my delight when I saw this title pop up on BOOM!’s forthcoming comics list! I didn’t know they were making comic versions of this old favorite of mine! Now these, kids, are the real Avengers, as far as I’m concerned, and I had high standards going into this first issue. The TV show was a delicate combination of weirdly out-there almost sci-fi and taut spy thriller/detective procedural, which is a difficult balance to get right (*cough* the 1998 movie *cough*). This writer/artist combo has nailed it.
We begin issue #1 by seeing a murder, not knowing who is involved or why, only that there are dollhouses about. Then we are introduced to our two heroes the way every Steed/Peel episode did on TV: the phrase “Mrs. Peel, we are needed” revealed in a cute and clever way. The story in this first issue unfolds and by the time we get to the end of the issue we definitely are clamoring to see what will happen next. Which is the way the TV show was, too.
The art is colorful and rather “mod” in style, which is perfect for the setting and characters. As you’ve heard me say many times before when reviewing Doctor Who and Firefly comics, it’s a special trick to comic-book-ize a live TV show, as you don’t want to do just an actor portrait, but you don’t want to draw the characters so unlike their actors that they are unrecognizable, either. This issue nails it, again.
Bottom Line: I highly recommend Steed and Mrs. Peel: We Are Needed (why aren’t they calling it The Avengers? Copyright w/Marvel?) and can’t wait for the next issue.
Comic Review: Serenity, Leaves on the Wind #6 by Whedon, Jeanty, et. al
Review by Prof. Jenn
The Leaves on the Wind series concludes with this tying up of loose ends and opening up of new ones for, we can assume, the next phase of the story. The conclusions of Zoe’s rescue and that of the Alliance-stolen-girls-a-la-River is actually pretty brief, truth be told. We had such build up of preparation in the previous issues that the culmination is just a little…well just a little disappointing, that’s all. Though there is a new potential (major!) problem introduced at the end…
The story, beyond being a bit brief as I have mentioned, boasts the same familiar character quality I have admired about the previous issues, and the art has the same weakness of character portrayal I have mentioned in earlier reviews. This issue is no different, though it is nice to have a little more about our new fighter character and be introduced to yet another character who looks as though she’ll be recurring at least, if not a major player in the battles to come.
Bottom Line: This issue is recommended, with the same caveats I detailed in the reviews of previous issues.
Book Review: Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress
Review by Prof. Jenn
Yesterday’s Kin is a novelette which takes us on a breakneck pace through the philosophical, scientific, and psychological implications of a near-future contact with alien life. They come in peace, they come with some scientific advancements but not totally all-powerful, and we experience them through the POV of a prominent scientist and her flighty, dreamy, ne’er-do-well son. What the aliens’ actual purpose is for parking in New York Harbor and what happens to the people of Earth (and what will happen) is a fascinating, intelligent and intuitive discussion of the old “are we alone” question of so much sci fi.
The book is written in third-person limited POV, and is limited to two perspectives only: Marianne”s (the scientist) and Noah’s (her son), which makes what we know and when we know it tightly dictated and suspenseful. By the time we get to the big twist/revelation at the end, whether or not the reader has guessed it already is irrelevant–it’s a tense moment nonetheless.
Bottom Line: Yesterday’s Kin is highly recommended. I read it through in one sitting. I think it’d make a great movie…
Two, two, two reviews in one!: Noah by Mark Morris and Noah: Ila’s Story by Susan Korman
Review by Prof. Jenn
Sigh. Well these books are pretty awful.
Noah is the official novelization of the the movie of the same name (screenplay by Aronofsky and Handel). The story follows Biblical figure Noah from the preface of him seeing his father killed by barbarians through his vision of cataclysm and subsequent construction of the Ark and the saving of all the animals, two by two. Ila’s Story is a novella/knockoff/something-or-other that retells the story in Noah but with much less detail and in the POV of character Ila.
Since I am a lit professor by trade, I can’t bring myself to write a completely negative review of anything, no matter how poor in quality. So here are the redeeming qualities of these two books: hm…let’s see…
- The Watchers are a cool concept (well everything here is a Biblical concept but you get what I mean), and seeing them in both their manifestations in this story is satisfying.
- It’s always interesting from a character study standpoint to delve into the complexities of psychological motivation in an old and/or archetypical character. Having all the sturm und drang of Noah’s psyche as he struggles to keep control of crazy circumstances is a neat exploration of an old character.
- The addition of Ila makes for more strong female presence in a story traditionally male-centered.
Yeah, that’s as kind as I can be. The fact of the matter is that the book is clunkily written, the women are only focused on motherhood and the men, nothing else, the violence is gratuitously graphic without furthering the story, and the villain is so stereotypical he’s actually kind of funny. Ila’s Story is actually even worse–there is no character development, no added richness due to the changed female POV, the writing is even more stilted and clunky, and this is even less okay with me as Ila’s Story smacks of being written for juvenile or YA readers. All readers deserve better, but especially young readers.
Having said all this, I must admit I have not seen the movie on which these books are based. Would my opinion of the books change if I had? I don’t think so, as bad writing is just bad writing. Maybe we can blame the bad writing more on the screenwriters than the novelists? Any of you seen Noah and can add to the dialogue here?
Bottom Line: I do not recommend either Noah or Ila’s Story.
Comics Review: Batman Classics–the Silver Age Newspaper Comics vol.1 by Ellsworth, Moldoff, Infantino, et. al
Review by Prof. Jenn
What a fun collection of vintage comics featuring everyone’s favorite dynamic duo! It’s a trip into the cheesy one-liner past of Batman’s late 1960s appearance in newspapers. This collection begins with a wonderfully detailed rundown of the history by Joe Desris, and is enlightening to read just before plunging into the series of snippet-length strips.
These are not old comic books, they are comic strips from newspapers 1966-67, so they are all brief, cheesy, sketchy, mid-low quality art, with a little joke or a PSA at the beginning of each (“Never fight with a smiling fortune-teller.” “Unless you want to strike a happy medium!”). We meet several of our favorite villains, with some I’ve not heard of before. And yes, there is some material here not appropriate for a modern audience, in the realm of sexism, and racism especially. Any of you Batman nerds remember The Laughing Girl? Ugh…
For all its vintage kitsch, this volume is a pleasure to read, and certainly anyone who collects Batman should have this in their library, even if they prefer the dark Nolan variety of the Caped Crusader. It’s a funny, refreshing collection that is a nice reminder of where Batman was before his gritty reboot.
Bottom Line: This collection is highly recommended, old chum.
Book Review: The Iron Jackal–a Tale of the Ketty Jay by Chris Wooding
Review by: Prof. Jenn
The Iron Jackal is a steampunky, Firefly-esque romp though the fantasy lands of Vardia and Samarla, lands full of warring factions, slavery and rebellion, corrupt officials and those that fly outside the law. Our protagonist, Captain Frey, is one of the latter. Actually, I’m not really sure he is our protagonist exactly but I’ll get to that later. When Captain Frey carelessly handles a rare relic he and his crew, er, acquired for a client of his ex, things go pretty gosh darned amuck and the whole crew of the Ketty Jay plus one have to scramble to make things right.
There is action aplenty in this book–in fact, the opening scene is a barroom shootout and subsequent chase–and our lead is just as wry a leader and barely better than the bad guys as a Captain Mal or an Indiana Jones. The action is similar to these favorites too: heart-pounding chases, tense scenes of theft and skullduggery, and a colorful band of miscreant minor characters. This is where I ran into this book’s only real flaw that I can find: there are many characters with already-established back stories and relationships, and this book being a sequel, sometimes I got my characters confused or didn’t quite get what was going on in the detail I needed.
Also, the POV shifts often, which added to my confused spots–I often got confused who I was supposed to “be” in some situations. But what is well done about the characters is a sense of genuine emotion. Frey’s feelings for his ex, Crake’s complex emotional world surrounding his golem, and the many examples of true loyalty make all the characters round and complex, a good thing since this steampunk world tilted on the edge of Lieber-esque urban fantasy needs that human quality to ground it.
Bottom Line: I recommend The Iron Jackal, especially for those already familiar with the other Tales of the Ketty Jay.
Comics Review: Rocky and Bullwinkle Classics vol. 1 by Al Kilgore
Review by: Prof. Jenn
This first volume of Rocky and Bullwinkle comics is a compilation of comics from 1962-1963, and are the same fast-paced, vaudevillian satire replete with puns that we all remember from the TV show. All four story worlds from the show can be found there: the eternal struggle between Rocky and Bullwinkle and Boris and Natasha, Dudley Do-Right the unflappable mountie, Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman the time-travellers, and Fractured Fairy Tales.
This is a delightful, highly entertaining collection: the stories are just as silly and back-and-forth and laden with wit as the TV show, the art is blocky and colorful and looks lifted straight from the show, and the dialogue is such that it’s impossible not to hear the voice actors as one reads. Which only makes sense, as these were created during around the same time as the show, by one of its creators. A fun addition to each issue is a faux gossip/news column at the end, sort of a goofy take on fun facts and news of the day: a pre-Soup interlude.
With the more recent reboots of this wonderful franchise, it’s refreshing to get the real thing instead, not made PC or nicer, but sharp, silly and brash as it was. Surprisingly (or perhaps not surprisingly?) the humor remains timely, and while the collection is appropriate for children, it isn’t in any way dumbed down–it’s as highly entertaining as the TV show.
Bottom Line: Rocky & Bullwinkle Classics is highly recommended. I want a volume 2!