Sunday, November 30, 2014

Review: The Dark Knight Returns

Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Dark Knight Returns is TERRIBLE. I don't understand why people still talk about it to this day. I understand its significance and importance in relation to what Batman is like today, but outside of the context of Batman, why do people STILL like it? I've heard people put it up there with The Watchmen, and let me just say this--It is nowhere NEAR as good as The Watchmen. The Watchmen is actually like literature. It had something to say. But this, well, it has nothing to say. Batman is old and he's in a society that feels they don't need vigilantes anymore, until they do. And then Batman comes back, does some stuff, gets a new Robin, rides a horse, fights Superman, the end. Honestly, that's the whole story, and it meanders all over the place.

Frank Miller, author of Sin City and a whole bunch of other crummy comics, was not and is still not a very good writer. I'm not saying he's not a good comic book writer, because he suits his purpose. But he's no Neil Gaiman. He's no Alan Moore. Hell, he's not even Sam Keith, who penned the brilliant comic, The Maxx, back in the early 90s. What Frank Miller did was change the whole vision of Batman, which is to be commended, sure, but not to be applauded to the extent that The Dark Knight Returns is considered one of the greatest graphic novels of all time. It's not even close. To cite one of the lines of this terribly boring book, The Dark Knight Returns is "balls nasty." And not in a good way, like it's used in this book, but in a bad way, like balls actually being nasty. Especially if they're not cleaned.

I know you've heard a lot about this book, but it's not justified. It sucks. Plain and simple. Read something else instead.

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Review: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

The Heart is a Lonely HunterThe Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I almost gave The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter a four star rating instead of five since the description on the back totally misrepresents the story I just finished reading, which really pisses me off. Why would they push the book the way they did on this vintage version that I picked up? It doesn't make any sense. Even the photo on the cover (my cover is different from the one presented here) doesn't truly represent this staggering work. It's strange. While reading the book, I kept turning it over and re-reading the back to see when the "loss of innocence" would occur, or why they say that Mick Kelly, who is important in the overall narrative, would be called the main character, as this is a book where every character is important. It's just really poor marketing on the publisher's part, and I don't get it. Why?

But, moving on.

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is a masterpiece as it clearly represents a collage of loneliness. Every character suffers from it, and in a sense, you get the feeling that whole world suffers from it as the characters represented here are about as diverse as you can get. You get the educated black doctor who was born too early since the things he wants out of life are outside of his reach for another 20 years. You have the loner Communist who doesn't entirely know what he wants, but he avidly thinks he needs to get it and soon. You have the aforementioned, Mick Kelly, a 13 year old girl who has music in her heart and dreams of the future, but lives in abject poverty and searching for something more. And then, you have arguably the most complex character, Biff, who is most likely a homosexual, but not really sure or even desiring to confirm it in himself. They are all tied together by a deaf mute named Mr. Singer, who is also most likely gay, but also just as lonely, if not even lonelier, than the rest of the cast. His one true love, a fellow deaf man who may or may not even understand his only friend, is the glue that keeps Mr. Singer together. Every last character is essential to telling this story, which is one of the most depressing and beautiful I've ever read. There is hope at the end, but you wonder if it's justifiable hope. In the end, who's to say?

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is a rich, complex, layered novel and one that I will never forget. Its stature as a novel has only risen over the years, and for good reason. It's a true masterpiece.

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In the Eyes of the Law (New Short Story)

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Here's a short story I had published recently. It might be offensive to some, and even I question its content now after seeing and hearing recent events (I wrote it last August in the heat of the Michael Brown incident), but a published story is a published story. You can find it here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Review: Main Street

Main StreetMain Street by Sinclair Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Main Street is the kind of novel you can't just read today like it was written yesterday. You have to look at it from the lens of the time period. I'd call it a zeitgeist novel, but it represents a very specific time (the early 1900s), making it feel dated in a sense. But it's still good all the same. Sinclair Lewis could do no wrong.

The story concerns a woman named Carol Kennicott who is trapped in the wrong time and the wrong location. I don't mean that in a sci-fi sense, but rather that she's a woman with great ambitions caught in a town that doesn't want to do anything but stay the same. This affects Carol greatly as she deeply wants to do something with her life. But after getting married and having a baby, those ambitions get squashed every chance she gets as the denizens of Gopher Prairie don't want change. They want things the way they are. Carol ends up feeling smothered.

Why this book can't be seen as anything more than a time capsule is because you can tell that Sinclair Lewis had his eyes toward the future. But he couldn't see far enough to make the novel more damning toward the residents of Gopher Prairie. You get a sense that Carol is sometimes silly and not committed to her plight to change Main Street, and we don't so much as sympathize with her as we merely shrug our shoulders at the idea that she was just born too early. Her day would soon come in only a few decades.

That said, the book is still funny and a joy to read, even if it meanders a bit. If you like Sinclair Lewis, I'd say give it a go. It was that first novel that really put him on the map.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review: Wergild

WergildWergild by J.L. Hickey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wergild starts off very well, with interesting characters and good dialogue, but I found the ending didn't fit the attitude of the protagonist at all, even after going through some trying circumstances. The story concerns a young artist who is pushed into a terrible ordeal due to his wretched uncle, who is my favorite character since he's such a scoundrel. A lot of the story, which is much more of a short story than a novella, concerns the time period itself and the concept of what the gods, or the creator, have to do with the daily lives of mankind. This theme is played out in a story within the story written by the protagonist, who has the potential to change the world some day with his words.

That said, there is a bit too much philosophy going on in this story, which slows down the otherwise pretty good pacing. I would have liked if that aspect--the questioning of theology and the troubling times of the story--had been put on the back burner, and the compelling narrative itself had taken center stage, but oh, well. I will say that I did enjoy the overall story arc and the growth of the protagonist (Even if it's not entirely consistent), so this story definitely has that going for it. The author is very talented and knows his stuff around crafting a story, so I will definitely read more of his work someday. He is quite skilled.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Christopher Nolan Has Actually DOOMED DC's Cinematic Universe, Not Saved It

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Christopher Nolan got quite a few Marvel fanboys upset the other day when he commented that "real" movies don't have post-credit scenes. (The director has since said that he was misquoted, which I believe). Listen, I like Christopher Nolan and always have ever since I saw his second movie, Memento.

But the truth is, Christopher Nolan has officially RUINED DC's cinematic universe rather than saved it. Let me explain. It all goes back to The Dark Knight. Sure, Batman Begins was okay, but it wasn't the touchstone film that its sequel, The Dark Knight, was. In fact, The Dark Knight created a sea change within the industry of comic book movies. After TDK, comic book films became much darker, and if they weren't dark, then they were seen as goofy and childish (Like Green Lantern, which bombed). This is a problem that has actually stuck with Warner Bros./DC and doesn't seem to be going away. While Marvel distanced itself from this concept of brooding superheroes, Warner Bros./DC seems to want to continue with the notion that if you're watching a DC movie, it's not going to be colorful and playful like a Marvel film. Man of Steel is a clear example of this.

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Instead of being bright and colorful--a real showcase of the red, the white, and blue--we instead got a much darker, both in color and in tone, picture, where Superman actually KILLS General Zod. This has caused contention with many fans of Supes, and has spelled a new era of Superman. This is an era that I will call "The Nolan Effect". Unlike "The Avengers Effect", which is all about throwing in as many characters as possible and making it one large spectacle, DC/WB is still under the impression that people want lugubrious and heavy superhero pictures. In other words, DC/WB is still trying to prove that they're NOT MARVEL. And if you want something for babies, then watch something like The Avengers. But if you want something more introspective and grown-up, come to us.

Don't believe me? Just look at this poster for Batman v. Superman:
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I mean, jeez. More darkness? More bad times? No levity? I thought this was supposed to be SUPERMAN. Not The Crow. "It can't rain all the time," right?

So, in many ways, if DC stays with the Nolan mentality, it will effectively doom the DC Cinematic universe, as these are COMIC BOOK MOVIES. Maybe Batman can be taken seriously (I guess), but it doesn't apply for all of these other characters who are soon coming out the gate from DC. Because if something as corny as The Flash is going to be like watching a World War II movie, then they're doing wrong.

Lighten up.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review: The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of GilgameshThe Epic of Gilgamesh by Anonymous
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While short, The Epic of Gilgamesh is quite boring. I expected much more from it. What's boring about it is that all throughout, lines are repeated over and over and over again, and for no real reason whatsoever. I don't blame the translator, since they were just doing their job, but it's just a bit much. I grew tired of it after awhile. It's so damn repetitive.

Besides that, I also wanted a great deal more from it. Being that this is the oldest epic poem on record and also the basis for the hero's journey, I thought it would be much more drawn out and specific, but it wasn't. It meandered quite a bit, and it didn't leave me satisfied. Later epic poems, like The Illiad, would nail what we call "plot" much better than this early snooze-fest.

That said, given its history and legacy, I can't grade it too low. This started it all, so it definitely deserves credit for that. Overall, an unsatisfying classic. At only 63 pages, you might as well give it a read.

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Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Top Ten Best NES Soundtracks of All Time

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I love freaking much. And listening to it just now, it actually got me thinking about my all-time favorite NES soundtracks. People are always so quick to point out Mega Man 2, but eh. I always found it just okay. But these babies below are solid (Solid as a rock). Disagree? Do so in the comments below. And suggestions would also be appreciated. (NOTE: I have not played EVERY game in the NES library, but I have played most of them through emulators, so if I'm missing anything, please forgive me).

10. Ninja Gaiden

This soundtrack is just so cinematic, which works because of the (snicker) "in-game cut-scenes" (I laugh because of how primitive they are compared to today's standards. But hey, it worked back when we were kids). I remember how intense some of these songs were, and how angry I would get at tough jumps, throwing my controller at the wall. This soundtrack reminds me of the best possible way.

9. Super Mario Bros. 2

My favorite soundtrack of the three SMB's on the NES, I just love how bizarre it sounds. It totally plays like a totally different entity, which it is. The game started out as another game called Doki Doki Panic in Japan, and Mario characters replaced those characters because Japan thought their version of SMB2 was too hard. That game would later become The Lost Worlds. But most importantly, this soundtrack is just so catchy. I love it!

8. Adventures of Tom Sawyer

There's a sense of adventure with this soundtrack, which is why I think it fits the game it accompanies. Though the game doesn't quite live up to its tunes, I definitely think it compliments the game quite well. Give it a listen.

7. Duck Tales

Everybody always raves about "The Moon Theme," which is good to be sure, but this whole soundtrack is fantastic, to that perfect title music, to the stage select screen, to pretty much everything. Such a good soundtrack.

6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

A truly lousy and frustrating game, but man, were those tunes slamming. It's upbeat at times, sinister at others, but always different and interesting. I will always hate this game (That f**king dam stage!), but the music still holds up, even to this day.

5. Bubble Bobble

I know I might catch hell for this, since The Legend of Zelda theme is not on this list, but I really love the Bubble Bobble song, which pretty much plays throughout the entirety of the game. This song drives my wife nuts, but I can't get enough of it.

4. Double Dragon II: The Revenge

A pulse-pounding, fist-pumping soundtrack to one of the best beat-em-ups on the NES. There are so many great layers to each level's song, which is surprising because most of the levels are so short on this classic.

3. Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest

A crummy sequel to the original, but probably my favorite music in the entirety of the Castlevania series, right there next to Super Castlevania IV.

2. Metroid

Spooky, atmospheric, dense, you truly feel lost in space with this haunting soundtrack. Great game, even better music.

1. Taboo

And now for a soundtrack that nobody has ever heard before. Seriously, Taboo is probably one of the least unplayable games ever made, but man, oh, man, does this soundtrack creep me out. Everything about it just gets underneath my skin. I had nightmares about the music in this game, and any soundtrack that can stick with me like that wins the title of best NES soundtrack in my mind.

Review: The Harlem Hellfighters

The Harlem HellfightersThe Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

War. It's a topic that Max Brooks is good at writing about. Whether it's a war against zombies, or a real war back in WWI, Max Brooks is a master at building characters and scenes that really resonate with the reader. The Harlem Hellfighters is no exception.

I actually heard about this book in Entertainment Weekly and found it an odd topic for the author of WWZ to write about. Even weirder, it was a graphic novel. What could this man possibly have to say about black soldiers in a war that very few people even talk about these days (WWII gets all the attention)? Well, apparently, a lot.

I had never even heard of the Harlem Hellfighters and everything they accomplished until this very graphic story. Max Brooks writes with sparseness, making it an easy and quick read, but one that sticks with the reader. There are scenes, like when a decorated black officer is applauded in France but is belittled by his own country, that truly filled me with rage. I gnashed my teeth, and it just goes to show how good Max Brooks is to make me feel that way about injustice. In an age of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, it's hard for any race related incident to get my blood boiling any longer since it's unfortunately so frequent, but this book managed to do just that. That's no small achievement.

That said, it's hard to sometimes follow certain characters because they come and go and you don't really get a sense of who they are or what they're here for, so that's one weakness of the book. Other than that, though, I encourage anybody who wants a good read to pick this up. Max Brooks does it again. I'm looking forward to seeing what his creative mind gravitates toward next.

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Review: The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The Man in the High Castle" is the kind of book that when you finish it, you get angry. "Is that it?" I asked aloud as I turned it over and read the back again to see if I was missing anything. I then sat and thought about it. What does a novel about the Japanese and the Germans winning WWII have to do with antique dealers and the I Ching? I left it on my table and walked away from it, very upset that out of all the great Philip K. Dick novels I've read, THIS is the one that won him the Hugo award and is possibly considered his masterpiece.

What was I missing?

Well, like a movie that is critically acclaimed that I just didn't get (Like Lost Highway, by David Lynch, for instance), I decided to read what others thought, and I found that I wasn't alone with my confusion. There were many who "didn't get it," and very few who actually did. But reading the summaries from those who did made me have a new liking for the book. It also made me see that it really does fit snuggly in with the theme of "What is real?" that Philip K. Dick liked to play with in his books. It's just much more subversive here, and even more cynical.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a book about an alternate reality in which the Allies lost WWII and the Axis of Evil won. What would the world be like if that actually happened? There are ideas scattered throughout--The Germans would be tyrannical, and the Japanese would be internal and reflective--but the book is more than just that. It's the idea that even if that reality WERE to have happened, what makes it actually real? For that matter, what makes the world we're living in now real? What is money? Well, that's easy. Money is paper and coins, but what else? What is success? What is tyranny? All of these questions are left open-ended to the extent that even the ending feels like there are pages still missing. This is a book that is not meant to be read for enjoyment, but rather, to make you think, which makes it one of the least concerned about the reader's feelings that I've ever read.

That said, PKD was such a master that I was still strung along for the ride, even though I didn't know where I was being strung along to, or what for. In the end, this is essential reading if you love science fiction or what if? novels. It is a landmark work by one of the masters of the craft. Give it a read. Just don't think you will be satisfied by the end. You will have more questions than answers.

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