Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Stranger by Albert Camus

I was offered this Portuguese translation of Albert Camus' L'Étranger (The Stranger or The Outsider) by a very good friend of mine, who was sure I would like it and hinted I would see something in common between me and the main character. She wasn't wrong, not at all. Not only the story of Mersault but mostly the outsider himself and his "strangeness" got to me and have been on my mind ever since I finished reading it.
First of all, I have to start by praising Jean-Paul Sartre's introduction, a very well built text with comments not only on this work but on Albert Camus himself as a writer and a philosopher. Although it was really effective undoing my ignorance on Camus, I do have to agree with the warnings I had heard about it: if you want to be surprised along the book, leave the introduction to the end and take it as a comment, it might be just as good and you'll avoid the spoilers.
I also went to Wikipedia and learned Albert Camus was French Algerian, worked as a journalist and played football besides being a philosopher. He wrote not only novels and short stories, but also essays and plays. One of those works - The Myth of Sisyphus - has, according to Sartre, some connections with The Stranger and the philosophy usually associated with it - the Absurdism - and I'm now considering reading it too.

Starting with the death of the main character's mother, the first part of the book tells the reader about Mersault, who he is, what he does and part of what he thinks. The bold  beginning - "Aujourd'hui maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas" (which can be translated as "Mom died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know.") grants him an eerie aura of awkwardness that sets the start for the development of an alien character, not only strange, but truly an outsider to what the society considers regular, normal, natural. During his mother's funeral he shows an ability to keep a normal pose when he was expected to be depressed or desperate. Little time after coming back from the future he engages in a passionate romance with Marie, a woman he knew before and encountered by chance. He decides to help his neighbour Raymond trick his ex-girlfriend into meeting him so he could beat her up as a revenge for his suspicions of having been betrayed. When Raymond asks him he if he wants to be his friend Mersault can't even answer but eventually accepts the friendship because he thought Raymond would be pleased and even helps him get rid of the police. It is increasingly noticeable that Mersault doesn't do things for their inherent value, whether they are good or bad, he does them when he believes them to be expected by someone he wants to please at the moment, or when they might bring himself some pleasure or even just because he sees no reason not to do them. A very good depiction of this is shown when Marie asks him if he would marry her. Although he says yes, when she asks if he loves her, he just tells her that doesn't mean anything, and that he might not love her. Most other characters can be seen at times offering some kind of contrast to Mersault, as for example the old Salamano, his aggressive behaviour towards his dog and his emotional breakdown upon losing it (opposed to Mersault's reaction to his own mother's death).
This character's background construction brings us to the climax, the life-changing situation that separates the two parts of the book, the murder committed by Mersault. The Sunday that Marie and himself spend with Raymond and his friends is noticeably hard on Mersault. Marie has trouble waking him up, the sun keeps being described as a hot heavy load throughout the day in relation to the encounters with Raymond's ex-girlfriend's brother and his Arab friends. When Mersault meets with the brother alone, unsettled by the sun, he ends up killing him, first firing one single shot, then four more. He gives no motives, he doesn't even show preoccupation with anything else but the sun and the heat. The reader is given no other explanation either for the first shot or for the following four.
After he is arrested both the magistrate and his lawyer question him and two of the most important subjects in the second part of the book come up, his disbelief in God and his lack of what would be the expected feelings and behaviour after his mother's death, although he considers these discussions to have no importance or relevance to the murder case. Other than this, his life imprisoned seems to be going well and he eventually gets used to spend his time mostly sleeping until the day his trial begins.
During the trial, other than proving Mersault murdered the victim, the prosecution focuses on his reaction to his mother's death. Using his lack of standard morality and remorse as prove of his inhumanity, the court is convinced of his guilt, he is considered a threat to the society and consequently sentenced to death. By the end of the book comes another scene of note, the chaplain's visit to Mersault. He had refused the visit some times before, but the chaplain insisted, hoping to convince him to believe in God and die faithful, something that would prove to be impossible. The dialog is very well built, leading to a moment when Mersault loses his temper and yells at him stating at last the message the whole story encompasses, that he sees a life and a world with no inherent meaning whatsoever.

Camus ends up showing how morals and values are so literally a social construction that a true outsider can't be deemed good or bad, being totally alien to the system. The "absurd man", being strange to the value that human beings usually bestow upon life itself, isn't driven by the consequential reasoning based on those values and morals. More than living for the moment, I might say he just lives, unconcerned with time, with details, mostly detached and unsentimental. He doesn't look for meanings and he doesn't seem to know how to create them. He also pictures not only the society itself, but its reaction to difference. It usually either assimilates different people by transforming them, or fights to eliminate them. 
I am unable to end this without a personal comment. I have no trouble understanding Mersault. Although I am not unconcerned and as disconnected from society as he his, I do see a life to which any meaning must be given by each one of us, if we want or need it. We do this as much as we give meaning to our actions and other people's actions sometimes mistaking ourselves. People wouldn't be so different from this "stranger" if they weren't - or didn't have to be - so worried with what others think. This could mean that Mersault is only an outsider to the standards of our society, but not so different from those that belong to it. It is hardly arguable that lacking all morals and values would be better for humans, but one can also consider that we often become more of what others want and need than what we ourselves would have and that is, in my opinion, one of the biggest problems of our society.
This is but a simple sample of what The Stranger brings up and it is in what he makes you think about that Camus excels. The book would deserve a much richer review and a bigger and more encompassing comment, but I've done this to the best of my abilities at the moment. I not only recommend reading this book to everyone, but also consider it a must read for most.

This review was started months ago and I've been adding to it whenever important opinions come to mind, but I decided I've read it so long ago that it was time to stop and be done with it. I'd rather have done the whole review right after I finished reading the book but I was never satisfied with what I had written and when this happens I end up procrastinating as much as possible, something which does not add to the quality of the review. I'll now continue to work on my delayed reviews as I finish reading both The Book With No Name and The Grapes of Wrath.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Siege: X-Men

As a fan and follower of the X-Men and as interested as I was in the Siege event, as soon as I saw this book at I immediately decided to buy it. The first and most important thing I must say about this is that Siege: X-Men doesn't speak of the X-Men at all, as they didn't participate in the siege. It concentrates on the events around two mutants, Daken and Valkyrie. 
I know little of Daken, having seen him only a few times and having never read anything on him as main character, so I felt a bit lost while reading this comic. I do agree that the story was well adapted to an Asgard focused moment in the Marvel history, but other than that, I didn't connect with Daken and couldn't really follow his behaviour. This might have been intended, but because I know very little of Daken's personality, it just made me feel less interested. The story itself ends with a loose end making me recommend this only for people who already read or intend to start reading Daken.
Valkyrie's story was somewhat more interesting to me. Although I also know very little of her, this is a well written and well closed short story and I liked following Valkyrie and Hela's interaction. Niko Henrichon's illustration adds a lot to it, both the drawing and the colouring are amazing.
The last part of this collection is Siege: Storming Asgard - Heroes and Villains which is H.A.M.M.E.R.'s collection of information and analysis of almost anyone with some importance for the Siege event. I did enjoy going through this as trying to get inside Norman's mind (though not too much for the sake of my sanity) as he plotted the destruction of Asgard as a definitive step on to  becoming leader of the United States and then, probably, of the whole world.
Overall, Siege: X-Men was OK but not actually worth buying as a hard cover, one might as well read the individual comics and I suggest the collection only for readers that follow Daken and Valkyrie specifically.
I'm trying to write quick comments about all the books I read in the last month as I won't have time to write proper reviews but I also don't want to bypass them all. I'll write a comment on the next comic as soon as I can.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl? by Brian Michael Bendis

I've read the first volume of Brian Michael Bendis' Powers a while ago, but only now had the time and concentration to write about it. This won't be a proper review of the book but a simple comment as I don't remember the details.
I must start by saying I'm a fan of Bendis, after having read some of his works for Marvel and now this. Powers is marvellously built, including a believable society, great characters and an interesting detective story that develops into much more than a simple investigation. Of note are his depiction of the media, one can recognize the usual broadcast media behaviour even through its adaptation to a world with super-powers, and some of the characters, mainly Callista and Deena, who piqued my curiosity as I got to know them. The writing is great and Michael Avon Oeming's illustration is as good as I could picture for this story. A nice detail is the inclusion of some supplemental material, with some short stories and the full script that originated this comic.
This first volume doesn't make for an absolute favourite of mine but the series do seem to have potential to become masterpiece material. I'll surely read the second volume of Powers, but it won't be soon as my shelf is already full of unread books and my Amazon basket seems to be filling itself faster than my bank account.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Fables: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham

I've finally been able to start reading the Fables series. Having heard some friends' opinions about the first volume, I had low expectations, which were easily overcome by the comic book.  I like the cover, I like the characters, I like the story, I like the illustrations and I like the text.
Fables follows a group of characters borrowed from worldwide known folklore, myth and literature, transformed into "real" people, their past loves, wars or dramatic rescues being just background to who they are when the book picks them up. They seem matured, aged even, having been through what we expect of regular people's lives and much more. They are living in "our" world, exiled from their fable lands which were invaded and conquered, one by one, by the armies of an Adversary no one really knows. To give an idea of what these series offer, the fables have their own government, Snow White is single and is the deputy mayor of Fabletown, the Big Bad Wolf (Bigby) is the sheriff and Prince Charming is broke. In fact, the way Bill Willingham transformed the characters is my favourite part of the book, they have personality,  are different from each other and act accordingly (I'll leave Jack out of this, his character being the weaker and less interesting one in my opinion, he seems to go along as the story needs it). Legends in Exile tells about the investigation of Rose Red's disappearance and suspected murder, but this plot isn't quite as interesting as the story of how they were exiled in the first place and it is my curiosity for that main element and the characters themselves that convince me that I'll pick up the next volumes. In spite of having a main plot falling short of the other elements' quality, it is still very well written and, as said before, well illustrated and that by itself makes reading it worthwhile. Another very interesting detail was the short story in the end about Bigby, Snow White and Rose Red's rescue from the Emperor's troops and of how the Wolf came to be a human integrated in Fabletown's society.
I recommend these series for all comic book readers, and from what I've read and heard, if you like the first volume as I did, you'll love the rest for sure!

While I finish reading The Grapes of Wrath, I'll try to find some time to review (even if only to give a quick and simple opinion) about so different books as the first volume of Powers, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, Siege: X-Men, Kingdom Come and Wolverine Origins, and I'm still trying to wrap up my review of the The Stranger by Albert Camus. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 31 August 2010


X-Necrosha is a collection of X-men themed comics by authors Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Zeb Wells and Mike Carey, from specific Necrosha comics to issues of X-Force, New Mutants, New X-Men and X-Men Legacy. 
As could be expected I have mixed feelings towards such a varied book, both in terms of writing and of illustration. First of all, I must say the main story, developed in the X-Necrosha and some X-Force issues was somewhat disappointing. Selene should have planned better, prepared better, taken her time with everything to be more believable as a character from my point of view. Her defeat seemed too easy and too obvious, even with the death toll involved, for a character who bragged  godlike powers, surrounded by so many dangerous companions. I'm also not very keen on the illustrations to the said issues, the 3D lighting effect and the colours stray too far from what I learned to love in comic books. Not that I consider them bad or the effort a mistake, I'm probably just not used to them and prefer more traditional drawing/painting. 
Having said all this, I should also highlight what's good about X-Necrosha. The story continues to follow the life on Utopia, now showing the mutants organizing themselves to fight an attack on their race and on their memories and emotions, as Selene finds a way to bring back a whole lot of dead mutants, transforming Genosha into the Necrosha that names the story arc. Cyclops leads the X-Men as confident as he showed to be able to on Nation X, commanding both the efforts of the people in Utopia and of the X-Force team, sent to deal with Selene by any means necessary. It was very interesting to see other reactions to the attack, as Emma Frost's when she sees the Hellions and Warpath is a nice character to follow all the way through the story. What I liked best in this collection were the side-stories and the tie-ins with M-Day and with Bastion's plans. The X-Men Legacy part was my favourite. The interaction between the mutants sent to Muir Island and the way they finally defeated their powerful surprise enemy was very good. The illustrations for these other issues were very nice. The background stories about Selene's team and how she gathered each one of them were also quite interesting and add to the book, making buying this as a collection worthwhile.

Sorry if the review seems hasty, but I've read it a while ago, I'm far behind on reviewing a lot of books, mostly comics, and I have little time to concentrate on them before I finish reading The Grapes of Wrath, a book that will be hell to review, in every good sense the expression can have.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

X-Men: Nation X

I've been curious about Nation X ever since I first heard of the story. I should say that I wasn't very impressed. Don't mistake me, I liked reading the book, but I was hoping for much more. This story is built on the idea of a mutant independent city-state and that by itself should be enough to allow for the development of an astonishing graphic novel.
Nation X shows how the X-Men lead the mutants in a new place, living separately from the regular people, near San Francisco. It's nice to see Cyclops leading even though Professor X is around. He still doubts himself, as always, but he seems to have a more optimistic attitude towards his leadership, he's trying to be more intuitive and just try things even if he isn't sure of the possible outcome. We see him organizing the X-men to defend Utopia from a Predator X attack, order a team to go right to New York to work out who was behind it (I'll avoid the spoilers here), accepting Magneto in Utopia despite Xavier's disapproval, dealing with his attitude and starting a sustainable community by having people research energy sources and come up with some sort of food production. It's interesting to see the X-club (Dr. Nemesis, Madison Jeffries, Kavita Rao and now deceased Yuriko Takiguchi) investigating and trying solutions for these problems while all having different approaches. Magneto's comeback is, as he is always, awesome. I love his story and his personality and consider Magneto one of the best built Marvel characters. He has a plausible, though not astonishing whatsoever, excuse for his absence from recent events, and seems to be inspired by Cyclops' achievement in creating Utopia and asks to be a part of it under his orders, dismissing a deranged Xavier who is confident they are being tricked. He's still the same person though and he struggles with waiting and asking for permission when he finds a way to solve things himself. After some disagreements with Summers he comes up with a present to show the mutants his good intentions: (MAJOR SPOILER HERE) he brings back an otherwise forever lost x-girl, Kitty Pride, by pulling the bullet she got herself locked in, using his powers to an extent that risks his own life. Another very good detail is Beast's reaction to latest events. He is distressed by Scott's leadership, feels ignored, doesn't trust Magneto and is still mad at Cyclops' for leaving him to torture until the "right time" came to save him. Yet another motive to praise the authors is the telepathic rescue of Emma Frost and Cyclops while dealing with the sliver of Void she had imprisoned in her diamond form. It was well written and very well illustrated and makes for one of my favourite parts of this book. (SPOILER) That Scott managed to lock the Void in a mind prison is amazing but, after having read through the Siege event, I was left thinking if it won't be just another window for the Sentry/Void's comeback. There are a lot of other goods in Nation X, such as the cooperation with Namor and his overwhelming ego, Storm coming round to help, rediscovering Psylocke, Rogue's astonishing new confident attitude, even during combat, Fantomex, yes, he's around and he's fun, and more. Most of these feel underdeveloped though, and have me wishing I could follow an event like this longer instead of going back to small, specific team based comics but they are good on their own too.
In the end of X-men: Nation X there is a collection of short stories that made life on Utopia believable, transforming the idea into a real community, with daily events and funny details, the last one, about the King and Queen of Utopia being my favourite, mostly because of Niko Henrichon's art. Others short stories of note are Jubilee's and Gambit's, both quite interesting and taking a peek into their future.

While going back through the book to write the review I noticed I was enjoying it much more that when I first read it. I guess my mood when I first read it didn't help, or the fact that the story is told too quickly (a problem I have with most Marvel graphic novels) made me feel less excited about it. As I said on the beginning of this post, Nation X had the potential to be amazing, and it was very good at times, but didn't meet the expectations. It still makes for a good book, and a must read for X-Men lovers.
I'm following X-men and X-men: Legacy comics from now on which means I'll start after the Second Coming event, and read the collection about the event when it's available. I've also read X-Necrosha and expect to write a review as soon as I can. I'm still reading and loving The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and although it is taking me really long to get to the end, I can't rush it, his writing and the story itself just makes it impossible. It's a book to be read slowly, allowing the mind to work and waiting for the heart to slow down after each chapter.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Last Airbender by M. Night Shyamalan

Both the film critics and the general public went over the top with the comments on how bad The Last Airbender seemed to be. I managed to watch it tonight and I disagree absolutely with all the fuss people have been making.
The Last Airbender is based on the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, specifically on its first season, Book One: Water. Aang, destined to become the Avatar, a being that can control all elements and talk to the spirits, ran away from his fate and accidentally got himself locked under the ice. Katara and Sokka find him by chance and release him, a hundred years later. His people are all dead, killed in the beginning of the Fire Nation's invasions on their bid for world dominance, and Aang is yet untrained in all elements but his tribe's one, Air. He travels to a northern stronghold where a tribe still practices Waterbending to resume his training. This provides the basic plot and I won't reveal more to avoid spoiling the film for those that have never seen the animated series.
The two main problems I had with the film were the pace and the 3D. The Last Airbender has a plot with a lot of drama that was to quickly told to the viewer without having him feel it, without actually connecting to the public. Also, for the same reason, most of the characters' part was so hasty I didn't even get to know them or understand them and they were already yelling, jumping, fighting, dying or disappearing. The Book of Water season could have been done as two movies, but then again I don't know if the money-bearing people would support it. The 3D was almost completely useless. For a good part of the film there was no 3D image whatsoever, and when there was the experience wasn't as noticeable as in Avatar or even Alice in Wonderland. I wish I had the chance to pay rather less to watch a classic version but it just wasn't available here. Another point I should make is that Sokka's character was much different and worse than the original. I felt that Jackson Rathbone didn't connect with it, or he was badly directed, because Sokka should have been much more funny, even goofy, not only standing out from other characters but also providing the direly needed comic relief to the film. Other than this, the plot is quite interesting, with the necessary adaptations for a transformation into a small film that is short of two-hour long, the fights and dancing sequences were very well done, and the digital parts were nice and well blended. The bending was very believable and the spirit world's environment was well thought of.
This is by no means a fantastic film, but I'd still recommend watching it to fans of fantasy and of course, to fans of the animated series, just be reasonable and don't expect it to be the same as a 20 episode-wide season.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Dave Mckean at OFFSET 2009

Dave Mckean became one of my favourite illustrators after having read the Black OrchidThe Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch, some Sandman and seen many other works while shopping for books. When I watched this presentation at OFFSET, linked at my local comic book store's blog, I just had to share it here too. Enjoy!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Siege by Brian Michael Bendis

It took me just a couple of very intensive reading hours to get through Siege. I had read some of Brian Michael Bendis' work before, as Powers, House of M and Civil War but this time he hit the spot. I couldn't stop reading until I reached the end and I would have continued all night long if there was more.
"The Marvel Universe is under the control of its greatest villains. Norman Osborn - the man previously known to the world as the Green Goblin - is the commander of H.A.M.M.E.R., the international peacekeeping force." This part of the story starts with Siege: The Cabal, where the reader is shown Osborn's madness is again overwhelming him. As he goes paranoid and while, after losing Namor and Emma Frost's support, Doom leaves the cabal and actually attacks him, Norman is seen falling prey to Loki's mischief. Afterwards the book collects Siege #1-4, where the attack on Asgard actually happens and comes to a somewhat surprising and close to apocalyptic end.
Siege is a very interesting story from the beginning, having its roots in the latest big Marvel events, probably better noticed by those following the cabal and also Thor, told just at the right pace to make the reader feel excited but not like jumping pages to the end. It's easily understood by anyone that knows what's generally been happening in the Marvel Universe. The war on Asgard allows the author to bring a lot of heroes and villains into play and still be able to peek into their personal troubles, their personality, so that by the end of this event, everything could change or just come back to normal, and all would be fairly within limits of credibility.
As Osborn's, the full power of H.A.M.M.E.R. and the initiative are attacking Asgard, Steve Rogers gets the true Avengers into play, joined by Fury's Secret Warriors and later by a still recovering Iron Man into play. They manage to beat the attacking forces and disable the Iron Patriot armour but there is still one force to contend with - the "also" mentally unstable Sentry. Finally losing all control, Robert Reynolds fully unleashes the Void after destroying Asgard and becomes a danger to the whole world. When even the might of Thor's lightning and the heroes empowered by the Norn stones seem unable to stop him, Iron Man remotely crashes the H.A.M.M.E.R. helicarrier on him making him revert to human form. Reynolds begs the heroes to kill him and when they notice he is again losing control over the Void, Thor does just that and burns his body on the sun. In this single event, Thor has shown the extent of his determination, Loki demonstrated that even he cares for Asgard's existence over his own plans, Iron Man and Steve Rogers made heroic comebacks and in the end, friendships seem renewed.
The Siege of Asgard, together with the X-men's Utopia stories, reset the Marvel Universe, preparing it for a Heroic Age, which seems to want to prove that after all the trouble, through the Civil War and the Secret Invasion, the superheroes can still find their old places in the world, as recognized defenders but also as friends with hopes of happiness. But any Marvel reader knows this will not be the end of the story, that problems will keep coming and the cycle will begin again, so all I can ask of the writers is that they do so in style, with the quality that Brian Michael Bendis showed in Siege. I must also make due reference to the amazing illustrations, penciled by Olivier Coipel or, in The Cabal, by Michael Lark. If not a masterpiece, in level with what can be done with separate, more independent graphic novels as Maus, Persepolis, Watchmen or even Sandman are considered (I still have to read some of those), I believe Siege is as good a novel as I've ever seen given its context.
I recommend Siege for all of Marvel's usual readers as I believe only those with enough knowledge of the current state of affairs in the Marvel Universe and of most of the characters can enjoy all that this graphic novel has to offer.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare

A few months ago I was about to fly across the Atlantic Ocean and decided I might need a book to keep me distracted during the long hours locked in the plane. I randomly picked The Palace of Dreams, previously knowing nothing about it or it's author. I ended up sleeping through the flight and the book was postponed until recently when I travelled to London (which, by the way, is now one of my favourite places on Earth) and decided to bring it with me.
The book follows Mark-Alem, a member of the Quprilis, a very important family in an Empire under a totalitarian regime, who starts working in the Tabir Sarrail. Known as the Palace of Dreams, the Tabir Sarrail is a kind of government department that catalogues and interprets all the dreams that the people report as the dreams sometimes include prophecies. As Mark-Alem rises in the Palace's hierarchy, he learns about its purpose, the most important one being the choice and interpretation of the Master-Dream, one which has consequences to the state or its rulers and for that is presented directly to the state's Sovereign, the Sultan.
The story is always told from Mark-Alem's point of view, and the reader learns everything as he does, understanding the event as they unravel around him. In the beginning, the author seems to concentrate in making the reader understand Mark-Alem, his thoughts, his habits, his insecurities, his family and his work. But after a while, the plot thickens as it focuses on the relationships between the Quprili family and the Tabir Sarrail, as Mark-Alem himself starts to understand what happens inside the Palace of Dreams, building up to the moment where he understands how far the rulers will go acting solely on what has been interpreted in a dream. Kadare still keeps a surprise to the very end of the book, which you may predict if you were paying attention to the details all the way from the very beginning.
It was very interesting to read a story that although being obviously about a totalitarian regime that even oversees people's future acts, is different from the usual for keeping within one character's point of view and focusing on his specific story, having no reference to heroes that fight it, to apocalyptic situations or even to the fall of the sovereign's regime as could be expected. Kadare manages to convey how one feels living under the control, being part of the very "machine" that keeps said control and still playing your part as if there was no other chance or there was no conscience of consequence. A notion that reminds me of surviving rather than living, that shows how the true, absolute control can be achieved. The text itself is easy to read and the story develops at just the right speed, being neither too slow nor overwhelmingly rushed to the end.
The Palace of Dreams wasn't one of my favourite books and I'm not about to read all that Ismail Kadare wrote but I did like it and I'd recommend it to people that enjoy stories based on dystopian dictatorships as Orwell's 1984 but don't mind a bit of fantasy as brought here by the prophetic dreams.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Earth X by Alex Ross & Jim Krueger

Even though I had read it before, in the last 24 hours I started, finished reading and all but devoured Earth X. I must admit that when I first went through the book it was a fast, superficial read and I knew much less about the Marvel Universe than nowadays. Today, even when I realised I remembered at least a good part of what was about to happen in the story, I found myself unable to stop until I had read and laughed at Jim Krueger's afterword.
Earth X is an alternate universe where the reader can get a different look at the characters he might have gotten used to while reading classic or mainstream Marvel comics. The book starts as Uatu, the Watcher, has Machine Man aka Aaron Stack aka X-51 fly to the Moon to be his eyes to world, as he has been blinded by an yet unknown attacker. What begins as a struggle between the Watcher and X-51's human personality turns out to be a whole review on the origins of some of Marvel's best known characters, and the reconstruction of what happened in this Earth during the 20 years Uatu couldn't watch.
In Earth X's present, all of humanity is mutated, Johnny and Sue Storm are dead, Reed Richards is a man broke with guilt, posing as Dr. Doom in Latveria, Tony Stark is locked from the world fearing mutation, the Avengers are Stark's robots, Bruce Banner is a kid riding on Hulk's back, Clea is Sorceress Supreme while Stephen Strange's spiritual form is dead, the Thing has kids and Thor is a woman. As if this wasn't enough for a shock, all the psychics in the world are dead, Wolverine is a fat lazy guy married to Jean's clone Madeline Prior (although he only finds out later in the book), Spider-man is forsaken while his daughter dangles around "wearing" Venom, Norman Osborn rules the US and Captain America looks much more old, tired and psychologically overwhelmed than even his century-wide age would predict. It is Caps' finding that the Skull is alive that starts the adventure happening on Earth as the reader watches as Uatu talks with X-51 and tries to stripe him of his humanity that he seemly sees as a flaw. The authors even found a good explanation for the Gods, Olympians and Asgardians alike, and through it a purpose even for Loki to be useful and for Ragnarok to be logical.
As X-51 tricks Uatu into letting him know of the Celestials' intentions towards Earth, he finds that the planet is hatching a Celestial, that it would be destroyed by it and that humans were enhanced by them to be its protectors. Aaron goes back to reveal the plan leading to the story's climax. The heroes come to the conclusion that mutations were caused by terrigen mists turning everyone into Inhumans and accelerating a process that was due to happen 200 years later. Because of this, the Celestials are coming to Earth to wipe its population. Captain America manages to be the hero and kill the Skull, the last mind-controlling entity in the World, a Celestial fail-safe to keep the mutated super-powered humans from killing each other and threatening the planet. Black Bolt sacrifices himself before the arriving host of Celestials sending a last call for the one being that has been known to counter them - Galactus, and although the true Galactus has been turned to a star, an unknowing Franklin Richards, having achieved the utmost evolution has been turned to what the Celestials believed him to be - Galactus himself. Tony Stark sacrifices himself to buy him time. In the end, Reed Richards burns the terrigen mists in the atmosphere, probably allowing for the mutations to revert. But as if all this wasn't enough, Mar-Vell appears and hints at the future, leaving a cliff-hanger of sorts that saddens me for not having the next books.
The whole idea of the Celestials being the "bad guys", of an evolution that links mutation with them but also explains how the gods came to be, as survivors of planets already destroyed and of aged, tired and depressed heroes appeals to me a lot, as a believable plot that doesn't hang on to what the usual reader expects or believes untouchable.
I must compare Earth-X with Watchmen for it is also set in a dark mood, a broken society and has an apocalyptic plot showing people's reactions and struggles, but also because it was, much as the later, able to keep me reading straight to the end, always exciting while keeping enough suspense right to the last page (a character even asks to be called Watchman so the reference was unavoidable). In spite of these similarities in the way they stand out from the regular comic books, these two novels are still very different in both the plot and the final message they convey. Going back and concentrating on Earth X,  Ross and Krueger achieved an almost perfect plot development, the building of the character's personalities and their interference in the whole story was amazing and although I'm not a big fan of the illustrations, I admit they are adequate for the storytelling tone. This might very well have been the best Marvel novel I've read to this point and I instantly went and added Universe X and Paradise X (Earth X #2-5) to my wish list and hope to pick them up as soon as I can.
I would recommend this graphic novel to readers that enjoy dystopias, reflections on the nature of humanity or even on the existence of good and evil and still like to see how depressing people can turn out to be while still able to rise to a life-threatening challenge, though with different motivations. But I mostly recommend it to people that are used to Marvel's characters, that know their origins and their personalities because the shock of seeing them all in this situation adds a lot to the novel.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Um Catálogo de Sonhos by José Carlos Fernandes

When I found Um Catálogo de Sonhos (A Dream Catalogue) I instantly decided to buy it, not only because I loved A Metrópole Feérica, by the same author, but also because I was reading The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare and I couldn't let the coincidence pass me by.
The novel starts off with a man finding out he's a dream pulled to reality out of the catalogue by Mr. Slumber. He manages to run away with the catalogue before Slumber can return him and his escape drives the reader through the story, while presenting characters as policemen, politicians, revolutionaries and others. With simple black and white illustrations, a small 48 page-wide story, and a few characters, the author uses a totalitarian regime in a society where dreams have been abolished and a dream catalogue to convey some ideas about the power of dreams.
The graphic novel is a quick and apparently easy read, but the metaphors and the implications left me feeling I should read it again in a while, to try and separate the dreams from supposed reality. In spite of having enjoyed it, Um Catálogo de Sonhos wasn't nearly as interesting and even astonishing as A Metrópole Feérica and perhaps having read it before made me expect too much.

I'm currently writing reviews on The Stranger and on The Palace of Dreams and reading some comics while I take a much needed rest from intensively reading The Grapes of Wrath.

Monday, 26 July 2010

arcipello @ deviantART

I have been absent from deviantART for a long time now, apart from checking my messages and some rare random browsing but once in a while I still feel my jaw drop to what I find there. As I was going through the works of some of the artists I follow I ended up on arcipello's gallery and remembered how I first felt when I discovered the digital painter a few years ago. He certainly is one of those few really amazing artists you can find at deviantART and his work still leaves me astounded and considering if I should order some of his prints. His gallery there is definitely worth a few (more likely a lot) of any art lover's minutes. Besides having mastered the use of colour 
and lighting, he has his own personal style making his paintings recognizable sometimes just by looking at a thumbnail.
According to his website - Art of Conway - he is 27 year-old, lives in the UK and is currently freelancing, though he has worked with some major companies as Capcom, Square Enix, Disney London and many more.
As a small sample of his art I brought here (in order of appearance) Scarlet Wind, part of a series which first made me explore his gallery, Softly sleeping, one of the best digital paintings I've ever seen, and also Paint splash
detail of yet another awe-inspiring work, Colours in the Dark, at the moment displayed at his website's starting page.
If you are an art lover, specially if you like digital painting, and you don't know arcipello aka Daniel Conway, follow any of the links here and treat yourself. If you don't know deviantART at all, you have no idea what you've been missing, it is certainly one of the best places to find art on web, from traditional or digital drawing or painting to photography, photo-manipulation and even prose and poetry, and not always as deviant as the name seems to imply. As a warning, I'd tell you to be prepared to sail through tides of lousy works, scraps and true tsunamis of fan-art while looking for the pieces that will eventually get you addicted to it, at least for a while.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Fifty People One Question

I found out about this initiative today and felt like sharing with whoever comes by, just watch the video or follow the link below. Made me feel an odd mix of emotions, as excitement, delight and something like homesickness. I've only seen this one but there are other videos more or less similar which I'll check later.


"What might happen when we venture far from home now? Will we find that London light around the corner? Will the rain hide all the dreamers out of sight? They might not want to play our little game this time - or we could look away and miss our chance. Or maybe just a bit of something out there will remind us why we take the time to ask.
It’s a simple question and the answers can lead us anywhere. So go ahead, ask yourself…"

Friday, 23 July 2010

Whatever Works (Woody Allen, 2009)

After having been recommended to me months ago, I finally got to see Whatever Works. Having been directed by Woody Allen, and after I was told the main character shared some personality traits and opinions with myself, I expected to like the film. It surpassed my expectations. Whatever Works develops around some months of Boris Yellnikov's life, a man who describes himself as the one person who sees "the big picture", a genius, a physicist who was considered for a Nobel Prize and the only character to know he is inside a film hopefully being watched by a whole lot of real people in the cinema. To illustrate this and to introduce some comic-relief into his hard, misanthropist, sceptic speech, he ends the first scene talking directly to the public. In his first apparently out of character behaviour, he takes in a runaway naive girl from Mississippi who he ends up marrying. Their relationship keeps the film running, shows how their personalities influence each other (not always as would be expected) and brings into scene her parents, who are themselves quite interesting characters, or, to be more accurate, become very interesting characters as they undergo "complete makeovers".
Even though Boris keeps talking about everyone around him imbecile inchworms, the story ends in the New Year celebration with a lot of people in his house seemingly quite happy to be in his and each other's company.
With Whatever Works, Allen illustrates hypocrite contemporary civilization, where geniuses can go unrecognised and eventually seen as neurotic fools, or can be restrained by the demands of society only to be found by sheer luck, where people can learn how relative human life is and still feel like running off after an adventurous romance or get tired of a typical everyday life and decide to photograph artistic nudes. All that seems to matter is that each one must do "whatever works" best in order to be as happy as possible, hence the title. The film excels in showing all this and more with just a handful of great characters and a very well designed plot.
Of course one doesn't have to agree with all this, most people have their own ideas on what is good or bad, what should or has to be asked of each human being or even what can be disregarded and what must be forbidden. But, all things considered, isn't that imposing on others your own "whatever works", even if you believe you are doing it for the greater good? This is one piece of art that will probably end up leaving you with some interesting questions and ideas to consider. These were some of mine.

I'd rate Whatever Works 9 out of 10 for achieving all you can ask of this kind of film and more, though I don't feel like I'll be watching it over and over again as I do with my absolute favourite ones.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

José Saramago, The Grapes of Wrath, Doctor Who and more stuff

José Saramago, the world famous Portuguese writer and Nobel Prize winner died two days ago, at the age of 87. He was a very controversial figure in Portugal, admired for his books but not so much for some of his political and religious views. After his book O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo (The Gospel According to Jesus Christ) wasn't allowed to compete for the European Literary Award by a very conservative Portuguese government, he decided to leave the country and went to live in Lanzarote in the Spanish Canaries. In spite of these events, another of his works, Memorial do Convento (Baltasar and Blimunda) one considered by some his masterpiece, became part of the Portuguese Language study program in highschool. I have tried to read the novel but his writing style with little respect for rules and its subject had me give it up. I have plans to read something from Saramago, especially Ensaio sobre a Cegueira (Blindness), Ensaio sobre a Lucidez (Seeing) and O Ano da  Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis), but I don't know if I'll ever be able to retry the one I gave up on, I usually don't. 
Although I can't give a substantiated opinion on the writer, I can still say that I agreed with some of his views on how the Portuguese people seems resigned and with some of his anti-catholic opinions. I must emphasize he disagreed with the Catholic Church having the one and only accepted interpretation of the Bible and I like the idea that as a book written and organized by people, limiting it's understanding to what one group with a very specific agenda say seems quite senseless.

With all that said, I am currently reading and enjoying The Grapes of Wrath and I won't be over soon. I can advance that I have read there some of the best book chapters I've ever put my eyes on. Before and even while reading it, I've finished reading some other books that deserved their own reviews here, ones that I couldn't elaborate for lack of time. I hereby leave a honourable mention to Mighty Avengers: The Unspoken Premiere HC, Serenity Vol.1; Those Left Behind and As Incríveis Aventuras de Dog Mendonça e PizzaBoy.
I'm also following George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, have now read the first two books, here in Portugal translated into four volumes: A Guerra dos Tronos, A Muralha de Gelo, A Fúria dos Reis e O Despertar da Magia. The part I preferred was the end of The Game of Trones, it left me baffled and I felt like running to a bookshop and buy all the other books, which I ended up doing and I am now excited about the TV series being produced at the moment.

One other subject I want to speak about eventually is Doctor Who. It was presented to me by a friend who told me his favourite episodes of the previous series. I enjoyed them so much that I am now following the series with 11Th Doctor. My favourite episodes of the David Tennant era were Blink, Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead (yes, Steven Moffat) and I would recommend watching them to anyone even if not following the series, they are worthy on their own. Matt Smith is taking over quite well, helping create a new image and personality while not severing ties with what fans have seen of the Doctor all these years. Expect more comments from me on this.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Free Comic Book Day Editions

As I said in my previous post, I went to Mundo Fantasma during the free comic book day event and bought some comics. With them, as a part of the event, you receive three free comic book day editions of your choice. I got Fractured Fables: "Red Riding Hood"; "Rumplestiltskin"; "The Real Princess"; "Raponsel"; "Hey Diddle, Diddle", Iron Man: Supernova (plus The Superhero Squad Show: "The Hulk in the Fixit") and Mouse Guard: "Spring 1153" (plus Fraggle Rock: "Boober the Doozer"; "The Birthday Present").
Fractured Fables is a compilation of jokes based on a few known children stories. I particularly liked the illustrations on "Red Riding Hood" by Camilla d'Errico and Edison Yan and on "The Real Princess" by Christian Ward. "Hey Diddle, Diddle" left me completely puzzled and speechless.
There isn't much to say about Marvel's free comic I but that Iron Man: Supernova was quite uninteresting and that "The Hulk in the Fixit" made me laugh out loud in the end.
Last but definitely not least, I must comment on Mouse Guard by David Petersen. As I know nothing about Mouse Guard, this small edition left me curious about the whole story and the art is so beautiful I am considering looking for and buying some of the author's works. If anyone wants to know more about him, here is a link to David Petersen's website.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Arcanum by Brandon Petersen

I bought this book on the Free Comic Book Day celebration at Mundo Fantasma, the one shop here in Portugal I still buy comics, if not for the price, which in Portugal is quite expensive compared to buying at for example, definitely for the people working there, really helpful and and knowledgeable and to support the effort of maintaining such a business in a country with so little love for comics (yet, I hope). I knew nothing of Arcanum apart from the author, Brandon Peterson, from some of his Marvel works but the description of a story with magic and avatars always piques my curiosity.
Arcanum has a good original beginning, with an Avatar running from others being accused of murdering one of them as you find they are all trying to find a new Avatar who´s own power is just awakening and scaring her. The plot in then developed as a pyramid, with the reader finding out there is a worse villain each time he thinks he has seen it all. It is interesting to see the story from the new Avatar's point of view, as she actually doesn't know a thing about what's happening to her. Eventually we learn that the good guys' leader is brother of the bad buys' apparent/initial leader, and this is the first of many clichés that plague the story in my opinion. Readers find that the Avatar of Darkness is being manipulated by a human wizard that has been alive for 800 years and wants the power of gods. Then we find that there is an even bigger villain, Death, who seems to see everyone's death as the one way to end humanity's and his own suffering and has been manipulating every Avatar to that end. As the Avatar of Life, the new avatar, exposes Death's plan, the Avatars run with their power through a portal to the god's plane and Death and a now powerless wizard stay behind with their plans frustrated. One point in favour of the story was keeping Death initially as an accepted neutral being and having an Avatar of Life without an opposing Avatar of Death (Death is described as a cursed immortal man, different from the Avatars) even though in the end it's Life that exposes Death's machination. 
I must say I enjoyed reading it, even while feeling the story was told too fast, finished hastily and was cuffed to some clichés. It was still quite interesting to learn the mythology created, the development of each group's relationship and the way the Avatar of Life reacts to her power, stands out for what she believes and ends up having a definite importance to the whole plot. The illustration is very good, adding a lot to the story and to help understand the characters' personalities.

Style - 7
Creativity - 5
Entertainment - 7
Relevance - 3

Overall - 6

I am still reading The Grapes of Wrath and I feel it's going to take me a while to finish it and I might read something else while I'm at it.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

I became curious about Ernest Hemingway after my visit to Cuba, where I saw the place where he stayed and wrote while he lived in Havana. I know little of Hemingway apart from him having lived in Cuba, his work as reporter during the World Wars and others, that he ended up committing suicide and of course, that he was an awarded writer. I chose to read The Old Man and the Sea because the author himself described it as the best he could ever write and also because of the general acclamation.
Hemingway writes with a simple style, short sentences direct to the point and plain dialogues that contribute to this dichotomous sense of the story. Though I liked the whole text, I was specifically amazed at his accuracy and realism in describing a person thinking and talking to herself. This book consists of a small story about an old fisherman, a boy that helps him and fishing. As simple as this might seem, and the story is told in a straightforward way, the message that it is capable of transmitting is far from obvious and direct. For roughly the first half of the book, I was thinking about fishing as a habit and as a craft, about elderly men working for a living and imagining a community around them. After that, and as I came closer to the end of the story, I started trying to grasp what the story could imply, what Hemingway could be saying while describing the lives of the Cuban people he knew and observed. And it was then that I understood how the man fishing can be interpreted as much more than a report, as a metaphor for life itself, how working the skiff, the lines and the bait can be a person's effort towards the giant fish, the dream, the purpose, how sharks can be trouble, unsolvable problems, failures, how a fish's head can be such a small part of an objective that it can be given away, how the spine can be just a memento of what has become unreachable. I should also say that this is all but one interpretation and the story probably allows for much more.
This is a quick interesting book and I would recommend it to anyone that enjoys reading and looking for different meanings and messages from the author. Overall, I'm glad to have read The Old Man and the Sea although it didn't make me feel very enthusiastic, perhaps for being so short and fast or perhaps for having read it while travelling.

Style - 8
Creativity - 8
Entertainment - 7
Relevance - 7
Overall - 7

I am now reading The Grapes of Wrath by J. Steinbeck and will also start Arcanum as soon as possible.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Muse - Uprising

I'll see them on the 27th in Rock in Rio-Lisboa. I've been a fan for a long time, and although their latest work is not my favourite, there are still some musics that hit the spot, and Uprising is surely one of them.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution!

I've been complaining about the school system for years now. I always believed it to be linear, forceful and completely incapable of helping anyone less adapted to our society's actual paradigm. It is definitely worth listening to Sir Ken Robinson as he explains how inadequate this system is at the moment and why, to change it, we need to transform it completely. Would love to see his ideas developed and materialized into a true plan.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Stop 4 A Minute by David Fonseca

Here is the latest music video by the Portuguese artist David Fonseca. His work has always called my attention, ever since I heard his first songs with the Silence 4. He has a solo career as a singer/songwriter, plays various instruments, studied cinema and worked as a photographer. Also of note was his participation in the project Humanos.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Random Stuff

First of all, I'm happy to share Felicia Day's news on Facebook yesterday:
As a fan of the series, I know I'll end up buying the comics for sure, further increasing my to-read book list.

I also felt like showing a video from Penguin's YouTube channel, originally prepared by the UK branch of Dorling Kindersley Books on the future of publishing: 

And now another video, this one I learned about at Pharyngula, and I almost "rolled on the floor laughing" when I first saw it:

Will be checking NonStampCollector's YouTube channel later!

Monday, 15 March 2010

Alice in Wonderland

I should start by saying I (at least to this day) like all things Tim Burton and I also have very good memories of all those classic Disney films as Alice in Wonderland. So, even having never read Lewis Carroll's original story, I couldn't help myself but go watch Tim Burton's 3D take on the Wonderland. I wasn't disappointed. It is visually compelling, entertaining, and has a very good argument.
This is a sequel to Alice's first trip to the (after all called) Underland. She's now 19-years-old, has been having the same dream about that trip since she was a little girl and believes to be dreaming once more. As had happened for the first time, Alice meets the usual characters: the White Rabbit, Absolem the Blue Caterpillar, Chessur the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter and the March hare, etc... and eventually comes to meet the Red Queen again playing cricket. While she can't remember her first trip almost to the end, Alice comes to find out this dream seems quite real and that she has an important part to play on the destiny of this land. She saves Underland, allowing the crown to be returned to the White Queen and the exile of the mad Red Queen and then decides to leave to her own world. She comes back a different Alice (the old Alice, as Absolem would put it) much more decided and sure of herself, says no to a marriage proposal, sends some advices and warnings to all those trying to control her life, and sets of to follow her deceased father's footsteps working with her "almost father-in-law to be".
Alice in Wonderland is a good film from almost any point of view, congratulations Mr. Tim Burton. The visual effects are marvellous, the 3D in well achieved and it all adds to what could otherwise be only just a sequel. The argument is also very nice, clear but still maintaining some of the mystery behind the land and its characters. The one thing I can criticize is the haste in the last scene, when Alice talks to the oppressing people in the party, and the unnatural lack of answers to what she says. The story progresses at a very nice pace and kept my attention for the whole 108 minutes film. And last, but not even the slightest least, there is the acting issue. Johnny Depp's Hatter is astonishing and another unique character creation out of the renowned genius. Helena Bonham Carter is as amazing as I'm used to, she becomes the perfect big-headed lunatic Red Queen. There are others that can't be forgotten, Alan Rickman does great voicing the smoking caterpillar Absolem, and then there are those characters that we still owe Lewis Carroll a lot for coming up with them as the Cheshire Cat that is still uncanny or the March Hare who can always get a good laugh out of me. I also enjoyed Anne Hathaway's White Queen with her eccentric marionette pose. Mia Wasikowska ended up being the least sparkling character in the Underland, though I can't say she did bad. How could she call attention to her being the normal little girl, as special as Alice may be, in a land of impossible wonders?
I do recommend this film to all who enjoy fantasy, specially those who have seen and liked the Disney animation from 1951 and mostly for Tim Burton's, Johnny Depp's and Helena Bonham Carter's fans.

   Style - 8
   Creativity - 8
   Entertainment - 8
   Relevance - 5

   Overall - 8