2019年12月17日 星期二

Comic Book Interlude 11

Recent comics read recently.

1. Afro Samurai (all)

A black samurai messiah wanders around a medieval/futuristic version of Japan.  The art is interesting in a non-linear way, but the story is just barely there, even for a comic book.  I can get why people like it.  It does a decent job of walking that high noon/samurai/"representation" aesthetic.

2. Tales of the Dark Multiverse #1: The Death of Superman

Ever wondered what would have happened if Lois Lane had turned evil after the death of Superman and gained his powers?  What?  No?  You never wondered about that?  Me neither, and the art isn't all that great either.

3. Empowered (Volume 1 to whenever I stopped reading it)

The life and times of a superheroine in the context of softcore porn.  As with Afro Samurai, I get why this comic has a following.  It's not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it's often funny and the main character is engaging.

4. Soviet Girl: The End of the Soviet Union #1

More softcore porn.  Russia's lesbian version of Captain America kicks ass and takes names.  A lot of the art in this comic was rendered via computer.

5. Spider-Man: Life Story #1-6

Spider-man's life story told in six decades.  It ends just about as you'd think it would, and relies way too heavily on all that Clone Saga nonsense.

6. Punisher: Soviet #1

Garth Ennis returns to familiar territory.  I really liked this one, and I'd be eager to read future issues.

7. Terminator Salvation: The Final Battle Volumes One and Two

This comic ties the pre-Dark Fate Terminator movies into a larger narrative.  Issues of causality aside, it's well written and the art is very good.  I've never been a huge fan of the Terminator franchise but I have to admit this was WAY better than I thought it would be.

8. Olympia #1

Kirby-ish comic about gods (or is it comic book characters?) crossing over into our world.  It's very "meta," and having only read 1.5 issues I can't say if that's a good thing yet.  I'd read some more if I came across them.

9. 2000 A.D. prog 2160

Hey, Pat Mills is still writing comic books!  I was a huge fan of both Nemesis the Warlock and Marshal Law.  Aside from his bit there's a lot of Judge Dredd-related stuff.  Some is good, some is bad, and some is indifferent.  I'm still unfamiliar with this "Fall of Deadworld" series, but I liked what little of it I read.

10. Batman: White Knight Presents Von Freeze #1

Mr. Freeze's backstory.  It's alright.  Kind of cool that Klaus Janson is still around.

11. Blade: Blood and Chaos

Don McGregor, remember him?  He was a bigger deal in the 70s, as one of the the younger generation of comic book writers who were breathing new life into the genre.  His writing style remains as wordy as ever, to the point where you wonder how Blade has time to utter so many sentences in the midst of a swordfight.  Bart Sears did most of the art, and although I've never been a huge fan I like that his characters are more fluid now.

12. I Killed Adolph Hitler

One of those Fantagraphics jobs.  An assassin travels back in time to kill the Fuhrer.  Not a bad read.

13. He-Man and the Masters of the Multiverse #1

DC does He-Man, Crisis on Infinite Earths style.  I was recently surprised to learn that He-Man is one of the few characters to have killed Superman.  Not that that has anything to do with this comic.

14. Harleen Books One and Two

Harley Quinn's origin story.  I liked it a lot and I'd be eager to read future installments.

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Comic Book Interlude 10

2019年12月12日 星期四

Albums That Changed My Life 7: "Rust in Peace" and Other Thrash Albums

So after getting into Iron Maiden I entered my metal phase.  For whatever reason I never really got into the other NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) bands, though I do remember liking Def Leppard after seeing them on MTV.

Instead I went backward.  As I bought up Iron Maiden's discography, I noticed that a lot of the older, (and to me) more obscure albums on the shelves were actually much cheaper.  For this reason I started listening to bands like Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.

I loved all that stuff for a while, but I guess none of those albums managed to resonate with me until years later.  I suppose a lot of it had to do with my age at the time, and also the fact that they those albums sounded a bit quaint and old-fashioned to my adolescent ears.  I would change my mind later of course, but back then I was looking for the next big thing.

Enter Megadeth and "Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?"  The first time I heard this song was on MTV's Headbanger's Ball, and even before the song was over I'd kind of forgotten about Iron Maiden.  Megadeth just sounded so new.  They had the attitude, they weren't dressed like girls, and their music sounded great over a pair of earphones.

Dave Mustaine, unknown to me then, had been around during much of my brief obsession with Iron Maiden.  While I was discovering Maiden he was playing in Metallica.  A lot of the other thrash bands also had roots in the early 80s, but many of us didn't discover this until much later on.  Our awareness of these bands began with the TV and radio shows that promoted them, and these TV and radio shows only appeared several years into their respective careers.

I branched out into Anthrax, Metallica and (to a lesser extent) Slayer.  I grew my hair long.  I had a denim jacket with patches.  I started wearing a lot of black, and I bought T-shirts of my favorite albums.  I probably looked ridiculous at times, but comments about how I looked only set me more firmly on the path I was traveling.  The "Big 4" (Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer and Metallica) led to Suicidal Tendencies, Sepultura and Testament.  Every month I was discovering a new band, and learning a new song by heart.

This went on until the end of high school, when I have to admit that grunge/alternative stole some of the space from my once sprawling thrash collection.  But until 92 or so I was an avowed metalhead, hating nothing more than the slow, poppy strains of glam bands like Cinderella, Ratt and Poison.

I think this is what drew a lot of people to thrash metal in the first place: a shared hatred of "glam" or "hair" metal.  We knew what we hated, and this made us love what we loved even more.  Motley Crue?  FUCK that noise!  Bon Jovi?  Christ, what's wrong with you?  Yeah, it seems kind of silly in retrospect - especially given the ironic way in which the glam/hair metal bands are followed now, but back then the threat was real, and those of us who knew about REAL music had to band together.

Looking back at that time, there are some definite standouts among the thrash albums of that era.  As said above, my introduction was through "Peace Sells," but there were a lot of other great albums released during that period.  Megadeth's (mindblowing) "Rust in Peace" and "Countdown to Extinction."  Metallica up to (and not including) "The Black Album."  Anthrax's "Persistence of Time."  Slayer, a band I didn't really appreciate back then, had a spectacular run of albums up until "God Hates Us All."  All of which is not to mention the bands from Florida, Sweden, Germany, other parts of Europe and elsewhere.  Seattle even had its own thrash band, Metal Church, who are sadly forgotten.

But yeah, grunge.  For many of us grunge made thrash seem old in the way that thrash made the NWOBHM bands seem old.  It's sad to say, but musical styles fall out of fashion, and thrash was no exception.  Claim whatever loyalty to metal you will, you're not likely to hold on to your Metallica T-Shirts when everyone around you is suddenly sporting Nirvana or Mudhoney.

I can only hope you won't judge me too hard for this.  I was after all a teenager living in Seattle, and those grunge bands were our own.  I never disavowed my love of thrash, I never threw away any cassette tapes or CDS, but as the 90s rolled in I developed a definite preference for Alice in Chains, Nirvana and Soundgarden.  Alice in Chain's Dirt tour was the first big concert I ever went to, and by that time the thrash bands were already fading from our collective consciousness.

Not that I didn't get back to thrash later on.  After passing through grunge, jazz, glam rock, progressive rock, and whatever other phases I did manage to reunite with that copy of "Rust in Peace," purchased so many years previous, and worshiped so devoutly.

And you know what?  It still sounds awesome today.

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2019年12月4日 星期三

"The Devil Wears Prada" by Lauren Weisberger (2003)

Lauren Weisberger is an American novelist.  She grew up in Pennsylvania, went on to work at Vogue, and has since written several novels.  This book, The Devil Wears Prada, is largely autobiographical, and was inspired by her months (years?) working at Vogue.

In The Devil Wears Prada, a recent college graduate applies for a job at premier fashion magazine Runway in hopes of kickstarting a writing career.  Soon after she finds herself working for Miranda Priestley, Runway's Editor-in-Chief and darling of the fashion world.  As the title of this book would lead you to expect, Miranda Priestley then proceeds to make the protagonist's life a living hell for the next several months.

I'd seen the movie years before, so nothing in the book was a big surprise.  The chief difference being that I enjoyed the movie a lot more than the book.  Other differences between the movie and the book?  They are:

1. The lead character's labored "Jewishness."  Salt bagels, for whatever reason, are mentioned often.  I think the author did this to emphasize the protagonist's distance from the larger, "whiter" culture of the fashion world, but the use of the word "Jappy" in the beginning of the book, and mentions of the fact that she can't tell her Indian roommates apart achieve the opposite effect.

2. The proliferation of gay men.  In the book gay men dominate the offices of Runway magazine, and none of them veer far from stereotypes.  Nigel, the character that Stanley Tucci played so brilliantly in the movie, appears for only a moment in the novel, and the role of "gay friend" is fairly evenly divided between Nigel and another character, James.

3. The character of Miranda.  In the book Miranda is more of generalized British crazy woman.  Fortunately the writers of the screenplay realized that fleshing out Miranda a bit more was essential to the story they were trying to tell, and thus the movie's script gave Meryl Streep a lot more to work with.  Making Miranda more human/easier to relate to went a long way toward explaining the protagonist's grudging admiration for her.

4. Miranda's absence from the first 1/4 of the book.  This, to me, was the strangest thing about the novel.  Miranda doesn't really show up until you're a fourth of the way in, and by that time the "threat" that she represents has been dulled by her distance from the protagonist.  I get that the author wanted to set up the protagonist's background before entering into her conflict with Miranda, but that setting up period could have been a lot shorter.

5. The role of fashion.  As the protagonist accompanies Miranda to Paris the role of fashion in this story does become more obvious in the book, but up until the second half it's largely absent from the narrative.  One improvement the movie made was introducing that argument between the protagonist and Miranda over her fashion choices early on.  This emphasized the role of fashion in the overall story, and also made a nice point about the role of fashion in the larger culture.

6. The boyfriend.  In the book Alex is a teacher working in the inner-city.  I think the author chose this profession for him because it highlighted the different career trajectories pursued by the protagonist and her boyfriend, and also helped explain why their relationship stalled later on.  In the movie, however, he was an aspiring chef.  From my point of view making him a chef is more practical, because it makes him more a part of the urban culture they both share.  It also makes him more likely to be with the protagonist in the first place.

7. The ending.  In the movie the ending's a lot simpler.  Anne Hathaway's character comes to a realization about Meryl Streep's character, and that's about it.  Yeah, she bangs the cute writer guy - another departure from the book - but overall the ending of the movie is more to the point.  In the book several plot threads come together around a shared tragedy, and by the end the protagonist is free to pursue her true ambition and become a writer.  I think both endings work, even if in the book's case one of the characters at the center of that tragedy could have been better developed.

All in all I'd have to say that both the book and the movie are good, but the movie is a clear improvement over the novel.  If, like me, you've seen and enjoyed the movie, you'll find a lot to like about the book.  It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and it's an obvious first effort by someone new to writing books, but it's a fairly well put together story.

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