Batman: The Black Mirror | by Scott Snyder

Batman the Black Mirror

Batman: The Black Mirror
by Scott Snyder; illustrated by Jock and Francesco Francavilla
(DC Comics, 2011, 304 pages)

This collection of Batman comics (Detective Comics #871-881) reads a lot like a hard-boiled detective story. Bruce Wayne is retired, and Dick Grayson – who was formerly Robin and then Nightwing – has now taken on the identity of Batman. Together, he and Commissioner Gordon must discover who is acquiring and auctioning off chemical weapons used by Gotham City’s notorious villains. The mystery becomes personal when Gordon’s estranged son shows up in Gotham just as a wave of violence reaches its peak.

The artwork in this volume is excellent, and the mystery holds together pretty well. I really enjoyed the way that some of the artwork called back to the look of the older Batman comics. The action sequences were drawn well and were easier to follow than some of the graphic novels I’ve read. Dick Grayson is a more compassionate and less cynical batman than Bruce Wayne. The story is still dark, but Grayson’s Batman resists giving into the darkness. I would definitely like to read more of Scott Snyder’s Batman comics.

God Help the Child | by Toni Morrison

God Help the Child

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
(Knopf, 2015, 178 pages)

When I heard there was a new Toni Morrison book coming out I knew that I’d be reading it. Her writing is lyrical and profound. As a reader you can’t help but admire her way with words. After I started reading I quickly realized that the book was going to fall far short of my expectations. Her gift with words was still there, her writing was still powerful at times, but the story just felt incomplete. It felt like both the characters and the plot could have done with some more fleshing out.

Bride was born to parents who were so light they easily could have passed for white. That was what made it so shocking that she was born so incredibly dark. Her mother could hardly stand to touch her and her father decided not to stick around. Despite never feeling accepted by her mother, Bride grew up to be a successful young woman, launching her own cosmetics line. In the midst of launching her line Bride’s boyfriend leaves her, she has a rough interaction with a woman from her past, and she finds herself experiencing strange and inexplicable bodily changes.

As the story progresses Bride decides to try and find her ex, who left with no real explanation. Her journey to find him parallels what amounts to a journey to find herself.

There were so many flaws in the story that it was hard trying to summarize things. There are characters that seem to be important but that we know very little about. Despite being set in the present-ish day, aspects of the story don’t line up. God Help the Child just felt unfinished to me, which was disappointing.

If you’re a Morrison fan I think you’ll feel similarly to me, but you never know. If you’re new to Morrison, I’d recommend picking up titles from her backlist. God Help the Child doesn’t do its author justice.

Bad Feminist | by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay
(Harper Perennial, 2014, 320 pages)

Bad Feminist had been on my to-read list since it came out. It has been well-reviewed and publicized and that’s because Gay has a knack for writing intelligently in a way that a broad audience can relate to. I actually started following her on Twitter (@rgay) before reading any of her work because she’s known for her social media presence and ability to wittily critique current social, racial, and cultural issues. This voice is clearly just a condensed, bite-size version of what you find in her collection of essays.

The essays in this collection talk about a number of things including feminism, race, and the way society has morphed into its current iteration. Gay uses various aspects of pop culture to get her points across, referencing shows like “Girls,” movies like “Django Unchained,” and books like the Sweet Valley High series. Her conversational tone makes it easy to digest what she’s saying, which helps add to this book’s a broad appeal. Gay also makes a point of speaking honestly about her own experiences and how they have influenced the way she sees the world.

I’m glad I finally got around to reading this book. I’ll definitely be reading the novel she published recently, An Untamed State, and I plan to continue checking out what she has to say about things going on in the world through her Twitter feed. You can read Sadie’s review of this title as well. I certainly think this is a book worth checking out.

Displacement | by Lucy Knisley

Displacement

Displacement: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley
(Fantagraphics, 2015, 161 pages)

Displacement is Knisley’s most recent graphic novel. In this book she recounts her experiences taking a cruise with her elderly (90+) grandparents. They had booked the cruise through a senior group they were a part of and it was decided that it would be best to have a family member go along to make sure things went smoothly. Knisley volunteered herself, not anticipating just how all-consuming her role as caretaker would be.

Knisley doesn’t sugarcoat anything. This was in no way a vacation for her. She portrays all the stress and frustration that you can imagine would arise when you are responsible for looking after two elderly and infirm individuals. It made me think of Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasantbut it covered a shorter period of time and didn’t really get as in-depth. Still, it offers an honest portrayal of what aging really looks like, and that can be a hard thing to face.

If you enjoyed Chast’s graphic novel and have an appreciation for graphic memoirs this might be something you’ll appreciate.

Apostles Today | by Benjamin G. McNair Scott

Apostles Today

Apostles Today: Making Sense of Contemporary Charismatic Apostolates: A Historical and Theological Appraisal by Benjamin G. McNair Scott
(Pickwick Publications, 2014, 272 pages)

The major story in twentieth and early twenty-first century Christianity is the global expansion of the Pentecostal and charismatic movement. Part of that expansion is the proliferation of charismatic apostolates. The same rationale that calls for a pouring forth of the charismata evidenced in the New Testament (speaking in tongues, prophecy, etc.), also seeks to restore the New Testament’s office of apostle to the contemporary church. Contemporary apostles are extremely controversial, particularly within evangelical circles. McNair Scott, working out of the Anglican tradition, surveys these contemporary apostolates. He explores historical precedents for apostles in the church, as well as the exegetical arguments that support such a view. Finally, he offers a theological critique of contemporary apostles with a view towards the ecumenical potential and challenges that such figures present.

McNair Scott approaches movements like the New Apostolic Reformation from an appreciative but critical distance. As an Anglican with charismatic leanings, he appreciates both the renewal generated by the charismatic movement and the inherited ecclesial and theological structures of traditional denominations. Ultimately, he recommends a severely chastened appropriation of apostolic roles and language that could promote ecumenism between established denominations and new charismatic groups. The book is a revision of McNair Scott’s PhD dissertation, so its audience is fairly specialized. However, the subject matter is highly relevant to the church today. For those interested in the charismatic movement and its influence on contemporary Christianity, this is an important book.

Tales from the Deadball Era | by Mark S. Halfon

Tales from the Deadball Era

Tales from the Deadball Era: Ty Cobb, Home Run Baker, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and the Wildest Times in Baseball History by Mark S. Halfon
(Potomac Books, 2014, 248 pages)

Modern baseball has been scandalized by steroid use, labor disputes, and inflated salaries. It’s enough to get anyone nostalgic for the good old days when ballplayers played hard, clean, and for the love of the game. Well, if this era ever really existed, it wasn’t during the Deadball Era. The Deadball Era, which stretched from about 1900 through 1919, was an era known for its gritty play, high batting averages, and trick pitches. According to Halfon though, it was also marked by rampant cheating and violence (on the part of players and fans). The 1919 Black Sox scandal is the most notorious of baseball scandals, but Halfon insists that “throwing” games was part of the culture of baseball in the Deadball Era. It would seem that corruption has always been an integral part of the game.

Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times is still the best book on Deadball Era baseball. However, Halfon contributes some fascinating new insights. One of Halfon’s goals is to dispel the myth that baseball faced a crisis after the Black Sox scandal and was only saved by the popularity of Babe Ruth and the new “lively” ball. While the game certainly changed dramatically in 1920, with home run totals skyrocketing, Halfon convincingly argues that there was never any dip in baseball’s popularity after the scandal – it would seem that fans had accepted such scandals as part of the game. As evidence of this, Halfon brings to light the fact that in addition to throwing the 1919 World Series, there is plenty of evidence to show that the White Sox also took a dive in the 1920 pennant race. He takes the high attendance and huge national following for the 1920 World Series as an indication that corruption never seriously challenged the popularity of baseball.

For all the differences between Deadball Era and contemporary baseball, a little historical investigation of this bygone era reveals all sort of issues that feel familiar. These insights and stories should hold the interest of any baseball fan.

An Age of License | by Lucy Knisley

An Age of License

An Age of License: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley
(Fantagraphics, 2014, 195 pages)

I read Lucy Knisley’s graphic novel, Relish, a couple years ago and enjoyed her artistic style and story (it was food-focused – always a win for me) so I thought I’d look into more of her work. An Age of License was sitting on the shelf at the library so I grabbed it. It’s actually a follow-up to her graphic novel, French Milk. I haven’t had a chance to read that yet, but this book stands alone so I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.

An Age of License is a graphic retelling of the experiences Knisley had while traveling around Europe after the release of French Milk. She has just ended a long-term serious relationship and is dealing with that in addition to reflecting on her life and her career. She is able to meet up with her mom, who has taken a trip to France with some friends, and has a European romance that helps distract her from focusing too much on the questions of where her life is/should be going.

Interspersed throughout the book are more detailed, colored drawings which highlight Knisley’s artistic talent in a different way. These simultaneously enhance the story while offering a visual break. I’d be curious to hear the logic behind her decision to include these pieces the way she did.

I wasn’t necessarily wowed by this book, but I liked it overall. I’ll certainly be picking up French Milk. My next review will be of Knisley’s more recent title, Displacement.

If you like travelogues and enjoy graphic novels, this would probably be an enjoyable read for you.

Outlander | by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
(Dell Publishing, 2005, 896 pages)

I’m late in the game for checking out Outlander. I was curious to see what all the fuss was about, especially since now it’s a TV show people are flocking to. It’s interesting to try and describe the book to others because it has so many different elements at play. This book has history, romance, AND time travel. This is by no means a small book, but it reads fairly quickly and it’s part of a series of similarly large books.

The book starts off shortly after the end of WWII. Claire Randall and her husband are vacationing in Scotland to get “reacquainted” after years apart during the war. While on this second honeymoon of sorts, the Randalls discover a hidden alcove with stone markers. When Claire revisits these stones on her own she suddenly finds herself transported to another time. She’s in the same place, but it’s 200 years earlier.

Understandably confused, Claire is shocked to find herself grabbed by a British soldier who tries to have his way with her. After managing to escape from him she is then taken by a group of Scottish men who are also trying to get away from the British. The men decide to hold her until they can figure out whether or not she’s a spy. She makes herself useful once they return to their home at Castle Leoch. Having been a nurse during the war her medical knowledge comes in handy.

As Claire adapts to this new time she finds herself placed in another difficult situation. In order to save her from the hands of the British (specifically the man who tried to rape her earlier) Claire is forced to marry a young Scot named Jamie. This forced marriage kindles something between them that neither Jamie or Claire could have anticipated…

I was intrigued by the story and curious to see how Gabaldon developed it. If you enjoy historical novels and don’t mind romance and a unique fantasy element you’ll probably get a kick out of Outlander. I can’t say I’m compelled enough to continue with the series… At least not right now. But I did enjoy the book.

The Language of Sisters | by Amy Hatvany

The Language of Sisters

The Language of Sisters by Amy Hatvany
(NAL Trade, 2002, 278 pages)

Nicole Hunter has trouble coping with the demands of a life with her disabled sister, Jenny, who is both mentally and physically challenged. It is when Nicole’s parents decided to place Jenny in an institution that Nicole decides to move away. She is gone for nearly a decade when she gets a feeling that something is wrong with Jenny and makes a phone call to her mother. Her mother tells her that tragedy has struck Jenny and therefore Nicole decides to go back home. She must now face her own feelings of guilt for leaving her sister so long ago and the strained relationship between her and her mother.

Nicole is worried that Jenny will still be upset with her for leaving but only finds that Jenny has forgiven her and their bond is still as strong as the day she left. Nicole decides to bring Jenny back to her mother’s house and take care of her. It is then that she discovers just how challenging it can be to take care of someone with disabilities and gains a true understanding of why her mother ultimately had to put Jenny in an institution. Nicole is forced to face the guilt she has for leaving her sister behind. In taking care of Jenny, Nicole will find a way to forgive herself just as her sister has. The tragedy that brought Nicole back home will eventually lead to blessings for everyone.

This book was beautifully written. The author takes some very difficult issues and builds a story around them. It is very moving with deep moral and philosophical issues. It shows that forgetting yourself can sometimes be the best way to find yourself while also demonstrating the true meaning of unconditional love, forgiveness, and healing. The bond between the two sisters is heartwarming and uplifting. A wonderful story!

All Star Superman, Vol. 1 and 2 | by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

All Star Superman Vol 1

All Star Superman, Vol. 1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
(DC Comics, 2008, 160 pages)

All Star Superman Vol 2

All Star Superman, Vol. 2 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
(DC Comics, 2010, 160 pages)

These two volumes have been recommended to me as the best of the more contemporary Superman comics. While they rely on developments from previous comics to some extent, the storylines are pretty accessible to anyone with a basic knowledge of Superman’s origins. Kryptonite is not the source of Superman’s problems in this story. Rather, in an ironic twist of fate, he receives an overdose of solar radiation while rescuing a manned space mission to the sun. The sun, the source of his strength, has saturated his cells with more radiation than they can take, assuring a slow physical deterioration and death. Subplots include Lois Lane receiving super powers for twenty four hours, Superman’s encounter with future versions of himself, and a Bizarro planet where Superman finds himself trapped and rapidly weakening. This Superman is a reflective one as he considers how to use his now limited time on Earth and how he can ensure the planet’s safety after he is gone.

I enjoyed these stories. They are fresh takes on Superman which maintain continuity with the classic elements the hero’s story. The concept is original and interesting, and the artwork is crisp and engaging. On the downside, some of the subplots seemed trivial and silly, and they got a bit distracting at points. I found portions genuinely funny, but other attempts at levity fell flat. Had the story remained more tightly focused on Superman’s slow decay and his attempts to come to terms with his own mortality, I think it would have been much stronger.

While Batman may be the grittier and more interesting superhero, the story of Superman has always maintained a special appeal for me. Morrison and Quitely definitely created an addition to that story that strengthened that appeal.

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