The Way of the Word

30. July 2011

Review: The Mis-Adventures of Adam West #1

Publisher: Bluewater Comics. Cover Price: $ 3.99. Written by Reed Lackey. Art by Russell Dauterman.

Actor Adam West has problems: his values and ideas are out of fashion, and because he refuses to compromise them he doesn’t get any more work. But then something amazing happens: a strange amulet that he gets in the mail not only makes him young again, it also transports him into a spy adventure — which he eventually recognizes as one of the scripts he had recently rejected.

Like most of my generation, I have a soft spot for Adam West. Which is why I broke my rule of not spending more than $3.00 on any one comic, and impulse-bought this one. I was rewarded with a charming little story of a man who feels his time has passed, and who (apparently) is about to get the chance to prove everyone wrong.

The writing is competent and rather nostalgic. It manages to evoke sentiment in the reader — if you’re like me, you’ll feel with Adam West because you agree with him; if not, you’ll probably scoff at his old-fashioned notions. But you will react in some way.

The bad thing about this comic is the art. Invoking the Shooter Test, it’s servicable. You can tell what happens in each panel even if there were no words. But it is no more than that. The art is a bit too simple, too bland to excite. And frankly — if your comic is officially licensed by Adam West, then you should draw him in a way that the readers will recognize him even if you don’t say, “This is supposed to be Adam West.”

All in all, The Mis-Adventures of Adam West is a charming comic, and the only reason I won’t get the next issue is the price tag. I’ll keep an eye out for the TPB, though.

Verdict: mildly recommended.

25. June 2011

RIP Peter Falk

Peter Michael Falk, born September 16, 1927 in New York, died June 23, 2011 in Beverly Hills, at the age of 83.

The actor Peter Falk was famous for two things. One of them being his glass eye, which he got after losing his right eye at the age of three. Which didn’t stop him from participating in team sports as a youth. He was actually considered a star athlete in high school. While the glass eye kept him from enlisting in the US armed forces during WW2, he did serve as a cook and mess boy in the merchant marines for a year and a half. After that, he initially signed up for Israeli army’s war against Egypt, but that war was over before the proverbial ink had dried. So he went back to university. Upon graduating, he tried to join the CIA, who rejected him because he had been a union member while in the merchant marines.

While working as an efficiency analyst for the city of Hartfort, he joined the local community theater. At the same time, he studied with Eva Le Gallienne; a class he lied to get into: Miss Le Gallienne only taught professional actors. When he was found out, and she told him he should be a professional actor, he quit his day job. Moving to New York, he became a successful stage actor. From 1958 to 1960, he also played small roles in movies.

His cinema breakthrough was the role of Abe Reles in the movie Murder, Inc. in 1960, for which he got an Oscar nomination. He got another nomination the following year for his part in Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles. During the same period, he also did some TV work, which also got him award nominations. He won the Emmy in 1962.

In 1968, he accepted a supporting role in the Gene Barry TV movie Prescription: Murder, a role that had been rejected by Bing Crosby. Prescription: Murder was something original at the time: a murder mystery from the murderer’s POV. Falk was cast as Barry’s foil, the police detective Lieutenant Columbo.

(Pause for effect.)

Now, if you haven’t heard of Columbo, you’re probably from another planet, and even then you’re likely to know of the character. Peter Falk played the unique, polite and much smarter than he appeared detective from 1968 until 1978. It wasn’t so much an ongoing TV series, but rather a series of TV movie specials.  The longest seasons were 2 and 3, with 8 episodes each.  It was revived in 1989, for more TV movies and specials until 2003. The people who worked on it were a real who-is-who of Hollywood. Steven Spielberg directed the first regular episode in 1971. Robert Culp, Patrick McGoohan, William Shatner, John Cassavetes, Mickey Spillane, Richard Kiley and George Hamilto are only a minor sampling of guest stars. Falk’s Columbo quickly became one of the most iconic sleuths in fiction, ranking with Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Sam Spade. In parallel, he continued to make movies (preferring smaller, independent movies) and act on the stage.

After a series of dental operations in 2007, Peter Falk rapidly declined into dementia and Alzheimer’s.

This is the point where I usually explain what the person whose obit I wrote here meant to me. In this particular case, I don’t feel up to it.

I mean, this is Columbo we’re talking about, you know. If you didn’t love Columbo, that’s proof that you don’t have a soul.

28. May 2011

Awesome Ideas That Will Never Be

Okay, if the right chain of unlikely coincidences should happen, this one has a very slim chance of not being completely impossible. If someone who knows Cassandra Peterson happens to see this and likes it and points it out to her and she likes it…

But, yeah: awesome idea that will never be.

I like Elvira (Cassandra Peterson). The character is funny, bizarre, over the top, sexy and, well, funny. I own her first movie, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, on DVD. I’ve seen the second one, Elvira’s Haunted Hills, but I don’t like it nearly as much as the first. The reason is simple: Elvira is an over-the-top comedic character. But unlike the first movie, where Elvira began as the odd woman out and the situation became progressively more bizarre, the second movie had a scenario where everyone was so bizarre that Elvira fit right in.

A good Elvira movie needs to quote heavily from the horror genre, and it has to have Elvira as someone who stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. If everyone is as bizarre as she, then it’s overkill.

So what can we do to make a good and fun Elvira movie? It’s really quite simple:

Elvira Knows Why You Screamed on Friday the 13th.

Let’s quote heavily from the slasher genre, with some liberal sprinkling of Evil Dead and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

A busload of teenagers, returning home from a sports event (or going to a sports event) finds themselves trapped on a small islet. They had only planned to pass through, but a flash flood tore down both bridges, effectively isolating them. There is only one house on the islet, a mansion actually, so the teenagers turn there for help.

The only person in there is Elvira, who, being her normal friendly and helpful self, offers the kids shelter. But something is weird about the entire set-up. Curious as teenagers are, they discover that Elvira is engaged in some strange magickal rituals that might involve the Necronomicon.

As soon as they discover that, they start dying. Since Elvira is the odd woman out, they of course immediately suspect her as the Slasher, and try to kill her in return. Which doesn’t work, but plays a part in establishing that Elvira is not the killer. As the outsider looking in, her help does turn out to be instrumental in uncovering the real killer. And about the magickal experiments she performs in her basement? Yes, it is the Necronomicon, but she’s not trying to call up demons. She’s trying to materialize Bruce Campbell.

At the end of the night, the bridges are being repaired, so the surivors can look forward to continuing on their trip. But what about Elvira? Will she get lucky? Will her summoning of Bruce Campbell succeed? Only his agent knows for sure…

20. April 2011

Review: Thor

USA 2011. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins. Runtime: 114 minutes

A thousand years ago, there was a great war: the Frost Giants attacked the Earth. But the humans did not stand alone: to their rescue came the Asgardians, led by Odin (Anthony Hopkins). The Asgardians defeated the Frost Giants and sent them home. There was peace since then, but it was a fragile peace.

Now, Odin is about to retire from the throne, and intends to proclaim his son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) king of Asgard. Unluckily, the ceremony is interrupted by a trio of Frost Giants who have breached Asgard’s defenses to steal the Cask of Ancient Winters. Odin’s superweapon The Destroyer makes short work of them, though. Still, it is not enough for Thor, who considers this an act of war and wants to retaliate.  Against his father’s wishes, Thor, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and their closest friends take the battle to Jotunheim, the realm of the Frost Giants. And much ass is kicked. But in the end, our heroes are outnumbered, and look to go down fighting, until Odin comes to their rescue.

I suppose you can imagine how unhappy Odin is with his favorite son. He’s unhappy enough that he banishes him to Earth. But with an escape hatch: a quickly whispered enchantment and a hammer throw provide Thor with the means to eventually return to Asgard: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”

Both Thor and hammer end up in New Mexico, where Thor meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her friends. Jane is an astrophysicist who has been busy exploring peculiar electromagnetic occurrences. Thor, of course, happens to be in the middle of one of them: Jane was tracking Bifrost, the bridge between Asgard and the other realms. Once Thor finds out that his hammer Mjolnir is also in New Mexico, he sets off to reclaim it. Bad news: he can’t. He isn’t worthy. Which means he is now stuck on Earth.

Meanwhile, on Asgard, Odin has slipped into the Odinsleep, leaving Loki king of Asgard. Loki, never one to miss an opportunity, sets out to cement his rule and make sure that Thor never returns. Leaving Thor stranded on Earth sounds like a plan, if only it weren’t for those pesky Warriors Three Fandral (Joshua Dallas), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and their companion Sif (Jaimie Alexander). (For those who wonder why Sif receives extra credit, instead of being part of Warriors Four – the three guys take their collective name from the comics, and in the movie, Sif is badass enough to merit an extra mention.) These four set out to bring Thor back, because they don’t like the idea of Loki being king. Which means Loki has to kill Thor. Pity. He hadn’t really wanted that. Destroyer, if you would, please.

When the Destroyer comes to smash New Mexico, Thor shows some new found humility and the willingness to sacrifice his own life for others. That seems to make him worthy, because now Mjolnir takes off to return to its master’s hand. And much ass gets kicked.

The good things first: Thor kicks ass. Or rocks. Whichever you prefer. On a scale of Marvel movies, it’s not quite as good as Iron Man 1, but better than Iron Man 2.

The movie wins because of the cast and the characters. Because of the story and the writing. Thor is a jock, a braggard, he’s big and strong, he has never met anyone he couldn’t take, and he never had to grow up. For Thor, life is an adventure. And it helps if your father is king of the gods. Chris Hemsworth sells this, he owns the part. He walks with a swagger, and he is so utterly charming in his arrogance that it’s impossible not to like him.

Something similar can be said of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. He’s a schemer and a planner. His plan in this movie is far more layered and complex than it seems at first. But even though he is a wily manipulator, his actions don’t grow out of evil. They grow out of being the second son, the less-loved son, who stands in the shadow of his larger-than-life brother. As Hemsworth and Thor, Hiddleston makes Loki believable. Likable, even. Sure, he wants to have his brother out of the way, but at first he doesn’t even want to kill him. He just wants to humiliate him, then get him out of the way. As the situation escalates, so do Loki’s plans, as he grows increasingly annoyed and lashes out with the same petulance that Thor exhibits at the film’s beginning. In that, Loki’s increasing childishness while Thor grows up, Hiddleston and Branagh present Loki as the mirror image of Thor.

Those are just the two principal players. All in all, the entire movie is perfectly cast, up to and including the two actors where I had certain problems. Before the movie, I was opposed to the idea of African-American actor Idris Elba playing a Norse god, as much as I was opposed to the idea of slim actor Ray Stevenson playing a character known as Volstagg the Voluminous. Both won me over, because they nailed their characters. There is not a single bad performance in this movie.

The story is not too complex, and yet Thor manages to be a rather smart action movie. There are several laugh out loud moments, sometimes in the dialog, sometimes in the way the actors present their lines, sometimes as physical comedy. But they are never out of place. The humor comes from the characters, their interactions with each other and the world(s) around them.

The bad: you will want to see this movie in 2D, because the 3D is Last Airbender-level bad. The 3D makes the movie darker, it becomes blurry, and it doesn’t add anything positive to the experience. The best scenes are those where the 3D doesn’t punch you in the “lookee, 3D” face. Scenes that are really just 2D. Well, it’s not as if this problem is anything new with post conversion, right?

The other bad is that Thor shows that Kenneth Branagh, who is a solid character (and story) director, is not an action director. The four major action pieces — the Frost Giant attack on the Vikings, the battle in Jotunheim, the fight of Thor vs. Destroyer and the showdown with Loki — are visual messes. I’ll have to see the movie again in 2D to know just how much the bad 3D helped jumble the scenes (the opening action piece was definitely ruined only by the 3D), but the Thor vs. Destroyer fight was almost as bad as the showdown in Ang Lee’s Hulk — it was very difficult to tell what was going on.

Finally, Thor tries to stuff too many characters into this movie. Every single one of them gets a moment to shine, and every single one contributes something essential to the story, but it does make for a bit of a clutter.

All in all, however, those two are the movie’s only flaws. All in all, Thor presents a coherent and clever story, likable and nuanced characters and solid acting by every single member of the cast.

The after-credits scene, by the way, connects Thor to both Captain America and Avengers. I’m not going to spoiler it any more than that.

Verdict: very recommended

10. February 2011

Review: John Jackson Miller: Star Wars – Knight Errant

Originally published in 2011.

Knight Errant is a tie-in novel to Dark Horse’s new Star Wars comic series of the same name. Comic and novel star Jedi Knight Kerra Holt, who is a lone Jedi fighting in Sith space. The novel is set after the events of the first story arc of the comic series, and stand-alone.

Kerra Holt is hiding out on Darkknell, the world of Sith Lord Daiman, who is at constant war with his brother Odion. During her stay, Kerra finds out that the Daiman has set a trap for his brother. Using an academy ship and over 1,000 younglings (that Star Wars speak for “children”) for bait, Daiman wants to provoke Odion into an ill-considered attack. Odion walks straight into that trap. Kerra was just along for the ride, hoping for a chance to assassinate Daiman, but now she needs to save those children.

Enter the mercenary Rusher, and his artillery crew. And especially his ship. Kerra loads the children on Rusher’s ship, and off they go, looking for a safe place to drop them off. As if there were such a thing in Sith space. Their first stop is the Dyarchy, a strange world where everyone is mind-controlled by the teenage Sith Lord twins Quillan and Dromika. Kerra manages to abduct Quillan and takes him to the next Sith world, this one ruled by Arkadia – who turns out Quillans sister. There, Kerra learns the deepest secret of Sith space.

This novel was supposed to come out after #5 of the comic series. As it happened, it came out after #4, with one issue of the first story arc left to go. I’m therefore not sure just how stand-alone it really is. Miller references the comics quite a bit. Fortunately, I’ve read them. But I think I would understand the novel even if I hadn’t.

Miller has a very entertaining writing style, but sadly it doesn’t really cover up the novel’s problems. Daiman and Odion are too much comic book villains — they are crazy and over the top, something that can work in a comic (with the help of the art), but is less interesting in prose. The two are too much what they are. However, this novel introduces a host of new characters, most of whom are far better suited to prose storytelling. Quilland and Dromica (along with their regent) are nicely creepy, and Arkadia turns out to be quite the scheming supervillain. The mercenary Rusher has a considerable (early) Han Solo vibe and borders on homage, and the Bothan agent Narsk is complex and interesting enough to deserve a novel of his own. Comedy sidekick Beadle, however, is prone to a type of physical comedy that requires visuals to work.

All in all, the story itself is rather disjointed. Instead of a coherent narrative, it’s episodic, as if it had initially been plotted as a comic book storyarc. And that’s how it reads: like a comic without pictures. Most of the plot twists are telegraphed, the astute reader can predict them easily. All in all, however, Jackson hits all the points that are required of a Star Wars tale. It’s competently written and entertaining enough, but five minutes after you’ve put it down, you’ll have forgotten almost everything in it.

Verdict: mildly recommended, unless you’re a Star Wars fan, then recommended.

25. July 2010

Review: Tod Goldberg – Burn Notice: The Giveaway

Filed under: books,review,TV — jensaltmann @ 14:58
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Originally published in 2010. Based on the TV show.

His name is Michael Westen. He used to be a spy. Until he got a Burn Notice on him and was out of the business. Now he lives in Miami and helps people out while he tries to figure out how to get back in.

In this adventure, Michael helps out his friend Barry the money launderer. Barry has a friend, Bruce, who is a thief. Bruce robbed the wrong people — the biker gang The Ghouls. Now there’s a price on Bruce’s head, and he needs Michael’s help to get out of this mess. Michael’s solution: fake Bruce’s death and incite a gang war between the Ghouls and their greatest rivals, so that they’re otherwise occupied. Unfortunately, things rarely go as planned…

The Giveaway is the third tie-in novel to the popular TV series. It is so far the best. Previously, Goldberg did a creditable job writing the main character, Michael Westen, it had just been that the voices for the supporting cast of Sam Axe and Fiona Glenanne felt a bit off. Practice clearly makes perfect, because this time Goldberg nails the voices of the entire cast. The result is a very fun pulpish adventure that is difficult to put down and really captures the feel and pacing of the TV show, up to and including the various character quirks of this admittedly very quirky cast of characters. The only problem is that the novel’s climax seems somewhat forced, as if Goldberg suddenly realized that he was running out of space and had to wrap things up right now.

The Giveaway would work very well as an episode of the TV show. That is both to the novel’s credit and detriment. Credit, because when I read a tie-in novel to a TV show, I actually want the source to be evoked. Detriment, because it doesn’t take the best advantage of the different medium to tell the kind of story that, even for simple budget reasons, the TV show couldn’t.

Verdict: recommended.

8. May 2010

Review: Solomon Kane

Solomon Kane

F/CR/UK 2009. Directed by Michael J. Bassett. Starring James Purefoy, Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Max von Sydow. Runtime 105 minutes

It’s ironic, in a way: less than a week after re-reading the original Solomon Kane stories by Robert E. Howard, I get the opportunity to see the movie. So bear in mind that the following is tinted with a very fresh memory of the original tales.

It’s the early 17th century. Solomon Kane, an English mercenary, discovers that the Devil is after his soul, and that his evil and violent ways mean the Devil will get his wish. Kane hides out in a monastery, but he is eventually sent away. On the road, Kane meets the Crowthorn family and befriends them. This doesn’t end well:  the men are slain by the minions of the evil sorcerer Malachi. When the dying father tells Kane that saving the girl Meredith will redeem his soul, Kane takes up arms again. He discovers that his own family is involved with the sorcerer. And that Malachi is ready for him and has prepared to deliver Kane’s soul to the Devil.

When this movie was made in 2008, it was intended as the first in a trilogy of movies. Considering that Solomon Kane is going straight to DVD (a few film festival and con screenings notwithstanding), it’s not likely that the other two movies will be made.

The movie’s major problem is that it gives Howard’s Puritan adventurer an origin story, as a once evil and wicked man (“I am the only devil here!”) who seeks and finds redemption and decides to take on the evildoers in the world. And indeed, the Solomon Kane in this film is so different from the original that it seems as if Bassett took an original (if a bit generic) sword & sorcery script and tacked the Solomon Kane trappings on.

The Solomon Kane in this movie is wicked, brutal and selfish. At least half of the reason for why he decides to save the girl and kill the evil sorcerer are selfish: he believes it will redeem his soul. This is difficult to reconcile with the Puritan wanderer of the stories, who frequently got involved in adventures because of an overdeveloped sense of honor and justice.

Ignoring that, how does the movie work as a fantasy epic? It starts out strong, establishing characters and tone. Said tone being dirty and gritty. The coloring of the movie is cold throughout, even the red glare of frequent fires seems cold and harsh. The actors must have been thoroughly miserable; they look cold and wet throughout. Any misgivings that I had regarding James Purefoy as Kane vanished quickly; the man vanishes into the role. The action is expertly and convincingly staged. The movie’s weakest point is the showdown, when Kane has to take on an oversized, fiery CGI-monster that completely destroys the gloomy atmosphere the movie had so successfully built up. Until then, Solomon Kane manages to build a spooky and even somewhat frightening atmosphere, an accomplishment that is rare in fantasy.

In total, Solomon Kane is a mostly entertaining but standard sword & sorcery movie. Don’t expect anything that resembles the original, and you will not regret spending your time with this one.

Verdict: mildly recommended

29. April 2010

Are Comic Book Movies Doomed?

Several comic book based movies in the last couple of years have… let’s say not performed as expected. Superman Returns had a reported budget of $270 million and earned back $391 million worldwide. Punisher: War Zone cost $35 million to make and earned back $10 million. Watchmen, with a budget of $130 million, earned back $185 million. Box Office Mojo offers no numbers about what The Spirit cost (according to Wikipedia, it was $53 million), but it only earned back $39 million.

This month, two comic book movies opened essentially back-to-back. One of them is Kick-Ass (which I have already reviewed). With a budget of $30 million, it earned back (so far, it’s still in cinemas) $66 million. Since the opening weekend barely managed to gross $20 million, people cry out how this movie is a failure. Looking at the above numbers, I’m tempted to ask, “Really?” Because it did better, relatively speaking, than any of the above.

The other is The Losers. It cost $25 million to produce, and in the week it has been out it has earned back $11 million. I’ll grant you that this one looks very much like a failure in the making to me. But do two movies, one a perceived failure and one a probably failure, mean that the time of comic book adaptations is at an end?

I don’t think so. One thing is that none of the above count DVD sales. And more than one movie has been made profitable by DVD sales. Actually, considering that Kick-Ass has already earned back twice its budget means a sequel is virtually guaranteed. And The Losers might become a cult hit on DVD.

So before you cry about the end of days for comic book based movies, ask yourself this:

– Would Kick-Ass, which should have appealed more to a younger demographic, have done better if it hadn’t been rated R? Probably.

– Does anyone even know The Losers is based on a comic book? Probably not. If I really wanted to make the effort, I could search the internet to dig up the old sales numbers from August 2003 through March 2006.

What we have here, then, is one comic book based movie that is only a “felt” instead of actual failure, and another one that is probably not even perceived as a comic book adaptation. Rather, in marketing, The Losers comes across as a low-budget A-Team rip-off. Considering that the actual A-Team gets the big-screen treatment in just a few weeks, closely followed by the incredibly cast Expendables (yet another misfit solders fighting against the odds-movie), it’s more likely that the audiences saved their movie budget for either or both of the still-upcoming movies, rather than this not very well reviewed one. (I’ll wait with reviewing until I’ve actually seen it.)

Some people say that R-rated comic book movies don’t work, because they exclude a major part of their natural audience. That’s actually very likely. Some people say that deconstructionist superhero movies don’t work, because movie audiences still prefer their heroes iconic and inspirational. That, unlike comic book readers, movie audiences don’t yet feel the need for deconstructionist superhero movies. It’s very likely. The superhero movie genre isn’t that old yet, and hasn’t been sufficiently explored yet to need deconstruction. Until then, the audiences prefer to laugh with the heroes, rather than at them.

(Which is also why I think the upcoming Green Hornet movie will fail. By all accounts, it’s going to be camp. Now, camp worked to make Batman a popular TV show back in the 1960s. About 40 years ago. However, people have a different kind of humor these days. A movie that 40 years ago would have been celebrated as camp would today be considered a cheesy, unimaginative spoof.)

Bottom line: I don’t think movie audiences are tired of superheroes just yet. We’ll see how Iron Man 2 will do next month. Rather, the perceived failure of two comic book properties (which, as we’ve seen, has been blown wildly out of proportion — thanks to various agendas) has led to some overreactions.

5. March 2010

Review: Kevin J. Anderson – Enemies & Allies

Filed under: review — jensaltmann @ 10:35
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Originally published in 2009.

It is the 1950s. Gotham City is plagued by a vigilante who dresses up as a bat to fight crime in the most corrupt city in the US. Bruce Wayne, technically in charge of Wayne Industries, discovers that a competitor, LuthorCorp, has bribed or coerced the members of his board. Because of this source, LuthorCorp owner Lex Luthor defeats Wayne Industries at every point. Once Bruce Wayne has gathered proof of this, he decides to turn the tables on Luthor.

Enter Clark Kent, a mild-mannered reporter in Metropolis, and Lois Lane, his co-worker at the Daily Planet. They also discover that Luthor is up to something, but what could that be?

In their efforts to find out, Superman and Batman repeatedly get in each other’s way. But in order to stop Luthor and save the free world, they need to work together.

Kevin J. Anderson dives deep into the pools of DC history and of actual history. His versions of Batman, Superman and Lex Luthor are not the versions of these characters as they had actually appeared in the 1950s. Rather, Anderson mixes and matches the various versions, taking whatever he feels works in this story. For example, his Luthor owes more to the “evil businessman Luthor” of the 1980s than to the “mad scientist Luthor” of the Golden Age.  The references to the 1950s are equally a grab bag. While Superman is very much the Golden Age version of the character, the influence of the Richard Donner movies (for example) is unmistakable.

But, since this is the fictional US of an alternate DC Universe, it works.

The novel’s story is a mix of what X-Files would have been if it had been made in the 1950s, and the adventures of James Bond (more the movies than the novels, though). Up to and including the evil madman’s secret island base. (I admit I was a bit disappointed when the James Bond aspect wasn’t followed through in regards to the secret island base.) Batman and Superman visit a Siberian gulag, they break into Area 51, they run afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and need to stop Luthor from triggering a nuclear war. Throughout, the novel is peppered with references and nods to the entire history of these characters. Clearly, Anderson knows what he writes about.

All in all, Enemies & Allies is not the Superman, Batman and Luthor that anyone knows. It is, as DC used to call it, an Elseworlds Tale. The story doesn’t suffer very much because of it. It does prove, however, that “evil businessman Lex” makes a much better Batman villain than a Superman villain. It also proves that Kevin J. Anderson needs to write James Bond.

If you are a DCU continuity nerd, you want to stay away from this. This story is outside of continuity. If you like superhero action in general, and pulpish action adventure in particular, then this novel will serve you nicely.

Verdict: recommended

27. January 2010

Review: Patricia Highsmith – Strangers on a Train

Filed under: books,review — jensaltmann @ 10:14
Tags: , , ,

Originally published in 1950.

Architect Guy Haines is on a train to a place called Metcalfe, where he wants to meet with his wife Miriam, to discuss their divorce. On the train, me meets Charles Bruno. The two men talk, it turns out that Bruno hates his father. And he has an idea: “I’ll kill your wife for you, and you kill my father for me. Nobody will ever figure it out, because we don’t know each other. We’re just two strangers on a train.” Guy wants nothing to do with this, but Bruno kills Miriam regardless. Afterwards, he keeps piling the pressure on Guy until Guy sees no other way out but to do what Bruno wants, and kills Bruno’s father. The question becomes, can Guy live with the guilt of what he has done?

For me, this began with an episode of Castle, of all things. That episode borrows from Strangers on a train, and one character remarks that this is just like the movie. “I’m kinda partial to the Patricia Highsmith novel,” Castle replies.

Whoa, what? I knew the movie of course, but I had had no idea that it was based on a novel. So I went and got a copy.

It didn’t disappoint. Strangers is Highsmith’s first novel, and it’s very very good. She deftly switches back and forth between the characters of Bruno and Haines, getting deep into their psyches. You have probably heard of the “show, don’t tell” principle. Highsmith doesn’t come out and state that Bruno is a psychopath. Instead, she makes it clear from his thoughts, attitudes and actions. The same goes for Guy Haines. He’s the victim of this story, as Bruno first creates a reality that he then pressures Guy into accepting. Highsmith’s presentation of how Bruno slowly erodes Guy’s resistance to his insane scheme until the murder, and of how the sense of guilt proceeds to destroy him even further afterwards, is chilling.

All I can say is, thank you, Castle. I am definitely not sorry to have read this novel. It’s a fantastic, chilling and thrilling piece of fiction. The novel, by the way, is far superior to Hitchcock’s movie adaptation. (Which is not to say that the movie is bad, far from it. Just — the novel is far better.)

Verdict: very recommended

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