Monday, March 6, 2017

What I'm Reading: Roundup

Fatal, But Not Serious A novel by my friend, Frederick Lewis! I think the closest comparable for this book is A Confederacy of Dunces. Both drop a lot of ridiculous characters against a Southern backdrop with hilarious results. Fatal, But Not Serious pits the salt-of-the-earth residents of Williams Island, a fictitious barrier island off the coast of Georgia, against a sham environmental organization that wants the government to remove the island's residents so it can build a sustainable eco-lodge for tourists.

The novel has a deft sense of comic timing and effectively builds the conflict between the island's residents and the environmentalists, who resort to increasingly underhanded means to get the residents to leave. I think my favorite part was when a Brazilian woodpecker, painted to look like the nearly-extinct ivory-billed woodpecker that hasn't been seen on Williams Island in decades, becomes a media sensation and is chopped up in the rotor blade of a cable television camera drone that's tracking its every movement.

What I would like to see in Mr. Lewis's next book is more emphasis on developing characters. Going back to A Confederacy of Dunces, yes the characters were ridiculous, but Ignatius J. Reilly and the others were also believable (to an extent) and sympathetic, with their own foibles and complexities. The characters in Fatal, But Not Serious are more two-dimensional. Nor need it come at the cost of the sharp political satire--Primary Colors comes to mind as a political satire that managed quite a bit of subtlety in its characterization. Mr. Lewis shows a lot of promise and I'd like to see what he manages next.

Complete Peanuts Volume 26 Okay, I've skipped ahead to the final book in this series, because I'm afraid this one will not be in print long. The Complete Peanuts is a noble project to publish every strip of Charles Schulz's Peanuts, from its inception in 1951 to its final panel in 2000.  It's a gargantuan undertaking, and a new volume covering two years is issued every six months.  (I have previously reviewed the 1977-78 volume herethe 1979-80 volume here, the 1981-82 volume here1983-84 volume here, the 1985-86 volume here, and the 1987-88 volume here.)

The series finished the regular run of strips with Volume 25, with Volume 26 containing ephemera--ads, short books, and related artwork that appeared in various media. The highlight to my mind is the comics that appeared in a late 1950s comic book series by Dell. While most of the strips were done by other artists, Schulz did a few himself, and these definitely have the flavor of late 1950s Peanuts. In fact, they read rather like lost Sunday strips. Apparently they have never been reprinted before now.

Some fun things in this book, but this volume is definitely for the completists rather than the general reader.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Ranking Dr. Strange

Thinking about going to see the Logan movie tonight, and just realized I never got around to ranking the Dr. Strange movie.

I have previously ranked the Batman movies, the Superman movies, the other DC movies, the Avengers movies, the X-Men movies, the summer 2015 comic movies, the Spider-Man movies, the non-Marvel and non-DC comic movies, Captain America: Civil War, and the Man-Thing.

As ever, my ranking system is
Green=excellent  Blue=pretty good  Black=Okay  Red=avoid

Dr. Strange is one of my favorite comic characters; I have tons of his comics, and I was really looking forward to this movie. Well, the movie was cool, great special effects, fun story, but somehow it did not capture at all what I like about the comics. That's probably not fair, so I'll try to judge the movie on its own terms. But that overall impression definitely colors my opinion.

The movie follows gifted but arrogant surgeon Dr. Strange, whose hands are injured in a car crash. Even after healing he will never operate again (ironically, the one person who could have fixed them was him), and he descends into a downward spiral of despair and alcoholism. But then he hears about a mysterious healer in Tibet, the Ancient One, who can cure ills not treatable by Western medicine. Desperate, he sets out for Tibet and eventually finds the Ancient One, only to learn the Ancient One has different plans for him than resuming his medical work....

Dr. Strange gets lots of points for its mind-blowing special effects, a real advance in the sophistication of computer generated imagery, I think, very much like Inception. In fact, it reminds me a little of the early 1990s, how The Abyss blew everyone's mind with its effects but wasn't that popular, only for Terminator 2 to come along a year later and show everyone how CGI could be applied to more popular action films. I wonder if Dr. Strange will be the T2 in this situation.

So my overall ranking for Dr. Strange will be in the bottom half of the pretty good category. Others with less previous knowledge of the character might like it better.


Here's the master list of all comics movies I've rated so far, in order from best to worst:

American Splendor
Iron Man
Heavy Metal (1981)
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Superman (1978)
Captain America
Batman Begins (2005)
Captain America: Civil War
Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier
Spider-Man (2002)
X-Men 2: X-Men United
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Superman II
Batman (1989)
Dr. Strange
The Dark Knight (2008)
Iron Man 3
The Wolverine (2013)
Sin City (2005)
X-Men: First Class
X-Men (2000)
Avengers 2: Age of Ultron
Swamp Thing (1982)
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Iron Man 2
Watchmen (2009)
Batman Forever (1995)
Superman Returns (2006)
Thor 2: The Dark World
Incredible Hulk (2008)
Mystery Men
Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Man-Thing (2005)
Superman III
Supergirl (1984)
X-Men 3: Last Stand
Hulk (2003)
Fritz the Cat (1972)
Batman and Robin (1997)
Batman Returns (1992)
Superman IV

Amazing Spider-Man (2012) (Haven't seen)
Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) (Haven't seen)
Batman (1966) (Haven't seen)
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Haven't seen)
Catwoman (Haven't seen)
Constantine (Haven't seen)
Deadpool (Haven't seen)
Green Lantern (Haven't seen)
Hellboy (Haven't seen)
Judge Dredd (Haven't seen)
Man of Steel (Haven't seen)
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014) (Haven't seen)
V for Vendetta (Haven't seen)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Haven't seen)