"I bought myself a parrot that could talk, but it did not say 'I'm hungry', so it died."--Mitch Hedberg
now 100% montas-approved!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Heavy Boots

"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" is the second book from the supposedly hot new writer, Jonathan Safran Foer. But I've never heard of him. At least I hadn't before we started reading this book. Foer wrote his first book, "Everything Is Illuminated," in 2002 and it received a ton of critical acclaim. The film version of that book, starring Elijah Wood, was recently released in theaters.

But enough about that book which I known nothing about, I'm here to talk about the book that I actually read. "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" (or, as I am going to refer to it from now on, ELIC). ELIC tells the story of a nine year-old boy named Oskar Schell who lost his father during the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. As the story starts out, we don't know everything that has happened so far. The backstory is revealed in bits and pieces as the book goes on.

Oskar is an incredibly hyper kid with ADD. Or maybe he's just really inventive. Or eccentric. Or insane. It's never really made clear what's up with him. Whatever it is, he's this hilariously random character and it's really fun to read his narration. Some of it is just so bizarre, you have no idea where Foer could have come up with it. The book opens with Oskar suggesting that "I could train my anus to talk when I farted. If I wanted to be extremely hilarious, I'd train it to say, 'Wasn't me!' every time I made an incredibly bad fart." Other things, such as a story of a jujitsu trainer telling him that "a jujitsu student becomes a jujitsu master by destroying his master's privates," only add to the many bizarre aspects of this novel. Oskar has a penchant for saying that he has "heavy boots" whenever he gets really nervous about something, responding with "I'm okay" whenever his grandmother says his name, and inventing ridiculous things to help him feel safe. He suffers from insomnia and carries around a book of Stuff That Happened To Me that contains, among other things, pictures of keys, flying airplanes, humping turtles, and a picture of a body falling from the World Trade Center (that he convinces himself might be his dad).

Oskar is merely one of three narrators that tell their stories throughout the course of the book. The other two are his grandmother, with whom he is very close, and his grandfather, who he has never met. Their stories are told through letters; Oskar's grandmother's are addressed to him, and his grandfather's are addressed to his son (who he met only once). These letters mostly tell the story of their complicated and incredibly depressing relationship, often telling of their lives before they came to America when they lived in WWII-era Dresden. Grandma knew Grandpa when she was a little girl, because Grandpa dated her older sister. After her sister became pregnant with Grandpa's child, the World War II firebombing of Dresden took place, killing Grandma's sister in the process.

Eventually the two meet each other again in a coffee house in America. By this point, Grandpa has lost his ability to speak, and has tattooed the words "Yes" and "No" on his right and left hand, respectively. He communicates with people by writing things down in notebooks. Many times, ELIC will show the reader these pages by having single sentences on pages, such as a page saying, "Do you know what time it is?" or another saying "What are you doing here?" Grandpa and Grandma get married, certainly not out of love, but out of what, I'm not really sure.

Oskar's story truly begins when he discovers an envelope in his dead father's room that contains a key. Written on the envelope in red ink is the word Black. Oskar decides that it is actually the name Black and sets off to meet every single person in New York City with the last name Black. On his journey, he meets all kinds of bizarre and creative characters that often seem straight out of a Charlie Kauffman film, and Oskar is somehow able to touch each one of these people in different ways.

I found myself getting so depressed reading the sections narrated by Grandma and Grandpa that I eagerly awaited the next Oskar Section. As the Grandparents' story continues, they label different areas in their apartment as "Something" or "Nothing" areas. Their relationship is completely devoid of any passion whatsoever. In fact, they really only seem to stick together (when they do stick together) due to the closeness they feel to Grandma's sister whenever they are together. Grandpa is constantly perfecting his sculpture of Grandma, but is in reality reshaping it to resemble Grandma's sister. After Grandma becomes pregnant, Grandpa leaves. Grandma raises Thomas Schell, Oskar's father, on her own. Although he eventually discovers his father, Thomas was never a part of Grandpa's life at all, and he only returns to be a part of Grandma's life after getting word of Thomas's death.

That's enough summarization. Despite the fact that the Grandparents' story is depressing and not as much fun to read as Oskar's parts, it is still very well written and it adds to the story. I absolutely love Foer's writing style in ELIC. Foer manages to truly become each of the characters he is writing, and even distinguishes between them by visually obvious tricks with the typeface. Oskar is generally written in the usual style, except for dialogue. Instead of having a conversation that goes like this:

"Hey," I said.
"Yo," she said.
"What's up?" I asked.
"You're stupid," she replied.
"That's not very nice!" I cried.
"Shut up." She insisted.

...a conversation in an Oskar Section would look like this:

"Hey," "Yo," "What's up?" "You're stupid," "That's not very nice!" "Shut up."

I was surprised by how easy these were to understand. It really makes you think about how many other things that we take for granted in writing really aren't necessary for total comprehension.

Grandma's passages contain a lot of spaces in between the sentences. She also tends to always write on the left side of the page.
Like this.
And her sentences are usually short.
Like this. But this is nothing compared to how Grandpa's passages are written.

Grandpa rarely uses periods. And he apparently isn't a huge fan of the semi-colan, either. His sentences are basically big, long, run-on sentences, he uses commas as periods, and every now and then, after a large run-on sentence, he'll put a period. The thing is, it's often really difficult to tell if he's using a comma where a comma should be used, or if he's using it instead of a period, at one point, he starts running out of paper, and he's running out of room to write so he starts writingclosertogetherandprettysoon you can't even read what he's writing, he starts writing over the writing that's already there, eventually the page is almost entirely black.

A lot of the reviewers thought that these different ways of writing were just cheap gimmicks, but I disagree. I think that they add to not only the originality of the book but to the story itself. They're really befitting of the characters and they serve the story in their own unique ways.

ELIC also uses pictures more often than most novels tend to. When it talks of Oskar taking a picture of, say, the back of a woman's head, sure enough, there's the picture on the next page. The pictures are used in ways to convey things that aren't easy to get across in writing. One good example of this is when it talks about the people using the pens in the art supply store to write their names down or writing the name of a color using a different colored ink, and then there are two to three pages of all different colored ink writings of all different words and names.

All of the uniqueness of ELIC makes it seem more like an experience to me and less like just a book that I read. The characters are so layered and real that I get really absorbed in their stories. A few reviewers argued that Oskar didn't seem like a real person. Personally, I don't know how well people can judge how a nine-year old would act after losing his father in a terrorist attack, but either way, Oskar was a really believable person who I not only thought that I could know, but I really wanted to know as well.

The revelations at the end dissappointed a lot of people, but for me it helped ground the book in reality as well as offer up some really surprising twists--which I love. I love getting to the end of a story and discovering something that changes your view about something or takes you completely by surprise. ELIC is one of the best books I've ever read. It's refreshingly original not only in the story, but in its narration and presentation as well. It is one of the only books that I've ever laughed out loud at, and it is very emotional and touching at other parts.

I'm gonna give this one a rating of Extremely Good and Incredibly Well-Written.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Good Sex, Bad Lex? Part II

Anyway, back to Smallville.

So episode 2 of season 5 was another great, for a lot of reasons. First of all, Clark and Lana are together. Finally. At last. Jesus, it's taken four seasons to get here? They were supposed to be like this from day one, but whatever. I digress. ;-) So it was nice to see them together acting like an actual couple. Very cool.

I really loved the continuity in this episode. Mentions of Jason and Clark's old girlfriend, a BRILLIANT exchange between Clark and Chloe about how Pete knew about Clark's powers, and best of all...the reintroduction of the Level Three plotline (which the writers had claimed they would carelessly forget). Another great episode.

And the sex scene...I had a LOT of doubts about it in the beginning, but really, when all is said and done, it was very well handled. They set it up as Clark and Lana being two people who were really ready to start a loving relationship and take the next step in that relationship. Hey, this IS a modern retelling of Superman!!

Onto episode 3. At first, glance, this is just a filler episode. Even so, it's a damn good one. You finally see some fallout of the recent meteor shower, as this crazy kid hijacks a nuclear facility and is gonna blow up Smallville. Simple enough, eh?

Only Clark doesn't have his powers...and top of that...he was just SHOT. Yeah, with a bullet. And on top of THAT, he dies. SUPERMAN. FLIPPING. DIES. Thinking back now I remember how sick this episode was, and how unbelievably pumped I was when just as Clark passes away, Lionel wakes up from his daze, punches through the glass, and SPEEDS AWAY.


You just don't get any better than John Glover with superpowers going all kick@$$. You just don't.

So Lionel's at the Fortress now, and Jor-El has taken over his body. Apparently, when Lionel came in contact with one of the stones last season, his body was transformed into a "VESSEL OF KRYPTONIAN KNOWLEDGE." Sound familiar? Not to anyone reading this, I'll bet. Sounds a bit like the Eradicator to me. But anyways, Jor-El has assumed Lionel's body. So Jor-El can take over Lionel now and come face to face with Clark. He brings Clark back to life, despite Clark's protests....with one big, frikkin huge consequence: SOMEONE CLOSE TO CLARK WILL DIE.

That's awesome. Sorry, but it is. And it gets better. Clark gets his powers back and it's like he never lost them. The guy JUMPS onto one of the nuclear missles, dismantles it as it heads into the atmosphere, and saves the day. That's Superman, folks. Brilliant.


Episode 4 featured none other than the King of the Seven Seas himself, Aquaman. Or a young version of him, anyway.

First of all, this episode would get a 10 in my book just for the simple fact that Lois walks around in a bikini for half of it. HELL yes.


So Aquaman in his younger days is a guy who has a penchant for wearing an orange shirt and green pants (clever nod to the comics), talks like a surfer, and is all for saving the animals. He starts hitting on Lois after he saves her from drowning, but Clark suspects something's amiss with this guy. So he tracks him down in the water. Aquaman can swim like Clark runs out of water. It's a cool effect. Best of all though, is the underwater fight between Clark and Arthur (that's Aquaman's name). Needless to say, Clark gets his ass handed to him. He's not in his element under the water.

Arthur's trying to disable these weapons Lex has been developing that will blow up submarines or something but at the risk of killing all of the fish around it. Arthur's not down with that. So he and Clark team up and stop Lex. I love seeing Lex step into his villain role. Rosenbaum has really gotten to spread his wings over the course of this show as a kind Lex, a crazy Lex, and now an evil Lex.

But the best parts of this episode come from (a.) James Marsters (commonly known as Spike from the brilliant Buffy and Angel) as Clark's new history professor (who unbeknownst to Clark is also the evil Brainiac), and (b.) the clever inside jokes with Aquaman. At one point, Aquaman suggests that he and Clark form the Junior Lifeguards Association, to which Clark replies, "I don't think I'm ready for the JLA just yet." Also, in a clever nod to the HBO show Entourage in which a running gag and main plot thread has been the development of an Aquaman movie, Arthur tells Lex that "he doesn't travel in an entourage."

So far, season 5 has been fantastic. I'm absolutely loving it. The next episode looks god-awful, but I can excuse one bad one as long as they keep up with the goodies. I want more James Marsters, more Lionel, more mythology, and more scantily-clad Lois. If I get all this, I will be one happy fan.

I'm out.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


(Good Sex, Bad Lex? Part II can wait...because....)
It's finally here...the biggest event in DC Comics in two decades....THE COUNTDOWN IS OVER: INFINITE CRISIS HAS BEGUN!!! as the headline says atop Wednesday's Infinite Crisis #1, DC's unofficial follow-up to the "classic" Marv Wolfman/George Perez Crisis on Infinite Earths that rebooted DC Universe continuity in 1985.


Taking over the writing chores is DC's Golden Boy, Geoff Johns. From JSA to The Flash to Hawkman to Green Lantern to Teen Titans to, most recently, JLA, everything this man touches turns to gold. He is one of the most successful writers in the industry, and for good reason. Johns is a d@mn good writer. He is able to tell stories that pay an immense amount of respect to the characters' pasts while still keeping things fresh and original.

The art is handled by...well, really the only person who could have a fighting chance of following George Perez's gorgeous "Crisis on Infinitie Earths" art....Phil Jimenez. This is, without a doubt, his best work to date, and will no doubt skyrocket him to the forefront of the artists business.

Everything in the past three years at DC has been leading up to this event, from Graduation Day to Identity Crisis to the most direct lead-ins, Countdown to Infinite Crisis and it's four offspring miniseries: The OMAC Project, Villains United, Rann-Thanagar War, and Day of Vengeance. Now that these four minis have come to a close, the event that every DC fan has been eagerly awaiting can finally happen.

Infinite Crisis #1 is a fantastic start, and really gets you excited for the direction this miniseries is headed in and the ramifications it will have throughout the DCU. The division between DC's Big Three (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) comes to a head in this issue; Batman is responsible for the creation of a super-spy sattelite called Brother I that fell into the hands of the evil Maxwell Lord, Superman was tricked by Lord into beating Batman almost to death, and Wonder Woman--in order to stop Lord from controlling Superman again--murdered the man.

On top of all this, Brother I has grown a mind of its own and has unleashed an army of 300,000 nigh-unstoppable androids known as OMACs to eliminate any metahumans on the planet, The Spectre has gone on a hunt to destroy all of the magic in the DCU (and has succeeded in killing the wizard Shazam), the world's villains have banded together to destroy the heroes, intergalactic war has broken out, and the JLA watchtower has just exploded. (Whew!) Talk about the worst day in the DCU...

Infinite Crisis has promised big changes, and it's delivered. The kill count in issue one alone amounts to 6 characters, however minor they might be in some eyes. The main story of issue one takes place on the moon in the ruins of the JLA Watchtower, where Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman not only confront each other, but also an eavesdropping Mongul. Meanwhile, a group of shadowy figures observe what the other heroes of the DCU are up to. Who are they? We don't know..yet.

The art is absolutely gorgeous. The spread of all the OMACs gathering in the sky above Nightwing is amazing, but pales in comparison to the double-page spread of the group of villains surprising the Freedom Fighters....it's absolutely breathtaking. The story ain't half-bad, either. In fact, I loved every second of it...except for that final page, where the shadowy figures are revealed to be...Earth-2 Superman, Superboy, and Lois? Uhh....no thank you. The reason I said Crisis on Infinite Earths was a "classic" (emphasis on the quote-unquote) is because, although it is generally referred to as such, I think it really kinda sucks. Don't get me wrong, Perez's art is fantastic, but the story...it's just there. It doesn't rank among the best of anything...maybe it's up there for the best of widespread crossover reboots, but it doesn't really have much competition in that category...It does what it was meant to do, and nothing more. It's so confusing, so grand in scope, and involves so many characters that it's easy to get lost when you read it. On top of that, none of the characters introduced in it are very compelling.

So, the fact that Infinite Crisis appears to be a pretty direct sequel to that in the sense that the "multiple earths" are returning again does not bode well, to me. But I'm willing to give Geoff the benefit of the doubt, seen as he's never dissappointed me thus far, and the other 31 pages of the issue were brilliant. I'm hooked, DC, what can I say? You're marketing strategy worked...I'm with you guys for the long haul.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Good Sex, Bad Lex? Part I

I love Smallville. The WB's teen action drama tells the story of a young Superman (aka Clark Kent) growing up in Smallville, gaining new powers and saving the day way more often than a high school freshman should have to. The show got off to a good start in its first season, and only got better with each season, culminating in the near-perfection that was season 3. However, season 4 was a bit...well, rocky, should we say? Let me put it this way: throughout the four years that this show has been on (it's currently on it's fifth season), out of all my friends and everybody that I know who watches or did watch the show at one point, I am the only person I know who stuck with the show through season 4.

Yeah, it was pretty bad. It was almost as if the writers realized that it was their last year to do stories set in the high school so they just through out any good plot ideas they had and went for mediocre, freakoftheweek-sexy-dance-football episodes. Plot inconsistencies and overall stupidities plagued the fourth season to the point where many accused the show of "jumping the shark," a phrase which here means "to stop being creative and excellent and decline in quality and performance." Anyone catch that reference? No? Fine. But I digress, mainly because I love saying that phrase because it just sounds so damn cool.

Anyways, season four wasn't all bad. Chloe learned Clark's secret, but Clark doesn't know that she knows. We got the introduction of Lois Lane to the Smallville show, portrayed brilliantly by the actress Erica Durance. Although fans typically seemed to see this as a general "F.U." from all the creators at Smallville, essentially their way of throwing any fanboy's hope at something resembling the continuity of the comic books out the window. But I digress. Again. Lois is a great character and she adds a lot to the show, and I'm pumped that she's been officially added to the cast for the fifth season, which is what I was originally hear to talk about.

I think I was digressing a little bit by talking so much about season 4, but I digress. Season 4's finale had a kick@$$ setup. Another meteor shower hit Smallville. Clark went to the caves and was transported to the arctic...gee, I wonder why? Lana was in a helicopter crash and through the magic of being gorgeous and thus unkillable she survived, crawling away from the chopper to see (prepare to gasp) A HUGE@$$ SPACESHIP! GASP! And on top of that, Lionel Luthor has gone all white-eyed and comatose on us...but wait, are those Kryptonian symbols running through his eyes? Oh yeah, and the Kent farm got hit pretty damn bad by a meteor. But everyone knows they didn't die.

So onto the premiere. I guess the writers learned from their mistakes, because let me say this right now: only two episodes have aired so far, but already season 5 is better than all of season 4 put together. That's not really saying much, but trust me, these were good. So two Kryptonian bad@$$es (third time I have [not] said @$$ in case you were counting...Montas) emerge from the ship and wreak havoc across Smallville, looking for our boy Clark, who's a bit preoccupied at the moment, with...


Yeah, it's straight outta the movies, John Williams theme and all, and it looks fantastic. I can't wait to see this set used in the future. Chloe stupidly followed Clark into the arctic and starts going all hypothermic, so Clark's gotta bounce outta that joint and zip over to the doc, so that chick can get defrosted. Wow, I am so slang-savvy. So in the midst of it all, Clark finds out that Chloe knows; it's a cool scene, blah blah blah.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (literally)...

Lois helps Ma and Pa Kent out of the rubble of their house and gets them to the doctor. Lana sees Lionel going SUPERcrazy scratching the floor with his finger nails. Then he grabs Lana and goes "THE DISCIPLES OF ZOD ARE COMING!! ONLY THEIR HOME [he's pointin' to the Kryptonite] CAN DEFEAT THEM!" Yeah, that kicked @$$ (5 times) if you were a comic-fan. Oh, and I forgot to say that Jor-El (Clark's real daddy, apparently still alive...somehow...i donno) said that if Clark didn't return to the Fortress by sundown, there'd be dire consequences or some other nonsense like that. So Clark ends up saving the day, courtesy of a Phantom Zone-imprisonment that comes straight outta Superman II (another kick@$$ [6 times] moment), but GASP it's sundown, so Clark loses his powers, courtesy of his supposed-to-be-dead-but-whose-voice(provided-by-Terence-Stamp-who-played-Zod-in-Superman-II)-lives-on-papa.

And that was the end of the premiere.

And there was much flipping out to be done.

And it was done.

And it was good.

So good.

But it only got better.

And I'm tired right now so I'll continue this later.


But Rob will return again in....I donno, Part Two, I guess...