Wayne of Gotham–review

Book Review: WAYNE OF GOTHAM by Tracy Hickman

So at Grandcon, as I previously mentioned, I got to meet legendary fantasy author Tracy Hickman and his wife, Laura. Well, there was also a table selling some of his books. I neglected buying any of the Dragonlance ones, mostly because I didn’t know what was what. So instead, I plunked  down $17 for a copy of his original Batman novel from last year, Wayne of Gotham.

Before I dive into my review, let’s all note that cover, shall we? That’s by the great artist Ryan Sook, who doesn’t work often enough as he should, and it is just gorgeous. I would so buy this as a print.

Anyway, this story gives us an isolationist Batman ala The Dark Knight Returns. Bruce Wayne is rather old and is fighting crime all by himself with only Alfred’s help. There’s no Robin, Nightwing or Catwoman to be found. With his advanced age, Bruce has had to rely more and more on amping up his technology; the Batsuit he wears in this novel is essentially an Iron Man suit, amplifying his natural strength by tenfold and with all sorts of tricks.

Besides operating completely alone, it seems, Bruce also has cultivated a public reputation as a Howard Hughes-ian recluse ala The Dark Knight Rises; this is all in the service of Batman, naturally. If no one’s bothering Bruce Wayne, they won’t pick up on Batman.

Into this status quo comes a new arrival in the form of a mysterious woman named Amanda who claims to know things about his parents, things that Bruce has never heard about. What he learns is shocking, disturbing and ultimately changes the way Bruce thinks about his past.

An interesting part of this story is that we get a somewhat definite timeline for Batman, as we have flashbacks with Thomas Wayne in the 1950s as a young medical school graduate who gets in over his head all for the sake of Martha Kane, the girl next door. This is an interesting story which is given equal time parallel to the main story. And in both stories, Gotham is made a fully fleshed out character in its own right, which is always welcome.

As I said, this is an isolationist Batman. We really get no established villains other than the Joker and a couple others. Continuity-wise, this is its own thing, but it largely seems to be following the post-1986 timeline for Batman, with a brief mention to Scott Snyder’s current Batman run dropped at the end. It’s an interesting choice to make and while I wish there were more people to bounce off of, we see just how haunted Bruce is.

This book is not without its problems, alas. The dialogue drops the ball quite a few times–one scene in particular where Bruce confronts Alfred over a secret he’s been hiding contains the especially ludicrous line, “No Alfred! Master Bruce doesn’t want his cookies and his milk!”–and the descriptive passages describing how the Batmobile or another piece of technology works is annoying and more confusing than helpful. The ending is also pretty controversial, with at least one other reviewer I know actively disavowing this book.

But overall, if you’re lucky for a Batman story that’s different from what we get, this fits the bill. I’ve thought lately that Batman’s unique psyche is best explored in a novel and this book reinforces that thought. Check it out if you like.

Advertisements

Star Trek Saturdays #31

It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #31!

292px-TOS_head

This week’s episode is “Metamorphosis” and it’s a brilliant fleshing out of the history of Trek as it sets up seeds of much later stories while giving us an interesting musing on life and love.

We open with Kirk, Spock and McCoy aboard the shuttlecraft Galileo, ferrying back Federation Commissioner Nancy Hedford (Elinor Donahue) back to the Enterprise as, while trying to prevent a war on Epsilon Canaris III, she contracted the extremely rare, life-threatening Sakuro’s Disease. She blames Starfleet Medical’s incompetence for this, although McCoy informs her that the odds of anyone contracting the disease are literally billions to one. Regardless, Hedford is pretty bitter.

Suddenly, the sensors pick up something and the shuttle’s visors are lowered to reveal what Spock can only describe as something akin to a cloud of “ionized hydrogen:”

File:Tos-metamorphosis-remastered-companion-space.png

The mysterious cloud engulfs the shuttle and the group is transported to a small planetoid. Spock does some sensor readings and determines that the place is entirely satisfactory for human life and, leaving Hedford inside, they step out. The planet looks like your average purplish desert landscape; they don’t register any life readings. But suddenly a voice calls “Hello” to them and a figure runs up to them.

The man (Glenn Corbett) identifies himself as Cochrane; McCoy and Kirk note that he seems familiar but they can’t seem to place him. Cochrane looks upon Hedford, who’s come outside by then and is astonished by her beauty. He tells the others that a damping field is affecting their shuttle, preventing them from taking off. When they ask him if he knows anything about the creature that brought them there, he denies it and invites them to his home.

The house has on a table several old shuttle parts, which to Kirk are positively antiques. Meanwhile, McCoy begins to care for Hedford, who’s succumbing to the effects of her disease. After much pressing by Kirk, Cochrane eventually relents and tells them about the Companion, which is what he calls the cloud creature, which brought him here when he was old and dying alone out in space. He reveals his first name is “Zefram,” which astonishes McCoy and Kirk. For Zefram Cochrane is the inventor of warp drive, but he has been thought dead for 150 years. However, Spock notes that his body was never found.

Is this the real Zefram Cochrane? How is he still alive and young? What does the Companion have to do with that? And why did it bring Kirk and the others here…?

If the name Zefram Cochrane sounds familiar to you, it’s most likely because he was this guy in Star Trek: First Contact:

As portrayed by legendary character actor James Cromwell, Cochrane was the cantankerous, somewhat cowardly discover of warp field technology, which enabled humanity to be discovered and contacted by the Vulcans, which eventually led to the establishment of the Federation. In the events of the film, Cochrane had to be convinced to accomplish his great task by Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E in order to stop the Borg from changing history.

Regardless, he was established here first and it’s a fascinating and fantastic way to expand the history of Trek, providing not only an example of living history to Kirk and the crew, but someone who has troubles and longings of his own.

This episode was written by executive producer Gene L. Coon and once again, he demonstrates a real knack for fleshing out the world we find ourselves in with this show. But more than that, he provides a unique meditation on loneliness and solitude: the two eventual problems with immortality. It’s very interesting to see play out.

Ralph Seneskey, who previously directed the similarly poignant “This Side of Paradise,” is back here and again, he demonstrates a knack for letting emotions come across. Unlike last time, he only has a limited number of characters to work with, but he manages to give all of them equal footing, as well as stage some exciting sequences with the Companion, which looked great with the remastered footage.

As I said, this is a small cast, so if they didn’t play off of each other, it’d be for naught. As it is, our three leads bounce off of each other terrifically, with Spock getting his usual dry one-liners in to bust up the tension and Shatner demonstrating how crafty Kirk can get. Corbett is no James Cromwell, but he’s still quite good at showcasing Cochrane’s loneliness and confusion. However, I did not much care for Donahue; she comes off as really whiny and annoying until about 15 minutes are left in the episode. Bit of a disappointment.

But overall, this is an interesting episode that laid the groundwork for all sorts of things that Gene Coon couldn’t even imagine.

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.

Of Batman and Captain America

Beware-the-BM-1_uw76ywt5af_

I’ve talked about how much I like Beware The Batman before and, given that it’s on hiatus as of this writing reportedly until January, I’ll probably be doing that again sometime soon.

But to tide us over, DC has released a tie-in comic, the first issue of which came out this week and which I reviewed over at Drunk On Comics. SO go read that.

As with last time, there was stuff I left out of the review, mainly my one big quibble with the issue. In the opening pages, Katana is wielding the Soultaker Sword, a powerful weapon that does, well, exactly what it sounds like. But (slight spoiler here) that sword is stolen from Katana during the course of the show. I’m not fully caught up, I realize, but I don’t think she’d get it back so soon. That, coupled with the now-jailed Simon Stagg being out and about, the timing of this is really odd. Best not to think about it too much.

Anyway, the other big nerd news from this week? The trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier finally landed, and it. Looks. AWESOME.

Seriously, how cool does this look? I like that, with the Avengers being an occasional team in the Marvel Cinematic Universe rather than a permanent one, they chose to focus on the super-spy/S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff that also makes up a huge part of Cap’s story.

Also, I would bet pretty heavily on at least two people from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.–which, if you aren’t watching, you should be–making an appearance. Because synergy.

I can’t emphasize how much I’m looking forward to this; between now and then, I’m gonna look up and read a whole lot of Captain America comics.

October Holiday [Part One]: Jogjakarta

Hey folks, sorry for the reblog, but I have a big test tomorrow and an even bigger midterm on Friday. So while I do that, enjoy this post by my friend Michelle, who’s currently teaching English in Indonesia.

Teaching. Traveling. Writing.

As previously mentioned, I recently spent five days in Jogjakarta.  Located on the island of Java, Jogja is a city well-known in Indonesia, specifically for being a center of culture and education.  With two UNESCO World Heritage sites less than an hour away, innumerable batik shops, the Ramayana Ballet, and a handful of universities, the city one of the most popular tourist destinations in Indonesia, second only to Bali.

While in Jogja, the primary focus of my group was to go to language school.  Through a series of recommendations, we settled on a fantastic school, and booked a hotel only 150m away. We started right away, literally going straight from the airport to the school.  Four hours later, with our brains jammed full of Bahasa Indonesia, we checked into our hotel.

In the following days, we visited Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia, Borobubur, a massive Buddhist temple, as…

View original post 244 more words

RIP Oscar Hijuelos

In the summer of 2011, I was entering my freshman year of college. Because of family plans and other things, we didn’t hold my high school graduation party until the middle of July. By then, I had excitedly ordered all my books through Amazon and they had arrived at my house.

At the actual party, I was running around all day doing various things, although I did get to relax a fair amount. At the end of it all, though, after most of the guests had gone home, my sister had gone to sleep after marathoning all then-7 of the Harry Potter films the night before and my folks were busy chatting with my aunt and uncle, I headed to the stack of my new books and, almost at random, chose one of the titles from my American Literature survey course: Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos.

I read the book in most of 2 days, instantly captivated by the story of a man, himself an orphan, trying to put his life back together after the murder of his aspiring priest son, and thinking back over the story of his own life as a honorary member of New York’s Cuban community of the 40s and ’50s, despite not really being Cuban himself; a simple story, Hijuelos captured it in poetic, delicate writing that painting broad, vibrant brushstrokes in your head.

I bring this up because, this past Sunday, Hijuelos died at the age of 62 of a heart attack after playing tennis in New York, where he lived his whole life. Although a son of Cuban immigrants, a year-long childhood illness requiring hospitalization forced him to commit to English as a first language. He never forgot his roots, though, as he wrote English with the delicacy and grace of flowing Spanish.

I fell in love with Mr Ives’ Christmas and, when it came time to discuss it in class, I eagerly dove into it again. A year later, I bought a copy of Hijuelos’ Pulitzer Prize winning epic, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, which explores the mambo/Latin music craze that briefly ruled ’40s and ’50s America as well as the tale of two immigrant brothers, the bullish Cesar and the ruminative Nestor, and became the first novel by an American Hispanic author to win such a prestigious honor. That was also terrific in its balance of the brutal and the delicate.

With the current demographic situation being what it is here in America, I feel blessed and fortunate to have encountered Hijuelos’ writing. Surely and hopefully, there will be more like him in due time.

Star Trek Saturdays #30

It’s time for…Star Trek Saturdays #30!!!

292px-TOS_head

This week’s episode is “Catspaw” and it’s the closest to B-grade horror Trek ever gets, with a nice mix of melodrama and suspense that recalls the old horror classics in an appropriate theme for this Halloween season.

We open with the Enterprise orbiting the distant planet Pyris VII while a landing party of Sulu, Scotty and crewman Jackson explore it. The crew is worried because they’re not making their routine check-ins. Suddenly, in response to Uhura’s urgent hailing, Jackson (Jay Jones) responds saying there’s only one to beam up. Concerned, Kirk orders the transporter room to beam up Jackson but has McCoy meet him there.

As soon as Jackson materializes, he falls to the ground, dead. But that’s not all; a mysterious voice emerges seemingly from Jackson’s mouth and tells Kirk that there is a curse on the Enterprise and they must leave the planet immediately or die.

Putting Asst. Chief Engineer DeSalle (Michael Barrier) in charge of the ship, Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to the planet at the point where Jackson was beamed up. The planet’s surface is actually really foggy, something Spock notes is unlikely due to the environmental conditions; the planet is very rocky and desolate. Noting a reading of nearby lifeforms, the three head towards them and they encounter…three witches.

File:Witches of Pyris VII.jpg

Yeah that’s right, witches. Anyway, they warn the men to leave by reciting this following poem before vanishing:

Captain Kirk! … Captain Kirk! … Captain Kirk!
Go back! … Go back! … Go back!
Remember the curse!
Wind shall rise!
And fog descend!
So leave here, all, or meet your end!

After they vanish, Kirk asks Spock if he has any comment. “Very bad poetry, Captain,” Spock says.

They continue moving, despite being blasted along by wind and fog. They eventually come to a large forboding castle, which is the source of the lifeform readings they’ve been getting.

File:Pyris VII castle, remastered.jpg

They go in and spot a black cat, which they follow until the floor gives out from under them, plummeting them down into the castle and knocking them out.

Sometime later, Kirk awakes and finds himself and the others chained up inside a dungeon.

File:Kirk, McCoy and bones.jpg

Scotty and Sulu appear; Kirk’s happy to see them, but quickly realizes that they’re not in control of their own minds anymore. The two free him and the others and make them walk at phaser point. A brief fight breaks out, but suddenly, they’re all in another room. A room with a table where, sitting with the black cat from earlier and a wand in wizard’s robes, is a man who calls himself Korob (Theo Marcuse),

Spock comments that all mapping expeditions so far have not recorded any lifeforms on the planet. Korob confesses that he is, not in fact, a native of this world. He makes a fabulous feast appear out of nowhere, then does the same with hundreds of gemstones. He does this in the hopes that they’ll leave without asking any questions. Kirk, however, informs him that since they could just manufacture all these gems on the ship, the ones Korob is offering them have no value. Korob then says this was all a test, and he’s learned that the landing party is loyal, brave and incorruptible.

The cat then makes some gesture and Korob bends down to it “Of course,” he says. The cat jumps down and walks out the door; then right after, a ravishing woman calling herself Sylvia (Antoinette Bower) and clad in all black appears.

She tells Kirk that she can control men’s minds. Kirk overpowers Scotty, steals his weapon and aims it at her. In response, Sylvia tells Kirk that she can perform sympathetic magic. To prove it, she makes a small model of the ship appear and holds it over a candle. Up above, the real ship–where Uhura, DeSalle and junior officer Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) are frantically trying to locate the party–begins growing hotter.

Who ARE Korob and Sylvia? And what do they want with Kirk and his men and Pyris VII?

This is one fun episode, as it’s basically trying to ape the old-school horror movies of the ’30s and ’40s but in a Trek setting. While other franchises could have this sort of experiment blow up in their face, here, it works really well, largely because the threat of the unknown–which fuels all horror–is an undercurrent of Trek anyway that they bring naturally to the forefront here.

And as a bonus, this episode introduces Chekov, one of the most famous cast members of the Original Series, what with his really, really fake Russian accent and all. But here, he looks a little different from normal.

Yikes, that is one heck of a bowl cut wig, huh? Well, according to Memory Alpha, Koenig was hired for his youth, as NBC executives wanted someone who looked like Davy Jones. Yes, the Monkee’s Davy Jones. Really. Anyway, Koenig’s hair wasn’t long enough when he was hired to pull that off, so until then, he had to wear that wig. Regardless, it’s cool to see this character finally show up.

The script here is written by Robert Bloch, based on his own short story, “Broomstick Ride,” and I’d really like to see the original if it’s as good as this. The weirdness and tension just keeps going up, and it’s terrific. Not only that, there’s some great beats and one-liners for just about everyone here. I like especially how, when Kirk wakes up in the dungeon and sees a skeleton chained next to McCoy, he goes “Bones? Doc?”

Joseph Pevney is back once again as director and, as usual, he nails it. This episode actually aired the week of Halloween in 1967, and was meant to be a Halloween-type episode (the only sort of holiday episode Star Trek as a whole has ever come close to), hence the overall tone. Pevney takes this mandate and makes it work, really calling back to the old-school horror movies of the ’30s and ’40s. As always, his directorial work is stupendous. I should also note that there are some visual effects involving enlargening a cat that are extremely goofy…but they’re the right kind of goofy that supplements rather than distracts the material.

The cast here also makes this material work quite well. Nimoy takes advantage of putting Spock up against the unexplained with dry wit and aplomb. Shatner pulls off the dashing man of action bit quite well; no wonder, given that he probably was in a few low-grade horror movies himself. Marcuse and Bower are also quite good, with Marcuse playing the mysterious spook quite well and Bower vamping it up in fine fine fashion.

This is a fun episode and a nice break from normal Trek. Check it out.

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.