Sunday, July 26, 2009

More books I've read in 2009

Nowadays cosmos-spanning comic book epics are a dime a dozen, with some big industry-wide "event" with dozens of temporary deaths taking place several times a year. But back in the early 70's when Roy Thomas wrote the Kree-Skrull war in the pages of "The Mighty Avengers" we were seeing something we'd never seen before. How well does it hold up? Well, despite the fact that two vast universes are at war and earth is about to be destroyed just because it's in the way, what most people remember about this saga is when the tragic-romantic android the Vision is shot down by three cows (actually shape-changing Skrulls, a dangling plot thread from an early issue of Fantastic Four, nobody wrapped up loose continuity better than Roy the Boy) and then Ant-Man's fantastic voyage through his high-tech body, and that was really more of a digression from the main plot. Something I appreciated this time that probably went over my thirteen-year old head was the way Thomas drew a corollary between the politician who wanted all Kree and other aliens off our planet with Senator Joseph McCarthy and every other xenophobic, racist jerkwad who's followed in his footsteps (and we are certainly awash in them). Here are some words of wisdom from the Vision (before the cows attacked him):

"If first a man of the Kree can be detained for no reason, then detainment of androids will follow, next of mutants,then giants until, ultimately a left-handed man would fight a right-handed man to the death for the remains of a bombed out planet!"

Which reminds me of this poem by Pastor Martin Niemoller
"In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then... they came for me... And by that time there was no one left to speak up."

There's an interesting in-depth look at McCarthyism, and Witch-Hunts Through Captain Marvel Comics here.
So, there's a lot going on here, sometimes too much, and the
war seems to come to an abrupt end -- by way of a deus ex machina, no less; I mean I still have no idea how Rick Jones was able to pull all those obscure comic book heroes of the 40s and 50s out of his brain and into reality. But even when the thing makes no sense, you've still got the stunning Neal Adams and John Buscema artwork. (Well, in the first few chapters you've got art by Sal Buscema, who evidently got a job as an artist based on the fact that his last name was Buscema.)

Kyle Baker can be funny ("Plastic Man" and "The Bakers" and the still-controversial, still-hilarious
"Letitia Lerner, Superman's Babysitter") and he can be serious ("Truth" "Nat Turner") on "King David" he shows he can do both.
This is a retelling of the story (mostly from the books of Samuel in the Old Testament) of King David, his struggles with Goliath, King Saul, the Philistines as well as his own human frailties. This book is beautiful and I suggest you go here and take a look at it. Baker does mix direct Bible quotes with a lot of slapstick and borscht-belt comedy, which may not be everyone's cup of tea -- works for me, though. Actually what bothers me about this story has nothing to do Kyle Baker. It has to do with how David was idolized for being basically a mass murderer. "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands" was what the Israelites said of David and it made Saul feel inadequate. And it's only after he falls in love with another man's wife, impregnates her and -- of course -- kills the husband, Uriah the Hittite, who for my money is the real hero here, if there is a hero in this book -- that he falls out of God's favor. Which seems to lay the groundwork for our whole ultra-violent, sexually repressed modern Christian American society?
Or am I reading too much into this?

I also read (reread maybe, I'm not sure) "The Partly Cloudy Patriot" by Sarah Vowell I first became aware of her for the work she did on PRI's "This American Life" but I think I like her even better on the page than the airwaves. These are personal essays, historical essays, and personal-historical essays. Vowell is a history nerd and although she calls it being partly cloudy (rather than a sunshine patriot, in the words of Thomas Paine) I think all true patriots love their country the way Vowell does -- not blindly right or wrong, but with anger and disappointment when America falls short of her lofty goals, and pride when she actually mananges to come up to a few of them now and then.

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