The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Cannonball Read 5:3)

My instinct was to write this review longhand, which probably won't mean much to you (except that I am old), but says something to me about the emotional space I was in after finishing the book. I took out my boarding pass, thinking I'd write on the back, not wanting to put it into my just-started professional notebook (it's teal, and has a fabric placeholder, and only has writing on one page -- a to-do list, most of which remains to be done). That was my instinct but, as it turned out, I'd left my pen in my backpack, which was safely stowed in the overhead compartment, and which I did not feel like retrieving just to get a pen. So, I "wrote" on my phone, in an app designed to look like a pad of yellow paper. I like the lines, but I miss the feeling of pen, and the imaginary lines on the imaginary page made me think of Lettie Hempstock saying that nothing is really what it looks like on the outside. I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane in less than the time it takes to fly from New Orleans to New York. I started during takeoff and when I finished, and checked the map, it told me that we were somewhere over North Carolina. It was a quick read, and the story is fairly simple: a man returns to a place he once called home and he remembers a time when he was a boy, when he met a girl and lost his heart. But it's better than that, and not quite like that at all. It was, as the best books are, full of more than you think will possibly fit in its pages. It was A Story, in the way Isak Dinesen might have meant -- bigger and more true than you'd imagined at the start. It was not unlike Lettie Hempstock's ocean, even knowing that it really was an ocean.

And now I'm not sure what to say about it, though I felt, immediately, like I wanted to say something. Hm. That seems like a problem for a book review. So, here's what I think you need to know to understand what I thought of the book, which is really the point of a review: I mostly didn't think about it and I consider that a good thing.

It's been a while since a story pulled me under as wholly as this one. It's a beautiful story, which I'd heard. It's a sad story, which I'd also been led to expect. I cried, which didn't surprise me; I haven't quite stopped yet, which does (though only a little). I feel a little like the story poked a hole in my heart, though I'm not certain if the hole is a way in or a way out, or maybe just a bit of emptiness. It's probably a little of each.

The narrator is also a little bit empty inside, though he sometimes remembers having been full, and that sounds about right. I think he's also a little less empty by the end, though it seems unlikely that he'll remember that any more clearly than he remembers the emptiness. And that seems just about right, too.

Now that the story is (not really) over, I seem to be exhausted, though whether from the story, or from the crying (or from getting up at 6am, or from being on a plane), I can't really tell. I feel a little heavier, though not in a bad way; I also feel like smiling, in the happy-sad way that bittersweet endings make me smile, and I wonder why those are always the best.

And now that I'm trying to figure out what to say about the book, I find that I don't want to say much of anything. But haven't I already said a lot?

Let me try again:

I think you should read it. I'll read it again someday. I look forward it, and I'm sad that it will never be new again. That's a review in itself, isn't it?

I'm not sure what else to say, except that I fell into an ocean on my way to New York. I've climbed back out again, but I think maybe there's a little inside me still. But maybe it's always there, and I just forget about it until a good story reminds me.

Thanks for reminding me, Neil.

This is how it is.

[ORIGINALLY POSTED AT inmediasres] I am tired, and I am angry. I am overwhelmed by the sense that nothing will stem the tides of violence against black bodies. I am afraid that no amount of hope or change or dialogue or legislation can undo centuries of dehumanization and disregard. I feel sad that the arc of history bends too slowly for so many. I feel powerless. But I do not feel surprised. The Zimmerman trial ended exactly the way I expected it to. I do not feel surprised, and that hollow feeling of "this is how it is"-ness really scares me.

Last night, I did something I'd avoided doing for almost a year and half: I allowed myself to see a picture of Trayvon Martin's dead body. It was attached to an article at Gawker, written by Adam Weinstein, entitled "This, Courtesty of MSNBC, is Trayvon Martin's Dead Body. Get Angry"--I'm not linking because the article is easy to find, and the picture is right up at the top. I didn't really want to see the picture, but I felt like I needed to. I needed to remind myself in the most visceral way possible that this is how it is. Beneath the rhetoric and abstract arguments of the trial and the public discourse, this - this dead black boy - is how it is. George Zimmerman follows, threatens, and fatally shoots an unarmed young man. He walks free, because he was "standing his ground." Elsewhere in Florida, Marissa Alexander fires shots to scare off a man who admits to beating her: she is denied the right to "stand her ground," and is sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Things have changed in America, and often for the better. But things have also remained the same.

Last night, I did something I haven't done in years: I cried because I was so angry that I couldn't express it any other way. I heard the verdict and it filled me with sadness and rage. I looked at the picture because I needed to let that out, and I knew that the reality of that image would give me permission to do so. Sometimes crying is cleansing -- a way to expel negative feelings and make room for positive ones. I don't know what I made room for last night. I know that, when I stopped crying, I still felt full. When I started writing this, last night, I felt too full to collect my thoughts in any coherent fashion. (I'm still not sure how coherent this is, but believe me when I say that it's an improvement.) I gave up on trying to let this out and turned instead to taking things in. I let myself get lost in the Facebook posts, Tweets, and text messages full of outrage and sadness and resignationThis sadness, this anger, is how it is. I found some comfort in knowing that I was not alone in those feelings, but it did little to help me settle my thoughts before bed. I thought I could do that by reading something frivolous, but what started out pleasantly escapist soon became too real. I was too full to handle themes of bullying, loneliness, and the emotional damage of being constantly told that you are less-than, so I gave up on that, and went back to my laptop, to see what I'd left open to read from the past few days.

As it happened, I'd left open on my browser a transcript of Malala Yousafzai's address to the UN. Malala, who was also shot by a coward who feared the threat that her existence posed to his narrow-minded beliefs, was speaking to the UN on the importance of education. It is worth noting, though, that she ties her focus on women's rights and girls' education to wider ideals of justice, and the lack thereof. "Poverty, ignorance, injustice, racism and the deprivation of basic rights are the main problems faced by both men and women," Malala said. This is how it is. But Malala also reminded me that my initial sense of powerlessness and insurmountable sadness are not the final word.

So here I stand...one girl among many. I speak – not for myself, but for all girls and boys. I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights:

Their right to live in peace.

Their right to be treated with dignity.

Their right to equality of opportunity.

Their right to be educated.

--Malala Yousafzai

 

Yesterday, I was filled to capacity with sadness and anger. This morning, watching the video of Malala's speech, I was struck by her courage and her capacity for forgiveness. I remember, today, that my hope, though certainly shakeable, is not yet uprooted. Tomorrow, or maybe the next day, I will again find some comfort in the knowledge that what was shared on Saturday night was not just the understanding that this is how it is, but also the conviction that this is not how it should be. I will, again, find some comfort in the hope that it will not always be this way -- that though some of us may be silenced, others will speak out in the face of injustice.

Malala believes that illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism of all kinds can be fought -- that our situations are not hopeless, and that we are not powerless. I hope that I can learn from her example that this, also, is how it is.

Quick thoughts on entertainment and critical thought

IT’S JUST FANTASY!! Fantasy reflects your subconscious desires.

--Aamer Rahman, "Game of Thrones and Racist Fantasy"

Worth a read, I think. Rahman points to some of the obviously (to my mind) problematic aspects of race in Game of Thrones. I love Game of Thrones (have only watched the show, and am unlikely to read the books for quite some time) and am totally on board with this critique. Not surprisingly, there's a lot of defensive behavior in response. I think the conversations that come out of articles like this are really important, though, and I have to believe that they have some positive effect. There will be jerks, and the positive effect may not accumulate as quickly as I'd like, but I still think it's worthwhile.

I think that one of the most difficult parts of these sorts of conversations is how to articulate, and convince others, that books, shows, movies, etc. can do one thing well, while still doing another thing poorly. They can be entertaining but not actually well-told. They can subvert one type of assumption while supporting another. Or the same one, in a different scene. I think, for a lot of people, getting something right means it's either unfair or unnecessary to talk about the things that are less successful -- like if you're good on gender in some way, then you can't also be bad on gender in some other way. Or on race, or class, or...

Sadly, it's not a matter of either/or. GoT is actually a great example of this. As is Man of Steel, for that matter, though I'd put them on different parts of the quality spectrum (click here for my review). And I don't think that quality determines whether we should just accept what's presented, either. Game of Thrones may be more substantive and more complex than new-school Star Trek, but that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy them both, and it doesn't make either of them exempt from challenges to the images they use to tell their stories.

And, once challenged, how wrong is too wrong? What takes a media product have from being something I can enjoy, but maintain that it's important to think critically about, to something I just can't participate in? I love Whedon, but there are issues. I watch, but I also attempt to engage with the issues. I enjoyed Man of Steel, and I do think that Lois Lane was well done, in some ways. But not in all ways. I watched, and I liked it, but I felt like I needed to say that there was room for improvement. And then there's something like True Blood (SO MANY ISSUES), which I just had to let go of. As I write this, my brother is watching the season premiere, and I am hiding in another part of the house, to keep myself from getting sucked back into something that was fun (sometimes), but also so offensively racist and misogynistic that I just couldn't, anymore.

*sigh*

My geekery would probably be much easier for me if I didn't think so much, but I also think that would just enable me to be passively part of the problem. And I'd like to be a part of the solution. If only to make it easier for me to enjoy the geekery.

Man of Steel (***1/2)

Catching up on "summer movie" reviews. Seems strange to feel like I'm playing catch-up here, since summer doesn't actually start until Friday…

Anyhow, I'm digging out the old movie rating system:

5 *s = "WOW!"
4 *s = "Good."
3 *s = "Stupid fun, decent, or at least not bad enough to get 2 *s."
2 *s = "Bad, but not awful; or awful, but enjoyable either despite or because of that."
1 * = "The best part was the end, because then it was over."
no *s = "*Deep, pain-filled sigh*...I will never get that [insert running time here] of my life back."

 

First up is the most recent one I've seen: Man of Steel. My prediction was: good action, mediocre plot, bad gender. So, how did it do?

Well, the action was good, sometimes. I think the story held together better than I expected. I liked the themes they chose to focus on (hope, use of power vs. restraint, and self-determination), though I don't think they did them as well as they could have. And, the gender stuff was  less aggressively bad than I'd thought it would be. So, I have quibbles, but I think it was entertaining. It's definitely worth watching, if you're into the idea of a Superman movie (or a movie with Henry Cavill in it). It's especially worth it if you, like the gentleman I recently overheard at a coffee shop, "just want to see a big, loud movie, where Zod and Superman break some shit, and Superman eventually saves the day, and Lois Lane is a hottie."

But, therein lie the quibbles. (And, herein lie the spoilers.)The plot holds up better than I'd expected, but it's still shaky. Honestly, it's good enough, for what it is, but mostly because I have low expectations of blockbuster movie plots. Even having chosen to favor action over plot, Snyder & Co. could have done a better job with the action. The fights and flights just felt like empty overkill, after a while. Given the weighing of smash over substance, Man of Steel would have benefited from a shorter running time, which could easily have been accomplished by tightening up/shortening the battle scenes. It could even have shifted focus, just a bit, and been a better film -- the 2nd climactic battle (vs. Zod) would have packed a better emotional punch (yeah, I know), if not for the action and FX-fatigue that had already set in.

But you know I want to talk about gender, right?

"Less aggressively bad" is not "good." After seeing the film, I said to my brother something to the effect of: "It would have been *really* cool if Lois had been more of a character, in her own right." My brother suggested that I was being unfair. There were really two main characters, he said -- Clark and Zod -- so this just wasn't the movie for Lois to be more substantial in. Maybe, I said. But isn't that the problem? Why are we still telling not just this story, but a vast majority of our stories, as if there's only room for one or two actual characters, and with the presumption that those characters will be male? And, let's pretend, just for the moment,  that it's unproblematic to consider all other characters in this movie secondary to Clark and Zod. Does that answer the criticism of how those secondary characters are presented? Clark is the protagonist; Zod is the antagonist. I don't have any particular problem with that. But they're not the only two characters in the movie, and it matters what those other character are like.

Let's start with the bad guys. There are several practically nameless minions. Again, this isn't really a problem for me. But then there's Faora and Zod. Zod is a badass, and he gets at least a little bit of an attempt at some substance beyond that -- he has motives, at least, and a background. He tells us what he wants, and why. Zod has purpose(s). Faora is a badass, which is nice. But there's no substance to her badassery. We can infer that she is driven by similar purpose(s) to Zod, but we have to infer it, because she barely speaks for herself, and we're barely (if at all) encouraged to wonder what she would say. Which seems strange, given the amount of screen time/focus Faora gets. Was there really no chance to give her a little bit of…something? Faora follows orders. She follows them in beast mode, but that's the limit of her. It's almost as if she's only there for the titillation of seeing an attractive woman beat Kal-El's ass! But, I mean -- that would be ridiculous...

Perhaps it's too much to think that a supporting villain of any gender can have a bit of depth (You already know I think that's false, right?), so let's see what's up with the rest of the characters.

If Jonathan Kent is not a main character, he is still surely central. Jonathan wants to protect Clark. We hear his thoughts on Clark's purpose, we see him interacting with Clark at pivotal points, we see him attempt to influence Clark's choices, and we see the results of his success at doing so. Jor-El and Lara both love their son, and want to give him a chance at life. Jor-El also wants to thwart Zod's coup/eugenics agenda, and wants to give Krypton one last chance by saving it, in some form, from its own folly. This is where the, "Clark and Zod are the main characters" defense starts to lose it, for me. I would actually argue that Clark's two fathers carry a substantial amount of narrative weight, making it difficult to maintain that Clark and Zod are main characters in a way that precludes others from being fleshed out or focused on. But, note that it is definitely Clark's two fathers, who carry that weight -- not his two sets of parents, despite the fact that his two mothers are also in the film. His fathers advance the story, while his mothers, much like Faora, seem more like footnotes, even in their most active moments. 

Martha Kent loves her son, but I'd suggest that whatever resonance that has has more to do with Diane Lane's acting skill and the things we're willing to project into the film, than with the script itself, and the things the film actually projects to us. Narratively speaking, her real purpose seems to be her effectiveness as a target for Zod's violence, which galvanizes Clark into action. If this sounds familiar…let's just say that she didn't end up in the refrigerator, but it was a near miss. And, whether we agree that she could have been portrayed differently (less passively, for example) or not, I want to suggest that she could have been portrayed more fully, and without much change to the film. It would have been nice, and better storytelling, to know as much about Martha and Clark's relationship as we know about Jonathan and Clark's relationship. That could have been accomplished with slight changes to scenes that are already present in the movie, and by giving a different weight to what we did see between them.

Similarly, Kal-El's birth parents are an important piece of the story. Or, more accurately, his birth father is. Jor-El (or his computer-ghost) is central to the unfolding of events -- perhaps more so than Zod, to be honest, and at least equal to Jonathan Kent. Lara, on the other hand… Even with Lara being the one to pull the trigger on launching Kal-El Earthward, Goyer et al. couldn't give her more depth than crying, pushing the button, and resigning herself to death. Think of it this way: would it have killed them to have a computer-ghost Lara play some small role? And am I the only one who thinks it's weird that Clark/Kal-El's two dead fathers seem more fully realized than his dead mother AND his living one? And don't give me that, "Well, the source material, blah, blah, blah" -- there's already enough divergence/reshaping happening to other parts of the source material to make that an invalid excuse.

And then there's Lois. *sigh*

Let me start by saying that her characterization is not so bad -- she's fairly competent, and she's brave, albeit a bit dumb. No, really -- you really mean to tell me that the weird little flying thing next to big weird spaceship-looking thing didn't seem at all like a threat to her? It seemed fine to just walk up to it and take pictures, with no thought to what it might do? There's intrepid, and then there's stupid.

But, I digress.

Her characterization is mostly not bad -- she's mostly not (solely) passive or mooning or bumbling, all things that various incarnations of the character have been. But how much credit do we really want to give Goyer, Snyder, and Nolan for just not being as aggressively denigrating to women as they could have been?

Funnily enough, though, the biggest issue I actually had with Lois Lane was the way the filmmakers shoehorned in her "romance" with Superman. I say funnily enough because I am very much a product of Superman: The Movie and Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and I like a good romance, so I'm predisposed to be open to that relationship. Here's the thing: movies are notoriously bad at "love," but what we get in this movie seems so clumsy and unearned that it's barely even creditable by *Hollywood* standards, and that's really saying something. Now, don't get me wrong -- the man is gorgeous, and has saved her life. I do not blame anyone for wanting to get up close and personal with that. But the kiss really didn't ring true for me, as much as I might have enjoyed watching it. (I did. See: gorgeous.) I almost wonder if there were scenes that built up to it in a more organic way, giving a stronger sense of either romance or lust. There could have been -- I think what we saw showed some  potential between Cavill and Adams, in the chemistry department. Maybe the connective tissue that would have held that kiss in place got cut out? To make room for more destruction of property? What I mean is, when did they make any kind of connection past "thanks for saving my life" and "no problem -- thanks for not selling me out"? And, if that's where things stand, is the next logical step from there really kissing? And, if she's not an important enough character to do any real storytelling around her -- if "this just wasn't the movie for that" -- then why force that particular issue? Seen from another angle, isn't it enough that she helps him save the world? Well done on that score, by the way. Kal-El needed all the help he could get, because Team Phantom Zone was CRUSHING IT. But, having plausibly (sort of) made Lois a real asset in the world-saving, do we really need her to be a love interest so badly that it should be shoved in, whether the story has really led us there, or not? I think that doing so was a mistake, and betrays a lack of imagination about both male and female characters. 

It would have been much more in line with the story choices the filmmakers had actually made to highlight that Lois and Clark had developed a mutual admiration and respect, and that we'd seen the beginning of a beautiful friendship. That friendship could have been headed in any number of directions, one of which is kissing, and the final scene could have been a great opportunity to hint at at least a couple of those directions, leaving us primed for the sequel that will probably get made. Or, there could have been a scene, even a flashback, that showed us a bit of what we didn't see (after he saves her life that first time), and that scene could have give some context for the kiss. Or the post-kiss dialogue could have done something besides remind me of the end of Speed.

It's fair to say that this is not, in fact, Lois Lane's movie. That one would obviously be called "INTREPID." It's also not a movie about Clark's relationship with Lois. The "When Kal-El Met Lois" aspect seems, in fact, to be a bit of an afterthought, which is why the highlighting of the kiss seemed so out of place. But it's not really the story of Clark and Zod, either: it's an origin store for The Man of Steel. That tale -- the movement from Clark Kent to Superman -- is told in terms of how Clark is influenced by a set of characters: Zod, Jor-El, and Jonathan Kent. This is what drives the plot. In addition to this, in a way that seems to be expected, but isn't really integral to the story, Clark has 2 mothers who love him, and a reporter who…does some cool stuff, and is pretty. While this may not have been the movie for Lois (or Martha or Faora) to be the main character of, that doesn't excuse the fact that they are -- almost without exception -- less compellingly fleshed out and more evidently (and thoroughgoingly) instrumental than their male counterparts.

So why, in 2013, is this still the default, or even an option? Why are we still telling stories this way?

BONUS QUESTIONS
Why is his suit red and blue, when everyone else's is black? Did I miss that explanation?
Why does his suit have a cape?
Why is young Clark running around in a cape? He doesn't seem to be playing vampire, and Superman hasn't happened yet, because he hasn't grown up to be him yet… So confusing.

Into the Woods (IMDB)

Into the Woods (IMDB)

I just...I can't. Ever since I read this, I've tried to remain optimistic about this terrible, terrible idea. But, now that I've seen the cast list...is this real? It's not real, right? I just can't.

Ok, I obviously will. But not because I think it will be good. Or even correct, given that *ridiculous* plot summary. "A witch conspires to teach" -- WTF?! No. No, she didn't. NO. SHE. DID. NOT. Seriously? This is going to be a train wreck. A photogenic train wreck (and the press junket will be epic), but a train wreck, nonetheless.

"I'm not good, I'm not nice -- I"m just right."

 

I am judging your red flag.

The internet is abuzz about that Brad Paisley, LL Cool J song. You know the one. No? Well, trust me: it's a mess. And I'm not linking to it, nor am I embedding it, but you can go look it up, if you want to. I had actually been trying to invoke the Sweet Brown Rule on it, and was doing well until a friend emailed a few of us about it, and another friend responded, and then I had thoughts, and...ugh. Here we are.

So, someone replied that the lyrics didn't seem so bad, and that Paisley had "tried." I think that's what I really felt the need to reply to, because I think she's right. I don't know that I'd say that the lyrics aren't that bad, but they could certainly be way worse, from a racial standpoint (I think they're pretty terrible, from a lyrical standpoint). And I think Paisley is trying -- I think he is probably sincere in saying (via his Twitter) that he hopes the album this song is on "raises questions,answers [sic]." He may even be sincere about wanting to start conversations about race and other important issues (as mentioned in interviews and, again, on Twitter). The thing is, I just don't think that "Accidental Racist" is a very good attempt.

Listen: I'm not saying that Paisley (or his lyrical counterpart) *is* racist, but I am saying that that thing he wore (so, that thing he did) is. Now, I'll admit that I have a pretty strong allergic reaction to that flag, but that's because it's got a lot of really heavy, really racist baggage. Allergic reaction notwithstanding, I'm perfectly willing to believe that not everyone who flies (or wears) it *intends* to be racist, especially given how good a job its proponents have done of deflecting attention from that racist baggage, and controlling the cultural dialogue around it. But is "I don't mean to be racist, so let's just move on and let bygones be bygones" really a compelling line of thought? It's not, for me. At best, I think it's mistaken and severely misguided -- the fact that you didn't intend an action to be racist doesn't actually mean that it wasn't, so why should I just be ok with it? At worst, rather than being an honest mistake, it's willfully obtuse, and in a way that is, more often than not, intended to deflect criticism of behavior you already know is unacceptable. Sometimes, it's just intended to avoid asking one's self uncomfortable or challenging questions, but if you're fighting the questions that hard, I suspect it's because you already know that the answers will not reflect well on you, or on something you value.

Also, wearing a do-rag and wearing a confederate flag are not at all the same, and the gold chains/iron chains trade off is not at all a fair trade. And that line about still sifting through the rubble after 150 years? Is thoroughly tone-deaf and lacking in self-awareness.
 
And ain't nobody got time for that.

Queen & Country: Definitive Edition, vol. 1 (Cannonball Read 5:2)

ref=dp_image_z_0Queen & Country: Definitive Collection, Vol. 1 by Greg Rucka collects the first 12 issues of Queen and Country. I've reviewed issues 1-4, which were initially collected as Queen and Country: Operation Broken Ground, here. I really struggled to write this review, and it took me a while to pinpoint why. Here's the crux of it: this book was disappointing. Not bad, mind you -- just disappointing. And, I think that what made it difficult for me to review is that I couldn't pinpoint*why* it was disappointing. Operation Broken Ground didn't really feel groundbreaking, but it was a good read. Perhaps more importantly, it was a good read with promise.The glimpses into the characters' lives made me want to know more about them, and there was a suggestion of more substantive things to come. It pulled me in, and I was excited to see how it would develop. So, I moved on to The Definitive Collection, picking up where I'd left off. First up, in "Operation Morningstar" (issues 5-7), Tara Chace still has serious issues -- no surprise, given her line of work. "Morningstar" is, ostensibly, about a mission involving the Taliban, but it's really a vignette dealing with Chace's existential crisis. Following the events of "Broken Ground," Chace finds herself feeling adrift, having been left out of a mission that holds special meaning for her. Through conversations with the psychologist she's sent to see (to determine whether she's ready for a full return to duty), we get a clear and straightforward look at the tensions inherent in her job, and a reminder -- as if it were needed -- that a happy ending for her is highly unlikely. And here's what I finally pinpointed: if "Morningstar" had been the end of the volume, I'd have come away happy. It dug a bit into questions that are, for me, Q&C's real draw: how can Tara Chace do what she does without being destroyed by it? Can she? Could anyone? I'd have recommended a slightly less anvilicious treatment, but it worked well enough to keep me wanting more. But, "Morningstar" wasn't the end of the volume, I didn't come away happy, and I only want more if it's better than "Operation Crystal Ball" (issues 8-12), the final arc in vol. 1.

"Crystal Ball" initially seems as if it will juggle a few important story lines, but really only has one hook. See if you can guess which one it is. "Crystal Ball" presents us with a race against the clock to stop a terrorist attack, an attempt to settle a score from long ago, and an ill-advised dalliance; one of comes across as an afterthought, one is a page-turner, and one feels like a cheap plot-device. But, for me, the least compelling thing about "Crystal Ball" is Leandro Fernandez's illustration. Why? Well, here's Tara Chace from "Operation Broken Ground" (illustrated by Steve Rolston):

Image

Here she is from "Operation Morningstar" (pencilled by Brian Hurtt):

Image

IMG_2853

And here she is from "Operation Crystal Ball" (illustrated by Leandro Fernandez):

IMG_2854

IMG_2855

IMG_2856

IMG_2857

It's possible that I judged Crystal Ball's story so harshly specifically because of the visuals, but if I wanted Lara Croft I'd…you know, there's really no good end to that sentence, BECAUSE I DO NOT WANT LARA CROFT. Volume 1 gets 3 stars, overall, because I think both Broken Ground and Morningstar were quite good. That goodwill, combined with the fact that I do not see Fernandez listed as the illustrator for any future volumes means that I will continue reading. There's still a hint of the substantive, I still want to know the characters better, and the missions still pull me in. But I'm disappointed.

Queen & Country, vol. 1: Operation Broken Ground (Cannonball Read 5:1)

Queen and Country: Operation Broken GroundI picked up this first collection of Greg Rucka's Queen & Country after hearing Jennifer Stuller (whose Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology I have reviewed elsewhere) talk about it at WonderCon, back in 2011. The note I made about it at the time was "female badass alcoholic train wreck secret ops." That may end up being an oversimplification, but it's not wrong. Tara Chace (who I keep wanting to call Kara Thrace) is a Special Operations Officer, or "Minder," with Britain's Secret Intelligence Service. In the first collection (issues 1-4), we meet Chace in action and get a taste of her life and work. She's been sent to Kosovo, to do a favor for a friend, and it goes about as well as one might expect. Without spoiling anything for people who, like me, tend to get exposed to graphic novels long after they're new, I'll just say that the story is off to an engaging start: the characters seem fleshed out enough to make me want to know more about them, and there are enough hints of complications and entanglements to come to make it seem like there will be more to it than Dangerous Mission of the Week. It's already clear, for example, that Chace has some serious issues, that office politics is really high stakes, and that inter-agency allegiances are just as shaky as you'd expect. I know that Rucka and co. won an Eisner Award (Best New Series, 2002), and I think Operation Broken Ground gives me a good indication of why.

Queen & Country ran from 2001-2007. The collection I read was published in 2002, and I happened to find it in a used bookstore's $1 bin. Best bet now would be Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 (2008) -- I've already invested in the full set, and do not expect to be disappointed.