Thursday, February 28, 2008

DK2, Frank Miller and Lynn Varley

Title: DK2
Authors: Frank Miller and Lynn Varley
Rating: OK

I'm slogging through something else and had to take a break. That break consisted of this and at least one other book, so there will be additional reviews before I get to the thing I'm supposed to be reading for real.

Now, what the heck is DK2? I suspect that some of those reading Doug's book review forum will know. The rest of us, well...

I found DK2 via and ordered it on a lark. It's a comic book, or perhaps - more technically - a graphic novel, albeit a short one. And since "DK" stands for Dark Knight, those in the know will figure out it's a Batman story.

OK. I have to admit right now that by reading this I was way out of my depth. I've never read comic books on a regular basis. And starting now - in my 40's - seems unlikely. But that being said, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Batman. I've always felt that superheroes who start out as normal people are better than those born with mysterious - and possibly unexplained - powers. But that's just me. I'm told there is a major argument over that very thing in the comic world, with some fans preferring their heroes born with powers while others prefer them self made, or something like that.

Anyway, don't ask me how, but despite growing up watching reruns of the old, campy Adam West Batman, I've known for years that it's supposed to be dark and serious. I also know that Batman / Bruce Wayne is tormented and has trouble with not crossing the line into crime (or at least simple vigilante justice) himself. The movie Batman Begins was pretty close to the way I think it's supposed to feel, and it seemed visually right to me as well.

So when I saw DK2 wander past on a list of recently posted books on I added it to my wish list and waited. Eventually, it arrived.

For those of you not terminally stupid (like I am) it should be obvious that with a name like DK2 there is a previous volume. I've never seen it. Yes, I am that dumb, but I thought that it would be a separate graphic novel and this would be an entirely new story. Reading the back cover of DK2 I learned that the previous volume was called The Dark Knight Returns, and that Batman apparently died in that story. DK2 is the follow on, written 15 years later and taking place 3 years after the events in The Dark Knight Returns.

So what's the story here? Well, it's... hmmm... Unfortunately, if I start telling you about the plot, I'll give it away. And that would be bad because there isn't much of it here. This is a really quick read, and there isn't a lot of depth to it. I found that a bit problematic. But I can tell you that Batman isn't dead, but you can pretty much assume that from the name, right? I can also tell you that it features aging superheroes and a disagreement between a couple of factions thereof. It's also serious in tone, and tries to discuss a major social/political issue as well. There. That's the best I can do.

I've already said I thought it too short. My other issue is that the art was not appealing. I know (or at least I assume, which may be a mistake) that various comic books go for different artistic styles. That may be driven by the material or by the artist, I suppose. What I found here was a much-less-than realistic style that didn't resonate with me. Not that comic book art needs to be realistic, but this particular implementation just didn't grab me.

Still, it's not a total failure. I read it all and it was amusing trying to figure out how the various characters had wound up in their current predicaments. And if this were just one or two chapters out of a larger story I'd be very interested in the whole thing. And maybe that is the case. Someday I might go looking for more.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The War Of Art, Steven Pressfield

The War Of Art
Steven Pressfield

This is an odd little book. If it wasn't for one thing, I'd quite like it, but as I get older that one thing is grating on my nerves more and more.

Generally, this is a book about getting past whatever is keeping you from pursuing your calling. If you're a writer, that'd be writer's block, for example. Pressfield takes art to be a very general concept, however, and he's quite happy to let your true calling be anything from painter to entrepreneurial plumber. His intent is to kick you in the butt and get you moving.

And the first two sections of the book do an OK job of that. He details what he calls "resistance" and then pounds you over the head with ways to avoid it and reasons to get back to work. That part of the book is interesting, quickly read, and motivational. It may actually be useful.

The third section, though - and even a bit of the earlier sections - hits a personal hot button. Pressfield is religious, and he inserts that into this book. He's actually not as awful about it as he might have been, though. If you don't agree with his perspective he's quite happy to have you think of it in different - not necessarily spiritual - terms. But overall it's still religious, and most of the last section trails off into mystical, mushy, gibberish.

Why do people have to inject religion into things like this? If you're writing about religion, that's fine. If you're writing a history and religion figures in, that's also fine. If you're writing fiction and one or more of your characters espouses some religious point of view - even if it's the singularly most important point of the main character's life - that's also fine. But why inject religion into books that don't need it, like a lot of non-fiction?

I've encountered it before, and it really irritates me. As a programmer I use the Perl programming language a bit. It's quite powerful and useful, but the main book documenting Perl - Programming Perl by Larry Wall - has a couple of religious comments within it that make me think he and I might not get along in person. But maybe we would. If I didn't bring up my atheism and he didn't bring up his Christianity, we might get on famously. But he has to throw his religion into my face as part of his book - something that wasn't needed at all. Another example is What Color Is Your Parachute, which is ostensibly about career changing and job hunting, but into which the author injects all kinds of religious claptrap.

Sorry. I digress. But it bugs me.

Anyway, if you can sidestep the religious muck - or if that sort of thing doesn't bother you - The War Of Art is a good kick in the rear end. It might help you get moving on something you've wanted to do but have been putting off.