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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Wolves of the Calla: The Dark Tower

About this Book
"Time is a face on the water," stretching and contorting reality as gunslingers Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and their talking pet "billy-bumbler" Oy continue their quest to prevent the destruction of the Dark Tower and, consequently, save all worlds from Chaos and the Crimson King's evil, red-eyed glare. Roland-the primary hero of King's epic tale, the first volume of which appeared in 1982-and company momentarily fall off the "Path of The Beam" to help the residents of Calla Bryn Sturgis, a farm town. But as Dark Tower fans know, everything follows The Beam, so what looks like a detour may really serve the will of "ka" (destiny). Roland and his posse learn that every 20-odd years the "Wolves" kidnap one child from each set of the Calla's twins, bring them to the Tower and, weeks later, send them back mentally and physically impaired. Meanwhile, back in 1977 New York City (the alternate world of Roland's surrogate son, Jake), bookstore owner Calvin Tower is being threatened by a group of thugs (readers will recognize them from The Drawing of the Three, 1987) to sell them a vacant lot in midtown Manhattan. In the lot stands a rose, or rather the Rose, which is our world's manifestation of the Dark Tower. With the help of the Old Fella (also known to `Salem's Lot readers as Father Callahan), the gunslingers must devise a plan against evil in both worlds. The task, however, is further complicated as Roland and his gang start noticing behavioral changes in wheelchair-bound, recovered schizophrenic Susannah.As the players near the Tower, readers will keep finding exciting ties between the Dark Tower universe and King's other books, with links to Black House, Insomnia, The Eyes of the Dragon, The Stand, `Salem's Lot and Hearts in Atlantis. The high suspense and extensive character development here (especially concerning Jake's coming-of-age), plus the enormity of King's ever-expanding universe, will surely keep his "Constant Readers" in awe.

Book Review
First, if you are a true fan of the King and this series, don't read the other reviews-- they are plot spoilers written by people who like to blast popular storytellers for not delivering the second coming of Jesus Christ (The Man Jesus, too) everytime they publish a book or screen a film. A mediocre Stephen King story is still 1000 times the story of what passes for a bestseller these days. And 'Wolves' is no mediocre King tale. It's... well, it's not Wizard and Glass (my favorite in the series, for the romance, the backstory, and the raw emotional ride of the build up and payoff), but it's not like any of the others, either. It is its own, and that is as it should be. After finishing Wolves of the Calla, I struggled to form a definite opinion and I will offer none here. Except to say that what I have always loved about the King's books are the combinations of horror, humanity, and humor; the utter surprise of direction each journey takes, especially in this series; and the comfort of listening to a storyteller who is the voice of the magic story-telling wizard of an uncle you always wish you had but never did...that's all here too. And lastly, a comment about the self-referential moments that some of the other "reviewers" are complaining about... I think what He (King)'s suggesting here is not nearly as self-centered as it first reads, and that these King-ish revelations are part of is actually a fairly logical course of events, especially when one considers that the Dark Tower is the nexus of EVERYTHING-- all realites, all times, all universes. Constant Readers will recall that the King has stated, many times, that he believes all stories are real somewhere, that "fiction is the truth inside the lie," and that the Dark Tower series is his very own version of Roland's Dark Tower. Hat's off to the Dickens of our time. May he end it with all the risk and reward he has delivered thus far.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Johnny The Homicidal Maniac: Director's Cut

Book Description
Mayhem and violence rule in this collection of issues one through seven of Jhonen Vasquez's Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, as well as material seen before only in Carpe Noctem magazine. Dark and disturbingly funny, JTHM follows the adventures of Johnny (you can call him Nny), who lives with a pair of styrofoam doughboys that encourage his madness, a wall that constantly needs a fresh coat of blood, and--oh, yeah--his victims in various states of torture. Join Nny as he frightens the little boy next door (Todd, known to fans of Vasquez's work as Squee), thirsts for Cherry Brain Freezies, attempts suicide, draws Happy Noodle Boy, and tries to uncover the meaning of his homicidal existence.

Insanity and Murder are Funn
Well actually, they really aren't, but after reading JTHM you might think they are. Jhonen Vasquez has an amazing talent; he is capable of making the most disturbing things laugh-out-loud hilarious. For this I wish to give JTHM Director's Cut a 5/5, but I cannot. But before I explain why, let me attempt to explain the meaning behind Jhonen's madness. Naturally, this is merely _my_ interpretation of his work.

JTHM is an attack (and a very violent one at that) on normalcy through the use of satire and parody with disturbing, dark themes. Due to the dark themes and disturbing content, this work could be labeled as "gothic" (and often is), but that would be rather insulting. Ironically, "goths" tend to adore the disturbing and the dark simply because it is not "normal," but they end up carving a very specific mold of normalcy out for their own clique. "If you don't fit a certain image, you're not goth and you're not one of US," a goth might say. JTHM is not only an attack on what MOST of us would consider normal, but also an attack on what GOTHS consider normal. It is an attack on all those arrogant people out there who deliberately exclude others because they don't fit in with their own definition of what normal is.

This theme pervades the entire series, from when Johnny is brutally torturing bullies for making fun of him for what he wears, to the little comments JV sometimes scratches in at the corners of his panels. But, it is not JV's attack on normalcy that is the most interesting aspect of JTHM, it is the contradictions. On the one hand, much of this comic book is rather demented and disgusting, but at the same time the book is hilarious--pulling the reader in two different directions at once. Also, sometimes there are comic strips that are completely pointless and filled with excessive (and unnecessary) violence, while there are others that have Johnny going on thought-provoking philosophical ramblings. This tension from pulling the reader back and forth (between violence and humor, and between pointlessness and meaning) is so instense that if you try to read too much at once you'll either sweat excessively, vomit profusely, or pass out from lack of oxygen because you're laughing so hard (or a combination of all three). I suggest reading in small dosages, you've been warned :)

This actually brings me to one of my only complaints. The JTHM series once featured "Meanwhiles" which are mini comic strips whose sole purpose is simply a brief, funny intermission between the JTHM series. The lack of meanwhiles lowers the value of the book (since they are really funny). But, the Meanwhiles also served as a means to break up the tension in the Johnny series. Since JTHM is so intense, the random and so often silly nature of the Meanwhile comic strips served as a pleasant deviation, and the lack of these pleasant little breaks means it's much more difficult to read JTHM in longer bursts.

My only other complaint is in the sturdiness of the actual book itself. I've only read through JTHM a few times, but already pages are falling out all over the place. I feel kind of bad negating a star primarily because of this reason (since it is not Jhonen's fault), but pages falling out really does detract from the overall experience.

Despite the lack of Meanwhiles and the overall flimsyness of the book itself, this is a solid purchase. Unless you're too easily offended or puke all over the place at the sight of blood, this graphic novel should not disappoint. Highly recommended!!!