Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Scott Snyder is THE Batman author

Batman: The Black MirrorBatman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gotham's Batman, Dick Grayson, takes on the Dealer, a man selling the weapons of supervillains stolen from the GCPD evidence room, gun runners harassing a mob bosses daughter, and possibly the greatest threat of all, Commissioner Gordon's son...

You know, when DC put Dick Grayson in the Bat-costume, we all knew it wouldn't last and while I liked the issues of Batman & Robin I read, I didn't find anything earth-shattering and thought Dick's tenure as the Caped Crusader would be pretty forgettable. I WAS WRONG!

There are epic tales of the Bruce Wayne Batman that everyone mentions: The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight, Year One, The Long Halloween, the list goes on and on. This is Dick Grayson's epic.

Scott Snyder and Jock take the reader on a dark journey, following Dick Grayson as he tries to fill Bruce Wayne's shoes. While Grant Morrison made Batman fun again when he put Dick in the costume, Scott Snyder made me believe.

Batman goes up against The Dealer, Roadrunner, Tiger Shark, and even the Joker, but the most chilling villain in the Black Mirror is James Gordon Jr, the Commissioner's son. I can't even think of another comic book villain that actually scared me but James was scary because he was so real, so plausible. And I had a batgasm when he finally got what was coming to him.

That's about all I can say without giving too much away. I know I clicked the spoilers box but I didn't spoil more than the dust jacket. If I could give this six stars, I would. Scott Snyder is the real deal and I'm going to continue buying everything of his I can find.

Batman: Gates of GothamBatman: Gates of Gotham by Scott Snyder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Someone is blowing up Gotham City landmarks and it points to someone with links to Gotham's founding fathers. Can Batman, Red Robin, Robin, and Black Bat stop the menace of... the Architect?

After the awesomeness of The Black Mirror, this was a little bit of a letdown but still pretty good. Dick continues to adjust to his role as Batman as he pieces together the identity of the Architect with the help of his partners.

Hush and the Penguin play important roles but Gotham City itself is almost a character. While I didn't think the art was that great, Scott Snyder's writing was superb. He really makes me believe Gotham is a real place. The interplay between Damian and the other team members was probably my favorite part of the book. Man, that Damian is an arrogant little shit. Then if your dad was Batman...

Three stars. It's good but not in the same league as The Black Mirror.

Batman, Vol. 1: The Court of OwlsBatman, Vol. 1: The Court of Owls by Scott Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Court of Owls, a long rumored secret society from Gotham's past, makes its presence known in the form of a knife wielding assassin called The Talon. Can Batman hope to defeat an enemy even more familiar with Gotham than him?

For my money, Scott Snyder can do no wrong. Batman: The Court of Owls is no exception. At first glance, the tale looks like a combination of Batman: The Black Glove and Batman: Gates of Gotham but it's a better story than either so far.

I really want to gush about this but I don't want to ruin any surprises. It's not every day a body is found with Dick Grayson's DNA under it's fingernails. It's not every day you see a killing machine taking the fight to Batman or Batman being trapped by villains for days.

One thing I really liked is that Scott Snyder isn't afraid to show us Batman isn't invincible. I hate how in recent years, Batman is portrayed as a combination of Captain America and Reed Richards instead of the World's Greatest Detective, as he should be. Snyder does a pretty good job of stripping away some of that. I can't see his Batman building a Brother-Eye satellite, for instance.

Snyder's writing is superb, as always. I can tell he draws from a deeper well than many comic authors, one filled with historical fiction and conspiracy thrillers. Greg Capullo's art is good too, I guess.

The Court of Owls is an easy 4. I may even bump it up to a 5 once the rest of the story is told.

Batman, Vol. 2: The City of OwlsBatman, Vol. 2: The City of Owls by Scott Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Court of Owls is striking all over Gotham and their first target is Wayne Manor! Can an injured Bruce Wayne and Alfred fight them off and mobilize the rest of the Bat-Family? And what is Bruce Wayne's connection to the Court?

The Court of Owls storyline comes to a conclusion in this volume. Batman dons a suit of armor and kicks some undead ass as he figures out who is leading the Court of Owls in it's assault on Gotham.

I liked that Lincoln Marsh was revealed as the head of the Court and he may or may not be Batman's long lost brother, Thomas Wayne Jr, who appeared in one tale pre-Crisis, only he was an older bad seed brother in that depiction. Owlman's ambiguous end leaves the door open for more Court of Owls intrigue down the line.
That's about all there is to it. Snyder crafts a pretty creepy Batman tale and Capullo's art is up to the task. The only gripe I have is that it felt like a ton of stuff was missing, probably because I've only read the Scott Snyder Bat-title in the New 52 and not all the ancillary bat-stuff.

Four stars. Snyder is shaping up to be the best bat-writer in decades.

Batman, Vol. 3: Death of the FamilyBatman, Vol. 3: Death of the Family by Scott Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After disappearing for a year, the Joker returns with a vengeance, striking at Batman where it hurts the most: his family! Can Batman stop the Joker from murdering his friends and family without killing him?

I got this from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley!

Here we are again, another phenomenal Batman tale from Scott Snyder. This time, he utilizes an old Bat-foe, The Joker, and sets him against the Bat-family. How does he do?

Snyder passes with flying colors. Death of the Family is the best Joker story since The Killing Joke. The Joker hits Batman where he lives, taking out Commissioner Gordon and Alfred with relative ease and sowing the seeds of mistrust within the Bat-family.

Snyder did his homework on this one, referencing some early Batman tales and bringing in A-list Batman villains to help, namely Penguin, Two-Face, and the Riddler. I was hoping he'd bring in Catwoman and we'd get an homage to the 60's Batman movie where he had a shark hanging from his leg but we can't have everything.

The Joker was a very chilling villain in this volume, capable of taking out members of the GCPD in the police station without seeming like a super hero. There's a fair amount of psychological horror in this one and at the end, it's hard to shake the feeling that the Joker did what he set out to do, to sow discord between Batman and his extended family.

The art and writing were superb. Capullo has come a long way since X-Force days and Snyder is still the lone comic writer on my must read list. Four out of five stars. Bat-fans will not want to miss.

Still on Goodreads

Memoir of a Friendship

Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett
Reviewed by Diane K. M.
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a beautiful memoir of a friendship between two writers, Ann Patchett and the poet Lucy Grealy. I read this back in 2006, and it's still one of my favorite books about the nature of friendship and the bonds that we form with others.

Ann met Lucy in college, and later they both attended the Iowa Writer's Workshop. As a child, Lucy had suffered cancer of the jaw and her face was disfigured during numerous reconstruction surgeries. Lucy wrote the memoir "Autobiography of a Face" about her experience. This is how Ann described Lucy: 

"Her lower jaw had been a ledge falling off just below her cheekbone when we started college, making her face a sharp triangle, but now the lines were softer. She couldn't close her mouth all the way and her front teeth showed. Her jaw was irregular, as if one side had been collapsed by a brutal punch, and her neck was scarred and slightly twisted. She had a patch of paler skin running from ear to ear that had been grafted from her back and there were other bits of irregular patching and scars. But she also had lovely light eyes with damp dark lashes and a nose whose straightness implied aristocracy. Lucy had white Irish skin and dark blond hair and in the end that's what you saw, the things that didn't change: her eyes, the sweetness of her little ears."

Ann and Lucy became close when they were in grad school together in Iowa. They both had new dating experiences, and the slower pace of life in the Midwest made them feel like they were "impossibly rich in time." They filled their days with reading and teaching and dinner and dancing and, of course, writing.

"We shared our ideas like sweaters, with easy exchange and lack of ownership. We gave over excess words, a single beautiful sentence that had to be cut but perhaps the other would like to have. As two reasonably intelligent and very serious young writers in a reasonably serious writing program, we didn't so much discuss our work as volley ideas back and forth until neither of us was sure who belonged to what."

After grad school the two friends moved away but stayed in touch with visits and heartfelt letters, some of which Ann includes in the book. Sadly, Lucy later got involved in drugs and died too young. Ann would often dream of her, and she would have a conversation with her dear friend. "Night after night after night I find her, always in a public place, a museum, a restaurant, on a train. Every night she's glad to see me and she folds into my arms. But each time there is less of her to hold on to ... In this little way I am allowed to visit my dead."

I was drawn to the book because I had loved Ann Patchett's novel "Bel Canto," so I picked it up just on name recognition. Her writing is lovely and sincere, and it made me adore Patchett even more. I highly recommend the book to writers and to anyone who loves a good story of friendship.

Recently there was a lovely interview with Patchett in The New York Times, during which she was asked which writer, dead or alive, would she meet? This was her answer: 

"I'd want to see my friend Lucy Grealy again. I'd want to know how the afterlife was treating her, if there was anything or everything about this world she missed. She'd say to me, 'My God, how did you get here?' And I would say, 'The New York Times Book Review told me I could meet any writer, living or dead, and I picked you!' Then I imagine there would be a great deal of hugging and dancing around."

Let's All Move to Vermont!

Mud Season by Ellen Stimson
Reviewed by Diane K. M.
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is a fun and light memoir about a family who moved from St. Louis to Vermont because they wanted to live someplace beautiful and rustic. Ellen Stimson and her husband liked to vacation in New England, so why not live there? They bought an old house that needed lots of remodeling, a historic country store, and along the way they picked up some chickens and sheep. 

After living in a big city, Ellen had trouble adapting to a town where you sometimes saw bears walk out of the woods and frequently had bats in the house. She also learned that you will get laughed at if you call 911 because a herd of cows escaped the neighbor's fence and were blocking the road.

The local villagers were suspicious of the newcomers and it took a while to warm up. Ellen and her family faced several humorous adventures, like when a skunk attacked their dogs, who then ran crazily through the house and stank up every room. Or when Ellen forgot she had agreed to host an open house and was doing chores and covered in chicken poop when the guests arrived. Or when she tried to organize a Fourth of July party and parade, but ran afoul of small-town politics. Luckily, some villagers always had the heart to be straight with her about what social norm she had unwittingly broken.

The book did have a sad chapter because the family's country store was not doing well and was slowly bankrupting them. But the memoir ends on an upbeat note, and Ellen also included about 30 pages of recipes.

The title is a reference to the five seasons of New England: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Mud. The author explains using a definition from Wikipedia: "Mud Season is a period in late winter and early spring when dirt paths such as roads and hiking trails become muddy from melting snow and rain." (Wikipedia? Seriously? There are more credible sources, you know.)

Overall I enjoyed the author's stories, despite her self-amusing writing style and unnecessary use of footnotes. Most importantly, her lovely descriptions of autumn in Vermont made me want to immediately pack a bag and get on a plane to Burlington. But I promise not to buy a store.