Comics Review: Star Wars: Darth Vader by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca.


Title: Book I: Vader
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Penciler & Inker: Salvador Larroca
Letter: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Cover Artist: Adi Granov
Summary/Review:

Set after the destruction of the Death Star, Darth Vader is in hot water for allowing a Rebel victory on his watch.  The Emperor has put Vader’s rival in control, and Vader sets in motion a plot to both regain his position of influence as well as the personal goal of finding the young pilot who fired the shot that destroyed the Death Star.  To accomplish these goals he recruits archaeologist Doctor Aphra to carry out missions for him.  In turn she teams up with her assassin droid companions, 0-0-0 (Triple-Zero) and BT-1 (Beetee), kind of a perverse version of See Threepio and Artoo Detoo.  Aphra is a great character and addition to the Star Wars universe.  Kind of a morally gray person willing to do the bidding of Darth Vader more out of fear than loyalty, but also capable of doing a great job.

Rating: ****


Title: Book II: Shadows and Secrets
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Penciler & Inker: Salvador Larroca
Letter: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Cover Artist: Adi Granov
Summary/Review:

In this volume, the Emperor’s plans to have several rivals compete for Vader’s position are revealed.  Darth Vader also works secretly with bounty hunters to carry out an attack on an Imperial ship to gain Imperial credits.  And Dr. Aphra uses the credits to track down the identity of the Rebel pilot, Luke Skywalker.  Another entertaining volume of Star Wars intrigue.

Rating: ****


Title: Vader Down
Writer: Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen
Penciler & Inker: Mike Deodato, Jr. and Salvador Larroca
Letter: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Cover Artist: Mark Brooks and Jordan D. White
Summary/Review:

This volume collects crossover stories with the standard Star Wars comics run. Darth Vader tracks down Luke Skywalker to a planet but finds himself in the middle of Rebel training.  The Rebel Forces are no match for Darth Vader on his own.  It’s an interesting plot that almost brings Vader and Luke together but without spoiling their first real meeting in Bespin Cloud City. It’s great to see the familiar characters – Leia, Han, Chewbacca, etc. – brought into the Vader story.

Rating: ***


Title: Book III: The Shu-Torun War
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Penciler & Inker: Salvador Larroca
Letter: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Cover Artist: Kaare Andrews and Mark Brooks
Summary/Review:

Darth Vader is responsible for suppressing a rebellion on the mining planet of Shu-Torun. To accomplish this, he assassinates much of the ruling family and manipulates the youngest daughter, Trios, into being the puppet ruler.  He fights on two fronts against the rebellious Ore-Dukes and his rival for the Emperor’s second-in-command, Cylo.  I did not enjoy this volume as much as the others.

Rating: ***


Title: Book IV: End of Games
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Penciler & Inker: Max Fiumara and Salvador Larroca
Letter: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Cover Artist: Mark Brooks, Juan Gimenez, and Salvador Larroca
Summary/Review:

In the culminating story of the arc, Vader battles Cylo and his other rivals that get him back into the place of power we see him in Empire Strikes Back.  Meanwhile, Dr. Aphra works on a plan to escape the servitude of Vader while still living.  A good conclusion to an entertaining addition to Star Wars lore.

Rating: ****

Book Review: We Gon’ Be Alright by Jeff Chang


Author: Jeff Chang 
Title:
We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation
Publication Info: Picador (2016)
Summary/Review:

Chang’s book is a collection of essays on current events in the United States focusing on racism an inequality in the United States.  Topics include:

  • the real meaning and misuse of “diversity”
  • student protest movements
  • resegregation of American communities
  • a detailed breakdown of the police murder of Michael Brown and its aftermath in Ferguson
  • the in-between state of Asian Americans between privileges and prejudice
  • an examination of Beyonce’s album Lemonade

Chang is a talented and observant writer and I intend to look for more of his writing.

Favorite Passages:

Over the last quarter century of student protest against racism, the act of calling out so-called political correctness has become a standard strategy of silencing. The legal scholar Mari Matsuda reminds us that racial attacks and hate speech, as well as the “anti-PC” defense of them, are proof that free speech is not a neutral good equally available to all. “The places where the law does not go to redress harm have tended to be the places where women, children, people of color, and poor people live,” she has written. “Tolerance of hate speech is not tolerance borne by the community at large. Rather, it is a psychic tax imposed on those least able to pay.

Protest of moral and historic force begins with people facing extreme vulnerability. For those who have been silenced, rising to the act of speaking is a perilously high climb indeed. For them, protest is not an expression of fear and doubt, but an overcoming of fear and doubt. And when it comes from those at the bottom, it can often be a profound proposition about how to make the world better for all. That’s the difference between the mob whipped into a frenzy by a demagogue and the protesters demanding that institutions address harmful conditions that negate their very existence. One excludes, the other raises up.

By itself, gentrification can’t explain the new geography of race that has emerged since the turn of the millennium. It has almost nothing to say about either Hyphy or Ferguson. Gentrification is key to understanding what happened to our cities at the turn of the millennium. But it is only half of the story. It is only the visible side of the larger problem: resegregation.

It was this way all across the country. Neighborhoods where mostly people of color lived were more than twice as likely to have received subprime loans as mostly white neighborhoods. The foreclosure crisis revealed that high-income Blacks were not protected from racist and predatory housing and lending practices. Nor were Latino and Asian American home purchasers. So when the crash came, Blacks and Latinos were 70 percent more likely than whites to lose their homes to foreclosure.

What does it mean to be the evidence that racism is not real? To be fetishized by colorblind liberals and white supremacists alike? To be so innocuous that teachers and policemen and figures of authority mostly allow you the benefit of the doubt? To be desired for your fluid, exotic, futuristic, yielding difference? What does it mean to be the solution?

Migration is always a choice to live. The opposite of migration is not citizenship. It is containment, the condition of being unfree shared with all who are considered less than citizens. The migrant reminds the citizen of the rights that they should be guaranteed. Nations are made of papers. Papers make the border. Papers also turn the migrant into the immigrant. The word “immigrant” is a formal legal term. It centers not the person, but the nation in which the person hopes to become a citizen. “Migration” centers bodies. “Immigration” centers bodies of law. The immigrant is therefore always troubled by the question of status: “legal” or “illegal.” When the immigrant is between the migrant and the citizen, their freedom—and others’ freedom, in turn—depends upon the answer.

Recommended books:


Rating:
****

Book Review: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado


Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Title: Her Body and Other Parties
Narrator: Amy Landon
Publication Info: HighBridge, a Division of Recorded Books (2017)
Summary/Review:

This collection of short stories uses tropes of horror – and particularly body horror – to relate the struggles faced by women and LGBTQ people. Stories include allowing the woman with the ribbon around her neck from an urban legend tell her life story and what seems to be a list of sexual partners growing into a story of a nationwide plague.  One story is synopses of Law and Order: SVU episodes that grow increasingly absurd and macabre. That story, and some others, went on too long and I lost focus. But overall this is a creepy and sexy collection of stories.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Book Review: Fault Lines by Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer


Author: Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer
Title: Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974
Publication Info: New York : W.W. Norton & Company, [2019]
Summary/Review:

I was born near the end of 1973, so this book is essentially the history of America during my lifetime.  The authors are professors at Princeton University who built the book out of course on recent American history.  I’m not familiar with Zelizer, but Kruse has established himself as a leading public historian by sharing facts and debunking myths on Twitter. The central thesis is that the polarized politics of the United States began in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal (which disillusioned Americans faith in government, something that is ironically exploited by Nixon’s own party) as well as the revolutions of civil rights, gender, and sexuality and their conservative counter-revolutions.

The book is a thorough history of the past 45 years, and I had a lot of “oh yeah, I remember that!” moments.  I have two criticisms of the book in general. One, is that it reads like a laundry list of events with very little analysis.  Two, it is a top-down approach focusing on the actions of Presidents and Congresses as opposed to the greater societal actions.  I understand it would be a much thicker book if these things were included, but the instances in the book that offer analysis and history of the people are much richer than the book overall.

That being said, this is an excellent summary of how we got to where we are in the United States.  Every living American has lived at least partly in the period of time covered here and would benefit from reading about our recent history.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Comics Review: Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Archives Omnibus


Volume 1
Author: Tony Lee, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Matthew Dow Smith, Dan McDaid
Artists: Andrew Currie, Richard Piers Rayner, Horacio Domingues, Tim Hamilton, Mark Buckingham, Matthew Dow Smith, Blair Shedd, Mitch Gerads, Dan McDaid, Josh Adams, Paul Grist
Colorist: Charlie Kirchoff, Phil Elliott, Rachelle Rosenberg
Title: Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Archives Omnibus – Volume 1
Publication Info: Titan Comics, September 30, 2015
Summary/Review:

These comics were created earlier than the other Eleventh Doctor comics I’ve read and feature Amy and Rory as companions.  The comics were obviously made after Series 5 (or perhaps even based on scripts of Series 5) so the characterizations seem frozen in a weird place of Amy and Rory as were first saw them, not the characters they would grow to be.  There are some adventures here including visiting Wemba’s Lea (the medieval location that would become Wembley Stadium) for a humorous soccer-themed story, a multiworld where multiple versions of all the characters must work together to stop a Sontaran plot, a wordless story where the Doctor helps Santa Claus, and several stories with a new companion named Kevin who is a robotic T-Rex.  The comics are silly and fun, but nothing groundbreaking or worth making into a television story.

Rating: ***


Volume 2
Author: Joshua Hale Fialkov, Andy Diggle, Brandon Seifert, Len Wein, Tony Lee
Artists:  Matthew Dow Smith, Mark Buckingham, Philip Bond, Matthew Dow Smith,
Mitch Gerads, Josh Adams, Marc Deening, Andres Ponce, Horacio Domingues, Rubén González
Colorist:  Charlie Kirchoff, Adrian Salmon
Letterer: Shawn Lee, Tom B. Long
Title: Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Archives Omnibus – Volume 2
Publication Info:  Titan Comics, October 28, 2015
Summary/Review:

The second volume of this series of Eleventh Doctor stories continues with Amy and Rory with stories that take place after Series 6 and incorporate the character growth missing from the previous volume.  In this collection they recreate Casablanca with Silurians, the Doctor and Rory have a “boys night out” where they can’t return to Amy without first making their way through several adventures, Christina de Souza returns, and the Doctor helps rescue a cosmonaut from the Vashta Nerada.  Again, the stories are fun and breezy but slight compared to what Doctor Who can offer.

Rating: ***


Volume 3
Author: Andy Diggle, Eddie Robson, Tony Lee, Matthew Dow Smith,
Paul Cornell
Artists: Andy Kuhn, Mike Collins, Horacio Domingues, Jimmy Broxton
Colorist: Charlie Kirchoff, Phil Elliott
Letterer: Shawn Lee
Title: Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Archives Omnibus – Volume 3
Publication Info:  Titan Comics, November 24, 2015
Summary/Review:

The comic book version of Clara Oswald joins the Eleventh Doctor for this final set of adventures.  The wackiest story of all is set in Deadwood and involves Oscar Wilde, Thomas Edison, Calamity Jane, and a zombie Wild Bill Hicock. The volume also includes special issues for conventions and the 50th anniversary, with the most compelling being The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who where the Doctor enters our real world and finds that there’s a tv show about his adventures starring Matt Smith.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane


Author: Mary Beth Keane
Title: Ask Again, Yes
Narrator: Molly Pope
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio (2019)
Summary/Review:

This novel begins in 1973 when recent Irish immigrant Francis Gleeson falls into becoming a cop and meets Brian Stanhope, an American-born child of  Irish immigrants, at the police academy.  They are paired on there first beat in the Bronx for a few summer weeks, and share their dreams, although they don’t become particularly close.  Francis marries a Polish-Italian woman named Lena and they settle down in a quiet (fictional) suburban town north of New York called Gillam.  Shortly afterwards, Brian and his newlywed Irish immigrant wife Anne move into the neighboring house.

Lena makes every effort to reach out to Anne as a neighbor, but Anne is at first reserved, and then outright antagonistic.  Lena gives birth to three daughters in quick succession.  After a couple of miscarriages, Anne gives birth to a son, Peter.  Despite, the coldness between the two families, Peter and the Gleeson’s youngest daughter Kate become best friends.  And then in 1991, when the kids are on the verge of graduating middle school, they share that have romantic feelings for one another.  On the same of night, an act of violence permanently changes the lives of both families.

The bulk of the novel follows that night in 1991 up to the present day focusing on the lives of all six of these characters as they struggle with their past.  Kate and Peter reunite in college and eventually marry, to the disappointment and befuddlement of their parents.  I found the childhood lovers still devoted to one another as adults hard to swallow, and this book also has a number of the coincidences that only occur in literature.  Setting that aside though, the book is an excellent character study that examines generational trauma that contributes to depression, alcoholism, infidelity, and mental illness.  It also is a story of compassion, where the characters learn to recognize that people are not their worst actions.

 

Recommended books: Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan, Charming Billy by Alice McDermott, and Payback by Thomas Kelly
Rating: ****

Book Review: The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson


Author: Steven Johnson
Title: The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–And How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
Narrator: Alan Sklar
Previously Read by the Same Author:

Publication Info: [United States] : Tantor Media, Inc., 2006
Summary/Review:

This book explores the ideas of urbanism, epidemiology, and social networks through the lens of the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak in the Soho district of London.  Dr. John Snow, with the help of Reverend Henry Whitehead, created a map of where people infected with cholera lived and drew their water to trace the infection to a water pump on Broad Street.  That Snow and Whitehead knew the neighborhood and its people well proved advantageous in creating the connections needed to document the spread of disease. Snow also had to fight an uphill battle against the prevailing scientific belief that diseases like cholera were spread through the air, known as the miasma theory.

Johnson details how the evolutionary response to putrefaction and vile odors made such beliefs plausible, but practices such as “cleaning up” the city by deliberately washing waste into the water inadvertently caused infections to increase.  Johnson also depicts the urban environment as a unique battleground for humans and microorganisms.  All in all this is a fascinating account of an historic account, with broader implications for how we live today and into the future.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Never Caught by Erica Armstrong Dunbar


Author: Erica Armstrong Dunbar
Title: Never caught : the Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge
Narrator: Robin Miles
Publication Info: [New York] : Simon & Schuster Audio, [2017]
Summary/Review:

Ona Judge was a woman born into slavery around 1773 at Mount Vernon plantation in Virginia.  Mount Vernon is, of course, famous as the home of George Washington, soon to be commander of the Continental Army and later the first President of the United States.  Ona would become lady’s maid to Martha’s Washington in her mid-teens, and in that role would travel with the Washington to the new United States’ capital in New York City, and then to Philadelphia when the capital shifted there in 1790.

Living in Philadelphia provided Judge with new opportunities, including free time while Mrs. Washington was entertaining, and even the opportunity to attend the theatre.  More importantly she became acquainted with Philadelphia’s growing free Black community and abolitionists. Judge’s legal status was in question due to Pennsylvania’s Gradual Abolition Act which provided that slaves brought into the state by new residents from out of state would be eligible for emancipation after six months.  It was an open question of whether this law applied to the President, but nevertheless, the Washingtons arranged to rotate their slave staff back to Mount Vernon every six months.

In 1796, Washington announced he would not run for reelection and Martha Washington informed judge she would be given as a wedding gift to her granddaughter Elizabeth Parke Custis Law.  Faced an uncertain future Judge made the decision to run away.  Abolitionists put Judge on a ship to Portsmouth, NH where she attempted to make a new life for herself as a free person.  Washington had a local customs officer, and later his nephew, attempt to capture Judge but in both cases the growing abolition sentiment meant that she couldn’t be captured without drawing unwanted publicity to Washington.

Washington freed many of his slaves in his will when he died in 1799.  Judge, however, was legally considered still a slave of Martha Washington, and even after Martha’s death in 1802, Judge’s ownership status reverted to the Custis estate.  Judge lived until 1848, enjoying her freedom, but always a fugitive.  Despite freedom, her life was still full of struggle.  She married a free black sailor, Jack Staines, in 1797, but he died in 1803, and Ona Judge Staines would also outlive her three children.

Ona Judge Staines’ story is drawn from interviews she gave to abolitionist newspapers in the 1840s.  But as with many stories of enslaved African Americans, Dunbar has to piece together the history from sources of the white masters, such as the papers of the Washingtons and runaway slave ads.  It’s a compelling narrative, and one that focuses on the often overlooked nature of 18th-century slavery (compared with the 19th-slavery), the emergence of abolitionism, and popular conception of someone like Washington who represents liberty to so many Americans, but held Ona Judge and many others in perpetual bondage.

Recommended books:

  • Uncommon Ground: Archaeology and Early African America, 1650-1800.
    by Leland Ferguson
  • The World They Made Together: Black and White Values in Eighteenth-Century Virginia by Mechal Sobel
  • North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860 by Leon F. Litwack
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
  • Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Blood & Ivy by Paul Collins


Author: Paul Collins
Title: Blood & Ivy: The 1849 Murder That Scandalized Harvard
Narrator:  Kevin Kenerly
Publication Info: Blackstone Pub (2018)
Summary/Review:

This historical, true crime narrative relates the story of the murder of Dr. George Parkman, a Harvard-educated physician and philanthropist, and from a prominent Boston Brahmin family.  The murderer is revealed to also be a well-born man, John White Webster, a chemistry professor at Harvard Medical College.  I’m familiar with the story since it is central story of Boston By Foot’s Dark Sie of Boston tour, but it’s not a well-known historical incident these days.  At the time though, the social class of both murderer and victim, and their connections with Harvard University made it an international scandal. Even 18 years later, English author Charles Dickens asked to visit the murder site on his visit to Boston.

Collins details the murder, investigation, trial, and conviction of Webster, but also focuses on the case’s place within the chasms among Boston’s social classes.  Initial blame for Dr. Parkman’s disappearance was directed at the Boston’s Irish immigrant population, then swelling due to the famine in Ireland.  Even after Webster is brought to trial, the defense’s main strategy is to deflect attention to Ephraim Littlefield, the Harvard Medical College janitor who is the main witness.  The class mores of the time saw the working man Littlefield as someone who better fit the mold of murderer.

Collins also explores the innovations that emerged from the case.  These include dental forensics as Parkman’s dentist was able to use dental molds to identify Parkman’s remains. The judge, Justice Lemuel Shaw, also gave instructions to the jury regarding the definition of “reasonable doubt” that became widespread in American jurisprudence, and weren’t updated in Massachusetts until 2015!

This book is a good introduction to this remarkable case for those unfamiliar with the story.  As someone who has read quite a bit about the Parkman murder, I also picked up quite a few new tidbits.

Recommended books: Dead Certainties : Unwarranted Speculations by Simon Schama
Rating: ***

Book Review: You’re On An Airplane by Parker Posey


Author: Parker Posey
Title: You’re On An Airplane: a self-mythologizing memoir
Narrator: Parker Posey
Publication Info: Penguin Audio, 2018
Summary/Review:

Parker Posey, once known as the “queen of independent movies,” has starred in many movies that I enjoy.  Party Girl, for one,  played a not insubstantial part in my choice of career.  In this unconventional memoir, Posey addresses the reader directly as if one is sitting next to her on an airplane (and in the audiobook, this comes complete with the sound effects of the airplane taking off and a flight attendant serving drinks). After the first chapter, this affectation of writing in second person only pops up from time to time, but nevertheless, this is a stream-of-conscious memoir.  Posey tells stories of her Catholic, Southern gothic childhood in a family of “characters” and her experiences on the sets of various films, including her work with directors like Richard Linklater and Christopher Guest.  She also writes extensively about working with Woody Allen (and humorously impersonates his voice). While many actors have justified working with Allen, and its understandable that an independent actor would want to work with a notably independent director, I found it deeply unsettling that Posey doesn’t even address that Allen is an accused child rapist.  In other chapters, Posey goes into deep detail about her yoga practice, her work with ceramics, and her dog. It’s clear that this book is meant to show that Posey is as quirky and funny as her movie characters, but sometimes its hard to tell if the self-absorption in these chapter is parody or for real.

Favorite Passages:

It’s an industry (an art, hopefully) full of orphans left to create their own worlds with one another. I don’t feel glamorous, I feel like a possum—the animal born clinging to its mother’s tail, that grows up by falling off it, and probably too soon. Acting is the possum’s defense.

Recommended booksYou’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost) by Felicia Day, Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick,  and Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

Rating: **