Monday, June 23, 2008

Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns

When I was in San Francisco a few months ago attending the PCA/ACA Conference, I sat on a panel with a colleague who was presenting a paper discussing Batman and the levels of Kohlberg’s moral reasoning. Though an interesting premise, the audience (and I) felt that his topic was too broad: rather than using Batman as a character with a seventy year history and multiple incarnations, he should have restricted his analysis to only one of those incarnations. The overwhelming recommendation? Frank Miller’s Batman.

Then a couple of weeks ago during a friendly debate with my friend Steve Mollmann about Superman: Birthright, I invoked Miller’s Batman as an example of a complex depiction of a superhero that intrigued me more than Superman. Yet these references to Miller made me realize that I remembered little of The Dark Knight Returns, and perhaps remedying that situation should be a priority before I go shoot my mouth off about it and look like an ass.

I was surprised to see how much the novel is a work of its time. With the decrepit city and the Cold War
paranoia, I didn’t need to see the Reagan look-alike president to know where this all was coming from. Yet what made this work for me wasn’t the gritty depiction of Batman in a Gotham gone wild, but the political and cultural aspects of the world that Miller has constructed here.

Half the book demonstrates the view of the action through the local media, something right out of Neil Postman’s criticism of television in the early 1980s. The pages are divided into many small panels that evoke the television screen, and forcing you to be an observer as you would if you were a citizen in this world allows the reader to analyze the morality at work in a different light than one traditionally would.

Another interesting idea is the fact that Bruce is presented as all too human, feeling the pain of old age and beatings, juxtaposed to Clark who looks just like he did fifteen years before. See, there is literally only one Superman. Yet what’s to stop any citizen in Gotham from becoming the Batman? Obviously they might not have the access to the billionaire’s gadgets, but essentially Batman is a vigilante, something that any of us could become should we really want to. Batman can clean up the streets I guess, but crime is too systemic problem for one man to solve, and therefore Miller has Bruce train the Mutant Gang remnants at the end to work together fighting crime.

The appearance of Reagan is all the more relevant now that we have Republicans and Democrats alike stepping over their mothers to be the second coming of. But Reagan was one of the worst presidents ever, and his depiction here will tell you why. He is always presented with an American flag and spouts of lame rhetoric about defending the cause of freedom. He manipulates a sentient man to do his bidding, and that manipulation leads directly to a nuclear exchange.

Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns has been canonized in the comic field, so you kind of need to read it for any sort of credibility. I didn’t love it this time, but I did find a lot of points to ponder, not all of which I have mentioned here. One thing I would like any readers to respond to is this: does the graphic novel’s depiction of Batman leave you supporting his methods, the idea being that he does it for the greater good? If so, how does this square with your notion of vigilante justice in our world?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Drunk Driving Hoax

When we criticize the government, I think it is imperative to remember what it does: collect and spend money. So when I read stories like this, I think, ‘These are my tax dollars at work?’

At a high school in Oceanside, California, police officers entered high school classrooms on a Monday morning and informed students that several of their classmates had been killed instantly in wrecks caused by drun
k drivers. Understandably, the teenagers wept. Some became hysterical. Why is this a story? It was a hoax. Everyone was fine; the story was concocted as a way to drive home the perils of drunken driving to impressionable teenagers.

What the hell were these people thinking? When I was in high school, two girls that were in my chemistry class were killed in a drunk driving accident. I wasn’t friendly with them, though I knew their names, yet the news shook me. Friends of the girls were bereft. It is rare that I have seen such shock and pain as I did that afternoon in class.

I don’t think we really have a sense of life and death when we are teenagers: though we intellectually know we won’t live forever, the reality hasn’t hit us emotionally. But when one of your peers is killed, it wakes you up in a hurry. Extra counselors came into our school when a death occurred to help students deal with their grief. I even remember some students going home early because the grief was too much for them. Classes ground to a halt for at least a solid day.

Perpetrating such a hoax is an unconscionable act, despite the rationalization given by authorities. Teenage drunken driving is a problem, but inflicting emotional duress in such a callous manner in the name of scaring students straight is so egregious that I find it difficult to imagine how this was green lit.

Were I a parent and/or taxpayer in Oceanside, California, I would be even more outraged than I am now. This is how you are going to spend our tax dollars? Damaging someone emotionally to the point that they need counseling, counseling that I will likely have to pay for with even more of my tax dollars.

What the hell were they thinking?

Tim Russert (1950-2008)

When I was a junior in high school, the first stirrings of the 1996 presidential election began. For some reason, I was sent an offer to receive a year of Newsweek for only ten bucks, and my dad got it for me. I read all the articles on politics each week, and as the campaign moved forward into the primaries, I got hooked. I began to get up early on Sundays to watch Face the Nation and Meet the Press just so I could keep up with everything, even more amazing that my family had finally gotten off my case about sleeping through church. It thrilled me that there was television that not only challenged me, but didn’t spell everything out either. The assumption was that you would have a certain level of knowledge if you were viewing, and it forced me to learn and catch up. Bob Schieffer and Tim Russert challenged me.

There is supposed to be a line separating news and entertainment, not to mention journalism and politics. And for the most part this works in print, but I’m not altogether sure that it’s even practical on television. When Russert appeared on the screen, he not only was someone highly connected within the world of Washington politics; he also was a character who people really liked and welcomed into their homes. He came across as a good guy, but also an authority. He would grill those who were in the upper echelons of power, yet not disrespect them by undermining or attacking them. He was assertive and unrelenting, but when he wished the hapless Bills good luck at the end of a broadcast, you felt like he was the kind of person you’d want to have a beer with.

This was even more obvious n his MSNBC interview show. He demonstrated real delight when he was talking with a person he found interesting about a subject he was interested in (usually history or politics, or political history). Despite the fact that he was an aide for a Democratic senator, he did a good job of taking the opposite side of an issue when questioning people.

The last time I watched Meet the Press was at the end of last year, when Russert grilled Mitt Romney for an hour. I thought Romney did pretty well against the onslaught, but it reminded me why I liked Russert so much: he pressed hard and asked incredibly tough questions. But his show was about the questions and answers, not the personalities of the host and commentators. In a television world being overrun with style over substance, Russet always thrived on presenting a lot of substance with style. It was the best of both worlds.

I’m not one to get upset about famous people I’ve never met passing away, and that’s not the case here. But there is a soft spot in my heart for a man that helped foster my interest in politics, an interest that has led to a deeper understanding of the world we live in. Though I no longer watch television, I still feel like I’ll be missing something this election season.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mystic River

Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River is a movie that you have all figured out by the end of the first act. But the film is done so well that you don’t care, and you end up feeling that you’ve seen a great movie. Eastwood’s direction is reserved and refuses to call attention to itself, allowing the marvelous acting of the primary five actors to move to the forefront.

The plot is simple. As children, Sean, Jimmy, and Dave are playing hockey in the street and writing t
heir names in wet cement when Dave is abducted by two child molesters and only manages to escape four days later. Flash forward to the present, where the boys are now in their late 30s, and Jimmy’s nineteen-year-old daughter is murdered, an event that causes the three old friends who have sense become estranged to cross paths again. On the night of the murder, Dave arrives home covered in blood and presents a conflicting explanation to his wife, causing us to question whether he committed the murder. And Sean is a cop assigned to the case.

Everyone in the movie seems to be harboring some sort of dark secret. Dave (Tim Robbins) has emerged from his captivity a changed man. Jimmy (Sean Penn) is an ex-con who’s gone straight, yet a sense of malice hangs over everything that we know about him. And Sean (Kevin Bacon) has a wife who has left him, and who frequently calls but won’t say a word.

As with most murder mysteries, it isn’t too hard to figure out where the narrative is going. It’s too obvious to assume Dave is the killer because he is covered in blood, so the rest of the film is one of dramatic irony: though we aren’t exactly sure what happened, we are absolutely sure of what didn’t.

Tim Robbins has the most wrenching role. One feels sorry for him since he has never been the same since his abuse, but there is a violent side to him that frightens you. Marcia Gay Harden (Dave’s wife Celeste) and Laura Linney (Jimmy’s wife Annabeth) both give stellar performances and the relationship between husbands and wives is a powerful component of the story. Celeste is quick to doubt Dave’s story involving the blood and ultimately she betrays him, while Annabeth is quick to exonerate Jimmy’s misdeeds, a role that is akin to Lady Macbeth.

A wrenching film, Mystic River’s actors well deserved their Academy Awards. And despite the somewhat conventional murder mystery narrative, the depth of the characters and the fantastic performances make this a film worthy of your time.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Craig Thompson's Blankets

Craig Thompson produces a powerful coming of age story in Blankets, and a lengthy one too: it weighs in at almost 600 pages. Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household in rural Wisconsin, the semi-autobiographical character named Craig must share a bed with his little brother. He grows up in a cultural environment that I know all too well. There are signs on the road that proclaim ‘Jesus is the only fire insurance,’ and the boys are forced to attend a church in which even questioning things in good faith is strongly discouraged and dismissed.

At a winter church camp, Craig just doesn’t see how so many people can actually all be on the s
ame page in regards to their worshipping of Jesus, much less be able to jointly carry out any kind of cohesive policy in the world. But at this camp he meets a somewhat kindred spirit named Raina, and most of the remainder of the novel follows their relationship.

Thompson exploits the graphic form quite well. The snowy landscapes provide a sense of otherworldliness, and all adult authority figures are presented as giants, towering over the young boys and filing them with fear and intimidation. Though he is questioning his faith to some degree, Craig is fairly devout and Thompson presents a war between his desires and the Bible graphically. As he is told about Hell for the first time, the young Craig’s imagination shows people in agony in a style that is much more traditionally gothic than the typical style of the primary narrative. And upon learning that the book of Ecclesiastes had been revised and added to many years after it original composition, the artist presents the more hopeful additions with cartoonish pigs, contrasting the presentation of the darker statements, which reflect a surrealist type of horror.

Though the love story between Raina and Craig worked quite well and was very believable to me, I was more affected by Craig’s stifling religious environment because it reminded me of my own as a boy. When questioning his pastor about the changes made to Ecclesiastes, the minister dismisses him by saying that even if some additions were made as the translations took place across the centuries, one shouldn’t let that fact dissuade them from God’s holy word.

When I first started college, I went to religious school where all students were required to take a survey class in both Old and New Testament. In those classes, I learned much more than I had in years of going to church, and now religious history and theology is a prominent interest for me. So many of the implications behind the history were fascinating and caused me to look at familiar stories in a new way. Learning how the Samaritans were viewed in the time of Jesus gives the parable a deeper meaning. Yet none of this was ever discussed in the church we attended. And in having conversations with my mother and grandmother, both who had been attending churches for decades, I realized that they had no idea about any of this stuff. This was the basis of all their beliefs and yet they were so immersed within the culture of unquestioning orthodoxy that even simple matters, like the Pentateuch being attributed to Moses making no sense as he dies in the middle of it, were heresy to them.

In the last chapter of the book, Craig as a young adult returns home and has a conversation about leaving Christianity behind with his brother. He adds that he doesn’t feel he can ever tell their parents because they would think of nothing else but saving his immortal soul. And this is precisely how I feel as well. After years of hearing that the answer to my questions was God, but then being forbidden from asking questions in God’s church has left me feeling like Craig: apart from my family, yet overwhelmingly confident that I am on the right side.

As one would expect, there is a blanket motif throughout Blankets, and towards the end of the novel Craig notes as he walks through snow how ‘satisfying it is to leave a mark on a blank surface.’ Thomson would be happy to know that no only were his marks satisfying to make, but they were very satisfying to read as well.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Touch of Evil & the Great Orson Welles

From the opening three and a half minute continuous shot of Touch of Evil, following a bomb in the trunk of a car, the viewer is wowed by Orson Welles’s directorial ability. He has conversations move from hallways into elevators and then out onto another floor without ever breaking the shot. One of the last film noirs, these cinematography choices help frame the characters and set the moods in ways that compliment the narrative. While the film is no Citizen Kane, it is a masterful effort.

Charlton Heston plays Mike Vargas, a Mexican anti-narcotics officer who on his honeymoon bri
de Janet Leigh witnesses the explosion of the aforementioned car. The bomb originated in Mexico, but the explosion takes place in the US making jurisdictional issues bring Vargas into the world of Sheriff Hank Quinlan, a huge Orson Welles. I felt the plot was fairly straight forward, though of course some of the choices made for dramatic effect made no real world sense. But seeing Quinlan deviate from the investigation to pursue his own ends, ultimately framing Vargas and his wife for murder because he resents the intrusion to his case and he is a racist, enraptured me. Welles is brilliant in this role, and though I had a hard time accepting Heston as a Mexican, he was sufficient in his as well.

Quinlan has a legendary ‘intuition’: he has a hunch about what happens, and he always seems to be right. Though we quickly learn that these hunches are helped by the planting of evidence, we can’t judge the sheriff too quickly. There is reason to think that perhaps his hunches are right after all, and that he is helping justice along rather than playing by the rules. Mexican officer Vargas is a by-the-book man though, and once he realizes Quinlan’s MO, the two are pitted against each other.

How progressive was the storyline for 1959? Quinlan embodies the typical Mexican police stereotype: shady, alcoholic, and corrupt. Meanwhile, Mexican Vargas is the hero of the film who is upstanding and crusades for justice and fairness, as the typical American officer is usually portrayed. This inversion is powerful on its own, but even more so when one considers the environment in which the film was released. (One might also suspect that the box office failure it endured may have been tied to this in some way.)

The narrative is more complex that good v. evil, enriching a visually stunning film to greatness. It would be hard to say Welles is an underappreciated genius, but for someone to say he never did anything worthwhile after Kane at 26 years is way off the mark. One could watch this film merely to see the directorial prowess, ignoring the acting and the narrative, because Touch of Evil is about what the cinema can do as much as it is about Quinlan v. Vargas. An excellent movie worthy of your attention.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Naomi Wolf & The End of America

By identifying ten steps in The End of America that all dictators and would-be dictators take in order to close down an open society, Naomi Wolf is able to argue convincingly that all ten of these steps are underway in the United States today. She argues convincingly that citizens need to rise up and challenge the powers that be to insure that our country as we know it isn’t lost to us.

Is easily digestible chapters, Wolf compares the current political climate in the US with the conditi
ons in other free states before or as they turned totalitarian. Most often the analogy is drawn with Hitler and the National Socialist Party and Mussolini’s Italy. This resonates especially in chapters on the development of a paramilitary force answerable only to the ruler and restriction of the free press. What struck this reader was how easily the current climate towards the press has shifted to intimidation factors that make outright control unnecessary.

But her presentation is not without its flaws. Wolf never adequately demonstrates that these ten steps are used by all dictators as they attempt to achieve power. Her examples are selected so as to be relevant to her arguments about the US, and while the book is meant to be a short cri de coeur, I believe a firmer grounding in history might have served her better. At times Wolf also fails to show a causal link making her examples relevant. For example, in a chapter arguing the point of surveillance of citizens, she drops in that Condoleeza Rice is ‘an expert on a least one surveillance society, which she analyzed in a book she coauthored, Germany Unified and Europe Transformed.’ The fact that a political science professor seeking tenure published such a book should surprise no one, and Wolf fails to make this one sentence relevant to the rest of the passage. Though almost all statements are sourced, more than one slipped through without providing a reference.

The brevity of the piece often makes one wish that she had gone into more detail, even if only to mention texts for further reading. One of Foucault’s most recognizable societal criticisms involved the Panopticon, a prison in which one guard could monitor hundreds of prisoners and maintain order because none would ever know when he or she was being watched. Yet Wolf never mentions this in her arguments on the surveillance of citizens. Perhaps such a connection is unnecessary, but Discipline and Punish is the type of text that would support her argument, giving her a solid appeal to authority.

Despite these criticisms, The End of America should serve as a jarring call to arms for people who believe that it can’t happen here. The parallels are eerie and prescient. And while America is unlikely to be subject to a violent closing down of our open society; we are vulnerable erosions in democracy that will look very American on the surface yet leave us less free.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer

Delivery is the fifth of the five canons of rhetoric. It is also is the most overlooked, which makes a lot of sense if you think about it. For thousands of years, most of the population was illiterate, so the only method of delivery that really meant all that much was oral.

As a student of rhetoric, I have become fascinated by this neglected canon. So much of its study illuminates questions that need to be asked, especially in an age where the same content is often transmitted in different forms, e.g. newspapers in print and on the web.

But with the modern notion of a transparent text, which focuses on content rather than presentation, many issues have been overlooked or dismissed. Not to bang the Pinter drum again, but the anthologizing of his plays in a different font and arrangement on the page caused me to view the text differently. For a playwright that relies on silences and pauses so much, a certain amount of white space on the page created the proper rhythm for the reader. But in the anthology, all the white space was gone, and a 100-page play was condensed to about seventeen larger pages. Changing the delivery changed the meaning.

In Maps and Legends, which I read last month, Michael Chabon celebrated cartoonist Ben Katchor and his strip, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer. A week or so later I one of Katchor’s collections at a used book store and quickly picked it up. And while I enjoyed the strips for what they were, the presentation didn’t work for me.

The Knipl strips were originally published in The Forward, a weekly Jewish newspaper published in New York City, over four or so years. Even a regular reader would only be exposed to a strip on at best a weekly basis. Depicting a surreal and humorous NYC, the strip does have a certain charm, and it is easy to see why someone like Chabon is such a big fan. But to be presented this way in a book, meant to be read in only a few sittings, this surrealism tends to overwhelm a reader. Strips begin in the midst of narratives and end well before the narratives finish; the absurdity provides the humor rather than any sort of punch lines. But reading strip after strip of such with such absurd premises caused me to develop a block to the very humor Katchor was creating.

In essence, Julius Knipl is likely a strip that I would enjoy very much if I read it on a weekly basis in our weekly newspaper, as it was originally intended to be presented. But to change the delivery system into a book of nothing but several years worth of the comic, instead of being one strip surrounded by all the Jewish news that’s fit to print, alters the reception. Just like the anthology containing Pinter’s play, changing the delivery changed the meaning.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Reading List: May 2008

Finally freed from the responsibilities associated with graduate school as the semester ended, I tried to spend the rest of the month relaxing and reading some things that I wouldn't have had time for otherwise. Of course, as June begins I must get to work on the reading for my thesis, though I hope to still be able to spend some time reading things for mere enjoyment. This past month I finished fourteen books, plays, or graphic novels, all of which are recapped below.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill: Teaming up a group of fantastical characters from Victorian literature to comprise an ur-Justice League is a brilliant idea, but Moore never found a sustainable story for his creations. Though the artwork by O'Neill is quite good, the execution of the story fails and there is little substance here. Honestly, I am a bit bewildered by all the praise this work has received; I'm unsure as to whether I will ever pick up Volume II or The Black Dossier.

2. Betrayal by Harold Pinter: Since I'd done so much work with Pinter over the semester, I wanted to get a better idea of some of his lesser known works. The narrative of the play is in a reverse chronology, with nearly every scene taking place before the previous one. Al in all, I found this device to be interesting, but it essentially is the entire substance of the play. If one were to stage the play in chronological order, it would be tedious and boring. As always, Pinter's language is alive on the page; one doesn't have any problem feeling the tension in the silences between characters. I also learned that this play was the basis for that backwards episode of Seinfeld.

3. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri: Last month's completion of the Best American Short Stories 2002 was my first exposure to Lahiri, and since her work has been so lauded I felt I should give this collection a try. Though nearly every story concerns Indian characters living in America, these details serve merely to enrich a narrative that is based on the alienation, loneliness, and love that all types of people share. The prose is quite good, and one constantly finds oneself turning page after page, unable to wait to see what will happen and yet unable to skip ahead. I will likely read more from her in the near future.

4. The Origin of Satan by Elaine Pagels: Ever since I first saw Pagels on Charlie Rose or NOW with Bill Moyers, I've been aware that few are able to discuss such complex scholarship in a way that is engaging to laymen. Using the historical circumstances in which each Gospel was written, she demonstrates how the enemies of the Christian sects were vilified and associated with Satan. It would seem that much of the anti-Semitism that exists in Christianity is due to the Gospels painting an increasingly evil portrait of the Jewish hegemony at the time of Jesus's life. Read more about the book here.

5. Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon: Though I had read many of these pieces before, this beautiful collection of essays is a must read for anyone with even a moderate interest in genre fiction. Chabon's prose is so enchanting that even when one disagrees with him it still is fun to read. Some of the essays defy classification, while others that we would probably call book reviews are so much more: for example, his review of Cormac McCarthy's The Road is also an examination of post-apocalyptic fiction tropes in general. Read more of my thoughts here.

6. The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter: What begins as a strange short novel gets increasingly bizarre in its second half. This is the first Baxter I've read, only prodded to do so after listening to an interview on The Bat Segundo Show, but I am glad that I did. It's hard to discuss too much without giving things away (which the intervie
w unfortunately did, prompting me to write this), but it was a good, short novel that just might be worth your while.

7. Black Hole by Charles Burns: Focusing on a group of teen infected by a mysterious STD that causes mutations, it is refreshing to read a story about teenagers in which they actually sound like and do things that actual teenagers would. Instead of exploring the disease itself, Burns focuses on how it affects the characters, and their alienation from society is analagous to the feelings of alienation that we all felt as teenagers. He also does some fascinating things with visual perspectives from panel to panel, maybe even things that are unique. More of my thoughts here.

8. DMZ: Body of a Journalist by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli: The second collection from the comic goes farther than the first, and as a result it was a much more satisfying read. Since most of the exposition was resolved in the previous collection, Wood was able to turn up the heat on an already volatile situation. There is still much to be learned about Manhattan and the overall American rebellion, but it is apparent that steps are being made to leak these details slowly. The art, however, is only passable. Often characters don't even look the same from page to page, much less issue to issue. DMZ isn't up to the quality of 100 Bullets or Y: the Last Man, but it isn't half bad

9. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: Revolving around a group of three children who attend a prestigious boarding school, it doesn't take long to realize that everything isn't as it seems. The children are overseen by 'Guardians' and will be required to give 'donations' on reaching adulthood. It turns out that these children are clones, created as farms for spare organs. The novel works on this level as a sort of sci fi mystery, but by showing us characters who have few similarities to us (no families, no future to look forward to, etc.), Ishiguro is able to tease out deeper feelings that make us all human. As always, his prose is first rate. I would likely say that this is the best book I have yet to read this year. I've written more extensively about the novel here.

10. Moyers on Democracy by Bill Moyers: I was lucky enough to hear a speech by Moyers when I was a sophomore at Baylor University and I have been a frequent viewer of his television shows for years, so when I found this book of collected speeches I picked it up. Speeches are written to be delivered at a certain time and pla
ce, so they don't always hold up well to reading years later. Some of that is the case here, but more than not these pieces are still effective. As an independent journalist who is willing to report what he sees the way he sees it, Moyers acts as a voice for those without one. And though often he is preaching to the choir, he provides an invaluable service for America. His observations are too numerous to mention here, but they will ring in your head long after you've put down the book.

11. Best of American Splendor by Harvey Pekar: After watching the film in April, I picked up this collection to get a better sense of what his work was like. Often the pieces were too short to make any real point, but some of the lengthier entries are complex narratives that give real insight into the Pekar's life. Joe Sacco illustrated many of the episodes within, and it is interesting to see the way Harvey translates his life, or reports it if you will, in the comic form. Looking at some of Sacco's work in wartime reporting in the same form makes one wonder how much they have influenced each other. Damn, that might be a paper.

12. Understanding Media: A Popular Philosophy by Dominic Boyer: What begins as a Marxist critique of media quickly turns into a fascinating discussion of how the immediate nature of most media cause us to overlook the fact that the content is mediated at all. For example, since I can talk so easily and immediately with someone on my cell phone, I tend to forget that all conversation is mediated though the device. Boyer easily guides the reader through some moderately complex theory in what is another engaging essay from Prickly Paradigm.

13. Harry, Revised by Mark Sarvas: This first novel by the creator of The Elegant Variation provides an entertaining if somewhat flawed narrative. Though the plot is one that we've all seen a million times, the humor and Sarvas's ability to occasionally phrase something in a perfect way do much to make up for this. There are Marxist overtones throughout, though no real statements about class are made. And the narrative is a little clunky, especially at first. Extended comments available here.

14. Saga of the Swamp Thing by Alan Moore, et al.: I've long meant to read Moore's run on this title. Horror comics are so hit or miss that one can be overwhelmed when they strike the bullseye. The second story in this collection made it very hard for me to go to sleep afterwards. Moore's page designs are innovative for their time, and even push the limits of what mainstream titles are doing today. Reading the story of how Moore got this assignment are almost unbelievable: due to lagging sales, he got complete control to do whatever he wanted before the book was canceled. I'll be working my way through the rest of his run over the summer.

Currently, I am reading Cynthia Ozick's The Puttermesser Papers and Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point. June will likely see me taking on Jared Diamond's Collapse, Steven Hall's The Raw Shark Texts, and Craig Thompson's Blankets, among others. And I'll likely be discussing those and many other things throughout the month here, so come back every now and then and weigh in with your thoughts.